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Patrick Hancock

Bayonetta Impressions photo
Bayonetta Impressions

Bayonetta is a showstopper in Super Smash Bros.


Stupid sexy Bayonetta
Feb 04
// Patrick Hancock
Here's the step-by-step experience I have had with Bayonetta's character in Super Smash Bros. First, take her into the training room and understand how her moves work. Then, play some matches against the CPU. Feel confident, then go online. Immediately get hit by an opponent's Bayonetta with a gigantic combo. Welp.

Pro Tips: American Truck Simulator

Jan 30 // Patrick Hancock
Always remember to use your blinker 100 feet before turning. When driving down a steep downgrade hill, you should shift into a lower gear than one you would use to go up the same grade. You can avoid highway hypnosis by not focusing on a single object for more than two seconds. Remember to turn off your high beams when you are within 500 feet of another vehicle. Good drivers, according to the California manual, look ahead 12 to 15 seconds. This could be up to a quarter mile at highway speeds! On wet roads, reduce speed by one-third. Because we all know how much it rains in California. When backing up, turn the steering wheel in the opposite direction you want to move.  To go along with that, always back in as straight as possible. Correct the wheel as soon as drift starts to occur. Pull forward to make corrections when needed. Stopping distance = perception distance + reaction distance + braking distance. When well below the speed limit on a highway, turn on your hazard lights to warn vehicles behind you.
Truck Sim Tipz photo
Be a lean, mean, money-making machine
There are a lot of dangers out there on the road and a lot of things to keep in mind if you're going to carry cargo across state lines in the United States of America. I mean, they don't force drivers to take CDL tests for nothing!  So, being the helpful guy I am, I've decided to lay out some very important tips and tricks for anyone looking to perform well in American Truck Simulator.

Review: American Truck Simulator

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

Review: Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

Jan 20 // Patrick Hancock
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (PC)Developer: Blackbird InteractivePublisher: Gearbox SoftwareReleased: January 20, 2016MSRP: $49.99 Deserts of Kharak is a prequel to previous titles, and takes place on the desert planet of Kharak (duh). The "primary anomaly" has been detected in the Kharak desert, and Rachel S'jet and company need to head deep into Gaalsian territory to retrieve it. Players who know their lore already know what that anomaly is, but that doesn't detract in any way from the 13-mission campaign. Unlike many other real-time strategy games, the campaign is the main draw in Homeworld. The lore is rich, yet approachable for newcomers. Some of the jargon will be confusing at first, but it doesn't take long to grasp what or who a Kiith is or that Rachel S'jet is not a case of a misplaced apostrophe. The missions themselves are varied. They do a great job of teaching the player the mechanics and introducing new units at a comfortable pace. The best thing about the campaign, which was also true for the originals, is that the player's army stays with them between missions. The units who survive are the same ones that start the next mission. The same goes for resources, too, which makes them very finite. Finishing a mission in good standing goes a long way here, and forces the player to play intelligently. This design also dictates playstyle. When I had heavy losses at the end of a successful mission, I went into the next one with extreme caution. I looked at my current resources and the resources available and actually thought about the most efficient way to spend them. This can be turned off with an option, but in the spirit of the series, you should keep it in tact. [embed]335091:61939:0[/embed] A big problem is the AI. It's not so great. There have been times when I could see my enemies clear as day, and they were just sitting there. Forever. I never bothered with them unless the mission forced me to clear all remaining forces. Other times, the AI simply follows its path until the player puts ground units within range. It is possible to pelt a group of units over and over again with air strikes until they are completely dead, and they will never respond. Scenarios like this are worsened by the fact that the campaign is, overall, fantastic. Cutscenes are gorgeous and often set a threatening atmosphere, only to be followed up by awful AI behavior. Tense moments dissipate pretty quick when a cluster of enemy units is just dancing around a bit in a circle while being attacked from a distance. Despite this, there are some amazing scripted moments throughout the campaign. A cutscene may show a large enemy force heading the player's way, then show the same force in-game. That's when the music kicks in. The music in Deserts of Kharak is nothing short of perfect. It raises the intensity of battles and sets the mood so well that I very much looked forward to the next large-scale battle. In fact, the entire aesthetic is spot-on. Zooming in shows the intricacies of movement for the units -- particularly the wheels of vehicles maneuvering around rough terrain. Once you feel comfortable with how a battle is going, try zooming in nice and close and watching the action. It looks great! I know what you're thinking. "How can it be Homeworld if it's not in space?" Rest assured, this is Homeworld through and through. Remember watching your ships swirl around while attacking other units? The same goes for the smaller units in Deserts of Kharak. That feeling of continuity throughout the campaign as your units stayed persistent? Still there, and in spades. Since the "main base" is also a mobile unit, the feeling of having your own personal convoy is firmly implanted into the design of the game. Having the main base, called a Carrier, as a unit is certainly an interesting mechanic to utilize. It can be quite the powerful unit, too, making the idea to use it offensively enticing. The Carrier has energy that can be routed to different aspects of the ship: defense, self-repair, missiles, and range. All self-explanatory. The player can change these on the fly, though energy is limited by artifacts, which can be collected and returned to increase available energy. The most interesting gameplay mechanic is line of sight. If a unit can't logically see another, it can't fire at it. This makes the terrain of each map incredibly important. Having and holding the high ground can make or break a battle in many cases. The game does a great job of conveying this information to the player. If a unit can't see another, a broken red line appears. While issuing many of the commands, a "blueprint" of the terrain will appear, clearly showing what is high ground and what is not. Terrain also affects unit pathing. Well, it affects one unit's pathing. The Carrier is a large (read: very large) unit, and can't simply drive over hills like the others. It's important to remember that it needs to take the roundabout way, since it'll be the only unit to do so unless otherwise ordered. Just...keep that in mind when playing. Homeworld has always primarily been a single-player experience. That being said, there are AI Skirmish and multiplayer options. The issue is that there are only two races, both of which play similarly. There are also only five maps. Stir these facts together into a pot, and it doesn't yield the greatest competitive experience.  The main competitive mode is artifact retrieval, which tasks both players to fight over artifacts scattered over the map. The objective is to pick one up with a specific unit and bring it to a designated area. It's neat, but the whole multiplayer experience just feels rather shallow. For free-for-all matches of more than two players, deathmatch is the only available option. I've run into a handful of bugs in Deserts of Kharak, and judging from the forums, I'm not the only one. The most annoying, which may not even be a "bug," is that the camera goes to an awful position after every in-game cutscene and needs to be reset. Other than that, there were a couple of cutscene glitches where animations wouldn't play or in-game talk continued while a cinematic was playing. It's also impossible to re-bind the keys, which is hopefully an oversight, not intentional. While the multiplayer is mediocre at best, the campaign more than compensates for fans of the series. All the worries of "it can't be Homeworld if it's not in space!" should be put to rest, because Deserts of Kharak says otherwise. The asking price is a bit steep for those who are just interested in the campaign, since most won't bother to touch multiplayer. That being said, the campaign is well executed for veterans and newbies alike, proving that over a decade without Homeworld is far too long. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Homeworld Review photo
Muad'Kiith
Homeworld is back! What a great sentence to type. After Gearbox Software acquired the rights to the series and released Homeworld Remastered, I figured that would be it. But now Blackbird Interactive, a team made up of franch...


PC Port Report: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

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

Sven Co-op 5.0 photo
Sven Co-op 5.0

It's almost time to play the Half-Life campaign with friends


Sven Co-op 5.0 released for free soon!
Jan 13
// Patrick Hancock
Sven Co-op was part of the holy grail of Half-Life mods. It was played as frequently as Counter-Strike or Team Fortress Classic by many people, myself included. It's purely cooperative, hence the name, an...

The top 33 indie games to look for in 2016

Jan 11 // Patrick Hancock
Let's start with a handful of games I listed in 2013 that have still yet to come out. They aren't counted for this list, but you should still look out for them and I hope they come out this year: A Hat in Time, Distance, Intruder, New Game+, Overgrowth, Owlboy, Project Zomboid, Quadrilateral Cowboy, Routine, Scale, The Iconoclasts, The Magical Realms of Tír na nÓg: Escape from Necron 7 – Revenge of Cuchulainn: The Official Game of the Movie – Chapter 2 of the Hoopz Barkley SaGa, The Moonlighters, The Witness, Under the Ocean. Wow, so that's 15 games that have taken at least 2 years longer than I thought they would. Whoops! Anyway, here's some more that will be sure to disappoint me when they release in 2020. [embed]330358:61679:0[/embed] BombernautsDeveloper: Eyebrow InteractiveFollow it: Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I play it now? Yes It would be easy to write Bombernauts off as just some Bomberman clone, but you'd be doing yourself a huge disservice. While this is a large departure from the studio's last game, Closure, the pedigree is there. Bombernauts is online, voxel-based mayhem that reminds me more of the multiplayer in Super Monkey Ball than traditional Bomberman. It's wacky and zany, and is even available now on Early Access. [embed]330358:61678:0[/embed] CogmindDeveloper: Grid Sage GamesFollow it: Newsletter on official site, TwitterCan I play it now? Yes  Please, don't let the aesthetic turn you away. I get it, ASCII graphics are a turnoff. But think about the beauty of Dwarf Fortress! What I'm trying to say here is that gameplay is everything. Cogmind's world is procedural and challenges the player to think strategically to navigate it. And really, it's not pure ASCII graphics. As the website puts it, it's "ASCII evolved."  Seeing the aesthetic in motion clears things up a bit, and in fact, it's rather beautiful. It's a roguelike with permadeath and turn-based combat, which is like taking the highway straight into my heart. All the little things start to add up in Cogmind: a destructible environment, lack of grinding XP, stealth as an alternative to combat, and its apparent "living world" that will evolve as the player exists within it. This is definitely one to look out for. [embed]330358:61680:0[/embed] Courier of the CryptsDeveloper: Emberheart GamesFollow it: Mailing list, Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it now? Yes Courier of the Crypts is one of the most intriguing games on this list to me. Players guide a courier through crypts (duh) using his handy-dandy torch, solving puzzles and killing enemies along the way. But the way it's presented making it look slower and more methodical than you might think. For example, it seems that the primary way to kill enemies is leading them into traps that, from the looks of it, are likely designed to kill the player instead. It's got great pixel art and a wonderful premise, and I'm very interested in these "magical torch mechanics" the game mentions...   [embed]330358:61681:0[/embed] CRYPTARKDeveloper: AlientrapFollow it: Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Yes  I've played CRYPTARK in its current Early Access stage, and it's easy to see this game's bright future. Made from the same team that did Apotheon, one of my favorites of 2015, CRYPTARK brings players into space as they search through "alien space-hulks" with their space mech. It's got a lot of customization, a great art style, and most importantly, wonderful impact behind the gameplay. Going through these alien vessels is a blast, thanks in large part to the combat mechanics at play. [embed]330358:61697:0[/embed]  CupheadDeveloper: Studio MDHRFollow it: Blog, TwitterCan I buy it?  No Cuphead is all style. If you're not enraptured by the complete dedication to its aesthetic, well, I have nothing more to say to you. While aesthetic can only go so far, I think the level of love poured into a project like this speaks volumes. We can only hope that Studio MDHR has put the same amount of time and dedication into the actual gameplay as they have the aesthetic. [embed]330358:61698:0[/embed] Darkest DungeonDeveloper: Red Hook GamesFollow it: Steam, TwitterCan I buy it?  Yes This one is coming out soon! January 19, to be exact. Darkest Dungeon has been in Early Access for most of 2015, and has certainly had its ups and downs. Fans were very disappointed at an update that made the game incredibly hard, but Red Hook Games responded appropriately and listened to its community. Long story short: the disliked elements have been turned into options that can be toggled on or off, depending on an individuals preferences. This is a brutal roguelike that focuses on heading into dungeons with a handful of party members and doing your best just to make it through alive and sane. Party members can have mental problems creep up and take over them, hindering their abilities. Definitely worth it for fans of brutal challenges. [embed]330358:61699:0[/embed] Dead RealmDeveloper: Section StudiosFollow it:  Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Yes I've had my eye on Dead Realm ever since it was added to Steam. My friends and I have spent a good amount of time in Damned, a clunky, yet enjoyable multiplayer horror game, and Dead Realm looks like a great addition to that genre.  It's basically a horror-filled version of hide and go seek or manhunt (the outdoor game, not the video game). The asymmetric gameplay and the environments are key here. The humans need to escape from the ghost in any way possible, which includes moving objects around and building little forts. I'm hoping this is a little more complete and fluid than Damned is, but it looks to be a fun time with friends regardless. [embed]330358:61700:0[/embed] DrifterDeveloper: Celsius Game StudiosFollow it: Steam, TwitterCan I buy it? Yes I've mentioned this a lot in the past, but Freelancer is one of my favorite games of all time. Drifter looks to capture a lot of the same vibes with space trading, exploration, bounty hunting, piracy, all in a procedurally generated sandbox galaxy. It's been in Early Access for quite some time, and is currently in version "0.6.3." The last time I booted it up it was genuinely enjoyable, but incredibly clunky. With those clunks ironed out, this might be my go-to game to kill time in. Oh, and the music is by Danny B, so you know that will be great. [embed]330358:61701:0[/embed] Due ProcessDeveloper: Giant Enemy CrabFollow it: Blog, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? No, but there is an alpha sign-up I want this game....so bad. It's a multiplayer strategy first-person shooter where one team must defend an area while another must infiltrate. What's unique is that there is a planning phase beforehand where players literally draw on the map to orchestrate their plan, all while choosing weapons and discussing strategy with the team. All of this culminates in (hopefully) everything being executed and seeing who had the better plan. It's brilliant and simple to the point where IT NEEDS TO BE OUT RIGHT NOW. This is easily one of my most anticipated games of the year. [embed]330358:61702:0[/embed] Dungeon SoulsDeveloper: Mike StudiosFollow it: Steam, Tumblr, TwitterCan I buy it? Yes What I love most about Dungeon Souls is its pace. It's quicker than many roguelikes out there, which forces players to really think on their feet. When last I played it, it was a bit easy, but the game is still in Early Access. It's more hack-n-slashy, which contributes to the fast pace, but attacks really feel like they pack a punch. With various classes and an amazing art style, Dungeon Souls stands out in an incredibly over-saturated genre. [embed]330358:61736:0[/embed] DuskersDeveloper: Misfits AtticFollow it: Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Yes Duskers is...sort of hard to describe. Players remotely control various drones inside of empty spaceships in order to find out what has happened to the ships and possibly the universe. What's unique is that all drone commands are given by legit command prompts. Oh, and don't worry, the game has an auto-complete feature for typing, so players won't have to type the same things a million times during a playthrough. What makes Duskers worth keeping an eye on is its atmosphere. Everything is seen through the drone's motion sensor, and there's always a lot of unknowns out there. This stuff gets creepy real fast. It also forces players to continually think of and implement new strategies to tackle the obstacles in their way, which helps prevent things from getting stale. [embed]330358:61737:0[/embed] Dying EmberDeveloper: Private Beats NinjaFollow it:  Twitter, TIGSource ForumsCan I buy it? Nope Dying Ember is described by its creator as "2D/3D isometric action RPG inspired by Dark Souls."  That have your attention? Good, it should! Now, I'll admit, this one could easily be pushed into a 2017 release date, as stated by its developer, but it's too interesting to not put on your radars right now. The animations look smooth as butter from what's been shown, but unfortunately it's all in small chunks. Scrolling through the Twitter page reveals plenty of short GIFs that exemplify my point. As long as the combat feels as good as it looks, this is sure to steal the hearts of many. [embed]330358:61738:0[/embed] Enemy StarfighterDeveloper: Marauder InteractiveFollow it: Twitter, NewsletterCan I buy it? No Space games are hot right now. as evidenced by this being the fourth or so game already on this list that focuses on space. Enemy Starfighter is being developed by ex-Bungie employee Mike Tipul, and focuses more on the combat portion of space travel (hence the name). It's great to see a project more focused than the tradition "do all the space stuff!" pitch. The aesthetic looks wonderful, and from the videos produced so far, much of the fun will come from unscripted events, which are pretty much my favorite. [embed]330358:61739:0[/embed] ErnestoDevelopers: Daniel Benmergui, Jeremias Babini, & Hernan RozenwasserFollow it: Twitter, Dev Blog (tumblr), NewsletterCan I buy it? No Note: The video above gets the concept across, but the art is very outdated.  Ernesto is a puzzle game with combat, loot, and riddles, oh my! Sorry that was lame. Regardless, Ernesto puts many things into its design blender and the result, so far, looks wonderful. It's a game about dealing with the punches and optimizing a path through the enemies and chests in order to get the best result. Perhaps the best news is that it's coming to PC, Mac, and tablets, since this game looks perfect for a touch-interface and could also be great in small bursts! [embed]330358:61741:0[/embed] Gang BeastsDeveloper: BoneloafFollow it: Twitter, SteamCan I buy it? Yes Oh boy. Where do I begin with Gang Beasts? It's a game of goofy physics and relatively complex controls that my friends and I have played for hours on end, even past the point where sanity was still with us. I guess it's a 3D fighting game? But that sort of sells the game short. It's a physics-based local multiplayer combat game, where players can individually control arms and grab things. You can pick things up, including other players, climb walls, jump around like an idiot, and even get thrown into meat grinders. The game sets itself up for some of the most hilarious unintended consequences during these fights, and the animations only play in to the fact that you will be grinning ear-to-ear if you get some buddies around the TV to fight each other. [embed]330358:61742:0[/embed] Hyper Light DrifterDeveloper: Heart MachineFollow it: Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Pre-order Damn, is this game gorgeous or what? A "2D action RPG" that oozes personality, this is sure to make any list similar to mine. It just seems to nail the feel of the every move. Even just watching the trailer, there's so much umph to things! I mean, I just can't stop italicizing words! Dang! Our past preview had great things to say, and boy am I jealous that other people have played it who aren't me! Also, the music is by Disasterpiece, so fuck yeah! [embed]330358:61744:0[/embed] KrautscapeDeveloper: Mario von Rickenbach, PlayablesFollow it: Steam, Newsletter, TwitterCan I buy it? Yes I absolutely love Krautscape. It's a racing game that actually feels innovative and enjoyable. First of all, the leader of the race dictates how the track is set up. The track is built as players race on it, and the next "chunk" is created depending on where the leader drives when they reach the end of the current track. If they are all the way to the right, it'll be a hard right turn. In the center? Keep it going straight! Slightly to the left? Slight left turn is next. You get the idea. OH AND DID I MENTION YOU CAN FLY? At any time, players can sprout wings and take to the skies. This is especially helpful for the players who fall behind, and adds a new layer of strategy to track creation. Oh, the leader is making a harsh right turn next? I'll just jump off the edge and fly straight there! The music and overall aesthetic are soothing and beautiful, and I hope that more people enjoy Krautscape as I have done in its Early Access period. [embed]330358:61745:0[/embed] Lethal TacticsDeveloper: SkyBox LabsFollow it: Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Yes I've already written about Lethal Tactics before, and I'll take any opportunity to do so again! It's very much like the amazing Frozen Synapse, though does enough to differentiate itself. Plus, more of a great thing is still a great thing! The environment plays a key role in Lethal Tactics, since various objects can be destroyed during play. I just hope they add enough singleplayer content to satisfy a large chunk of potential customers. [embed]330358:61769:0[/embed] LiegeDeveloper: Coda GamesFollow it: Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Pre-order I finally got to try out Liege at PAX East last year, and now it easily tops my list of most anticipated games. Though it describes itself as a "JRPG," I'd say it's more along the lines of an "SRPG" because of its turn-based tactical approach to the battle system. Actually, developer John Rhee just came out with a blog post talking about the battle design. He transitioned the battles to have player and enemy turns happen simultaneously, but has recently decided to move back to the separate turns design. As I played through a tutorial-ish area at PAX, I couldn't help but fall in love with the game's aesthetic and accessibility. I understood the mechanics quickly, but could tell that things would go way deeper further into the game. As a huge SRPG fan, this game feels made for me. [embed]330358:61771:0[/embed] MiegakureDeveloper: Marc ten BoschFollow it: Newsletter, Twitter, Facebook, feedlyCan I buy it? No I don't understand what the fuck is going on in this game and I love it. (There's actually a really well written explanation here and you should all read it and be super stoked for Miegakure) [embed]330358:61772:0[/embed] No Man’s SkyDeveloper: Hello GamesFollow it: Newsletter, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? No I've always wondered if it's difficult to go from making games like Joe Danger and its sequel to making No Man's Sky. Not only is the scope a billion times bigger, but just about everything is drastically different. Unless maybe there are motorcycles and jumps hidden away on planets? Or maybe we can be giant cupcakes and race our friends through loopty-swoops and fire pits! Yeah, definitely thinking that last one is true. [embed]330358:61773:0[/embed] OverlandDeveloper: FinjiFollow it: Newsletter, TwitterCan I buy it? No When the creator of Canabalt is making a new game, you know it belongs on this list. Overland is a survival strategy game that has players on a "road trip through a ruined continent." Players will be scavenging for supplies in randomly generated levels in order to complete their journey. After watching the gameplay overview (embedded above), it looks like players will have to make a lot of smart and challenging decisions. This is yet another game where the art is wonderful. The whole thing gives me a bit of a Kentucky Route Zero vibe, which is probably one of the best compliments I can give! [embed]330358:61774:0[/embed] Paradise NeverDeveloper: Kitty Lambda GamesFollow it: TwitterCan I buy it? No Playing Paradise Never at PAX East and speaking with developer Calvin French made me realize that this game is going to be big. It has a repetition cycle reminiscent of Majora's Mask, with a cellphone that keeps data between time skips. Judging from French's work with The Real Texas, I expect wacky and memorable characters alongside meaningful mechanics, with a good dose of goofy thrown in for good measure. [embed]330358:61794:0[/embed] ParkitectDeveloper: Texel RaptorFollow it: Twitter, TumblrCan I buy it? Yes Parkitect is taking something that many people hold sacred, the rollercoaster management sim, and attempting to make it worthwhile in 2015. If this were some run-of-the-mill sim game, it wouldn't make it on this list. Parkitect seems to nail every aspect. It uses a light-hearted aesthetic to create a beautiful atmosphere that fits perfectly with the theme (heh) of the game. I'm not sure I trust any major players to re-ignite the love of theme park sims, but I believe that this indie team can do exactly the right thing!  Plus, it has mod support! Just think of all the crazy crap the community can come up with. [embed]330358:61795:0[/embed] SpeedrunnersDeveloper: DoubleDutch GamesFollow it: Steam, TwitterCan I buy it? Yes Similar to Gang Beasts, Speedrunners has been on regular rotation at my local multiplayer game night for quite some time. There is nothing as intense as a match of Speedrunners. Players race laps around a 2D platforming level and can run, slide, jump, and most importantly, grappling hook their way into first place. Jumping and nailing a perfect grappling hook to get around obstacle is easily one of the best feelings in competitive gaming. I think my favorite thing that Speedrunners does is slowly brings in the edges of the screen to focus on the remaining racers and eliminate the one who are too far behind. What you're left with is two racers with no peripheral vision where one mistake means losing. God damn, what a thrill! [embed]330358:61796:0[/embed] SquadDeveloper: Offworld IndustriesFollow it: Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Yes I'm a sucker for games that go for a strong cooperative experience. Squad is all about coop. I mean, it's called Squad! Reading experiences from those who have been playing it in its Early Access phase, it's somewhere between Counter-Strike and Arma in terms of realism, leaning towards Arma. In other words, it's pretty realistic but not inaccessible. It's a game that relies on solid communication, so prep your headsets and get ready to COMMUNICATE! [embed]330358:61797:0[/embed] StarCrawlersDeveloper: Juggernaut GamesFollow it: Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Yes I haven't played StarCrawlers since its early days, but even then I knew it was something special. The atmosphere is wonderful, regardless of whether you're exploring ships like Legend of Grimrock or sitting in the hub city talking to NPCs. The gameplay goes back and forth between roaming spaceships and turn-based combat. This is a game that I briefly lost myself in, and forced myself to stop and wait for it to be more completed. ....is it completed yet? Stephen’s Sausage RollDeveloper: Stephen LavelleFollow it: TwitterCan I buy it? No It's a puzzle game. With a sausage. What else do you need to know? Also, please do yourself a favor and check out the website.  [embed]333190:61809:0[/embed] STRAFE Developer: Pixel TitansFollow it: Tumblr, TwitterCan I buy it? No DISCLAIMER: I BACKED THIS SHIT ON KICKSTARTER Personally, I'm excited that more indie developers are going for the 90s low-polygon count models. I don't want it to get abused, but I enjoy it as of now. STRAFE is a fast-paced shooter that doesn't take itself too seriously. It's "90s retro" as hell and makes no apologies about it. It's got attitude that only 90s kids will remember lololololol ;) This also has an amazing website which you need to check out ASAP. [embed]330358:61800:0[/embed] Sub RosaDeveloper: Cryptic SeaFollow it: Steam, TwitterCan I buy it? No One of my favorite things is to watch people play Sub Rosa. It's not a competitive eSport or anything that I usually watch, but the events that happen are completely player-driven. It's a game that gives the players a world, objectives, and mechanics, and let's the rest happen naturally. Players work for corporations and have to make deals with other players for colored discs, which grant the players and corporations bonuses. The result is tense deals, double and triple crossing, and plenty of hilarity. [embed]330358:61806:0[/embed] TacomaDeveloper: FullbrightFollow it: TwitterCan I buy it? No This is another game that deserves attention by pedigree alone. Fullbright, the team behind the game Gone Home, is back with a more Rapture-esque feel to it, except it's in space and not underwater. If anyone can create an atmosphere and own it, it's Fullbright games. I look forward to rotating many space things in 2016! [embed]330358:61807:0[/embed] Tooth and TailDeveloper: Pocketwatch GamesFollow it: Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? No Tooth and Tail has had a couple of name changes so far. Announced as Armada, it later became known as LEADtoFIRE. Now, it's Tooth and Tail, which is leagues ahead of both of the previous names. This is a real-time strategy game by the developers of Monaco: What's Yours is Mine. The goal is to create an accessible RTS that feels comfortable on a controller. Very bold goals, since the RTS genre is notoriously difficult to get into for many. If Andy Schatz and company can pull it off, this could be a breakthrough game of the genre. More accessibility is a great thing, especially in such a tough genre. [embed]330358:61808:0[/embed] The Long DarkDeveloper: Hinterland Studio Inc.Follow it: Steam, Twitter, FacebookCan I buy it? Yes I bought The Long Dark during the most recent Steam sale, and absolutely fell in love with my first experience with it. It's unforgiving as hell, which is ironic because the game world itself is cold as....ice? It's a survival game that tasks the player to simply survive while dealing with the elements. I'm terrible at it, but that hardly prevents me from thoroughly enjoying my time dying. I'll likely never forget my first venture out into the wilderness. I left my cabin behind in search for something, anything, to help my sustain my future. Well, turns out that night wasn't too long off. So I headed towards a broken down cabin I came across, hoping it had a stove. It did! However, it also had a corpse right next to it. So, with no other real options, I opened my bed roll, threw some wood and tinder into the stove, and slept all night next to some stranger's corpse. It was a bit of a harrowing experience, and I can't wait for the game to be completed. -- So, what did I miss? What indies are you pumped for in 2016? Oh, and I made a convenient Twitter "list" of all the games and developers mentioned here in case you want to use that.
Top 2016 indies photo
Or 2017, or 2018...
Alright, last time I did this, most of these games didn't come out the next year. In fact, some of the "top indies of 2013" according to me still aren't out. That's the indie lifestyle I suppose, releasing a game "w...

Review: Tharsis

Jan 11 // Patrick Hancock
Tharsis (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: Choice ProvisionsPublisher: Choice ProvisionsMSRP: 14.99Release Date: January 12, 2016 Tharsis puts players in command of a crew en route to Mars where everything possible is going wrong. It sets the tone early in the tutorial by having a crew member straight up die. In fact, every new adventure begins with that crew member dying, which I find morbidly hysterical, especially considering how often I've started new games. In between each "turn" is a small, still-image cutscene that explains a little bit of how the plot is progressing. They play every playthrough, and while they are easy to skip, it's a minor annoyance to constantly be skipping them after every single turn. The plot unfolds as quick as the player is good; the further a player gets, the more story they reveal. Generally, this will be a very slow drip of new information, since it's very fucking difficult. Tharsis is essentially a virtual board game. The objective is to make it to Mars, which is ten weeks away, where each turn is a single week. The thing is, shit goes wrong on the ship every single turn. With the four surviving crew members, players must roll dice to fix the many issues plaguing the ship. I'm talking literal dice rolls here, as in you see the dice roll and bounce off the edges of the screen until they stop. [embed]331702:61810:0[/embed] There are seven sections of the ship, and each of them have a specific purpose. The Med Bay can heal crew members, the greenhouse grows food, and so on. In order to perform these actions, a crew member must be in that area and roll their dice. If that dice roll fits a predetermined requirement, the player can use those dice to complete the action. To grow food, for example, a player needs two or three identical dice. To heal in the Med Bay, a single die of a five or six will do. Eating food will restore dice, which is crucial to survival. Growing food, however, is hard to fit in. The alternative is cannibalism. Dead crew members will soon be available as food, if the player wishes to indulge. Human meat isn't as beneficial as grown food, since it reduces the max health of the crew member by one, but it's more available. Players can even elect to kill crew members in order to get more human meat. A decision like this should carry a lot of emotional baggage with it, but the fact is that it really doesn't. It's terrible to think about, but never quite hits home in an impactful way. Dice can also be put towards research, which will grant players extra actions and saving graces. The research bar can accept six dice - one for each possible result. Each die placed on the bar grants a research point. If at any point the player chooses to use their research for an extra action, like instantly restoring ship health, those points are removed. If the bar is completely filled, the points are kept but the dice are removed. Mechanically, this is a great way to not waste many extra dice that would otherwise be lost. Each crew member also has a specific action they can perform. Performing these actions is similar to the module actions: rolling a die that fits a predetermined requirement allows players to use it for a crew action. All these actions fall in line with the crew member's title: the Doctor heals other members, the Engineer repairs the ship, and so on. Extra crew members can be unlocked by hitting certain goals through every playthrough. These are lofty goals, like eating 300 pieces of human remains, but it is nice to have something to always be working towards, even if it is often unintentionally. These characters aren't necessarily better, as the "better" crew actions really just come down to personal preference. The ship itself is constantly under distress. New events of varying severity show up at the start of each turn, ranging from near-catastrophic to "eh, I'll get to it eventually." Events have "health," and when an event's health is completely repaired, the event is prevented. If an event is present at the end of the turn, its effect will occur until it is taken care of. A player repairs an event by rolling enough dice to reduce its health to zero. If an event has 12 health and a crew member rolls two sixes, great! The event can be taken care of. It doesn't matter how many dice rolls it takes to get rid of the event, just so long as it is gone before the end of the turn.  While rolling to clear an event, certain numbers of the die will have negative status effects associated with them: Stasis, Void, and Injury. If a rolled die matches the Stasis number, that die is frozen and cannot be re-rolled. If the Void number is rolled, that die disappears completely. Rolling the Injury number reduces the crew member's health. To prevent this, a resource called Assist can be gained. If the player has any Assists available, they will be used and nullify any of these status effects.  The problem is that Assists are used automatically, even when it isn't necessary. Let's say that an event only has two health remaining. A crew member might roll two dice: a two and a six. If the two has Stasis attached to it and the player has an Assist, then that Assist will be wasted on that die, since it was going to be used as a two anyway.  This issue comes up quite often, and is nothing but frustrating. Sometimes, two status effects will happen at once, one of which is clearly non-consequential, and the Assist will be wasted on the status effect the player doesn't care about. Knowing that Assists are automatic forces players to think about which astronaut they send to which module, but having the game completely take over an important resource eliminates too much player agency. While changing this would remove one element of strategy, it would add another that would alleviate a lot of frustration. It often feels that Tharsis relies too much on dice rolls. Overcoming intense obstacles often doesn't result in a feeling of accomplishment and pride, but one of happenstance and luck. It's likely intentional, to give the player the feeling that the situation is never really under control, but it's frustrating enough to destroy one's interest in trying again. That's not to say that the player has no impact on the results. There are very important decisions the player must make in order to help the crew survive. The order in which crew members go to tackle an event can change the impact of the turn. Sending in a Specialist first, who gets an extra re-roll, has a better chance of bringing down an events health than anyone else. Doing so can allow other members to have free dice available, which can in turn let them use their special ability to heal other members, repair the ship, or grow food. Dice are Tharsis' biggest resource, and mismanaging them will end the game very quickly. As I continued to play, I noticed just how important dice placement can be. Ideally, the player never wastes a die. Between crew abilities, module actions, event repair, and research, the player should be able to find a place for every single die, luck providing.  There's also the matter of using research abilities wisely. These can be used at almost any time, and they have saved my butt more than once. Evaluating the situation as a whole is crucial; it can be better to use research and crew abilities to repair a ship's health instead of getting rid of events. It's a short-term solution, but sometimes that's all you need. In between turns the player is forced to choose between different crew members' ideas. These often have positive and negative effects to them. One might add a piece of food but take away one health from every crew member, for example. There are little blurbs to go along with these decisions, but the written words make little to no sense in conjunction with the effects. This widens the disconnect between any attachment to the crew members and serves to remind the players that this is just a game. Not taking a crew member's idea can result in a loss of sanity for that crew member. As the sanity bar increases (which means they are losing sanity), their ideas will become worse and worse. Other events, like cannibalism and receiving injuries, also serve to increase the sanity bar. A playthrough ends when either no crew members are left or the ship's health is depleted. Early on, runs will likely last under ten minutes. As the player understands more and begins to utilize their resources a little better, runs will get slightly longer. A completed run will take approximately 30 minutes, depending on how much time was spent thinking. There's also a hard mode. But fuck that. Visually, it all looks pretty wonderful. Information is displayed clearly to the player and everything on the user interface is easy to understand while not being cluttered. Stasis and Void are displayed as two very similar colors, however, which makes it hard for colorblind players to notice the difference. The cutscenes are drawn while the game itself uses 3D models. The faces of crew members are a bit bleh, but while looking at the ship itself, all else is forgiven. There's a lot of small touches that both hurt and help. The cutscenes are always the same, and it becomes annoying to have to skip the cutscenes in between every turn. On the other hand, the narrator will be male or female, depending on which commander the player has. The popup that explains what crew idea choices are also pops up every single playthrough, which is another slight annoyance. Looking around the interiors, however, shows a strong attention to detail that really helps the ship come alive. Tharsis is a good way to spend 10-30 minutes to see what happens on the next journey. It's a very harsh battle against the unknown, and can be utterly soul-crushing. Perhaps too soul-crushing, actually. Players will, at times, feel so defeated and useless that playing again seems pointless. And maybe that's the point, considering the circumstances. I wouldn't recommend to marathon Tharsis in an attempt to complete its journey, but instead to boot it up every once in a while and hope for the best. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tharsis Review photo
God damn, Mark Watney had it easy
Space is dangerous, everyone. If you weren't aware of this, just play Tharsis. If you wanna feel sad and hopeless, just play Tharsis. If you're known for always getting great dice rolls at tabletop night, definitely play Thar...

The best games of 2015 you didn't play

Jan 02 // Patrick Hancock
Else Heart.Break()Available from: Steam, GOG, HumblePrice: $24.99 Alright, so this game is difficult to explain. At its core, it's a lot like an adventure game. You click to move, interact with people using branching trees of dialogue, and have an inventory. However, the player gets an item early on that allows them to hack in to just about anything in the game's world. This means that the player can change the code that operates various objects. Allow me to give you an early example: the player is tasked with changing the code of a cup of coffee. Instead of making the coffee make a person more awake, it's possible to change it so it makes them faster, more charismatic, and even smellier. This game slowly teaches the player how computer science language works, and that is absolutely brilliant. The fact all of this is integrated into the overarching plot just makes it that much more enjoyable.  BaronyAvailable from: Developer's website, Steam, DesuraPrice: $6.99 Please, don't look at the screenshots of Barony and assume it's a Minecraft knockoff. Yes, everything is cubes, but this is more NetHack than anything else. Okay, I've never played NetHack, but that's what everyone else keeps saying, so I'm trusting them. It's a very difficult first-person roguelike with online co-op. Players choose from a number of classes and go through various floors in order to, well, I'm not too sure.  Barony is incredibly difficult, and I've never made it too far, even with my buddies helping me out. But that being said, each romp I've taken through its worlds has been incredibly entertaining, with the random elements constantly keeping us on our toes. Just make sure you know how to find your IP and potentially open ports if you're planning to play online. 3x0ngAvailable from: Developer's websitePrice: FREE Developer David O'Toole has a history of making games I enjoy. 2x0ng and The Testament of the White Cypress both caught and held my attention in the past, and this year it's his newest game in the "x0ng" series, 3x0ng.  This time, the game is head-to-head, as players attempt to throw a "squareball" at an opponent's goal. The problem is, there's a lot of colorful bricks in the way. The end result is part Breakout, part Pong, and part soccer. Things get intense very quickly, even against the CPU. This is definitely a game that needs to be added to your local multiplayer library. TowerClimbAvailable from: SteamPrice: $14.99 Think of this as reverse Spelunky. The object is simple enough: climb out of the tower by going up. In reality, it's really freaking difficult. What I love about TowerClimb is how it demands patience and dedication from the player. Many Spelunky players zoom through the levels incredibly smoothly; not possible in TowerClimb. Moving up is a slow process, one that takes careful planning and no lapses in focus. While it may come off as boring at first, those who take time to appreciate what TowerClimb is teaching will come away with a sense of pride. There are many great mechanics at play here, all intermingling so well together that many players may not even notice. Plus, it has multiplayer and you can jump off of other players' heads to reach new heights! ClandestineAvailable from: SteamPrice: $24.99 I've written about Clandestine plenty in my review, but I'll reiterate a few points here. While it's far from perfect, I haven't experienced such a great story-driven cooperative game in a very long time. Laughing at the cutscenes is a great juxtaposition to intensely planning out our next mission and makes me appreciate each moment throughout the game. It's true asymmetric gameplay -- the two players cooperating are doing completely different things, but both aiming to achieve the same objective. It forced us to think in different ways and more importantly, forced us to actually cooperate in a way that we haven't since Left 4 Dead. Telepath Tactics + HighlandsTelepath Tactics available from: Developer's website, Steam, GOGHighlands available from: SteamPrice: Both are $14.99 So, these are pretty different games, but I've lumped them together because they are both very difficult strategy RPGs. Seriously, I can't beat either one of them. Really, I got through a few levels before my ass was devilishly handed to me on a silver platter by the AI. Telepath Tactics is probably the closest thing to a Fire Emblem game available on PC, but it still introduces its own mechanics that make it stand out from the crowd. And yes, it does have a "casual" difficulty setting for anyone worried about never finishing it. Highland has more going on than just its beautiful art style. It's also an interesting take on the strategy RPG genre. It focuses on using the land as its own resource. The enemy will continually spawn on territories it owns, while players will continuously generate resources off their territory. Both of these games challenge players to be at the top of their game, and both are great additions to the genre. Infinifactory + TIS - 100Infinifactory available from: Steam, GOGTIS-100 available from: Steam, GOGPrice: $24.99 (Infinifactory), $6.99 (TIS-100) These are lumped together because they are both puzzle games by the same developer, Zachtronics, and they are both way too smart for me. These are the same people who made Spacechem, which is another brilliant puzzle game. Infinifactory tasks players to get blocks from point A to point B. Simple, right? Thing is, the blocks need to be arranged in a specific fashion, and oftentimes players need to use the 3D space and conveyor belts available to them in creative ways. It challenges spatial reasoning in ways that make me feel real dumb, and I love that. TIS-100 is an entirely different beast. This teaching players to understand programming logic by forcing them to learn an entirely unique programming language. It also tasks players from getting things from point A to point B, except this time it employs things like integers. Players must order, multiply, and change data using the coding functions that the game permits. Just be warned: you must read the manual. It lists the functions and how they work, which is required to actually complete a level. The Curse of IssyosAvailable from: Developer's websitePrice: FREE  Ben has written about this game before, and now that it's out, I'm reminding you to go get it! It's old-school cool, and reminds me a lot of games like Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. The difference is, I can actually do well at The Curse of Issyos. It's definitely difficult, but not unbearably so. It does a great job, as many games do, of introducing enemies and obstacles to the player in ways that are harmless at first, only to really test their skills later on. I love anything to do with Greek mythology, so naturally I adored Issyos. It's not terribly long, but there's a lot to love here, including a secret that can change the ending. It's an old-school idea blended with more modern techniques that really shine, just like the sweet armor powerup! Little PartyAvailable from: Itch.ioPrice: Pay what you want This little game had a big impact on me. There's not much to it: you play as a mom in a cabin in the woods while your daughter is throwing some sort of party. All players can do is move and interact, so it's a bit like an adventure game. I found myself making a lot of assumptions about where things were going, only to find out that, damn, it's not easy being a mother. The aesthetic is beautiful and the music is a key component to the story, and delightfully so. It's not very long, so please, go be a mom and make some guacamole for your daughter and her friends. It's worth it. As always, just because a game is "free" or "pay what you want," don't forget you can always donate to the developer if you enjoy their work! Good things deserve to be supported.
Flew under the radar photo
You monster
2015 was a fantastic year for video games. There were so many great games vying for an opportunity to occupy your time. Personally, my backlog increased more than ever due to the influx of "games I just gotta play." There are...

Review: Minecraft: Wii U Edition

Dec 29 // Patrick Hancock
Minecraft: Wii U EditionDeveloper: 4J Studios, Microsoft StudiosPublisher: Mojang ABReleased: December 17, 2015MSRP: $29.99 Given its status as a cultural phenomenon, I probably don't need to explain the basics of Minecraft in 2015. In case you've been experiencing the same thing as Brendan Fraser in Blast from the Past, I'll give a quick rundown. Players spawn into a randomly generated world created entirely out of individual blocks. It is up to them to harvest materials like wood, coal, and stone to create tools and survive the many dangers present throughout the game world. Personally, I guess I'm more of a Minecraft purist. I've been playing on and off since the alpha stages, and began to grow a bit disinterested with many of the later additions like brewing and enchanting. That being said, I absolutely love the purity of vanilla Minecraft. I've never added in dozens of PC mods to completely change the game or even alter the original tileset. To me, it's at its most elegant when it is untouched. The Wii U Edition does have some extra tilesets thrown in for players to switch between, and some extras to purchase on the eShop. New player skins are also offered for purchase, like The Simpsons, in case players don't want to be "Tennis Steve" or "Black Steve" -- oh wait, I mean "Athlete Steve." Naturally, the thought of playing Minecraft with the Wii U's GamePad is rather exciting. It could be used for inventory management, a second screen for cooperative play, easy crafting -- the possibilities are endless! Well, unless you're 4J Studios. Then the possibilities are one. The only benefit of having the GamePad is the ability for single-player Off-TV play. And even when players are using it for Off-TV play, it does not function as a touch screen for inventory management or anything else. When playing locally with a friend, players are forced into split-screen mode. Playing split-screen with the GamePad in hand feels like a complete waste of an opportunity.  The game runs fine, though snow tends to tank the framerate in cooperative play. Also, when playing locally, if one player opens up their inventory, there's a pause for a fraction of a second that is absolutely infuriating. It sounds like it should be barely noticeable, but just the opposite is true. I ended up calling out whenever I was making an important jump or otherwise being careful, so my partner wouldn't pause the game and screw me up. Speaking of pausing, trying to move items around with a joystick is awful. I'm sure this is what Xbox players have been dealing with for years, but man is it bad. The joystick emulates a mouse cursor, but everything snaps to the inventory grid, making it a painfully slow and annoying process to move things about. This is made worse by the fact that I'm literally holding a now-useless touchscreen in my hands. Playing online only works among friends. At first I thought the game was buggy, since the "Join" tab was completely unpopulated. However, a quick jaunt over to the Miiverse showed people posting screenshots of the main menu asking if anyone would like to friend up and play, making the situation very clear: you can only play online with people on your friends list. Well, okay then. Minecraft is still a beautiful game. The first time I heard C418's ambient soundtrack kick in, I was beaming. The first time night fell, I nervously holed up in the ground. Despite my adoration of the game, I ended up being frustrated at just about every aspect of the Wii U Edition. This is the epitome of a wasted-opportunity, bare-bones port. It's great that the game is coming to yet another audience, but this is hardly worth the investment for someone who already has the opportunity to play Minecraft elsewhere.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Minecraft: Wii U review photo
What's a GamePad?
Minecraft is quite the success story, isn't it? It went from one man's fun project to a household name in a seemingly small amount of time. Everywhere I go, I see Minecraft-related items: t-shirts, plushies, costumes. It...

Cloud in Smash Bros. is all about the limit break

Dec 16 // Patrick Hancock
Let's start with his special moves. Neutral B: Blade Beam This is a pretty awful projectile. The best thing about it is that it lasts a decent amount of time and goes straight. It's an okay spacing tool but has incredibly small knockback and pitiful damage. The limit break version, on the other hand, is great. It travels quickly and has multiple hits, doing around 17% damage. It can be a decent edge-guarding tool (it hits hanging opponents) and can be used to catch opponents rolling. Side B: Cross Slash This is an interesting move. The standard version requires multiple presses of the B button to execute, which leaves Cloud with some options. Since people tend to mash button to get out of things, cutting this off early can catch players and force them into an exposed situation. The limit break version is very high damage, but won't kill too early. It comes out pretty much instantly so it's a nice punish if you catch an opponent in a poor position. Up B: Climhazzard First of all, "climb-hazzard?" What?! I've been calling it "Clim-hazzard" forever! Anyway, Cloud has some awful recovery. His normal up special doesn't get much height and definitely doesn't go very horizontal. Be careful not to tap B again, or else he'll head straight downwards, ignoring any and all ledges on his way [he can still grab ledges! Thanks LinkSlayer]. It's also not a very good attack; it's sort of like Kirby's up special, except you don't need to commit to the downward swing. The limit break version has some absolutely wonderful recovery, both vertical and horizontal, however it's still a lackluster attack on the ground. Down B: Limit Charge / Finishing Touch This charges Cloud's Limit Break meter and, more importantly, displays it to the players. The gauge is invisible normally, so knowing exactly where it is can be key. From zero, it takes about seven seconds to get to full charge. Once charged, this special becomes an instant, insanely powerful kill move. But it's all knockback; the hit itself does 1% damage. This is a huge risk/reward. It kills off the top hella early, as low as around 55% on standard character weight like Mario (without Directional Influence). If it doesn't kill, however, all you've accomplished is 1% damage, a huge waste of the Limit Break. While playing online, most Clouds I encountered would charge Limit Break at any given chance, even if it meant giving up stage control. I don't think this is the best strategy. Having a Limit Break can be a hindrance; the next special attack needs to count, which means you can't throw out a random special attack. When Samus has her Charge Shot, she can still shoot missiles and lay bombs without worrying. Cloud is forced into an awkward position where suddenly, everything should be a standard attack until an opening presents itself. Personally, I like to charge sparingly. Since the Limit Gauge charges automatically by getting hit, charging the meter close to 100% forces the opponent into a corner. By hitting you, they give you a Limit Break, but by not fighting, well, that won't get far. This gives the player an opportunity to play around with their specials for a bit before the Limit Break pops. Now, his stats are slightly better when the Limit Gauge is full, but I still feel awkwardly restricted at the same time. It's an interesting trade-off, and one that will definitely need more experimentation. And don't be scared to throw out a Limit Break attack like a Blade Beam, since there's little recovery associated with it. The others, however, are a bit riskier because of the lag time when missed. [embed]327136:61537:0[/embed] As far as notable normals, Cloud has some decent options. His forward smash is absolutely incredible. It can kill around 75% uncharged! It has a decent windup and ending lag, so it's not something that players should just throw out whenever. His forward and up tilts are basic sword swipes and come out pretty fast, so I've leaned on them for some quick reaction attacks. His down tilt is a slide, and damn do I love this move. It's quick and moves Cloud a decent distance, meaning it has use as an attack and a movement option. It pops up the opponent a short distance, leading to easy followups with an up aerial (which also comes out very quick) or a neutral jump/mind games. Cloud's forward tilt takes some time to come out, but has a large arc and spikes towards the end. His down aerial also spikes at the tip, and looks just like Link's. His neutral aerial, however, is easily his best option. It's arc is huge and comes out way quicker than his other options. In general, if I'm jumping, I'm throwing out a neutral air. Cloud has no kill throws at any reasonable percents. I've found that his down throw is a decent setup for followups. It pops them up just enough to perform a short hop and a quick aerial, which is nice. It's not a true combo from what I can tell, though. His grab range is also sort of garbage. As for his stage, it's amazing. No, it won't be at any tournaments ever. However, for groups like my friends and me, which enjoy playing on the wonky-but-not-too-wonky maps, it's perfect. All of the stage alterations from the summons are pretty tame. I'd say it's somewhere in between Pokémon Stadium 1 and 2 in terms of obtrusive stage hazards. Plus, it's got some of the best music so far in the game and YES I LOVE FINAL FANTASY VII SO WHAT I'M NOT BIASED. Unfortunately, I don't see Cloud rising through the ranks to top tier like I did with Ryu. He has some great power and an interesting mechanic, but his lack of recovery leaves him way too open to gimping and his slower moves will leave him at the will of quick characters like Sheik or Zero Suit Samus.
Cloud impressions photo
And the forward smash
Guys, Cloud is in Super Smash Bros. Holy shit.

Bayonetta is in Super Smash Bros.

Dec 15 // Patrick Hancock
Bayonetta in Smash! photo
Get Wicked!
Bayonetta, a character many fans have wanted in Super Smash Bros., has just been officially announced for the game! Bayonetta was the #1 choice in Europe's Smash ballot, and in the top five in North America. In fact, sh...

New Smash Character photo
New Smash Character

Fire Emblem's Corrin coming to Smash Bros.


Something something another swordfighter
Dec 15
// Patrick Hancock
Corrin, from the upcoming Fire Emblem Fates, is joining the roster of Super Smash Bros. Now, before you freak out that another swordfighter is joining the game, be aware that most of Corrin's attacks don't actually use ...

Dragon's Dogma runs wonderfully on PC

Dec 03 // Patrick Hancock
Tested on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 10 Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is officially releasing on PC on January 15, so there will still be optimizations and tweaks between now and then. Honestly, though? I've encountered no technical issues whatsoever.  Here are the options included in the PC version: [embed]323834:61344:0[/embed] As you can see, the graphics menu has just about all the options players should expect, including a field-of-view setting. Playing with everything cranked up, I was able to run the game at a consistent 60 frames per second, including during the in-game cutscenes. As I mentioned, I'm only a couple of hours in, and nothing has gotten too crazy yet. Playing on a keyboard and mouse feels rather comfortable, and I'm generally not happy with third-person action games using this control scheme. The keyboard keys can be remapped, so if the defaults don't tickle your fancy, change them! The individual controller buttons cannot be changed, but there are six different control schemes provided. The game also automatically detects the controller (in my case, an Xbox One gamepad) immediately and even adjusts the button prompts. A small, but dedicated detail involves the screenshot feature. Players can pause the action and go into a specific "Share" menu option to get a screenshot (as I have done, above) to move the camera about and get a nice image. The PC version will automatically take a Steam screenshot when the Take Photo button is pressed. I expected the game to save it to some random location in My Pictures, but the developers went so far as to program Steam screenshots into this feature -- awesome! We'll have a full PC Port Report on Dark Arisen's official Steam release in January, but as of now, the outlook is very good!
Dragons Dogma PC photo
Smooth like butta
At some point, I downloaded Dragon's Dogma onto my PS3, but never got around to playing it. I'd scroll through and tell myself "some other day." Well, apparently that other day is the day it comes to PC. I hear tell that...

Review: Just Cause 3

Nov 30 // Patrick Hancock
Just Cause 3 (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One)Developer: Avalanche StudiosPublisher: Square EnixMSRP: $59.99Release Date: December 1, 2015 Reviewed on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 10.  Just Cause 3 once again follows the exploits of Rico Rodriguez on a quest to liberate a region from a corrupt dictator, settlement by settlement. This time Rico has access to Medici, a nation under the control of Sebastiano Di Ravello. Medici is about the same size of Just Cause 2's Panau, which is to say it is huge. One big reason why Medici is a sought-after nation is due to its resource of Bavarium, a super-resource that allows for all sorts of militaristic applications. While I'm sure most players are not coming for the plot, the writers do a great job to keep the player entertained with the cast of characters involved. Rico has a handful of allies that aid him and the rebels throughout the campaign, and each character is great. Sure, they're essentially B-movie caricatures, but they're lovable caricatures. Despite the urgency and political turmoil constantly woven into each action Rico undertakes, his allies always seemed to put a big grin on my face. A lot of this comes down to two three things: the writing, voice acting, and animations. Again, the overarching narrative isn't going to blow any minds, but the moment-to-moment dialogue between the few important characters is consistently wonderful. Best of all, each voice actor delivers lines in a casual and believable way, something that is helped by realistic accompanying animations. No, there's no Bolo Santosi, but not every game is perfect. [embed]322878:61303:0[/embed] The bulk of the experience involves blowing the shit out of anything and everything. In order to take down Di Ravello, Rico must go from location to location, destroying everything owned by the evil dictator. It just so happens that about 95 percent of those items are highly explosive! When entering an area, whether it be a military base or a settlement, a list of destructible objects appear on the left side of the screen and it is the player's job to take them out. As less and less objects remain, they become more and more visible on the game's map, preventing the player from searching forever for that one last thing. The most useful tools at Rico's disposal are his grappling hooks. Not only is it possible to grapple onto a surface and travel straight to it, but Rico can use it to attach two separate items and pull them together. In Just Cause 3, it is possible to have up to six grappling hooks at a time. Six! This means twelve items can be linked to each other in a number of ways, and they can all converge on each other at once. Anyone who has played the previous game knows just how ridiculous that sounds. Okay, so there's explosives and grappling, but those aren't even the best mechanics, all things told. Movement in Just Cause 3 is easily the most fluid and beautiful system I've ever used. Seriously, I have never enjoyed moving around an open world as much as I have in Just Cause 3. There are three systems that mesh together: the grappling hook, the parachute, and, most importantly, the newly-acquired wing suit.  There's a lot of verticality to Medici, which makes flying around with the wing suit an absolute thrill. Plus, with the grappling hook available, it's possible to glide almost indefinitely at high speeds. I rarely used a vehicle to get around at all, since it was often slower and way less entertaining. The exception is when traveling over a large amount of water, since there is nothing to grapple onto and pull Rico along. Other than the campaign missions and settlements to liberate, Medici has random events, challenges, and collectibles. The random events might be to help tow someone's car to a gas station, or to prevent a group of friendly rebels from suffering the fate of a firing squad. There aren't too many varieties, but the distractions are quick and the rewards can easily be worth it. Some of the challenges are the standard "maneuvering a vehicle through rings," but others perfectly show off the game's mechanics and carefree attitude. Perhaps my favorite is a very Burnout-esque challenge that has players drive a car with a bomb strapped to it to a desired location only to jump out at the last moment to create chaos. The twist here is that, like Keanu Reeves in Speed, if the car goes below a certain speed, the bomb will explode. It's not as strict as the movie, but if a player goes too slow for too long, the challenge is failed. Others, like the wing suit courses, are also great and help hone specific skills. Players are awarded up to five "gears," depending on performance. Think of them like star ratings. Acquiring gears in certain challenge categories go towards unlocking new upgrades in those areas. For example, performing well in the Speed challenges gives Rico more upgrades for his explosives. Many of the upgrades make things simply better or more useful, like adding explosive charges, but some are more play-style driven. Players can turn these upgrades on and off at will once they are unlocked. For those looking to get more gears in challenges, keep this in mind; it is way easier to get a high score at the end of the game than it is at the beginning due to upgrades. Since this is an open world game in 2015, there's a smattering of collectibles strewn throughout Medici. I'm not one to care about them, but for those who do, Just Cause 3 has your back. If anything collectible is nearby, a small radar blip appears on the bottom of the screen that increases in signal strength as the item draws near. In addition, liberating a province (usually made of three to seven settlements) pinpoints the locations of these hidden items on the map. The biggest thing to realize while playing Just Cause 3 is it is mostly up to the player to keep things interesting. Liberating settlement after settlement does get stale, especially because they're essentially identical to one other, just with different layouts. Always using the same weapons to destroy the same objects gets old quickly. If players aren't inspired to get creative with their destruction, it's easy to get bored. The game gives the players all the tools needed to keep things fresh, but provides no tangible incentive to do so, therefore any such incentive must be intrinsically motivated. My recommendation is to keep doing challenges. By completing challenges and unlocking new upgrades, players will naturally want to play around with those upgrades. Well, what better way to test them out then when liberating a settlement? It would have been appreciated if various weapons had their own challenges, which would push players into switching it up more often. The story missions spice things up with some different objectives, but even those tend to repeat and feel "samey" after a while. Occasionally story missions will be locked, forcing the player to liberate more provinces or specific settlements before progressing. There's usually a canonical reason given for this, but it can easily lead to the player feeling burnt out. Liberating two or three provinces means going through about 15 settlements in a row. That's....a lot, especially considering how similar each one is to any other. Again, I'll offer some advice. Liberate settlements as you travel around. See a settlement? Blow the shit out of it and free those people! This will leave random settlements already completed, which means when you are forced to do so, it's much less tedious. Another way to help break the monotony is to call in Rebel Drops. These allow Rico to ask for some presents like vehicles, weapons, and explosives, to be dropped right in front of him. They are limited, but the system is much easier to understand and operate than the previous game's black market. If the feeling of staleness is creeping up, call in a rebel drop containing any assortment of items, and find the best way to use them in tandem! Visually, Just Cause 3 looks great, especially in motion on PC. The visuals are highly customizable with the standard graphical options expected on the platform. I ran everything at "Very High" and got a constant 60 frames-per-second... once I turned the motion blur off. I experimented with many different settings, and the lack of motion blur easily yielded the best performance. I did have some rare instances of artifacting, but was never able to actually reproduce them intentionally. I also ran in to a terrible glitch where Rico was performing the "dammit I got hit" animation every three-seconds, preventing me from doing, well, anything. A quick restart fixed the issue and I never saw it again, fortunately enough. Then, there's the issue with signing in to the Square Enix servers. The first thing the game does upon booting it up is to log in to the servers. The game is not always-online, but wants to connect to show players leaderboards for a variety of categories. These are things like longest time in a wing suit or most consecutive headshots. If a player loses connection, it pauses the game immediately and tries to reconnect. If it can't, the player can elect to go into offline mode. Great! Offline mode sounds wonderful. Except it tries to reconnect all the damn time. After a short while of being in offline mode, whenever the player checks the map, pauses the game, or initiates a challenge, the game will try to reconnect to the servers. The result is a constant view of the connection screen - either disconnecting or attempting to reconnect. This makes the game nigh unplayable with a spotty Internet connection. If that worries you, a solution on PC is to play the game through Steam's "offline mode." I can only hope there's an easier solution down the road. The enjoyment players get from Just Cause 3 will come from exactly how they approach the game. Those looking to fly around and blow up just about everything in sight will be elated with one of the most fluid movement systems in any game and the gorgeous explosion visuals that really pack a punch. As bizarre as it sounds though, blowing everything sky high can start to feel tedious after a while without proper motivation.  I'm sure you'll be seeing a ton of animated GIFs of Just Cause 3 for a while to come, due to all of the wacky things that can happen within the game. It truly is an insane, explosion-filled romp through a beautiful nation chock-full of cheeky humor. It provides some of the best open-world tools ever. This is definitely a case of "it is what you make of it," and for those with intrinsic motivation to make it the best will be greeted with just that. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Just Cause 3 Review! photo
The best Spider-Man game yet
While driving down the New Jersey parkway for Thanksgiving, I began to notice a lot of water and radio towers perched high above the trees. "Wow, I could easily blow them up or tether them to the ground and bring them down," ...

Review: Mayan Death Robots

Nov 21 // Patrick Hancock
Mayan Death Robots (PC)Developer: Sileni StudiosPublisher: SOEDESCO PublishingReleased: November 20, 2015MSRP: $14.99  Mayan Death Robots pits two giant robots against each other as a television sport for other robots, I suppose, to watch. Each season of this television show chooses a new planet, and it just so happens that this season is on Earth around the 1500s. The premise is loose and really only serves to usher the player from one mission to the next, but it's definitely cute. Mayan Death Robots is a 1v1 match that plays out similar to the classic Worms games. Players pick one of the eight unique robots and are then plopped into a battlefield. The objective of each game is to destroy the opponent's Core, which is a small box somewhere behind them. In the way, however, is plenty of terrain as well as the enemy robot. Each robot has two types of attacks, the ability to jump, and the ability to create new terrain. That last bit is interesting; each player can create terrain in the form of Tetris blocks anywhere within a certain radius of their robot, as long as it's not floating mid-air. This allows some interesting defensive play in a game that would otherwise be entirely offensive. There's a limit to the amount of blocks, and using it consecutively yields less and less blocks. [embed]321771:61215:0[/embed] Turns happen simultaneously and publicly. There's a short time period to choose an action, then another time period to aim said action, then both players' actions happen at once. However, knowing what an opponent is going to do doesn't mean it can be stopped. If a player sees their opponent shooting straight at the core, that shot will go off. Shooting the ground beneath them or the robot itself won't affect anything since both shots are fired at once. Tiny pixelated Mayans roam about on each player's side, worshiping the giant robot from the sky. Killing the enemy's Mayans will grant a bonus to the explosion size of the player, but it's rarely worth it to fire specifically at Mayans; it is usually just an added benefit of firing at something else. Mayans will also attack the enemy robot if they stand nearby. This is legitimately useful, since they are constantly doing damage while the turn timer is ticking down, and it prevents the opponent from jumping right next to the Core and blowing it to bits. Every so often, an item wheel will spin and award both players randomly selected items. These items are one-time use, but provide some variety to the gameplay that can start to feel tedious after long play sessions. The game incentivizes the player to use the item quickly, since they are lost upon death. If a player is dead when the wheel spins, they do not receive the item. The core gameplay is great. Playing against another human can lead to intense back-and-forth matches. Multiplayer supports two players locally (no online) with either gamepads or the keyboard. It's a nice feature that both players can use the keyboard, since not everyone has controllers for their PC. An odd omission is the total lack of mouse support, even in menus. In a game that focuses on aiming precise shots, it would have been a boon to be able to use the mouse. Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect is that players are forced to unlock the playable robots and the more interesting items. Of the ten robots available, six are unlocked from the start and the rest are acquired through the campaign. While I understand the necessity to give the player a feeling of progression, those who buy the game and just want to play with a friend will be disappointed. Luckily, the campaign can be played through with a buddy. All of the robots feel different from each other, despite the only difference being their two attacks. Some of them have special properties, like having their attacks become more powerful the longer they are in the air, or being able to shoot through certain terrain. While they feel unique, all robots play very similarly: get into a position that your attacks benefit from, and shoot away. Each match has the potential to be an intense back-and-forth or a complete slog; it all depends on the players (or AI) involved. The campaign is set up as a series of over 30 "episodes." There is no tutorial, but players will likely pick up the mechanics quickly. Occasionally, these episodes will modify the standard gameplay by adding stage hazards. These hazards tend to be either incredibly annoying or completely useless. Only rarely do they affect gameplay in a unique, interesting way. There is also an occasional stage boss, which removes the cores from the map and asks both players to destroy the monster. This is great, if you're playing with another human. Cooperating with the AI is downright awful. You see, the boss has to be "summoned" by performing certain actions on the map, but the AI doesn't give a shit. The AI is more concerned with destroying the player's core, making it a huge pain to even get the boss to appear most of the time. If the match ends before the boss is summoned, the player must restart the level. The bosses each have their own mechanics, which are very hit or miss. Some bosses, like the map modifiers, are more annoying than they are worth. Plus, after defeating a boss, the cores come back and the match continues like normal. It's a strange cooperative-to-competitive swing that just feels random. Other than the boss levels, there is no way to lose a level while playing the campaign. Sure, the AI can win, but it doesn't matter, the player progresses to the next stage anyway. This makes sense if two humans are playing each other, since one will always win, but not when playing solo. There's no incentive for a single player to win...at all. There are no rankings, stars, or scores to do better in, there's no leaderboards, nothing. A solo player could go through each level and lose, as long as they summon the boss in the boss levels, and progress through the entire campaign and unlock everything.  There's also a Versus mode which is as straightforward as they come. Players can only compete on the modified maps by going through the campaign and selecting that specific episode to play on, but it would have been great to be able to choose these modifiers from a list in Versus mode, potentially mixing and matching some to create some zany situations. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort exists. Versus is as vanilla as it gets. Despite my enjoyment of the game mechanically, I cannot recommend Mayan Death Robots to anyone looking for a worthwhile single-player experience. For those wanting another entertaining local multiplayer game, however, it provides some unique strategic gameplay. It likely won't keep players enthralled for hours on end, but serves as a great addition to any local-multiplayer library.
Mayan Death Robots review photo
Maybe they're friendly death robots...
I really enjoyed my time with Mayan Death Robots at PAX East this year. My buddy and I played a few matches and left anticipating its eventual release. Now that it is released, I was excited to jump in and see the final ...

Van Helsing Final Cut photo
Van Helsing Final Cut

Van Helsing's Final Cut is the most 'Incredible' yet


Unless you've already played
Nov 15
// Patrick Hancock
Recently, NeocoreGames released The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing: Final Cut on Steam, a compilation of the three games in the series. Past titles have varied in quality; the first game was good but buggy, the sec...

Review: Clandestine

Nov 14 // Patrick Hancock
Clandestine (PC)Developer: Logic ArtistsPublisher: Logic ArtistsMSRP: $24.99Released: November 5, 2015 Clandestine takes place in 1996, with the Soviet Union still fresh on everyone's mind. Players play as either Katya or Martin, field operatives who investigate bad guys who have done bad stuff. Honestly, a lot of the plot went over my head, generally because my friend and I were laughing so hard over voice chat that we missed just about everything. Clandestine falls perfectly into the "so bad, it's great" category with its cutscenes. Movements are rigid and imprecise, voice acting is god awful, and things clip through each other. In fact, the characters' boss has a goatee that clips through his face when he talks. Sure, this could be seen as a terrible oversight from the developers, but it's so in-line with the quality of the rest of the aesthetic that somehow it works. The game's structure has players walking around a headquarters between missions in order to get new information on what just happened, as well as what is coming next. It's nice to have legitimate downtime before each mission, and roaming around the building with a friend can yield wonderful things. HQ is essentially a playground that becomes a game of "what goofy position can I get myself into next?" In a way, it reminded me of walking around the base in Perfect Dark. [embed]320445:61104:0[/embed] Mission objectives often have Katya sneaking into specific areas to either interrogate someone for information, or set up a rootkit on a computer for Martin to hack into and download specific data. While boiling the objectives down to their core makes Clandestine sound same-y, the variation of maps and context keep things fresh from mission to mission. There are even some choices the players can make that affect specific plot elements and mission objectives. Gameplay entirely depends on which character players control. Katya's gameplay is third-person stealth, while Martin's is computer-terminal hacking. Katya's controls will be familiar to anyone who has played a third-person game before. She can stick to walls, which is a bit janky at times (but never janky enough to ruin a mission). Her job is to avoid detection from guards and cameras by not being seen or making too much noise. Katya players can approach a mission as they please; it's possible to go in and out without trying to make a peep, or bring a slew of firepower and kill anyone they deem necessary. The game rewards players for a variety of playstyles, and doesn't really encourage one over another.  Players controlling Martin have a completely different game in front of them. Martin's screen is split into four sections: hacking network, camera feed, tactical map, and console. The console is there simply to display mission objectives. The hacking network is a grid of terminals that Martin can hack into. Some are PCs in the map, others are locked doors, and some are miscellaneous objects around the level. Martin controls a little avatar in the network and moves along the grid with the WASD movement keys. Hacking a computer will reveal its login credentials, hacking a door will tell Martin the code, etc. The network admin also has an avatar that chases the player down, disabling them for about five seconds if caught. The tactical map is a blueprint of the level that Katya is currently in. If Katya comes up to a locked door, she can ask Martin to get the code. Martin can click on the door on the tactical map, it will highlight its node in the network, then Martin can make his way over to it and get the code, tell it to Katya, and Katya inputs it on her end. This is a simple, yet elegant asymmetric design that truly requires teamwork to pull off. Katya has a camera on her at all times, which Martin can use to see what she sees. He can also hack into cameras around the map, taking over their vision on his camera feed. If Martin controls a camera, it will not "spot" Katya, so she's safe to roam the area. This also allows Martin to scan a room before Katya enters, which is incredibly useful given the fact that Martin can also tag guards on the map, making them visible to Katya through walls. Players flying solo as Katya can switch between characters at will. While it works, it's missing the best element of Clandestine: working together with a buddy. When alone, the hilariously bad cutscenes are suddenly just...disappointing. The coordinated tactics aren't there. It feels like a much more shallow game in its single-player mode. Players can join random games online, but doing so will always make the joining player control Martin. This is especially frustrating if two friends want to switch roles. The best way we could figure was to send each other our save files when we wanted to switch roles, and then change who hosts the game. Despite the serious tone set by the plot, it's best to go into Clandestine with a light-hearted approach. The movement is a bit clunky, the animations and voice acting are stiff as a board, and there's plenty of visual issues. However, the core gameplay and asymmetric ideas work well together. Grab a friend (this step is very important), jump on to a third-party voice chat program, and go play Clandestine. I have no doubt you'll come away with a memorable gaming experience. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Clandestine review photo
An asymmetrically wonky good time
Asymmetric multiplayer is not an easy feat to pull off efficiently. Sure, it's relatively simple to create two gameplay styles within the same game, but to make them blend together to create a unique ebb and flow is something...

FF Explorers CollectorsEd photo
FF Explorers CollectorsEd

Final Fantasy Explorers Collector's Edition is the real deal


A nice collection of goodies!
Nov 12
// Patrick Hancock
Final Fantasy Explorers was shown off today during the Nintendo Direct, and man does it look great. It's coming to North America on January 26, 2016, and will come with all the DLC that's been released in Japan, for free...
Pokemon Dungeon info photo
Pokemon Dungeon info

Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon looks to please its fans


Though I'm not one of them
Nov 12
// Patrick Hancock
Plenty of information on Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon was shown off on today's Nintendo Direct, some new and some known. Footage depicted players teaming up with legendary Pokemon like Groudon while walking around, whic...

Review: The Age of Decadence

Nov 06 // Patrick Hancock
The Age of Decadence (PC)Developer: Iron Tower StudioPublisher: Iron Tower StudioMSRP: $29.99Release Date: October 14, 2015  The plot of Age of Decadence largely depends on decisions the player makes. While this is par for the course for many RPGs, I want to stress how committed the developers are to this concept. There are decisions within the first half hour of the game that can completely remove characters and their quest lines from the game. In fact, I took one of the first situations pretty lightheartedly, only to have my character's mentor completely removed from the city. I quickly understood the tone set thereafter. There is no shortage of heavy decisions, either. Many times RPGs will pester the player with small-time decisions before laying on an obvious game-changing decision. Age of Decadence throws game-changer after game-changer at the player, and forced me to pull back and contemplate my options many times. There is a lot of gray area in these decisions as well, which even makes going "cruel and evil" or "pure and good" somewhat difficult. Instead of aligning between good and evil, players are more often forced to choose between the many "houses" and alliances already established within the world. Personally, I backstabbed just about anyone dumb enough to trust me, and switched alliances quite frequently. Other players may do the exact opposite and stay with one of the first leaders they come across. The game is truly what the players make of it. Likewise, the gameplay can alter drastically based on decisions the player makes. For example, as I tend to do in RPGs, I made my character a wise-talking son-of-a-bitch. I talked my way out of every fight I came across. Well, okay, sometimes I said the wrong thing and ended up fighting, but after dying almost immediately every time, I simply loaded up the most recent autosave and tried again. Regardless, thanks to my persuasion, streetwise, charisma, impersonate, and lore skills all being high, I was able to smooth-talk and flirty-wink my way past any aggressors I came across.  [embed]318681:61024:0[/embed] Those who choose to go down a more combat-oriented route are in for an almost completely different game. Just as I melodiously coerced my foes to listen to my brilliance, players can brute force their way to the end. Combat works on a turn-based grid, similar to many strategy RPGs. A character's stats and equipment are the deciding factors that go into miss percentage, movement turns, damage, criticals, and so on. In addition to weapon attacks, there are many status effects like bleeding or immobilized to spice things up mid-fight. Combat can feel a bit clunky at times, which is largely a result of the whole game being a bit rough around the edges. The bottom line is that the combat works as it should, once the player understands how the numbers affect the outcome. Death is permanent, but the game does a great job of creating a ton of auto-saves to make sure the player never loses too much progress. When fighting, death may come quickly for those unprepared, and some of the death animations are pretty slick. Each situation even has a small death blurb for the player to read, and they are genuinely interesting, even knowing that it means the player's character has been ruthlessly murdered in some way. Combat scenarios are often extremely difficult. There are a lot of stats to spread out points between, and players who are going a more hybrid route may find themselves dead in a lot of scenarios. Players are first given an opportunity to escape an encounter through words, but if the various speaking skills don't have enough stats in them, that will fail. Then, occasionally there's another way out, like brewing a potion or crafting something. Again, if the player doesn't excel at this, it will fail. Then, there's combat. Occasionally players will have help in battles, but there still needs to be a solid base of skills and stats to succeed. For those planning on spreading out their statistical focus, I'd recommend looking at online guides to prevent future headaches.  While part of me loves that there are so many ways to customize a character, it can get very confusing and frustrating. I knew I wanted to specialize in speech, but there are a handful of areas that affect it. Persuasion, impression, streetwise, lore, and etiquette can all factor in to talking your way out of a situation, but not every skill is always useful. In some situations, persuasion and streetwise are necessary while in others, just etiquette will be enough. It's impossible to know what is more important, so the only solution, to the player, is to spread them out evenly between them.  For anyone worried about the breadth of content: don't be. Due to the choices the player must make, it's impossible to see everything the game has to offer in a single playthrough. Just judging from the achievements available, I've only seen a portion of the content available within the game. Considering how different one playthrough can be from another, it doesn't feel like a slog to go through the game a second time; yes, many of the big events share commonalities, but there are still huge branching paths available to the player all throughout.  The quest design is a lot stronger than typical RPGs. Every quest has some weight to it, even if its not immediately apparent. Exploring some cave could lead to the discovery of a device long since forgotten, or talking with an outpost leader could lead to your next big betrayal. It's crucial to always read the well-written dialogue carefully! There are no quest markers, so if a quest says to talk to somebody, you better remember where they are! Players can fast travel from the very beginning, which took me a while to realize, so there's little downtime in between objectives. The graphic fidelity of Age of Decadence is, well, not great. Just as the gameplay hearkens back to the classic games of decades past, so do the visuals. The animations are hit-and-miss, as it's not uncommon to see every single stationary townsfolk scratch their leg at the same exact time, but as I've mentioned, some of the death animations are extremely well done. The music, on the other hand, is wonderful. Appropriately supporting the fantasy setting and giving powerful moments that much more "oomph," the soundtrack hits all the right notes.  Age of Decadence is an RPG to its core. It offers the player a wealth of choices, many of them carrying lofty consequences along with them. The core design element of player choice transcends simple dialogue choices, as players can progress through the game in a variety of styles. Many games offer up the illusion of choice while failing to actually deliver, but Age of Decadence serves up difficult and tangible crossroads with no looking back. It may have some rough spots, but it is one of the most well-designed RPGs I have had the pleasure of enjoying. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Age of Decadence review photo
Deliciously decadent
The Age of Decadence has been in development for quite some time. Hell, I listed it in my indies game list from 2013! Since then, I've been remembering that it exists every once and a while, only to find out it was still...

Review: Bedlam

Oct 21 // Patrick Hancock
Bedlam (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: RedBedlamPublisher: KISS ltdReleased: October 13, 2015MSRP: $19.99 The player assumes the role of Athena, a normal everyday woman who has somehow woken up inside a virtual world of a video game. She makes plenty of self-aware quips throughout Bedlam, ranging from obvious and cringy to downright hysterical. She quickly realizes she's in a shooter from the '90s, and it's not long until she manages to escape through a glitch in the game to be transporting to various other worlds. Bedlam will take players through different time periods and genres of video games, but does eventually become too formulaic. Players will enter a world, complete its objectives, enter an "in between" glitch world, and then move on to the next section. While not predictable in the sense that the new world will be a surprise, the concept becomes rigid and boring. There is an underlying story besides "look at the funny parody worlds," and unfolds through in-game radio chatter and hidden sections within each world. It's all based on the book by the same name, which I haven't read, but seems to deal with essentially the same thing. In a way, Bedlam felt like a long winded way of saying "hey, you should read the book." The story is somewhat engaging and certainly well written, but the lack of closure at the end of the game was a huge letdown. Bedlam handles like a first-person shooter, with one or two exceptions, and does a great job of nailing down the shooting mechanics. Each world has a unique set of weapons to acquire, but ammo for each gun is limited to its respective world. This sounds like an interesting mechanic on paper, but in reality the player gets so many guns that ammo is never an issue due to the wide breadth of options. In fact, and I didn't think I'd ever say this, but there are likely too many weapons. They all have their small quirks and differences, but all of the shotguns, machine guns, and pistols might as well be identical. The large number of options also makes it a pain to switch between weapons, especially when using the mousewheel. Every number on the keyboard is assigned to a weapon, and it never really felt worth it to memorize what was where.  There are also platforming sections that take place during the in between glitch worlds. I'm hesitant to even call them platforming sections since the player is literally jumping over small distances from one long rectangle to the next. They are in no way challenging, but I did die a few times, usually because I had no idea that there was no ground in between certain sections. Most of these sections are only there to keep the player busy while radio chatter occurs to thicken the plot. [embed]316393:60801:0[/embed] Perhaps the best part of Bedlam is the "tour" through various styles of first-person shooter tropes. I won't spoil them all here, but all of the classic FPS environments are present, and some that will definitely take players by surprise and have them laughing. Of course, going back in time does have its design downfalls, as some worlds are more barren than anything else, and there's a few instances of poor mission design that will leave players frustrated and anxious to jump into the next section. The last level in particular is especially drab. It falls into the classic pitfall of "throw everything possible at the player and see how they do." Honestly, I used the explosive weapons to rocket-jump through just about all of it. Perhaps that was intended, but considering how wonky rocket-jumping physics are in Bedlam, I highly doubt it. Each world ends with a boss, and they're all impressively mediocre. The big thing shows up, player shoots it a lot -- fin. The last boss in particular is tedious, and offers up just about zero challenge to the player. Despite the poor boss fights, the game has enough brilliant small moments to really stand out. After I had completed the game, the things that stuck with me were the tiny segments that used its plot device to its strength and didn't adhere to the obvious formula that it was playing with. I'm confident in saying that there are enough of these to keep the player interested throughout most of the game. To accompany the decade-hopping mechanics, the game's aesthetic varies from place to place as well. Most noticeably, the models get progressively better as the meta-titles get more modern. However, things like the health and body armor pickups remain the same throughout every world. It would have been interesting to see the developer also explore how health system evolved as the genre itself did, but instead we get floating health packs that are way out of place in most of the worlds. The voice acting, at least, is top notch. The radio chatter is entertaining and very well done, it's just a shame that a handful of times I was forced to read the subtitles because the surrounding noises, like being in a firefight, drowned out the actual voice acting.  Bedlam will take players on a jaunt through various first-person shooter worlds, but the problem is that none of them are particularly great. There are some absolutely wonderful and memorable moments strewn throughout the five or six hour experience, but they are brought down by some poor design in both the missions and boss fights, and essentially the entire last chapter. I genuinely did have some great laughs, and there are worse ways to kill an afternoon, but ironically Bedlam falls prey to many of the same issues of the games it apes. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Bedlam Review photo
Actually, it's relatively tame
Similar to Evoland and its sequel, Bedlam is a game that hops between time periods and genres of gaming history. The latter, however, is a first-person shooter. I've grown up playing as many FPS games and mods ...

Rocket League DLC photo
Rocket League DLC

The DeLorean is coming to Rocket League


On October 21, 2015, of course
Oct 12
// Patrick Hancock
On October 21, 2015, the date Marty McFly went to in Back to the Future Part II, Rocket League will be getting some movie-flavored DLC. The DeLorean and a "Burnt Rubber" rocket trail will be added into the game for a me...

Review: System Shock: Enhanced Edition

Oct 10 // Patrick Hancock
System Shock: Enhanced Edition (PC)Developer: Looking Glass Studios / Night Dive StudiosPublisher: Looking Glass Studios / Night Dive StudiosReleased: September 22, 2015MSRP: $9.99 The first thing to address is what has actually been updated in this "enhanced" version. Since buying the Enhanced Edition comes with the original, it was easy to compare the two, despite me never playing it previously. The updated version's aesthetic is just overall better. The game sounds and looks much better, with smooth textures and crisp audio.  Controls are also much more user-friendly. Pressing the E key will switch between locked and free mouselook, which is a huge upgrade compared. Players will be going back and forth rather frequently, so having this process streamlined is a godsend.  The atmosphere of System Shock is always touted as one of its strongest points. The physical atmosphere can be creepy at times, with blood sprawled on the wall spelling messages of help and warning, but some of the music tracks just kill any sense of dread or fear in the player. It's certainly not bad music, but it doesn't quite fit in with the overall aesthetic and feels....funky. Like, ToeJam and Earl funky. There are also a TON of sound effects that are often played on top of each other. The resulting cacophony of noise is anything but pleasant. Hell, just fighting a couple of cyborgs results in the "BEEBAPOBEEBAPO" of the enemies layered on top of the sounds of the player's weapon of choice, which is rough to listen to. Don't get me wrong, there are moments where the sound is the strongest factor, but the lousy parts are just as memorable, and for all the wrong reasons. [embed]313454:60689:0[/embed] Despite being over 20 years old, System Shock plays rather well, though it has its quirks. The movement is a bit janky, like the fact that moving diagonally is way faster than simply going in a straight line. The user interface is easily maneuvered, and I recommend that players use the fullscreen mode -- it minimizes most of the interface and increases the visibility of the environment. Plus, with the updated textures, things don't look horrible when they take up the entire screen. Combat is simple and easy to understand. Since switching between free and locked mouselook is a button press away, it's quick to adjust to various combat situations. Using the user interface to switch weapons may take some getting used to, but it's not complicated to figure out and eventually becomes second nature.  Generally, the question of "Why don't I just buy and mod the original version?" comes up. To this, I say good luck finding it! System Shock: Enhanced Edition is, for all intents and purposes, the only way to play the original game if you don't happen to already own it. Even if the old version were available, the enhanced version is at a great price and packs in all of the common mods to make the game much more enjoyable. Perhaps the best part about System Shock, which is naturally still part of the game, is the ability to customize the difficulty in every aspect. Combat, puzzles, missions, and Cyberspace can all be altered to a difficulty of zero to four. Combat and puzzles are rather self-explanatory, while lowering the mission difficulty removes plot elements and changing the Cyberspace difficulty alters the time limit and challenge of those segments. While certain aspects of System Shock don't hold up in today's world, a surprising amount of them do. New players, like myself, can jump right in and have a very enjoyable experience, full of atmosphere and action. The enhanced version is exactly what it claims to be, and makes the game way more playable than the original version. If you've ever been curious about the first title in the System Shock series, now is the best time to jump in! [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
System Shock review photo
Can not use HUMAN REMAINS
I've never played the original System Shock. I understand how important it was to the RPG and FPS genres as a whole, but I was five years old when it came out, which is slightly too young to appreciate it. I've played the sec...

SpyParty update photo
SpyParty update

Watch SpyParty transform before your very eyes


Except Toby
Sep 21
// Patrick Hancock
SpyParty, the only game to make me wish I was a computer, has once again made a pretty big step forward. The basic map, the ballroom, has always been the first thing that new players see. It's very basic, with plenty of ...

Review: Act of Aggression

Sep 21 // Patrick Hancock
Act of Aggression (PC)Developer: Eugen SystemsPublisher: Focus Home InteractiveReleased: September 2, 2015MSRP: $44.99  Act of Aggression's plot takes place in the near-future where political agencies are being exploitative during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The player takes the side of the Chimera and U.S. government, who believe a group called the Cartel are behind this financial crisis. There are also standalone missions that play out from the perspective of the Cartel. The campaign isn't the most interesting story, which is compounded by downright terrible voice acting. I'm honestly not sure if they were going for a "so bad it's good" angle, but the end result is just bad.  The campaign also does a poor job of acting as the game's tutorial. After completing a campaign, jumping into an online match will be mostly foreign. Personally, I recommend playing through AI skirmish matches to get used to how the actual game handles before jumping online. That way, players can take their time reading unit descriptions and getting a feel for the various factions. [embed]309347:60454:0[/embed] Gameplay will be familiar to anyone who has played a real-time strategy game before. Players need to harvest resources, build up their base, create an army, and wipe out the opponents' base. There are four resources to keep track of: oil, aluminum, rare earth elements, and electricity. The first three are harvestable from the map using Refineries, but electricity is created by specific buildings. There are other ways to acquire certain resources, like occupying banks or constructing specific buildings.  Not everything is par-for-the-course RTS gameplay. Players can send ground troops to occupy any building that litters the map. Soldiers inside of buildings have increased defenses from that structure, with the obvious downside of being stuck inside the building. Enemies can either attack the building in an attempt to destroy it and kill the soldiers inside, or send in their own troops to fight inside. Winning battles inside of buildings seems to be a case of numbers; having more soldiers than the enemy will end in a victory. There are tons of buildings spread across just about every map, which makes traversing an area way more interesting since the enemy can be in any of them. As mentioned, large bank buildings will generate (finite) resources when occupied, so the early game usually consists of players rushing towards those areas. It's easy enough for players to take a bank next to their base, but heading directly towards an enemy bank early on can also be worth it. It's an incredible gameplay mechanic that truly does alter competitive play. Another important element involves prisoners of war. After a soldier is defeated in battle, they don't disappear from the map. Instead, they become a unit that has no action other than to move. Players can have the wounded soldiers retreat to base, but if an enemy gets there first, they can capture the POW. From there the enemy can generate resources, and even be traded for different resources. This is something that can really impact the late-game, and can easily separate mediocre and great players.  Base building is standard for the genre, and consists of three tiers of buildings. Certain structures need to be built before constructing anything from a higher tier, and many of the late-game buildings require rare earth elements, the late-game resource. It feels like a natural progression, and still allows for many different "builds" and strategies. Perhaps the best part about playing Act of Aggression is that it actually feels like war. Players, in general, need to have a well-balanced army to see any sort of success. "Deathballs" of a single unit can see mild success, but will usually fail to bring complete victory (trust me, I've tried). Having a balanced army, stationing units in buildings, and occasionally calling in airstrikes made me feel more like a strategist than any RTS in recent memory. Each faction can also build a "superweapon," which takes the form of a nuclear missile. All three superweapons are pretty much identical, with some numbers being changed like area of effect and damage. These aren't an automatic victory once they are built, and in fact can be defended against by certain factions with specific structures.  It's important to note that "actions per minute," or APM, isn't an emphasis here. Players won't need to worry very much about micromanaging their armies in the midst of an intense battle. It's more about keeping your enemy on their toes with a strong overarching strategy, along with intelligent placements and makeups of an army. Visually, Act of Aggression impresses. Players may not realize it, but zooming in reveals a nice level of detail given to each of the units. It can be hard, using the normal camera level, to discern between specific units which makes combating armies tougher than it needs to be.  It's unclear whether or not Act of Aggression will have any legs to stand on within a few months. The player count hovers around the 1,000 to 2,000 range at any given time and I've had no shortage of players to compete against online. The larger price tag is likely limiting its playerbase, and it can be hard to justify due to the lackluster single-player option.  This might not be the prophet of the next wave of "golden-era" RTS games, but it's a fresh entry to a genre that desperately needs it. It's one of the few games that has truly made me feel like a strategist, and changes the way I approach familiar situations when playing online. For those only interest in single-player, I'd recommend looking elsewhere. If online multiplayer or even AI skirmishes are all you need, Act of Aggression delivers a wonderful product. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Act of Aggression review photo
Enter the hotseat
Act of Aggression claims to be built like games from the "golden era of RTS." You know, back when StarCraft and Command and Conquer were taking the industry by storm. At least, I assume that's what they mean because...

Review: STASIS

Sep 01 // Patrick Hancock
STASIS (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: The BrotherhoodPublisher: The BrotherhoodReleased: August 31, 2015MSRP: $24.99  The story begins with the main character, John Maracheck, woken from a stasis (heh) pod on a spaceship called the Groomlake. It's immediately obvious that something big has happened here, as there is broken machinery, plenty of bloodstains, and no one around. John sets out to find his wife and daughter, in addition to finding out what the hell he's doing here in the first place. I won't spoil anything further, but what follows is a grim and morose tale that will certainly leave an impression on the player. As the story begins to unfold and more elements of the Groomlake's history become clearer, players shouldn't be surprised if a sickening feeling washes over them. There are scenes in STASIS, especially towards the end of the game, that I'm not sure I'll ever forget. The only way I can think to describe them is: fucked up. And that is the kind of "horror" that STASIS sets out to achieve. The game doesn't just throw jump scares at the player in every scene; instead, it builds an atmosphere that will make players uneasy. There are a few jump scares, but they actually work because they're infrequent and unexpected. This is a true horror game: creepy and unsettling, with scenes sure to embed themselves in the player's mind, whether they like it or not. Much of the plot is told through PDA journal entries found around the ship. These entries are well written, and players will find themselves excited to find new ones. Entering a room often reveals quite the scene, and as players read the PDAs, the events that transpired in the room come in to view. All of a sudden that blood splatter or broken machinery makes perfect sense. [embed]308755:60221:0[/embed] The biggest issue the plot has is pacing. For someone who figures out all of the game's puzzles with relative ease, the pacing is great. For those like myself, however, who struggle with classic adventure game puzzles, the pacing can fall apart quickly. In general, I suck at figuring out puzzles in adventure games. That being said, I managed to get through most of STASIS' puzzles without struggling. When I did struggle, however, oh boy was it rough. After spending over an hour trying to figure out what to do, the game's atmosphere and themes crumble away, and the I began to look at it from a mechanical point of view. "Okay, what haven't I clicked on yet," or "which item haven't I tried to use on everything yet?" are signs of desperation and even frustration. At that point, the creepy background sounds and eerie music were just noise and I was furiously clicking on everything in hopes that it would work. For players who end up at this point, I have a few tips. First of all, make sure you've read everything. Many times, hints are offered through various PDA journal entries or in the mouse-over descriptions of things. Read them carefully! Always try to combine items, and use items on just about everything. Finally, if you're truly stuck, look it up! It's better to keep moving with the story than to spend hours banging your head against the wall, hoping for the best. Shoutouts to my Destructoid colleague Stephen Turner for helping me through some of the harder puzzles; that guy is a rockstar. With the exception of those few obtuse puzzles, most of them range from very obvious to "just the right amount of thinking." As mentioned, hints are almost always available to those who are observant enough, even though some don't come off as hints initially. Piecing together these clues feels great, and solving most puzzles provides a strong sense of accomplishment. The game takes an interesting isometric perspective, similar to RPGs like Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment. The view cannot be zoomed in or rotated, so what you see is what you get. This is probably for the best, since the game uses a fairly low resolution and zooming in would not be pretty. It isn't always easy to see where to exit a room, so it's best to hover the mouse over the edges of each room to find all of the exits.  Objects that can be picked up or PDAs that can be read have a glint of light, signaling to the player that they should click on it. This helps alleviate the "pixel-hunt" that many adventure games suffer from, though not completely. While interactable items sparkle like a gem in the sky, environmental objects do not. I did occasionally find myself slowly scanning my mouse over an area to see if I had missed something to click on.  While this is inconsequential, the pathfinding in STASIS is a little wonky. Often times John will take the longer route to get to an item instead of the obviously shorter one. Some of the animations are also a bit funky; certain movements don't quite line up with the surrounding environments at times. Both of these have no gameplay impact, but they can break immersion and remind the player that they're playing a video game.  The model for John also stuck out as odd. He's completely dark, like a shadow. Other character models seem to have some texturing done, but John...doesn't. Even when in a room with plenty of light, John stands as a dark figure. It comes off as unfinished, though it seems to be a deliberate choice. The sound design, however, is top notch. Various background noises easily take front stage at times, making an already creepy room into a downright terrifying experience. Sound effects after interacting with specific objects are downright perfect, and make me question the lengths that the developer went to to get such sounds. STASIS is one of the most memorable experiences I've had from gaming in quite a while. Some puzzles can be frustratingly obtuse, but the majority are a pleasure to solve. The game will take most people between six to ten hours to complete, depending on puzzle-solving skill, and just about every moment is sure to stick with the player in some way. STASIS is a game that is not to be missed by anyone craving an eerie and sinister experience. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
STASIS review photo
Something you won't forget
Generally, I tend to avoid both adventure and horror games, which makes my attraction to STASIS a bit perplexing, since it's both of these things. I've been invested in the game's development for years, anticipating its relea...

Splatoon's newest map epitomizes the game

Aug 21 // Patrick Hancock
Note: For ranked, I'm currently hovering between B- and B. General Honestly, I think just about any weapon can succeed on Flounder Heights with the correct strategy. Rollers and Inkbrushes will likely have a harder time since they can't ink the walls themselves, but that's what teammates are for! Since it's so large, players seem to lean towards longer-ranged weapons, but that is not the only way to go! My main weapon is the Sploosh-O-Matic, a very short-ranged weapon, and I've been doing just fine. Players really need to adjust their playstyle to their weapon here, probably more than any other map.  Since I use a short-ranged weapon, I use the walls to create sneaky paths and come up from behind. When I switch to something with a longer range, I tend to hang back way more and stick to the standard paths. This is why I think the map epitomizes the game: using your weapon in the best way possible is essential to thrive. For some, that's clinging to walls and taking shortcuts, for others, it's holding a position; every weapon has its place on Flounder Heights. Turf War There is a lot of surface to ink here. Often times, I'll find myself leaving the spawn a minute or two into the game and still have an entire path to coat with fresh ink! Normally I would advise not to bother with inking the spawn, since it will likely get inked over time from people respawning. With Flounder Heights, however, I'm changing my tune. It is very possible for an entire area near the spawn to go un-inked for an entire match, since there's so many other places to be and most people just super jump from spawn after their first death. Sprinklers and Inkstrikes are, as usual, very efficient here, especially with the verticality of it all. A single sprinkler or well-placed Inkstrike might ink three different levels at once, making it much more of a pain to clean up! The high ground in the center of the map is a very strong position to hold. You can see a lot from any given spot up there, but at the same time, there's so many different areas that the enemy can come from. Personally, I'm a fan of taking the middle low ground, then looping back around to come from behind. Tower Control The path for the tower in this mode is pretty straightforward, but can definitely be difficult to stop. After the tower leaves the center, it goes up and over a wall, which can be a big pain when chasing the tower down since the wall itself isn't inkable. Luckily, the tower moves slowly enough that Squidkids can just go down the ramp and cut off the tower. This might be me making things up, but the base of the tower seems larger here. Like, the part that players need to climb up to actually ride the tower. This makes things real difficult for players on the ground level to splat those actually on the tower. Luckily, there's plenty of high places on the map to combat this, but it is interesting.  I've been rolling with the Squiffer for Tower Control, and it hasn't let me down yet. There's definitely plenty of places for Chargers to station themselves and pick off anyone on the tower, though the Squiffer is a more in-your-face kind of Charger.  Splat Zones Despite being such a large map, the two zones in Splat Zones are right next to each other. They are both in the center of the map, separated by a small grate and two archways. Charger weapons and the Heavy Splatling can shoot from one zone to the other. It seems like a strange decision, given such a large map, but it does succeed at creating MASS CHAOS in the center. Killer Wails are especially strong here, since you can hit both zones at once! One bit of advice: don't forget that the grate is....a grate. I've seen plenty of teammates try to avoid getting splatted and just fall right through the grate. It's not a bad idea to head to the center of the map, below the grate, and paint the walls so your teammates can swim right back up afterwards. Oh, and each zone can be taken by a single well-placed Inkstrike. Just keep that in mind! I used the Heavy Splatling primarily in Splat Zones. I loves its range and ability to hold an area. Plus, since it's possible to take a zone with an Inkstrike, I could defend one zone while simultaneously taking the second! While in control of both zones, it's not a bad idea to push forward a bit to paint the opponent's travel routes. Forcing them to repaint those paths can earn you some precious seconds! Rainmaker Again, despite this being such a large map, Rainmaker can be over in the blink of an eye. The path from the Rainmaker's location to the goal is very short. Regardless, 90% of my Rainmaker battles here have been nail-biters. One time my team, with only three people, came within inches of claiming victory. It's moments like those that make me wish I could play with the same people multiple times in a row. Please don't forget that the shield around the Rainmaker pushes you back. Far too many people have been pushed off one of the game's many high buildings trying to burst that shield and getting too close.  I do wish Rainmaker utilized more of the game's many paths. There's really only one way into the final area, which makes it a big chokepoint. There is technically a second route to get there, but it's out of the way and doesn't make much sense to take since the enemy can see where the Rainmaker is at all times. General Map Tips Squid Beakons: These things are made for this map. With so many different paths and plenty of surface area, getting back to a "hot zone" of activity can take quite a while. Put some Beakons in one of the maps nooks and crannies and your team will love you. Echolocator: This already-great ability gets even more use here. Knowing where the enemy is in such a large space is crucial! Likewise... Cold Blooded: Don't let those Echolocator jerks know where you are! Especially useful for those who like to climb around and be sneaky. Bubbles and Krakens: Don't forget that shooting people in Bubbles or in Kraken form will knock them back! If you're on one of the many elevated areas, you don't necessarily have to run!
New Splatoon Map photo
Instant favorite
Splatoon's newest map, Flounder Heights, is amazing. It takes place on top of an apartment complex and is absolutely gigantic. There's so many routes to take at any given time! There is a lot of potential in this map, and it ...

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