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My name's Nic, here are some facts -

I'm growing older all the time. It's getting to the point where it's embarrassing.

I think Dark Souls is a work of art that belongs in a museum. The Royal Ontario Museum disagrees, but I think I'm starting to wear them down.

When I was in grade 5 I went to school as Robin for Halloween. The costume was basically a pair of green lady tights and a tunic that had to be Velcroed at the crotch like a baby's onesie. My self esteem never fully recovered.

I believe Alan Wake was criminally under-appreciated. It's unclear if this notion stems from a legitimate love of the game, or my loyalty to any piece of media that is going to include tracks from Nick Cave, Poe, and Depeche Mode.

Some of my stuff has been front-paged. I'm super proud!

Alternate Reality: Alan Wake, Synchronicity, And The Dark Presence

2010 Sucked: Why didn't anybody buy Alan Wake?

Technical Difficulties: Some Mother#*!&ers Always Trying to Ice Skate Uphill

Who Wants to be the Bad Guy?

Games I would rather see remade than Halo

Disappointment: A Postmortem of L.A Noire

Try Something Different: Slippery When Wet

It's all about the powers you don't play

A Captain's Primer to FTL

A Grandson's Struggle With Alzheimer's and Dark Souls

Sony's Share Button: The Reason I'm Excited For the PS4

Rogue Legacy: Family Survival Guide

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A ship crash-lands on a mysterious planet, and an explorer crawls from the wreckage. There are vast tundras, staggering mountains, and dried lakes that go on forever, splitting the land like a scar. It is all so very big, and the explorer is so very small – and he is not alone. All around him, the wildlife and natives of the planet react to his presence. They react with gnashing fang, acid spit, and even stranger things. The explorer has only a single life to live, but the monsters are never ending. And they are growing stronger every minute.

Harkening back to the day of the 8 and 16-bit platformer, Risk of Rain is deliberately inscrutable roguelike that relishes in its masochistic difficulty curve. Skipping any kind of pretense of a tutorial or any of the modern hand-holding gamers have come to expect, your little spaceman is dropped into a random, semi-procedurally generated map with little more than the vague instructions to "Find the Teleporter" to go on. Vicious monsters begin to spawn almost immediately and it doesn't take long to realize how hopelessly outmatched your little guy is, and it only gets worse from there.

If you've played games like The Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, and Teleglitch, you'll probably be familiar with the general set-up. Risk of Rain is a perma-death roguelike where you have only a single chance to make your way through the game with each playthrough. You explore some semi-randomized maps (while enemies, treasure chests, and the location of the exit, are constantly changing, each map generally features the same layout with minimal variation), and of course, fight some of the most frustratingly deadly and unfair monsters you've ever seen in a videogame.

The central conceit of Risk of Rain, and what makes it stand out from the pack of other recently released roguelikes, is the timer. A large clock in the top right of the screen mercilessly ticks upwards with every second. The longer you take, the more frequently the monsters spawn, and the stronger they grow. Every five minutes, a bell marks the passing into a higher level of difficulty, starting at "Very Easy" and eventually tipping into the realm of "Impossible" and "HAHAHAHAHA." If you haven't been efficient at collecting upgrades and items, you may soon find yourself surrounded on all sides by monsters you don't have a prayer of defeating. The mission quickly turns from "how far can I get?" to "how long can I survive!?"

There is an incredible sense of urgency packed into every second of RoR because of that timer. Every choice and action becomes crucial. What way do you explore after spawning? Should you stay in this area and try to clear out enough monsters to earn enough gold to open another chest, or just book it while you can? While you only take miniscule fall damage, you'll be cursing yourself each time a missed jump forces you to reclimb a ladder, burning precious seconds. RoR is not a relaxing game, it's a pressure cooker.

As you might be familiar from games like The Binding of Isaac, RoR features a plethora of items to be found. Most of these apply some kind of passive bonus to the character like a better chance for critical hits, a bonus to regenerating health, or a small demon in a jar that might cause enemies to explode when you kill them, you know, standard stuff. Others occupy the fifth slot in your inventory to be activated at will, usually with a tremendous cool down period before you can use it again. These are your typical screen-clearing bombs and the like, as well as more esoteric (and deceptively powerful) options like a Repair Kit that will instantly fix up any drones on the screen.

And much like Isaac, part of the fun of the game is watching the strange transformation these items will wreak upon your tiny spaceman. You start as a small blip of pixels, a little speck that seems hopelessly outmatched by the towering wildlife and monstrous aliens after your blood. But all of that can change with a few lucky item drops. Wreathed in barbed wire, encircled by a fleet of drones, randomly spewing missiles, summoning poltergeists, and leaving a trail of fire at your boots, you may not even recognize your little explorer by the time you reach the final stage.

More items are unlocked as you play by passing certain milestones or achievements. While each run is a self-contained perma-death affair, there is a certain sense of progression as you open up new and better options for pick-ups. The requirements for unlocking some of these items can be vague, but you should naturally stumble upon plenty of them over the course of normal gameplay.

- Of course I'm going to play as the robotic janitor. Was there ever any doubt?

Much like the items, there are additional character classes to unlock. While you start with only the standard Commando in his adorable bubble-dome, it doesn't take long to expand the selection. Characters are unlocked through either progression based achievements (killing bosses, getting into further levels, etc) or by finding them hidden in the game. While the idea of finding the characters in the wild is fun, in practice it becomes a frustrating luck-based affair. Even if you know where and on what level a certain character is supposed to be hanging out, there is no guarantee they'll be there in any particular playthrough. This is especially aggravating when the character you want to unlock is hidden in the last level of the game.

Each character naturally promotes a unique style of play with their skills. The Commando is balanced around various attacks that root him to the ground, but can stun or herd the enemy, and his get-out-of-jail-free dolphin dive – knowing when to dig in and when to GTFO is key. The Mercenary and Miner feature agile fast moving attacks that double as dodging manoeuvres, encouraging you to keep it hopping. The mechanical HAN-D robot on the other hand has a suite of moves designed to keep him in the thick of battle. An Overclock boost increases his speed and power and can be extended by pounding multiple enemies. His brawling prowess is complemented by an array of seeker drones that can autonomously fly off and leech back health from the enemy while he fights, and so on. Learning how to best utilize each character's tools and abilities is essential if you hope to weather the storm.

Multiplayer gives the individual characters a little more room to breathe and express themselves. Some of the more idiosyncratic classes that I thought were a bit lacklustre in single player came into their own when the team was able to split the attention of the monsters. Instead of being hopelessly on the run, the Sniper was able to focus on the big game and make the most of those charged critical hits, while the lumbering Enforcer was better able to find a solid defensive position and work on crowd control when he wasn't the only one on the field.

I was worried that adding more players to the recipe would spoil the difficulty of the game. This is definitely not the case. While the extra firepower and the ability to split up and search for the exit certainly makes the early stages easier, having to share the loot and gold among 2-4 people means none of you will become the fearsome blackhole of alien destruction you might be used when hogging every trinket for yourself. By the final stages, splitting up the group will be a fond memory, and you'll need to work together as best you can to manage the laughably unfair hordes of nearly invulnerable monsters.

While playing with random strangers results in the typical mad scramble of greed you might be used to in something like Borderlands – where every player jumps on every item they can in a micro-demonstration of the Tragedy of the Commons – playing with a coordinated group raises the game to the next level. When you can actually coordinate who gets what items based on what they need or what would be most useful for a particular cast member, you can cultivate a truly spectacular team. Multiplayer goes from being a fun diversion, to feeling like it's the way the game is MEANT to be played.

Which is why it's such a shame that it is absolutely broken.

- Oh wow... just... wow.

Connecting to an online game in Risk of Rain gave me some wonderful flashbacks of the late-90's. Eschewing any kind of server browser or quick-game connection UI, Risk of Rain expects you to manually input the IP and port number of your host. I haven't texted somebody an IP address in nearly a decade, and while the nostalgia trip was nice, it is a decidedly horrible way to run a multiplayer game.

Thankfully there are 3rdparty server lists and chats dedicated to bringing RoR players together, but it is an incredibly shoddy work around for an incredibly shoddy set-up. Sadly, even once you jump through all the hoops necessary to connect to a game, you may not be in for a good experience. Lag and de-syncing was a common problem in the games I played, sometimes resulting in players unable to pick up items or interact with the teleporter. Needless to say, they didn't last long. Multiple 4-man crews quickly dwindled into power-duos, or left me flying solo mere minutes after starting.

It is an unbelievable shame that RoR's multiplayer is hamstrung in such a fundamental way. When I was able to find a match and everything worked, it was some of the best co-op I've played this year. It taps directly into the same impulses that made games like L4D and Gears of Wars Horde mode abiding favourites with my friends for years. Sadly, I don't think I'll be able to convince many people that putting up with all the frustration of getting a match together is worth it for RoR. I know Hopoo Games is a small group, but this was a real missed opportunity that could have taken their game from a being a fun little title to something great.

RoR is a sad game. It deals in desperation, in hopelessness. Rendered in a gorgeous faux-retro pixel-art style, everything in RoR dwarfs the player. The music, brilliantly composed by Chris Christodoulou, is tense, haunting, and worth the price of admission on its own.

While RoR is intentionally light on story, the background of the game is slowly filled in through the shipping details of the items you scavenge throughout the game and a journal detailing the monsters and wildlife you encounter. Many of these little descriptions were surprisingly wistful or tragic, and by the time you've collected the last monster log, you'll probably start to feel like maybe you were the jerk in this situation. It isn't a big thing, you could certainly go through the entire game and enjoy it without ever peeking into any of the superfluous detail. But it's the kind of subtle world-building I appreciate. The developers didn't want to make just another masochistically difficult roguelike, they wanted to convey a message, or at least express an emotion.

That feeling helps carry the game. Risk of Rain isn't as smooth as something like Isaac or Spelunky. There's more technical jank, items spawning in unreachable areas, containers floating off the ground, and the gameplay isn't as balanced or fair. Where part of the skill of Isaac or Spelunky is being able to roll with the punches and succeed despite bad luck, there were definitely times in RoR where I felt failure was out of my control. The game refused to drop any decent items, kept spawning the worst type of enemy for my character, and it was inevitable that I'd be eventually drowned to death by the timer.

But that spooky feeling. The way the world looks, the music that stayed with me after I left the keyboard, it kept me coming back for more.

Risk of Rain might not be the most polished roguelike to hit the market in the last few years, but it has a charm all to its own. If you like a little tinge of sadness with your maso-core experience, Risk of Rain is the title you've been waiting for.

Last Friday I put out the call, looking for brave Destructoiders willing to defend Earth in our most desperate hour. Willing to go to any length to defeat the alien aggressors, to sacrifice their very humanity and laugh in the face of God if need be. Setting aside their own selves and allowing me to dress them in bright pink battle armour if and when the mood strikes me.

And you did not disappoint.

But, only one brave volunteer will walk away with a copy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown today, and that soldier is...

Zodiac Eclipse! Congratulations Zodiac, you're the proud new owner of a copy of XCOM: Enemy Unknown!

And congratulations to everyone else who entered. Maybe you didn't win a game today, but that's okay. You did win a chance at having your DNA spliced with Alien strands from a distant star that will turn you into some kind of mutant-hybrid, loved by neither God nor man, and that's pretty good too.

Thanks again everyone, I had a great time reading your responses!

As you might know from the review I wrote last Monday, I am a BIG fan of XCOM: Enemy Within. I thought it was one of the best games I've played this year.

And now I want to spread the alien blasting love.

That's why I'm giving you the chance at a FREE copy of the original XCOM: Enemy Unknown on Steam! There's a catch though – you have to be willing to take one for the team.

The Shadow Council needs YOU in the war against the aliens. I want to field an army of Dtoid super-soldiers in my next game of XCOM: Enemy Within. I'll be running on Classic difficulty with Ironman turned on, so the likelihood of catastrophic casualties will be high. I need warm bod- er, I need enthusiastic volunteers to keep our numbers up.

To enter, you need to volunteer for my squad in the comments below! Tell me your preferred XCOM name and nickname (some variation on your Dtoid handle is great, you don't need to reveal your real name to the internet), and your favourite alien, or type of alien, from any game, movie, or book.

That's it! I'll randomly draw one soldier from the comments and announce a winner next Tuesday!

Afterwards, I'll play through the game and let you know how we all did in a future blog post. Will our crack team of Dtoid veterans save the world? Or has a lifetime of videogames left us unprepared for the rigours of combat? Or will I just mis-click and accidentally send a rocket into our own foxhole?

I can't promise if you'll be in the squad, or even have your preferred gender. With every new recruit in the game, I'll roll a random name from the pool of volunteers, so squad selection will be a crapshoot. However, I can all but guarantee that I'll get several of you killed - and probably single out one or two "lucky" volunteers  to have their limbs chopped off and stuff what's left of their torso into a robotic coffin.

The things we do for free videogames.

(As always, please make sure you have, or are willing to make, a Steam account so you can claim the prize if you win. And of course, I don't care if you already own the game, ENTER ANYWAY – you are always free to trade it, gift it, or use it for your own contest!)

XCOM: Enemy Unknown was my personal GOTY of 2012. Firaxis managed to do what seemed like an impossible task, reinventing the classic masochistic strategy franchise for a new generation, while staying true to its roots. Enemy Unknown came at me from my blindside and floored me like nothing else I played last year.

Now in 2013, they might have done it again with Enemy Within.

Enemy Within might be the most fun I've had with a game all year. It's easy to get cynical about DLC, the trend towards superfluous "mission packs" and the endless repackaging of "extended-full-ultra-complete" editions, but believe me when I tell you Enemy Within is the real deal. This is the type of expansion from the golden era of PC gaming – a complete package of new content, features, and tweaks that takes everything you know and love about the original Enemy Unknown, turns it inside out, and somehow makes it better than ever. With all the new toys and enemies, it feels more like a sequel than some other franchise games I could mention this year.

And what new toys! Commanders have a candy store of new options to explore in Enemy Within (if candy stores sold flamethrowers and plasma cannons anyway. And really, wouldn't it be a better world if they did?).

Brave soldiers that volunteer to have their limbs clipped off and replaced with cybernetics can be transformed into hulking MEC troopers – a kind of exo-skeletal tank. These guys can provide ungodly firepower and comparatively shrug off damage that would decimate a regular soldier. But their massive frames mean they can never take cover, and they lose all the former class skills they had before surgery.

A somewhat less overtly radical, but perhaps more insidious, route can be taken with gene-splicing. Now the research lab can weave alien DNA into your squad members bodies, granting them fantastic abilities - leaping tall buildings in a single bound, relying on a secondary heart to survive fatal wounds – transforming them into something not quite human, but perhaps more capable of saving humanity than anyone else.

But there is a trick to all these new toys – if you want to play with them, you'll have to leave your cozy little comfort zone.

Like many XCOM players, I eventually settled into a comfortable, cautious, rut with my tactics in Enemy Unknown. Leapfrogging my squad inch by inch across the map with a shameless dependence on Overwatch coverage, I avoided ambushes at all costs and systematically took on the alien menace one small, isolated group at a time. Enemy Within won't tolerate that.

A new resource called "Meld", a magical goo that makes cyborg and mutant troops possible, is only found on the battlefield – and it has an incredibly short shelf-life. Hidden at the start of a mission, each canister of Meld has only a few scant turns to be found before it self-destructs and is lost forever, forcing you to pick up the pace, and maybe even split up the team, if you want to grab it all (AND YOU DO).

This may not seem too radical on the surface, but the effect it has on the gameplay is tremendous. I ended up in more frantic multi-front engagements, and lost more soldiers, in my time with Enemy Within than I did over my entire career of Enemy Unknown. Meld enhanced soldiers are an incredible asset to a team, but you'll have to be prepared to make some sacrifices and take some risks to supply them.

Aside from the Meld-fulled modifications you can make to your soldiers, there are also a surprisingly large assortment of new conventional items and upgrades available. None of them are as particularly game changing as the MEC and gene-spliced soldiers, but they offer new tactical options to creative commanders. A new upgrade that allows each squad member to carry a second item is a Godsend, letting you break away from the "required" item choice of each class and actually experiment with some of the new goodies.

Of course, your troops aren't the only ones getting an upgrade – the invaders have also stepped up their game in Enemy Within. The newly added squid-like "Seekers" seem tailor made to punish commanders that relied on the (somewhat overpowered) Sniper class. Seekers will turn invisible when engaged and float off, waiting to strike when a unit is isolated or weak, strangling them with a tentacle kung-fu grip. Strangulated soldiers have to rely on a teammate to save them, and commanders may find themselves in a sticky situation when their MVP Sniper gets choked to death far behind friendly lines.

To match the super beefy MEC troopers, the aliens field more mechanical units than ever. The new Mecatoid is basically a Sectoid in a mech suit brimming with plasma cannons who will use his two attack rounds per turn to cause you no end of frustration. The classic Sectopod is considerably tougher than before and will require the concentrated firepower of your entire squad to bring down, feeling more like a mini-boss encounter than anything. Along with a few other tweaks and changes, the alien force is more definitely more formidable than ever. It's only the added "oomph" of the MEC and gene-spliced troopers that keep things just shy of being unfair.

Among the new threats however, the most interesting by far are the members of EXALT, the new threat at the heart of Enemy Within.

EXALT is a clandestine organization similar to XCOM Command, but these traitorous scumbags are on the side of the alien invaders. These new human enemies place an entirely different type of strain on the XCOM mission, sabotaging your efforts by stealing funds, halting your research with hacker attacks, or stirring up panic in random nations.

Fortunately, you can launch your own covert operations against them in a new mission type. Once you've found an EXALT cell, you can send in a lone soldier, dressed in civies and armed only with a pistol, to flush them out. You'll be short that solider for a few days (God help you if you've sent your best man and the next day Paris is overrun with Chrysallids), but eventually you'll have the opportunity to extract them and strike a blow against EXALT at the same time. These new missions provide different objectives from the your squad's normal bug-hunts - defending communication towers, hacking enemy computers, ect. None of it is particularly earth shattering, but these missions provide a nice change of pace and allow you the novelty of commanding seven soldiers at once.

The EXALT shadow war will continue until you can locate and destroy out their main HQ; but before you do that, you'll have to identify the country harbouring them. Point your finger at the wrong nation and you'll offend them so much they'll pull support for the program. So you'll want to narrow down the suspects with covert ops and intell scans before staging your Inspector Poirot parlour room style accusation.

In the field, EXALT operates like a dark mirror of your own squad. Kitted out in similar gear and divided into similar classes, EXALT snipers will clamber up rooftops and billboards to rain down critical hits on your squaddies. Their version of the Heavy trooper will flatten the landscape with rockets and grenades, leaving your troops exposed to other fire. And all the while, evil Support units keep the EXALT team patched up, resulting in a more tenacious and tactical force then the XCOM team is used to. As the game progresses, EXALT will evolve similarly to your own forces, trading in ballistic weapons for flashy laser guns, upgrading their armour, and adapting deadly gene modifications too ambitious for even your own resident mad scientist.

Sadly, while EXALT is an incredibly compelling rival in the early and mid-game, by the time you're ready to take on the HQ, your own team will probably overshadow them in every way. In all my games, the final battle against EXALT was less of a meeting of two titanic forces, and more of a victory lap. My fully upgraded MEC trooper dunked on the hapless pin-striped humans while my Assault squaddies did an obnoxious end-zone dance in the conference room of evil. As satisfying as it is to finally put a hated enemy in their place, I feel like the progression and fight against EXALT could have been better balanced to ensure a more dynamic and consistent threat.

Enemy Within has a surprising amount of heart. While the storyline of Enemy Unknown was fairly subdued and relegated to the background, there is more emphasis on the people that make up the XCOM mission this time around. The most compelling narrative will still be the story you weave yourself - the struggles of your squad and the pathos of lost comrades - but Enemy Within frames that drama with a more cohesive theme. The shocking lengths Meld augmentation allows your team to go to combat the alien threat, transforming themselves into mechanical monsters or mutant freaks, is contrasted against the power hungry and morally bankrupt EXALT. While the XCOM mission is guided by the overall benevolent goal of saving the world, it's hammered home that the changes you make to your very humanity in the pursuit of that goal are not a trivial thing; after this war is over, what will become of these supermen and cyborgs? Once the aliens are gone, how long will it be before the laser guns and hover-tanks be turned on our fellow man?

The new story hooks do a good job of making the XCOM world feel a little more weighty and nuanced, without ever getting in the way of the action. They use a subtle touch to remarkable effect.

Along with the overarching plot, Enemy Within introduces a few special missions with their own small storylines to the mix. These missions often include their own unique objectives or obstacles and feature some of the best setpieces in the game. While some of it feels almost undoubtedly made from scrapped DLC, they still provide a fun diversion from the run of the mill abduction and "Terror!" missions. One of these unique setpieces takes the XCOM team to a spooky abandoned fishing town in Newfoundland, playing up the creepy atmosphere like a survival horror game. It is a real change of pace with an exhilarating pay-off. I hope Firaxis continues to build on these side-missions in future expansions and sequels.

On the technical side, Enemy Within cleans up some persistent and frustrating bugs from Enemy Unknown. Joyously, we are finally rid of the randomly spawning Hover-drones that would occasionally pop into existence square in the middle of your squad, potentially ruining an entire campaign in one fell swoop.

Sadly, there are still some other bugs that occur with annoying regularity. Twice I lost characters outside of the map when the grappling hook movement option decided to glitch out and fling them into the void – "amusingly" (read: "Infuriatingly") one of these instances was during an extraction mission and that soldier was lost for good when the chopper left without her. Similarly, the new rocket-punch for the MEC trooper may well be my favourite thing in the world, but there were a few times when it refused to activate despite being right next to the enemy, turning what was supposed to be a one-shot beatdown into a sudden pointblank quick-draw with an empty weapon.

For these reasons, as hardcore and fun as it sounds, I still can't recommend the much touted Ironman mode, a gameplay option that limits a campaign to a single save slot. The prospect of uncorrectable perma-death definitely ups the tension and forces you to concentrate on every decision, but as soon as you lose one treasured solider to a glitch the entire experience is soured. I'm not the type to go on controller breaking tantrums, but when you lose 10 hours of gameplay to a random bug, it's hard to keep zen-like composure. The game is definitely better when you play like it was on Ironman and resist the urge to reload every time a trooper stubs his toe – but you may want to keep that emergency exit open just in case.

This expansion forced me to face my own "enemy within" – complacency. With all the time I put into Enemy Unknown I got so familiar, so lazy. Depending on my slow methodical approach to keep me safe, relying on my rockstar Snipers to effortlessly dispatch the Aliens from half a map away. Enemy Within punished those sins. Surrounded on all sides, fighting a pack of Mutons in the parking lot, fending off a Seeker trying to choke a Support trooper who fell a little too far behind in the convenience store, and trying to decide between rescuing him or making a mad dash for that Meld canister on it's last turn before self-destruction – I felt the old terror again, the dread and stress that pervaded my first playthrough of Enemy Unknown.

And I couldn't be happier to be playing XCOM again.
Photo Photo Photo

I NEVER do this, but I have to post this super short spammy blog before I got off to work tonight, my Canadian brothers in frost need to know about this.

Apparently, this weekend between the 8th and the 11th, you can trade in ANY current gen console or handheld game for a fresh copy of AC4, Cod:Ghosts, or BF4 on the PS3 or Xbox360.

That copy of SFxT stinking up my gaming shelf? Say goodbye to Cross Assaults and say hello to Levleution. Trade in one obnoxious selling point for another!

The disappointment of L.A Noire? CASE CLOSED, it was murdered by a Ghost.

I know it sounds too good to be true, and who knows, maybe it is. You can read the full details of the deal here. And there is also this FAQ clarifying some of the misinfromation and rumours flying around out there. According to this info, if you want to come in each day of the offer and get all three games, they don't care. So make sure to take advantage of this opportunity!

I'll be checking out my local Future Shop tommorow afternoon and I'll let you all know how it turns out. This could be a great way to stock up for Christmas!

After writing each of the names of people who entered on a tiny scroll bound with human hair and casting them into a Jack O' Lantern with a spoopy ghost carved into it, I recited the forbidden names of the 5 forgotten Gods and their associated curse and drew a winner...


Please think fondly of me when the old Gods come to collect their due...

Thanks to everyone who entered! I had a lot of fun reading all the responses. It warms my heart to know their are people who bust out Castlevania: SOTN, and Silent Hill to celebrate Halloween, you're my kind of people.

And extra special thanks to OpiumHerz for contributing to the swag, I'm sure Shade will get a kick out of Red Nation and Pathologic!