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New Smash Stages photo
New Smash Stages

Hyrule Castle and Peach's Castle stages coming to Smash Bros.

Poke Floats still suspiciously MIA
Jun 14
// Patrick Hancock
Two new stages are coming to the newest addition of Super Smash Bros., both of which were originally in the Nintendo 64 version. Both Hyrule Castle and Peach's Castle will be coming at a future point in time. Sakurai introduc...
Amiibo News! photo
Amiibo News!

Game and Watch amiibo can change poses, Mii Fighters are coming

September is going to be amiibo hell
Jun 14
// Patrick Hancock
Mii amiibo on their way! Should they be called Miimibo? That sounds a bit like a name for a Gremlin from the movie Gremlins. Anyway, these amiibo work the same as traditional amiibo, and as you would expect, the Mii that is t...
New retail indies photo
New retail indies

Tower of Guns and Ether One are coming to retail

Exclusive content for Tower of Guns
Jun 11
// Patrick Hancock
Tower of Guns, a delightful FPS roguelike, and Ether One, a beautiful adventure game, are going backwards in time and releasing in physical boxes this September. Ether One will have retail copies for PC and PS4, while To...
Dota 2 raking in dough photo
Dota 2 raking in dough

Dota 2 International prize pool is now the largest in eSports history

Plus, Faceless Rex courier!
Jun 05
// Patrick Hancock
The prize pool for the 2015 International Dota 2 tournament is now at $11,617,319, making it the largest eSports prize pool in history. The previous record was held by last year's tournament, which capped off at $10,930,...
Marvel Heroes anniversary photo
Marvel Heroes anniversary

Now is the best time to play Marvel Heroes

Two-year anniversary begins today
Jun 04
// Patrick Hancock
It's the two-year anniversary of the free-to-play ARPG Marvel Heroes today, and that calls for a celebration! The game is releasing its 48th playable hero today, Dr. Doom. Doom is essentially painted as the main villain ...
International 2015 $10M photo
International 2015 $10M

The International 2015's prize pool is now over $10 million

Two-thirds of the way there!
May 30
// Patrick Hancock
Dota 2's prize pool for the upcoming Internaltional 2015 tournament has just passed $10M. The pool is increased each time players buy a Compendium, which allows players to make predictions and bask in the glory of all of the ...

Review: The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III

May 30 // Patrick Hancock
The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: NeocoreGamesPublisher: NeocoreGamesMSRP: $14.99Release Date: May 22, 2015  For anyone who has played and enjoyed the first two games in the series, the third installment is likely worth the investment, despite its issues. It offers a solid form of closure to the trilogy in terms of story -- but be warned, the rest of the game doesn't feel nearly as fleshed out. Van Helsing III starts off with a great summary of the events that have transpired so far, but there’s a lot assumed of the player in terms of game mechanics at play. The tutorial does a decent job of covering the basics, but it is very possible for new players to completely overlook entire portions of the game if they’re not observant. The story picks up exactly where Van Helsing II left off. The New Bad Guy is in charge now, and Van Helsing and his ghastly partner Katarina are out to destroy him.  During their new adventure, Katarina’s backstory gets more fleshed out, and this is easily the most interesting part of the plot. Unfortunately, it’s easy to miss because most of it is told through in-game dialogue between Van Helsing and Katarina. Her dialogue, while it is displayed on screen, is constantly moving and is hard to hear under the noise of killing monsters. It's often triggered right as the player is about to take on a large group of enemies, making it impossible to simply “stop and listen.” Gameplay remains largely the same as it was in the past. Players can beef up their skills by spending Rage to increase certain aspects of the skill, like damage or duration. Each skill has three different elements that can be increased with Rage, and players can spend up to three points of Rage in any way they like; they can distribute one point to each element, or all three into one element to really increase its effect. It’s a very unique system that really elevates Van Helsing’s gameplay above many generic ARPGs. [embed]292802:58734:0[/embed] There are six new character classes to choose from, however players cannot import their character from the previous game. They can import a file for "Glory Points," which act as extra buffs, but this element of the game seems completely broken and doesn't function at all. The classes play rather differently, and players can vary how they approach each class’s strengths. I played through the campaign as the stealthy Umbralist, and made sure that I spent as much time as possible being invisible, so I focused on the spells that granted invisibility, which forced me to forfeit some burst damage by doing so. The skill tree has changed this time around, no longer requiring certain skills to be owned before taking another one. Instead, all of the skills are available to be taken from level one. Modifiers like extra damage or a bigger area of effect do require a certain amount of skill points in the skill itself before leveling up, however. This makes it more of a skill “bush” rather than a “tree,” since everything is easily picked without needing something else to get to the “higher” abilities. It’s nice to have free range, but there’s also no feeling of finally unlocking some badass skill in the late-game and about half of them feel useless. Chances are, player will choose 3-4 skills and stick with them forever. Katarina can also be customized, though her skills do follow the format of pre-requisites. Her mechanics remained unchanged and can still be toggled between melee, ranged, and a passive form that buffs her partner. She can also hold inventory and go back to the Lair and sell items without Van Helsing needing to do so himself.  Both Van Helsing and Kat have had their max level reduced -- hers is down to 25 and his is down to 30, half of what was offered in Van Helsing II. The game is rather short, and there's not much for players to do after reaching the max level. The "Neverending Story" mode from the past two games, which was essentially a New Game+ mode, is missing. I managed to complete the story in six hours, which wouldn't be an issue if there were any way to continue to progress. Since the max level is so low and there's no Neverending Story, there is little to no replayability in Van Helsing III. The tower defense mini-game returns in the "Lair" area, though players can completely opt out of it and instead send NPCs out to take care of the problem. The game mode itself also remains unchanged at its core. Build towers and traps to help defend against waves of enemies. The NPC missions also make a return, where the player can choose one of four leaders with various skills and traits to go out on missions and come back with sweet loot (well, mediocre loot usually). The Chimera can also be sent on its own missions, but can no longer be summoned into battle. All of these elements are fine, if a bit uninteresting, but they never come together as a cohesive whole. While out on missions, players will receive radio transmissions from the Lair saying things like “Hey man you gotta get back to the Lair! Bad guys are marching in and it’s bad news!” But if the player never returns or never click on that NPC, nothing happens. There’s no urgency to these missions and makes them feel incredibly disjointed. If the player never goes over to the Chimera section of the Lair, then they miss out on some more mediocre loot and an achievement or two, but that’s about it. For people familiar with the series or ARPGs in general, I recommend playing a difficulty above Normal. Playing through on Normal was much too easy, as the Umbralist could kill some bosses in a single hit. There are plenty of difficulties to choose from and a Hardcore option for those who think they can avoid death permanently. There are some bugs that I encountered during my time with the game. Some were minor, like the fact that if the Umbralist swings at nothing, no sound effects play or that some achievements are still broken. Others are more impactful. At one point the map's ground simply didn't exist, even though it looked like it did. According to patch notes this is fixed, but others are not, like the aforementioned Glory Points. Multiplayer with up to three other players is included once again, and if you can find someone near your region to play with, it isn't too laggy, but again bugs rear their ugly heads. Player VS. Player  (PvP) is also available, but it's hard to find people playing it and most players will probably have taken skills that focus on killing large groups at once, since that's what the Campaign is made up of. Scenarios also return, allowing players to play through zones with different modifiers, like constantly taking damage, to make things more difficult. It’s a decent way to farm for loot, but it is unlocked at level 27, just three levels away from the maximum level, so there's no real gameplay incentive to ever play a Scenario. In many ways it does feel like a copy-paste job, but neutered to remove certain elements. A lot of the models and mechanics are exactly the same as the second game, but then things like Neverending Story or a higher level cap are simply gone. The banter between Van Helsing and Katarina is still as solid as ever, as is the voice acting backing them up, but it's possible to miss the banter because of combat noise. Its parts feel a bit disjointed, like a student who has copy-pasted the information from their research paper from various different authors with no detail given to the paper as a whole. Van Helsing III feels much more like an expansion of the second iteration than a game all on its own. It's nice to have a solid end to the story, but it's baffling that so many features were removed from the previous games for this finale. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Van Helsing III Review photo
Electric Boogaloo
When I heard that The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing III was on the horizon, I was taken aback a bit. Has it already been a year since the second game? I didn't expect such a quick turnaround, but after seeing that most of the assets are re-used, it makes complete sense.

Lethal Tactics on Steam photo
Lethal Tactics on Steam

Lethal Tactics brings its intelligent gameplay to Early Access

Like Frozen Synapse, but with graphics
May 25
// Patrick Hancock
Lethal Tactics has recently popped up onto Steam's Early Access program and will immediately look familiar to anyone who has played the brilliant Frozen Synapse. The gameplay is, at its core, the same: click to assign o...

PC Port Report: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

May 22 // Patrick Hancock
[Note: Screenshots and video used in this post are taken from my experience with the game.] Tested on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 7. Framerate measured with FRAPS. I'd be remiss if I didn't address the now-infamous trailer of the game that incorrectly showed what it would look like back in 2013. The developers have since downgraded what the game can do, and have addressed the issue. There are lots of elements to this and it isn't as simple as "downgraded because consoles" or "they couldn't afford it," but the end result is still the same. Regardless of that trailer, The Witcher 3 still looks phenomenal. In order to achieve 60 frames per second with my setup at 1080p, I needed to play with the settings a bit. Most things were kept at the Ultra settings, except for the foliage and shadows, which were turned down to High. The game stays consistently above 60 FPS for me now, even during combat and most in-game cutscenes. Some cutscenes are evidently capped at 30 FPS, which is offputting and incredibly noticeable. The biggest setting to turn off in order to achieve a good framerate is HairWorks. With HairWorks on, hair does looks absolutely stunning and is perhaps the best rendering of hair I've ever come across, though up close it's still a bit funky looking. There are three options for HairWorks: on, Geralt-only, and off. If fully on, even the monsters and Geralt's horse will have HairWorks-quality hair. However, even when I had this on "Geralt only," the framerate would fluctuate between 30 and 50 at any given moment. Yes, the hair looks great, but it is not worth the huge dip in framerate. Another option to be aware of is the "Hardware Mouse." It's located under Options in the Video section for some reason, and anyone playing with a keyboard and mouse is likely going to want to turn this option on. Doing so disables mouse acceleration, essentially making the mouse "feel" like it is supposed to. Many of the .ini files located in the installation folder can also be edited to further customize many of the options. [embed]292553:58627:0[/embed] There's some strange odds and ends in the options to take note of. To turn on unlimited FPS, the FPS slider needs to be all the way to the left. The middle option is 30 FPS, and the right option is 60. For those playing on a big television screen via Big Picture Mode or something similar, be aware that the font size is rather small, and the HUD size does not get any bigger, only smaller. In fact, there's only two sizes for HUD size: Large and Small. Controlling Geralt with a keyboard and mouse is somewhat clunky. Turning is awkward and slow, and managing to interact with a specific object or NPC can be a struggle. Combat on a mouse and keyboard feels fluid, at least. Controlling Geralt with a controller simply feels better, all things considered. It's not that controlling him with a keyboard and mouse is awful, but there's an unfortunate feeling of "this just isn't right." Switching to a controller input is as simple as hitting any button on a connected controller. As soon as the game detects a controller input, everything is switched to controller prompts and the game immediately recognizes it. The same goes with switching back to the keyboard. The responsiveness of switching is fantastic, and future PC game designers better take note. The keyboard keys can be remapped, except for movement. The WASD keys are set in stone. When using a controller, all of the buttons are locked in at the default assignments; there is no remapping of any of the buttons. Since the PC release, there has already been a couple of large patches to help improve performance and fix bugs. CD Projekt RED has always put a lot of focus on the PC community, and that certainly still seems to be the case with The Witcher 3. More patches are on the way, and despite the console-esque nature of the third iteration, I would not expect the game to be neglected on PC going forward. It's also important to note that, apparently, it is coming to SteamOS/Linux. There was a banner on Steam saying as much, but CD Projekt RED has not commented on the Linux situation. Currently, the game is only available for Windows. Some users have been reporting crashes on their systems, but I have yet to encounter a single one. Mods are still in their infancy, but they are there. Mostly small game tweaks at the moment, but the toolkit is evidently on its way. It took a couple of years to get the official modding toolkit out for The Witcher 2, but it has been promised to come out sooner for the latest installment. Plain and simple, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a great PC port. Whether or not it should have ever been a "port" in the first place is a separate discussion, but what's presented here to the consumer is thoroughly enjoyable. Oh. and you can skip all the splash screens when booting up. 10/10, would port again.
Witcher 3 on PC photo
Gwent Simulator 2015
The Witcher is an interesting series on PC. The first game was a PC experience through and through: you could pause the action at any time and movement was mapped to mouse clicks. The second was way more action-oriented ...

Expeditions: Viking photo
Expeditions: Viking

Historical RPG Expeditions: Viking announced

Historical means no horned helmets!
May 21
// Patrick Hancock
Expeditions: Conquistador by Logic Artists is a great, and difficult, tactical RPG. So naturally, when I heard that another game is being made in the same vein, I immediately became excited. Expeditions: Viking&nbs...
Occult Skill Game photo
Occult Skill Game

Cordial Minuet uses real money to conduct real occult rituals

And it will mail you checks!
May 06
// Patrick Hancock
Jason Rohrer, developer of games like Passage, Sleep is Death, and The Castle Doctrine, has just released his newest title, Cordial Minuet. Here's the pitch I received: "Cordial Minuet is a two-player occult strategy gam...
Black Mesa Early Access photo
Black Mesa Early Access

Half-Life remake Black Mesa now on Steam Early Access

Finally, a way to pay for a mod
May 05
// Patrick Hancock
Black Mesa, the loving recreation of the original Half-Life, has just entered Steam's Early Access program with a price point of $19.99. There had been a countdown on the website leading up to today, and many speculated that ...

Review: Crypt of the NecroDancer

May 04 // Patrick Hancock
Crypt of the NecroDancer (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Brace Yourself GamesPublisher: Brace Yourself Games, KleiRelease Date: April 23, 2015MSRP: $14.99 It would be a criminal act to not immediately mention the music in Crypt of the NecroDancer as it plays a starring role and deserves the first-paragraph treatment. This is mostly due to the fact that music is interwoven into the gameplay itself. The player can only act in time with the beat, which is also when the enemies act. Said beat has a visual representation on the bottom of the screen to help players get accustomed to it, but after a short while most players will be acting based on the audio cue, not the visual. When done correctly, the music, movements, and sound effects line up to create something that can only be described as "groovy."  In a game where music is at the core of the experience, the soundtrack could have easily made the game fall flat. Thankfully, this is not the case. There are three soundtracks built into the game. The default music is by Danny Baranowsky, and it is amazingly brilliant and brilliantly amazing. The tunes for each level are varied, yet all of them are catchy. The other soundtracks are a metal remix by FamilyJules7X and an EDM version by A_Rival, and also assuage the eardrums. Regardless of music preference, players are bound to dig one, if not all, of these versions. It's also possible for players to import their own music for people who don't like good music, or just want to work with something different.  The game isn't just about boppin' along to some great music, though; there is a story at play here. There are cutscenes for characters between zones, and paying attention to them, as well as some in-game hints, alludes to a pretty big overarching story. It's split over multiple playthroughs with different characters, so it will take some time to reveal the whole thing. The lore is legitimately interesting, something many players may not be expecting.  Every action is mapped to the arrow keys. In fact, the game can even be played with a dance pad! There's a specific mode for dance pad play, which makes the game a bit easier since the control method is inherently more difficult. This also serves as an easier mode to introduce players to the game who don't feel they are up to the full challenge quite yet. When playing with a controller, everything is mapped to the face buttons, which can also be remapped to the player's liking. [embed]291156:58414:0[/embed] Attacking is as simple as pressing the direction of the enemy. Items and spells are also available, and are used by pressing a combination of two arrow keys. For example, to use a bomb, players must press down and left (by default) on the beat. Various weapon types will alter where enemies can be killed in relation to the player, and it is of the utmost important to know a weapon's attack range. When moving, the game will check if anything can be attacked first. So if a player is expecting to move forward but an enemy is within attack range, the attack will happen. This means the character will remain stationary, which can be bad news in certain situations. Knowing these attack mechanics is crucial, and thankfully there is a weapon range in the game where players can try out all the different types of weapons and learn them inside and out. I recommend doing this at least once, especially for the whip. In addition to weapons, players have access to a shovel for digging through walls, a consumable item, a torch, armor, a ring, and a spell. Armor is split up into head, chest, and feet, making there a lot of items to equip for a full "set." The items found are random so make sure to pray to RNGesus before each run! Many items must be unlocked before they show up in chests within the dungeon. Unlocking items is permanent and costs diamonds, which can be found in the dungeon itself. Any diamonds not spent in between runs are lost forever, giving the player all the incentive in the world to spend them on something. It's the perfect system of progression in a game that otherwise has very little, ensuring that even the "terrible" runs can usually yield some sort of good news and contribute to the greater good. The dungeon is split into four distinct zones, each with its own atmosphere, enemies, and randomly generated layout. The first two are on the simpler side of things, but the third and fourth zones introduce new tile mechanics and are completely unique. It's amazing how fast confidence plummets after beating one zone and entering another. It's easy to be on a bit of a high after beating a boss for the first time, only to be introduced to a brand new area where players know basically nothing. It's a kick in the pants, and it feels so good. Speaking of the boss fights, each one in NecroDancer is incredibly memorable. Each one has its own theme and executes it perfectly. My favorite is definitely Deep Blues, which puts the player against an entire set of chess pieces as enemies, who move according to the chess ruleset. Seeing a boss for the first time usually results in a bit of laughter followed by an "oh shit" as the gravity of the situation sets in. Then death, of course. Some bosses are definitely easier to comprehend than others (I don't want to use the term "easier in general"), and the boss fights at the end of zones one through three are randomly chosen, which exacerbates the feeling of luck that's inherent in the roguelike genre. There's likely going to be some aggravation from time to time, simply because of bad luck. This frustration is lessened because of the diamond system, but the feeling of futility is occasionally hard to fight back, especially when there's nothing left to spend diamonds on. While each zone shares some common enemies, the enemy variety in each zone is largely unique. Some weapons may feel overpowered in one zone, and completely useless in another simply because of the change in enemy behavior. This makes the "all zones" runs that much harder. Some enemy types will be "buffed" in later zones, adding more health or variants on the original behavior. After completing the four core areas, there is still plenty to keep players occupied. Crypt of the NecroDancer also supports mods, and they are dead simple to use. All you have to do is download a mod from the Steam Workshop, then activate it from the pause menu. Many of the mods are currently music changes or skin changes, but only time will tell how far they go in the future. Different characters are also unlocked by accomplishing certain goals, and these characters are way more than just re-skins of the main character, Candace. The Monk, for example, can choose any one item from the Shopkeeper for free, but will die instantly if he lands on gold. Considering gold is dropped by literally every enemy, this forces a huge change in playstyle. I couldn't even get past the first zone! In addition to the standard dungeon, which can also be tackled with two players in local multiplayer, there is a boss fight arena, an enemy behavior trainer, a codex for advanced skills, a daily challenge, and a level editor. Beating the game once is really only the beginning. There are enough variations on the basic playthrough to keep players coming back for a long time. Crypt of the NecroDancer accomplishes what few games even attempt to do. It merges together two completely different genres: rhythm and roguelike. The frustrations of both come as part of the package, but some intelligent design decisions help to alleviate the issue. For those looking for the next gaming obsession after the likes of Spelunky, Binding of Isaac, or Rogue Legacy, look no further than Crypt of the NecroDancer. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
NecroDancer review! photo
Tunes from the crypt
Dance Dance Revolution was a large part of an earlier era of my life. Going though dance pads year after year until I finally convinced my parents to get me one of the "big boy" pads for a lot more money. Eventually I gr...

Dota 2 Compendium 2015 photo
Dota 2 Compendium 2015

New Dota 2 Compendium revealed, up to $15M in stretch goals

Hot off a game-changing patch
May 01
// Patrick Hancock
The newest Dota 2 Interactive Compendium has been revealed for this year's upcoming International tournament. Just as in past years, 25% of each Compendium purchase goes towards the prize pool and stretch goals. This yea...
SpyParty is diverse photo
SpyParty is diverse

SpyParty is on its way to hosting the most diverse cast ever

If it's not already there
Apr 28
// Patrick Hancock
SpyParty, my most anticipated game of 2013 (heh) is still well under development. After its facelift, it's been adding characters in bunches, with the last bunch bringing along a puppy in a purse and a disabled character. Thi...

Cosmochoria is a perfect blend of serenity and chaos

Apr 27 // Patrick Hancock
As Little Naked Guy With An Astronaut Helmet (I'm not sure he has a name), players are tasked with restoring randomly generated planets back to their beautiful selves. In order to accomplish this, Little Naked Guy With An Astronaut Helmet has to go around planting seeds and tending to them. After planting a seed, the player needs to hold a button down to tend to it, making sure that it is set to grow to its full potential. Once that is complete, the seed will slowly begin to grow. When they are done growing, they produce more seeds and the cycle can continue again. Once enough seeds are planted, the planet is restored and everyone is happy! Well, except for all the evil aliens in space who are constantly trying to destroy planets and Little Naked Guy With An Astronaut Helmet. Luckily, seeds are not the only thing at his disposal. Little Naked Guy With An Astronaut Helmet can also plant and tend defensive towers, each with different properties, to help keep back the aliens. The function of each tower is rather simple to grasp and use, making it easy to feel confident while playing. Towers are not free, and if players don't have the required resource, they cannot plant towers. Without towers, Little Naked Guy With An Astronaut Helmet still has a weapon at his disposal. There are a variety of weapons to choose from before beginning (these may have been unlocked from other playthroughs) but once one is chosen, that's it. I chose the shotgun, as I always do in games, and it was incredibly powerful. In fact, I rarely planted defensive towers and just focused on seeds and using the shotgun. The enemies are pretty varied and the game seemed to do a decent job of introducing new ones as I progressed. Some enemies fly above the planet while others walk on the surface. The biggest struggle is managing the plants and avoiding incoming damage while simultaneously dishing it out. It's a great back-and-forth that keeps the player constantly moving. Tending a plant gets very dangerous as more and more enemies head towards the planet. [embed]288910:57731:0[/embed] Little Naked Guy With An Astronaut Helmet uses a jetpack to get around space, but fuel is limited. It will slowly regenerate in case players find themselves floating out in space like Bender in that one episode of Futurama. There are dangerous enemies floating in space as well, plus gigantic suns that will instantly kill the player if they get too close.  There are also little side-quests that can be discovered, such as delivering items from one planet to another. Hints of a story were also present, though they were definitely pieces of a bigger picture that I couldn't experience in my limited time with the game. Cosmochoria is currently on Steam Early Access, and available through Humble on the game's site, and should be releasing very soon! 
Cosmochoria PAX preview photo
Plantin' seeds and killin' baddies
Cosmochoria is a Kickstarter success story that is now about to see the light of day. It's a mix of exploration and tower defense all wrapped up in a warming, yet occasionally stressful package. There's a strong sense of...

PC Port Report: Grand Theft Auto V

Apr 25 // Patrick Hancock
Grand Theft Auto V (PC, [tested], PS3, Xbox 360)Developer: Rockstar GamesPublisher: Take TwoReleased: September 17, 2013 / April 14, 2015MSRP: $59.99Rig: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 560 Ti GPU  First of all, know this: Grand Theft Auto V on PC is a whopping 60 gigabytes. Let me spell it out for you -- sixty! Be careful if your Internet plan has a data cap, because this is guaranteed to push it to the limit. You also may need to clear some space on your harddrive, so be aware of that before you begin the download! The next step is setting up your Rockstar Social Club account. The account name system bans certain  words, so if your last name happens to contain a "bad word," you can't include it in your account name (sigh). The system has been more or less unobtrusive, though it is annoying that the game can't simply use everyone's Steam ID since they get linked anyway. However, this does allow players to transfer their characters from the consoles to the PC. Grand Theft Auto V has a metric butt-ton of options for the users to play with and optimize. Because of this, many players will be able to find a group of settings that allows GTA V to run very smoothly on their rig. Perhaps the best thing the game does is show the amount of video memory for the installed graphics card. As the user changes the settings, the amount of video memory the game is using will fluctuate. This helps players, especially those not in tune to optimization, fine-tune the numbers to get a smooth experience. After some tinkering, I was able to run the game at my native 1920x1080 resolution and consistently get 60 frames per second. I wasn't able to turn the textures to High, but the game still looks great. In order to run it at this resolution, however, I had to turn off the option that limits players to their graphics card memory usage. The number it was showing was barely higher than the total for my graphics card, and it doesn't seem to have any real trouble running the game smoothly. The framerate does occasionally dip to around 30 when traveling around mountainous or heavily wooded areas. After running at a constant 60 for the rest of the time, this dip in framerate is very noticeable and is very consistent in the aforementioned areas. YouTube user "wiliextreme" did a great job showing different graphics settings in this video. [embed]290676:58331:0[/embed] The biggest issue with the PC version of GTA V is the long and frequent loading times when playing online. When cruising around and enjoying the city of Los Santos, the game is great. However, when players want to do missions, the main way to advance online, they get thrown into frequent long load times. Getting into a mission forces the game to load, and this loading time feels like forever. In reality it's around two minutes, usually. Then there's the potential of waiting for players to join in, which can also take some time, but at least this wait is understandable. I've even loaded into a game that was full, forcing me to load back into Los Santos, back at square one. Once the mission is completed, players vote to either retry (if failed) or for what the next mission should be (if succeeded). Then, when loading whatever is next in store, another long load time rears its ugly head. I have the game installed on a traditional HDD, since the game is HUGE, but I've seen other players who have installed it on an SSD having the same issue with load times. The initial load into the online portion of the game is much longer than loading into missions, but to be fair it is quite a large city to be loaded. Just like any online game, GTAV Online's lag comes from being paired up with players who are far away or with poor connections. Most of my time was rather lag-free, however being in a car with someone who is lagging is not an entertaining experience. "Woah we're just about to crash into that-- oh, nevermind we're on the highway now." Doing missions like this makes certain players virtually useless as they teleport all over the place and neither player knows what's really happening. Playing with friends can be an absolute blast, but also frustrating to get going. Loading into the same instance of Los Santos is easy enough, but joining the same mission, especially on the same team, is not. Since there's no "party" system in GTA V Online, one player needs to join a mission and then invite others to that mission. Then, if there are teams, chances are they will not be on the same team. Heck, the mission might even be started by the host before a friend can join the mission. Part of this can be alleviated by someone becoming the host and having the "Remain Host after Next Job Vote Screen" option enabled, though this is disabled by default. There's also the first-person perspective mode, which is certainly interesting. There is a field-of-view (FOV) slider, but the highest it goes is incredibly low for most people. However, there is a mod to increase the FOV in first-person. In fact, the whole idea of mods being implemented at all is what skyrockets the PC version of the game into the realm of infinite possibilities!  I've seen some users mention that, depending on graphics cards, the framerate can inexplicably go down at times. Some 970 users have seen their framerate drop to the 30s when inside vehicles, for example. The game has gotten a few patches already in order to fix some bugs and performance, so the team seems to be paying attention and can hopefully iron things out in a timely manner. Using a controller (tested with a wireless Xbox 360 controller) is a seamless experience. Players can easily swap between the keyboard and mouse control style to a controller by simply pressing a button on a controller. When playing missions online, the game will even let others know who is using a controller and who is on a mouse and keyboard setup. That way, when one person dominates an online deathmatch mission, everyone understand why. The game also works well using Steam's Big Picture mode. I was initially worried because of the Rockstar Social Club integration, but the game automatically maps the mouse to the left analog stick when using a controller. So when the Social Club overlay is used, players using a controller can still respond to friend requests or look at game invites. Another big draw in the PC version of the game is the video capturing and editing program that's built in to the game, the Rockstar Editor. Capturing footage is as easy as hitting a button, so long as you have the amount of space needed to actually capture the footage. Editing is rather simple, but convoluted in many ways. First of all, it is only possible to access the editor while playing offline, which took me forever to figure out. Adding things like camera angles and filters is incredibly easy, but adding text is a bit annoying. Adding text to a specific location to the video is easy, but the game doesn't give a preview of the video at that time, so players need to go in and out of the actual video to see what it looks like. It's an extra step that's totally unnecessary, but the editor is still crazy good for being in-game. The GTA V port has one of the most important aspects to any PC game: malleability. The amount of options help ensure that players with at least semi-decent rigs should be able to run it well. The online portion of the game isn't as cohesive as it should be, but GTA V can easily be one of the PC ports that players point to in the future and say "why isn't it more like that?" [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
GTA V on PC photo
Wonky tennis at 60 frames per second
After many delays and what feels like forever, Grand Theft Auto V is finally on PC. It's incredibly exciting to just think of all the hilarious and unique mods that people will inevitably come up with to change the ...

Strategy RPG on PC photo
Strategy RPG on PC

Telepath Tactics is out now on PC and it's hard as dongs

Oh good, everyone is dead...again
Apr 22
// Patrick Hancock
Telepath Tactics, a PC strategy RPG, has released today for $14.99. It's created from the ground up by a huge tactics fan, Craig Stern, and it shows. The game is brutally difficult and is intended for "Fire Emblem v...

How to make Ryu an interesting character in Super Smash Bros.

Apr 19 // Patrick Hancock
Sprite GIFs used are all from the Street Fighter Wiki. Give him an EX meter and EX moves So, let's assume Ryu has his Hadoken, Shoryuken, Tatsumaki Senpukyaku, and some fourth move like a counter or his Joudan Sokutogeri. What would make Ryu unique isn't so much his actual set of moves, but what he can do with them. Give Ryu an EX meter, similar to Little Mac's KO meter, and allow him to build it up and use it. It could build just like it does in Street Fighter IV, by connecting with attacks or getting attacked. Spending this meter can work in a few ways. One would be double-tapping the B button to use an EX move instantly. Double-tapping is weird and I'm not sure it would work in Super Smash Bros., but it's an idea. Another option is to allow Ryu to consume an EX bar to make his next move an EX move. For example: when there's at least one bar of EX glowing, Ryu can hold B to drain it and store it, similar to how many characters store a charged up move. Then, the next special move Ryu executes will be an EX version of that move, with different properties.  If Nintendo really wants to get fancy, it could even work with Capcom to include Street Fighter V's mechanic of spending an entire EX meter to make a character "super-charged" until he is knocked down.  Art by DeviantArt user kupbot Make Ryu's alternate costumes like Bowser Jr.'s Whether Nintendo meant to or not, they set a precedent with Bowser Jr. and his alternate costumes. Ryu is a perfect candidate for this method of alternate costume since there are plenty of Shotokans for Nintendo to choose from. Since each character has seven alternate costumes, here is what I've come up with for Ryu's alternate costumes: Ken, Akuma, Dan, Sean, Gouken, Sakura, and Evil Ryu. Let's be honest, Ryu is boring. He's the "guy on the box." Sure, he's recognizable, but most people tend to gravitate to someone else in Street Fighter. He's a wonderful beginning character and incredibly important to the franchise, but I will be way more willing to use Ryu if I can actually play as Sean or Dan. Sure, it may only be an aesthetic change, but to some, aesthetics really matter. Speaking of which... Give Ryu custom moves from other Shotokans While it is incredibly disconcerting that Mewtwo does not have custom moves at the moment, I am still holding out hope that DLC characters will eventually come with or get their own custom moves. Considering it's one of the biggest new features in this entry of Smash Bros., it only makes sense to do so. Assuming Ryu does get some customs, why not take them from the characters that make up his alternate costumes? Here's some basic ideas: Hadoken custom move ideas: Dan's wimpy Gadoken Gouken's angled Hadoken Sean's basketball (I really like Sean, okay?) Fireball multi-hit Shakunetsu Hadouken Tatsu custom move ideas:Note: This is assuming Ryu's basic Tatsu moves him horizontally  Dan's multi-hit Dankukyaku Stationary Tatsu Vertical Rising Tatsu Shoryuken custom move ideas: Ken's fiery Shoryuken Sean's Dragon Smash The multi-hitting Shoryureppa Since the fourth move could be a multitude of things, I'll just stop here. I think the point is clear: there are a ton of variants on these moves, and it would be a shame to see them go to waste! Two different Final Smashes Luckily, Street Fighter's Ultras convert directly to Super Smash Bros.'s Final Smash. So why not give Ryu two of them? Everyone already expects the Shinku Hadoken to be his Final Smash, but what if, by hitting B and a direction, he could execute a different one? He could have the Shin Shoryuken or even the Shinku Tatsumaki Senpukyaku.  I honestly have no idea if this would be possible, but it sure would be cool! The bottom line is, Ryu is possibly going to be in Super Smash Bros., but without going the extra distance, he'll be a character not many people will be interested in playing. If Nintendo and Mr. Sakurai give Ryu the same care and attention I know they are capable of giving, Ryu could be a favorite character for many players. Roy on the other hand...
Ryu in Smash done right photo
Listen up, Nintendo!
Street Fighter's Ryu is currently rumored to be coming to Nintendo's newest entry into the Super Smash Bros. series, thanks to some hidden files in the most recent update to the game. It makes a lot of sense; Capcom...

Review: Affordable Space Adventures

Apr 04 // Patrick Hancock
Affordable Space Adventures (Wii U)Developer: KnapNok Games, NifflasPublisher: KnapNok GamesRelease Date: April 9, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Affordable Space Adventures is all about atmosphere. The entire game is dedicated to immersing gamers into the universe the developers have created, and it works brilliantly. The player (or players) are first shown an informational video by Uexplore, the company that creates and monitors spacecrafts. From there, any and all plot is revealed by simply playing the game. It immediately becomes obvious from the first level's surroundings that something has gone wrong and that you're now stranded on the planet Spectaculon. Luckily, according to Uexplore, Spectaculon has "no dangers*."  That is not the case. So, the only thing to do on Spectaculon is to explore, and hopefully find a way off the planet. The Small Craft™ is pretty banged up, but slowly starts to repair itself over time. As new things get repaired, a quick system message introduces how it works, and then it is up to the player to figure out how it helps them progress through the game's obstacles. Don't be fooled, there is story progression, but detailing any of it here would ruin it. It's all told through gameplay and a single ending cutscene and I can't comment enough about how the game never breaks its immersion.  [embed]289938:58054:0[/embed] Affordable Space Adventures is a true two-screen experience. The television displays the Small Craft™ and its environment, while the Wii U GamePad displays the ship's many systems. One can change the output levels of various ship systems like thrust, stabilization, weight, among others that become available as one makes progress. Each system has an effect on the ship's output levels of heat, electricity, and sound. This makes the player truly feel like a pilot, since many times these systems need to be adjusted on the fly.  One of the first things available, and perhaps the most crucial aspect of the Small Craft™, is the Scanner. Using the Scanner, players can scan alien artifacts to learn more about them. Specifically, what each artifact will react to. Some will react to sound, others to heat or electricity, some react to all three. To bypass the artifact, one can reduce their output in those three categories below a certain threshold, displayed on the GamePad. For example, if an alien artifact reacts to any level of sound or heat, players can begin to thrust, and then completely turn off the thruster before approaching the artifact to simply cruise by undetected. Alternatively, if one needs to do the same thing in a downwards direction, they can simply turn off everything, plummet downwards, and re-ignite the engine once their past the artifact. Just uh... be careful with that second one. The brilliant thing about Affordable Space Adventures is that it doesn't ever break its dedication and tell you how you should be using something. The initial system message makes sense within the universe, since it would need to tell pilots how to use certain mechanisms. The game never goes "Hey player! Why not try sliding on the ground past this enemy, with all your systems off? Great job!" It leaves them to their own devices and allows them to figure it out themselves.  The progression is flawlessly done. A new system on the Small Craft™ will be repaired, then a few levels will instruct you the extent of those systems and the various ways they apply to the world. Then, a new system will be introduced, and the cycle repeats. However, just like my math teacher used to say, nothing is ever left behind. Mechanics become layered on top of one another, forcing one to use what they learned previously in addition to the new mechanic. Naturally, the levels towards the end of the game will especially press players to utilize everything at their disposal to pass harder and harder obstacles. There is an easier difficulty available, but the standard difficulty is a good mix of challenge and progression. In addition to the difficulty, the design of the entire game feels just right. The temperature mechanic that is introduced later on does feel somewhat confusing compared to the others, but other than that every mechanic feels natural and easy to comprehend. Puzzles organically get harder with no discernible extreme spikes, so you should feel a strong sense of progression constantly throughout.  In multiplayer, up to two other people can join in and control different aspects of the ship. The game adjusts the responsibilities based on how many people are playing, but flying solo is easily the preferred method of play. Divvying up the responsibilities feels more like each person is playing a fraction of the game instead of adding a fresh take on the experience. Communication plays a large part, but it just doesn't add anything to the core gameplay. One individual in particular controls the scanner/flashlight, which is certainly an important job, but only controlling that is incredibly dull. Two players feels better than three, but both feel worse than solo play. Many of the puzzles are physics-based, and I did encounter some wonkiness during my playthrough. There were a couple of occasions where items got stuck and could not be moved, forcing me to restart the level. Luckily, each individual level is never too long and doesn't require one to repeat very much if something happens. The entire game will take people around five hours to complete, and there's hardly a dull moment throughout. The sound design deserves special mention here, since it really elevates the atmosphere to an incredible level. Sound is muffled/off when underwater, enemies creeping in have an especially eerie tone play, the bweeps and bwoops from the GamePad console are spot-on, everything feels and sounds perfect. A lot of what makes Affordable Space Adventure so endearing is the little things. For example, if it is raining or if you have just exited a wet situation, the Small Craft's™ windshield wipers activate. Or the fact that the player has to start the engine and all other systems manually if it has been deactivated for any reason. Even the loading screens are pages from the manual that comes with the Small Craft™, including Uexplore's mascot, Splory. All these small things go a long way to keep one interested. Affordable Space Adventures is a game that can only work on the Wii U. Its two-screen experience is exactly what the system was designed for and the result is a unique breath of fresh air that might actually force people to hold that breath in certain situations. The multiplayer doesn't pan out too well and there were some physics glitches, but this is a game that Wii U owners need to get their hands on. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Affordable Space Adv. photo
What a deal!
It isn't too often that a game makes great use of what makes a console unique. More often publishers and developers are looking to get it out on as many platforms as possible, which makes console-specific ideas feel tacked on...

Review: Grey Goo

Mar 29 // Patrick Hancock
Grey Goo (PC)Developer: PetroglyphPublisher: Grey BoxRelease Date: January 23, 2015MSRP: $49.99  First of all, the cutscenes in this game are gorgeous. Right from the beginning the game hooks the player with its visuals. The opening cutscene is guaranteed to bring most players right in to the plot, however whether or not they care to stay is another issue. Grey Goo's plot revolves around the three factions, Beta, Humans, and Goo, fighting for control of the planet Ecosystem 9. And so they fight. The campaign would be rather lackluster if not for the cutscenes to keep the player interested. The difficulty can be adjusted for each mission, so if a mission is too difficult, players can drop the difficulty down a level when needed. Mission types can be varied, but tend to not stray far from destroying the enemy or defending an area. The campaign does give a relatively stress-free environment to play with the units and experiment, at least. Missions generally last between 30-60 minutes, depending on playstyle and the difficulty selected. Some missions are incredibly repetitive, which is why I recommend playing on Easy or Normal difficulty and just getting through to the cutscenes and messing around with the units. There are fifteen missions total, with five dedicated to each race. While the cutscenes are absolutely stunning, the campaign unfortunately ends with a cliffhanger, perfectly setting the game up for a sequel or an expansion (my guess would be on the latter). It is disappointing to say the least, especially since the cliffhanger it uses is so clichéd in nature. [embed]289484:57958:0[/embed] The inherent problem is that logically, everyone will want to play as the Goo. They are by far the most mechanically interesting race in the game, the most aesthetically pleasing, and the game is named after them. However, while the player can jump straight into the Goo in any skirmish, the Goo campaign, which helps teach players about the mechanics and strategies, is locked behind two other campaigns. Luckily there is an in-game encyclopedia to help players understand what units do and how each race works. Matches focus around gathering resources, building armies, and then destroying the opponents. There is only one resource, called "catalyst." Catalyst exists in certain areas around the map and needs to have a structure on top of it to harvest. The Beta and Human races place Refineries down with Extractors over resource areas, while the Goo has their Mother Goo unit hunkered down on top of them. There are no "worker units," so resource harvesting is more of a "set it and forget it" situation. Just don't leave your Refineries/Mother Goos unprotected! The Beta, the race first used in the campaign, focuses on base building through "Hubs." Hubs are small square buildings that can be placed anywhere with vision that connects to the production buildings on the sides. There are small, medium, and large hubs, each possessing the ability to connect to more and more buildings. Research buildings can also be connected and will impact any unit producing buildings on the same Hub. For example, if a Factory and a Tank Attachment are both on a Small Hub, the Factory can produce new unit types. The attachments are also used to research upgrades. While it is interesting to have a base broken up into small bits, the general strategy is still to protect the resource areas, generally leaving Beta players to clump everything together. Beta can also build walls and have units be stationed on top of said walls. This again promotes a base-clumping gameplay style and also promotes highly defensive strategies. Overall, the Beta don't feel much different in terms of playstyle compared to most of what the genre has to offer. The Human race is even more defensive, since they rely on low-health power grids for their structures. This means that bases must be in close proximity to one another. Humans are incredibly good at a turtling-style of play, but that doesn't necessarily mean that's the only viable strategy. Humans also have access to walls, which allow their units to travel and shoot through while preventing enemies from doing the same. The humans are pretty standard RTS fare, with the exception being the necessary power grid. The Goo are by far the most interesting race. I mean, there's a reason the game is named after them. The Mother Goo is the main building, and she is completely mobile. The Mother Goo acts as the resource gatherer; if you plop her on top of resources, she will collect them. The Mother Goo then creates Proteans, large or small, that can turn into units on the fly. This allows Goo players to bring some Proteans with them, and decide in the moment what those Proteans should turn into. It's an incredibly unique approach to an RTS faction, and it's no wonder that most players stick with the Goo when playing, from my experience.  The Proteans, including the Mother Goo, also do damage to units when they come in contact with them. Since the Mother Goo is pretty resilient, this strategy has some serious merit to it, especially when defending from an attack. It also creates an interesting dilemma at times: do I approach with my Mother Goo who is gathering resources, or leave her be to help my economy? I will say though, watching the Mother Goo slowly blob its way over to an enemy army to devour it is really something worth watching. Unless you're the other army. One of the most interesting things about Grey Goo is the upgrade or "tech" system in place. While playing as any race, players can use certain buildings to upgrade specific units in ways that better fit their playstyle. These are more than simple stat upgrades, but can drastically effect a way a unit is used. For example, the Bastion unit for the Goo can be upgraded to go into rampage mode when almost dead, increasing damage and then exploding. The pace of Grey Goo is slower than the APM-spamming click-fest of other games in the genre. It is also not as micromanagement heavy. It's a much more macro-focused game; players need to manage their resource input and output while simultaneously being aware of their opponents'. Grey Goo matches move along at a steady, but very manageable pace that should welcome newcomers to the genre without scaring them away with fast-paced skirmishes. It's been some time since the initial release, and the player base has dwindled to almost nothing. It's near impossible to find a match online unless it's planned out between opponents. This leaves the campaign and AI skirmishes as the only viable ways to play, which is unfortunate for an RTS. Petroglyph is paying attention, at least, since it recently put out a balance patch for Grey Goo - its first yet. Replays, a common feature among RTS games, are completely absent from Grey Goo. In the most recent balance patch, developer Petroglyph mentions that it is working towards the feature, but the fact that the game released without a replay function boggles the mind. Replays are crucial to help players get better as a community and to help move the metagame forward. Likewise, an "observer" function allowing other players to watch matches is also absent. There is a Map Editor, which is a great addition, but hardly as crucial as the aforementioned features. With a hefty asking price, Grey Goo has a handful of wonderful ideas while also treading similar ground, but the community dropoff rate has absolutely killed the online aspect of it. It's a solid real-time strategy that will likely please fans of the genre, but most may want to wait for the resurgence of players with the inevitable sequel or expansion, which will hopefully come with more features. The titular Goo race is one of the freshest aspects of the genre in a long time, and I hope that Petroglyph has some more great ideas up its sleeves for the future.
Grey Goo Review photo
A sequel to World of Goo! Wait...
Like a ball of goo, I have watched the life of Grey Goo, a new real-time strategy game from developer Petroglyph, expand with enthusiasm, begin rolling, and slowly but surely lose mass as it turns into a tiny goo-ball that no...

Review: Frozen Cortex

Mar 18 // Patrick Hancock
  Frozen Cortex (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Mode 7Publisher: Mode 7Release Date: February 19, 2015MSRP: $24.99 (contains two copies) "Cortex" is a futuristic ball-sport played by robots. The rules are pretty simple: get the ball into the opposite endzone to score seven points. If a robot carrying the ball goes over one of the highlighted "Midzone" squares before scoring, two points are immediately added to that team's point total. To win, a player must simply have more points than the other team and possession of the ball by the time the game is over, which happens after a certain amount of turns. Once the ball is acquired, the player can either run or pass with it, and there is a limit to how many passes can be performed in a single possession. The ball can also only be moved forward at any point. Robots who aren't moving are considered blocking, and any other robot who comes within close proximity of that motionless robot will be hit and deactivated for a short time. Gameplay will be familiar to those who have played Frozen Synapse. Using the mouse, players can map out the path of every robot for the upcoming turn, and can even do so for the opposing team's robots. Then, players can watch the events play out before committing to anything. Dedicated players will take their time and plot out many possible alternate scenarios before finally deciding on the best one. Once a series of moves is "primed," it is sent to the opposing player (or AI) and will play out once both players are done. The default rules can feel rather limiting, but it is possible to create a custom game so players can enjoy the game the way they see fit. In fact, my favorite moments from Frozen Cortex were from playing online custom game modes against friends, since we felt the original rule set was far too restrictive. However, doing this occasionally broke the game.  [embed]289060:57841:0[/embed] All of the single-player modes do use the traditional rules, so it is best for players to get accustomed to them and the strategies that go along with them. In the main game mode, Knockout, players are tasked with taking a team as far as possible without losing. One loss results in a game over and all progress is wiped, traditional to roguelike games. While it can be frustrating to get rather far and lose, the threat of losing everything forces the player to truly think about each move and puts way more importance on every single game compared to the other modes. In between games, there's the opportunity to add new players to the roster, each with their own stats. Want to have a team that is completely beast at blocking? Draft those players! Be warned though, there is almost always a downside to being very proficient in something. It can take some time to get a team that truly fits a playstyle, especially when a single loss will knock players out and the player pool is random, but it's great to be able to personalize a team.  The Global Cortex League and Randomized League mode function similarly, except the latter gives the player a completely randomized team, as the name implies. These modes will keep track of players' wins and losses, and the object is then to simply be the best out of the assortment of teams involved while continuously customizing the team. In Global Cortex League, getting new robots involves spending money on them, and money is gained from either winning or placing bets. There is an underlying theme of corruption that takes place in both the Knockout and Global Cortex League modes, and this is the player's chance to participate! It is always interesting to monitor how a team does and then feel confident enough to place a bet based on past performances. Just like real-life betting, I assume! Though once the betting screen is opened and closed, there doesn't seem to be a way to bring it back up.  While playing, three narrators banter back and forth. In single-player, the opposing coach generally joins in the banter as well. Their banter is incredibly witty, and often elicits a good chuckle, though there is no voice acting. Their personalities become immediately apparent, and will even talk about previous matchups and statistics, just as expected from sports commentators.  The amount of options at any given time is rather small. It's a pass-or-run type situation on offense most of the time, and it simply depends on the situation at hand. Once a player decides to run the ball, they must hold on to it until it's either in the endzone or turned over. This makes running unlikely in a lot of scenarios, but Frozen Cortex is all about mind games with the opponent. "It's highly unlikely they would run at this point" can mean "I should run it" for the offense. The play will end once the ball has traveled a certain amount of distance in the air, but not after a long run. This allows surprise runs to really be effective and takes some effectiveness away from long bombs. The map plays a huge factor in strategy since placing a good blocker in an important intersection completely denies that area from a player. There are certain situations in which the ball carrier cannot score, forcing them to purposefully create a turnover. Players near a grounded ball will automatically run towards it, which can be used to the passer's advantage in turnover situations. For example, if the defense has blockers set up at every possible route, the offense can pass it near a defender to force them to run towards it while they set up to be defense on the next turn. On defense, it is all about placing blockers in key positions and forcing the opponent into as few options as possible. Oh, and always being aware of the "Hail Mary" passes. Often times I set up a strong defense and did not change it for a handful of turns, which makes the game feel overly simple at times. If a player is ahead by a certain score, the opponent may not be able to come back in time, making it useless to even try. In fact, the amount of "unwinnable" situations in Frozen Cortex I've encountered can easily remove a lot of enthusiasm from the game. Its strategy isn't too simple or too deep, but falls somewhere in the grey area in between. The amount of options are always limited, but how those options are utilized is what separates the scrubs from the champs. Often times I feel as if "I've got this," only to be surprised by a huge pass that goes over every single one of my defenders. Other times I'll pull off a run that not only ends up in the endzone, but travels over five Midzone areas as well, staging a huge comeback victory. Players can also challenge each other online in a variety of modes. The variation generally comes in how player stats are distributed among each team's players. The beauty of Frozen Cortex's multiplayer is that it is easy to play a game over a series of days, since it never requires both players to participate at the same time. This, alongside the lack of super-deep gameplay, make it easy to enjoy for those who tend to have a busy schedule in life. Players can customize a team for use in multiplayer, including dividing stats specifically to certain robots as well as customizing the team's look. This is really where some of the best matches come from: the team that players have invested in personally and have customized completely.  The music in Frozen Cortex is, as expected, perfect. It has catchy futuristic tones and really picks up at opportune moments throughout the game. The game's animations truly steal the spotlight visually. I highly encourage all players to watch their matches after they've been completed. Watching the plays in a single series without player turns in between is an amazing spectacle. It's best to approach Frozen Cortex without any preconceived notions. It isn't American Football and it's not just Frozen Synapse with a ball. Frozen Cortex blends these things together and comes out as its own unique experience. There is a good balance of complexity here, so most players shouldn't feel overwhelmed after grasping the basics. The AI does a great job of teaching the player the ropes, by virtue of kicking their butt, which allows them to acclimate quickly. At times it can feel a bit helpless, as certain situations become unwinnable, but generally that boils down to the fault of the player earlier in the match. Frozen Cortex is a great competitive game to play either in short spurts or in longer sessions thanks to its turn-based playstyle, and has a very low barrier to entry for players. [This review is based on a digital copy of the game provided by the publisher.]
Frozen Cortex review photo
Though it may be easy to see Frozen Cortex and immediately dismiss it because it seems to be rooted in American football (the best football), I want to make it clear that no American football or sportz knowledge is neede...

Review: Dragon Ball Xenoverse

Mar 14 // Patrick Hancock
Dragon Ball Xenoverse (PC, PS3 [reviewed], PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: DimpsPublisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: February 26, 2015MSRP: $49.99 (PC, PS3, X360), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One) Most players could probably guess exactly what events of the Dragon Ball timeline that Xenoverse visits. Events surrounding Raditz, Frieza, Cell, and Buu are all present, with a few more thrown in for good measure. The twist here is that some jerk is going through the timeline and messing everything up by making the "bad guys" way more powerful than they should be. For example, when this mysterious time finagler makes Nappa much stronger, both Nappa and Vegeta become giant apes and attack Goku. These "What if" scenarios are usually great, but often very short. There will be a brief "what if" clip, then it cuts back to the original. That's where the player steps in with their created character. Players can choose from five races: Buu, Human, Saiyan, Namekian, and Frieza Race. Yes, it's actually called "Frieza Race." Each race has their own traits, like improved defense for Buus or the ability to go Super Saiyan for Saiyans. From there, players customize their character's look in a variety of different ways. My guy was a purple Namekian with a spiky mohawk head, for example.  Customizing a character is easily the biggest draw of Xenoverse. Tons of people have dreamed of adding themselves into the Dragon Ball universe (shoutout to all the "SSJ Franks" of the world) and this is that opportunity. The downside, however, is that players can not create a second custom fighter until the story is completed. So anyone who just wants to experiment with different options or has someone else on the same console who wants a go will have to delete the first character or complete the story mode first, which is a huge bummer. [embed]288589:57792:0[/embed] The player's created character is tasked by Future Trunks to go back into the timeline and correct all the wrongdoings to preserve the timeline. This often requires the player to team up with the beloved cast of Dragon Ball Z to take down the most notorious baddies. After the timeline is the way it is supposed to be, the character gets warped back out. Characters like Goku and Krillian do react to the presence of this unknown being, but never seem to remember them from one event to the next. Something along the lines of "hey it's that giant purple Namekian again here to save our butts" would have added consistency. The difficulty of the story mode battles range from pitifully easy to "ok this bullshit isn't even fair." Some battles are quick 1v1 battles, others are strings of fights back to back, and some are wave-based. For the longer battles, failing at any stage and selecting "Retry" will boot players all the way back to the beginning, including all of the opening mission cutscenes. There are times when failing a fight results in 7-15 minutes lost, only to then mash start and skip through about two loading screens and four cutscenes to get back to the beginning of a five-stage battle. There is nothing worse than having to re-do a series of fights after losing towards the end of the mission. The story missions fall into one of three categories: "tedious and boring," "completely bullshit," and "okay I guess."  Others task the player to protect their AI allies. These are interesting, since they force the player to be very aware of their surroundings, but the AI is completely unreliable. Sometimes they'll be awesome and create an incredibly awe-inspiring combo from the player's combo. Other times players will be fighting with Kid Gohan and Krillian and they are both useless and why are we fighting the same three enemies seven times? For context, there is a mission in the Frieza Saga that tasks the player to protect Kid Gohan and Krillian while beating 20 enemies. Said enemies are the same three henchmen repeated over and over again. It is is no way challenging, interesting, or worthwhile.  There are items to help curb the difficulty. Some items will regenerate health and stamina for the player, others will heal their allies. For certain missions, it is imperative that the player has these items with them. The game might be hinting that the player should be a higher level, but considering how ridiculous the difficulty swings are at times, it doesn't seem to be the case.  I would recommend to completely skip the Story Mode, but unfortunately players must complete it to create more than one character. The other modes, Versus and Parallel Quests are way better uses of time. Versus mode is both online and offline support, and the former has general player matches and ranked matchmaking. Most people seem to be playing player matches, however that generally leads to my character getting completely demolished by someone much higher level than me. When I search for ranked matchmaking players close to my level, I often get zero results.  The Parallel Quests are the game's strongest point. These consist of missions with various goals that players can cooperate together to complete. Some missions are simple fights, while others are to gather items like the Dragon Balls, while simultaneously keeping the bad guys at bay. These missions also have item drops which can be viewed before starting a mission. However, drops are random, so players may need to repeat quests to get the drop they want. This can be quite enjoyable since these missions are far superior to anything the story mode has to offer. After a mission, whether failed or succeeded, players will gain experience for their created character (even when playing as other characters in Parallel Quests). As the character levels up, they can allocate attribute points to different categories: Health, Ki Meter, Ki Specials, Melee Attacks, Melee Specials, and Stamina. This is great to add a strong sense of personalization to each player's created character, though it's hard to decide early on what exactly to spend points on since the players have no familiarity with how they may want to play. The fighting system itself is easy to understand, yet complex enough to yield a lot of freedom. The player has a health bar, a stamina bar, and a Ki bar. The stamina bar is used for blocking attacks and other defensive moves, while the Ki bar is used for Ki attacks. There are two melee attacks, light and strong, a Ki Blast button, and a defensive teleport that relocates the player behind the enemy at the cost of stamina. By holding down one of the triggers, players then gain access to four special moves (Galick Gun, for example). Another trigger brings up Ultimate moves, which cost more Ki than the basic special moves (Final Flash). While experimenting, players are sure to find links between melee attacks and special moves that jive well, which can really give a sense of accomplishment as players discover their own combos. Combos definitely have the Dragon Ball flash to them; launching an enemy, teleporting, and then launching them again always feel satisfying, especially since it is possible to perform a special move instead of the second or third launch for some extra pizzazz (and possibly damage). Depending on the environment, the camera can be a huge burden to the player. If backed up against a wall, it becomes near impossible to see what's happening and can easily lead to frustration. On PS3, however, the framerate of the game absolutely tanks if there are four or more people involved in the fight. The total number of combatants can go up to six, but becomes borderline unplayable, even offline. This makes the fights feel more like slideshows than the fast-paced ballet that Dragon Ball Z battles are known for. It got to the point where if I saw that it was a large-scale battle, I groaned knowing that the framerate would tank as soon as the action started.  The framerate also takes a huge dip in the game's hub world, which connects to every aspect of the game. There is no traditional menu system; everything goes through the hub world. Here's the process for starting an offline, 1v1 fight: Press start on the main menu, attempt to connect to the servers, then choose a created character. The game will then try to connect to the Xenoverse servers again. This tends to fail a lot and is never guaranteed. Load into the hub world, which is now populated with player-created NPCs like "SSJ_Shadow" and "Gloku," which make the framerate incredibly poor. Slowly meander over to the NPC robot that allows local fights, select the mode and characters, and then it can begin! The hub world is a nice idea that has its moments, but the lack of a conventional menu system, at least for the offline modes, is not a good design at all. The servers are incredibly spotty at the moment, but when they connect, the hub world is filled with actual players and their created characters. While there, players can do all sorts of pre-created chat messages and emotes. You can even do the fusion dance with other people! The framerate is poor, at least on PS3, but it's still a blast to see what other people have created and goof around. If players lose connection to the server, it will boot players back out to the main menu. The strange thing is, I've also had this happen to me when playing offline. It seems that if it tries to upload something to the leaderboards and can't, it still forces you to log out of the game only to re-login and walk back to where they were when they were disconnected. When the game is first booted up, the first thing players will hear is "CHA-LA, HEAD CHA-LA!" and so naturally the game's soundtrack is amazing. The background music for the menus and hub worlds is catchy, and the music during fights and cutscenes hits all the right notes. The art style likewise does an amazing job of looking like the cartoon while still being a polygonal videogame. Thick, bold lines and strong colors help to make each character, especially the player-created one, really look like a Dragon Ball Z character. The environments are a bit hit-or-miss, as some of them are pretty bland while others rekindle fond memories of the show.  Fans of the series will definitely find some enjoyment out of creating their own character and watching them fight and grow alongside Goku, Vegeta, and everyone's favorite, Gohan. However, Dragon Ball Xenoverse has some of the worst design decisions ever embedded into a videogame. There are no menus, the story mode's difficulty is all over the place, and the game's best aspect, creating characters, is locked behind hours and hours of frustrating play. It certainly has its moments and the core fighting mechanics are great, but the game falls flat in too many other areas to be standout title.
Xenoverse Review! photo
Is this the final form?
Dragon Ball Z games have been quite the rollercoaster over the past couple decades. The Budokai series often stands out among fans as some of the best entries into the crowded scene, thanks to its developer Dimps. Well, Dimps is back with Dragon Ball Xenoverse, so naturally fans are excited. A Dragon Ball fighting game developed by Dimps, what could go wrong?

Hungry Hungry Crossfire photo
Hungry Hungry Crossfire

The best thing I saw at PAX was not on the show floor

A true blend of genres
Mar 11
// Patrick Hancock
Let me set the scene: Day 1 of PAX has come to a close, or at least the show floor has. My friends and I have just finished dinner and are on our way back into the convention center to check out the Super Smash Bros. tou...

Tumblestone is the most intelligent 'match three' game I've ever played

Mar 11 // Patrick Hancock
Tumblestone contains both single-player and multiplayer modes. I spent most of the time in the multiplayer mode, which was the most interesting balance of speed and wits that I have seen in a long time.  The idea behind the game is to clear the board of the colored blocks. To do so, the player needs to shoot three of the same color from the bottom of the board. So far, everything is pretty straightforward. However, doing this in the wrong order will result in no possible matches after a while, which then forces the player to reset the board and try again. Yes, it is important to be fast, but it is more important to be correct! In multiplayer, everyone has the same randomly generated board. From there, it's a matter of who can clear the blocks in the right order the fastest. This is possibly the only game of its kind that made me, in a competitive multiplayer match, stop and stand back to really think about my next move. I could hear other players rushing to remove blocks while my section of the screen was motionless, yet I wasn't panicking, just concentrating. [embed]288776:57720:0[/embed] Things only get more complicated when different variants get thrown into the mix. Wildcards, for example, add in multicolored blocks that can go with any color. However, each color needs to use one Wildcard in order to clear the board, so the player must then keep track of which colors have already used Wildcards and which ones haven't. Ty Taylor, the developer, said he wants to make it more obvious to the player as to which colors the Wildcards can be used with to reduce the stress a little. Another interesting modifier was Color Lock, which restricted the same color from being matched up back to back. Though it sounds simple, the puzzle layouts make it quite complicated. The Shot Blocker modifier throws a stone in the middle column that switches on and off with each shot. Knowing this, players need to plan out their shots accordingly, since pieces in the middle will not be available every other turn. Perhaps my favorite modifier was a more complicated version of Shot Blocker, though I can't recall the specific name at the moment. The mode placed a Shot Blocker in the column the player uses for three consecutive shots. So, if a player takes a match from columns one, two, and three, those become off limits after their respective shots. However, the fourth shot will remove the first Shot Blocker placed and move it to the column the fourth shot was in. If it sounds confusing, it is! But only at first. This mode really forces players to think ahead, and "speed" almost becomes an afterthought in this mode. There were even times where I forgot I was competing against other people right next to me! Each modifier forces players to think completely differently, and aren't hard to understand. After a few failed attempts, most players will realize exactly what's up and start going very methodically. Ty also mentioned that future builds may be able to mix modifiers together, which I don't even want to think about right now. A sense of progression quickly becomes noticeable. While at first I felt a bit overwhelmed by some of the game modes, it didn't take long to become acclimated and start churning out victories. It's a pretty great feeling to know where you messed up in a puzzle, then breeze through the first half only to stop and think three moves ahead before diving into the second half.  My time with the single-player components was limited, but there are plenty of options for those who will be going it alone. A Marathon mode is an untimed, infinite mode for those who want to go for high scores. A Story Mode is also included, with 360 puzzles in 12 worlds, each world introducing a new modifier and likely pushing that modifier to the limit. Oh, and for those curious, Tumblestone is just fine for red/green colorblindies like myself. I was worried at first, but not only does each color have a specific face on it, but the reds and greens are at a very different brightness (dark red and light green) and were easy to tell apart. In addition, choosing a wrong color to match with in multiplayer will bring up arrows pointing to possible correct options. Both the single- and multiplayer offerings in Tumblestone come off as incredibly substantial modes. The competitive multiplayer got really heated on the show floor, even with occasional pauses to go into a deep, zen-like thought. This was one of my favorite games of PAX East, and luckily it's headed to just about every platform out there later this year! 
Smart puzzle photo
From the creators of The Bridge
The first impression of a game matters a lot at PAX. If people aren't intrigued almost immediately, they may never play the game at all. My first impression of Tumblestone was "oh cool another match-three game." I don't ...

Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a brilliant asymmetrical game

Mar 08 // Patrick Hancock
The player with the Oculus Rift can manipulate the bomb by rotating it or by choosing one of the many different sections on the bomb to interact with. There are many different possibly sections that could be on the bomb, but the simple ones consist of a series of wires or symbols, or even just one single button with some text on it. The game allows for players to mess up two times. After that, the bomb detonates. Bombs are randomly generated each time, so it's not feasible to memorize what to do in specific situations. Plus, the sections themselves change so it would take a ton of memorization. The player with the binder has a series of instructions that need clear communication as to what the bomb actually shows. For example, one section of the beginner bomb has a set of about six wires. However, depending on what colors those wires contain will affect which wire needs to be cut. The binder will say something along the lines of "If the section contains any yellow wires, cut the third wire." It becomes a constant back and forth between players in a race against the clock that is absolutely exhilarating. [embed]288752:57653:0[/embed] After beating the beginner bomb on day one of PAX, my partner and I decided we were up for the harder bomb on day two. We were not. The first obstacle on the second bomb brought us all three strikes. It was a more complicated series of steps that also included memorization. I was not prepared to keep notes while frantically communicating, but that's exactly what I had to do in order to win. Step five would say "If the number display is a four, press the position of the button you pressed in step two." What the hell did we press in step two? BZZZT-BOOM! Well, shit. Apparently there are even harder bombs. As I was perusing the binder of information, I saw steps that were entire pages long, something called the "Who's on First" section, and mazes. Mazes! Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes looks like it would be a perfect party game for just about anyone. This may be the first and only game ever to bring me back every single day of PAX!
Asymmetrical Oculus photo
Great use of the Oculus Rift
In Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a game originally developed at a game jam, one player wears the Oculus Rift and sees a bomb that needs to be defused but doesn't know how to defuse it. Their partner only has a binder...

I nuked the God of Lightning in Mayan Death Robots

Mar 08 // Patrick Hancock
Each player chooses one god, each with their own special attacks. The design of these gods is absolutely fantastic, and I found it hard to choose one to stick with based on design alone. Eventually I chose the Sun God, who was basically a nuke with a face who could also launch nukes and regular missiles. In retrospect, I guess that was the only answer. A nuke with a face! My opponent chose the Lightning God, who could also reign down attacks from the heavens. The object of the game isn't to kill each other -- though that certainly helps -- but to destroy the opponent's power source. Each god has four options: two unique attacks, jump, or build. The two attacks vary by god; the Sun God could either launch a Flare, which fired a tracer and then a rocket that came in at an angle. His other attack launched a different tracer, and then the next turn reigned down a massive nuke on top of wherever the tracer landed. Firing these takes some calculations. Aiming uses a power and angle line, similar to the classic Tanks game but without a meter for power. Jumping works in the same way, and is used to maneuver the god into a better position, whether it be to get a better shot or to get out of the way of the opponent's shot. Building allows the player to create terrain within a certain radius of the controlled god. These terrain pieces are placed in Tetris-esque shapes and help to protect the power source or possibly even imprison the enemy god! There's only a certain amount of terrain that can be placed, so it's not like you could just cover the screen in terrain. The most interesting part is the fact that turns happen simultaneously. Each player has a few seconds to choose which option they will perform, and then has a few more seconds to either move the angle and power of the attacks/jump, or to build the terrain. This not only keeps things moving, but also keeps things intense as you watch both sides' actions happen at once.  Every so often, a giant wheel comes up that grants each god a new single-use attack. Though it may seem pertinent to use it immediately, the situation may not call for a Cluster Grenade at that particular moment. Plus, it can be a little predictable to always use the new attack after acquiring it. Never be predictable! There are also Mayan statues and civilians running around and worshiping each god. Killing the opponent's statues and Mayans will grant buffs and can help give the player more options as to what kind of battle plan they execute. Should you go straight for the power source? Or will you go for a slower burn and start to aim for the statues? The whole match moves at a steady pace and there were event times where I was too busy watching the action unfold and totally missed choosing an action (it defaults to the last used action). Players need to be attentive, think quickly, and be unpredictable to be victorious. Mayan Death Robots is a fantastic strategy game that doesn't drag on and keeps up the intensity. The game has already been Greenlit and it is just a matter of time until we see it on Steam.
Mayan Death Robots  photo
Fast paced Worms-like
There's been a lot of games that try to copy the success of titles like Worms or Tanks, but often come off feeling too derivative. "Yeah, it's like Worms, but not quite as good" has definitely left my lips a handful of ...


Paradise Never brings some Majora's Mask to a revolutionary action RPG

Because it's set during a revolution!
Mar 05
// Patrick Hancock
Kitty Lambda, the developer behind The Real Texas and Paradise Perfect Boat Rescue has just announced his next game: Paradise Never. Taking place on an island colony of France during the Revolution of 2027 (complet...
Dragonball Cortex photo
Dragonball Cortex

Tried to play Frozen Cortex, went Super Saiyan instead

'You're going to love this'
Feb 24
// Patrick Hancock
A little backstory: this video of Frozen Cortex is unedited, and shows off a glitch I encountered while playing a custom game online. After changing a handful of rules, we were left with what you see above, characters t...
Exclusive footage photo
Exclusive footage

Exclusive footage of the 'Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late' naming process

You won't see this shit anywhere else
Feb 20
// Patrick Hancock
Kyle's review of Under Night In-Birth Exe:Late is now up, and we've acquired exclusive footage of the very complicated naming process used. It all makes sense now!

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