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Review: White Night

Mar 11 // Conrad Zimmerman
White Night (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: OSome StudioPublisher: ActivisionReleased: March 3, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Set near Boston in the latter years of the Great Depression, White Night tells a pulp horror tale with noir trappings. Driven off road in a storm by the ghostly form of a woman, the player begins wounded at the gates of decrepit Vesper mansion, home of a once powerful family with a grim legacy. What begins as a simple effort to make it through the night develops into an exploration of the Vesper family and how it connects to the apparition which drew the player in. Storytelling is the major aspect of White Night, and the one which it most capably succeeds at. As the player explores, they'll find dozens of journal entries, notes, photos, bits of private correspondence, and newspaper clippings relating to the Vespers. Walls are covered with family portraits and art, most of which can be examined and rarely see their descriptions recycled (though the art occasionally is). Narrative creeps in at the corners, these expository bits gradually developing into a fascinating tale of gloom, desperation, and madness. They're wonderful, and encourage a thorough exploration of every room. Voice-acted narration from the protagonist comes in at points as well, though these are typically far less interesting and hindered a bit by a youthful voice which doesn't seem to match the character. [embed]288768:57713:0[/embed] Taking an unusual approach to visual design, the game is presented in 3D, using fixed camera angles, almost exclusively in black and white. Stark and captivating, the sharp contrast and its limitations effectively draw the eye to details and discrepancies. The darkness is oppressive and encroaching, yet often preferable to the light which reveals that there actually are horrible things in hiding. It's a stylish look that well serves play dominated by object collection and interaction, as the player's view is often limited to their immediate vicinity. This, paired with the fixed cameras, is occasionally disorienting, as landmarks which could be used to identify the player's relative position are rendered invisible in the dark, which does make the experience more intense (albeit at the risk of frustration). Light and darkness are used literally and metaphorically throughout the game as core concepts. The player is helpless in the dark, unable to interact with the environment in any meaningful way. Inside the mansion, as working light fixtures are few and far between, the player must rely on matches for light. A maximum of twelve matches can be carried at one time, and the length of time they burn is affected by factors like movement, making it hard to gauge how much time one has, and (as anyone who's been down to a few matches will tell you) they're unreliable. There is a little thrill to be had from running dangerously low, only to have two matches in a row come up as duds. As time is spent out of the light, thrumming bass begins to build in volume and add a layer of frantic intensity which is exciting. Refills of matches are plentiful, however, and the amount of time the player has to actually spend in the dark before succumbing to it is considerable. One could play so poorly that victory becomes impossible, but the likelihood of this happening unintentionally seems low. The use of matches for light also hinders the player's ability to interact with objects which require the use of both hands, making most puzzles in the game follow a pattern of finding the objective, then finding a light source which allows for interaction with the objective, which may then lead to another puzzle. Most puzzles aren't difficult to solve, requiring just a touch of logical deduction based on easily found clues. If the player is struggling, they can reference an in-game hint system that collects observations the player has made and puts them a newspaper layout which usually points out what may have been overlooked. Occasionally, the protagonist will chime in with a comment of their own which indicates where they should check next. These features do a good job of cutting down fruitless wandering to find the next goal without explicit hand holding. The real killers are the ghostly forms of the Vesper family matriarch. Found in almost every room of the mansion at some point, these spirits roam about or obstruct progress and give chase when they see the player. If caught, the game is immediately over, which occasionally feels a tad unreasonable in light of the fixed cameras, but it does make their presence something to be feared and being hunted by them provides some tense moments. Ghosts can be evaded, usually by exiting the room they occupy or by getting a bit of distance in darkness (they're blind, a fact the game fails to point out until halfway through). They can also be destroyed with electric light, and a considerable percentage of the player's time will be spent figuring out how to turn on lights just to kill ghosts in their path. White Night bills itself as "survival" horror, a case made on the basis of its loose extrapolation of mechanics found in other games attributed to that genre. Players expecting a traditional survival experience of limited resources against considerable odds will likely find it underwhelming. Very rarely is a significant challenge presented, save for a few larger rooms with a lot of ghosts to avoid (easily overcome with a little persistence, though the trial and error can be wearisome). Limited resources, while still limited, are plentiful and widely distributed. Save points, though not numerous, are placed well to minimize the distance between them and any point of major interest. The trappings of survival horror are there, but there is no teeth to the gameplay. It would be more accurate to say that White Night is an exploration adventure, an interactive story in the "weird tale" tradition. Just enough obstacles exist to make that story feel as though it was earned, that the player participated in the telling, but conveying the story is the priority. From clever exploitation of gameplay mechanics to the pages and pages of rich exposition which carefully unravel and the moody jazz soundtrack, everything exists in service to the fiction. In that, it succeeds, and it's a story worth experiencing and deserving of praise. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
White Night review photo
Stay in the light
When people look back upon the great horror games of this year, they're probably going to forget about White Night, and that's understandable. It doesn't break any ground, it isn't littered with jump scares to draw in the You...

Review: Helldivers

Mar 03 // Conrad Zimmerman
Helldivers (PS4 [reviewed], PS3, PS Vita)Developer: Arrowhead Game StudiosPublisher: Sony Computer Entertainment AmericaReleased: March 3, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Helldivers is a squad-based sci-fi shooter, presented from an overhead perspective. Players take the role of a Helldiver, a special forces soldier trained to drop onto enemy planets from orbit as the tip of humanity's conquering spear. Given command of a ship, Helldivers are directed to venture into star systems controlled by three alien races which threaten Super Earth's way of life, pressing forward in an effort to conquer alien homeworlds. While there's an absence of any real plot, the setting of Helldivers does enough to establish itself as a pointed satire of American exceptionalism, colonialism, and military pride. From propaganda messages promoting the idea that Super Earth is spreading "democracy" through the galaxy (by the totally legitimate means of conquest), to the flavor dialogue spoken by Helldivers in the midst of a firefight ("Have a nice cup of liber-tea!"), it presents a scenario in which it's made perfectly clear that there are no "good guys" in this war, only conquerors. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, the sparse but effective setting material does just enough to allow the player to consider what they're engaging in without distracting from the action, while delivering wry chuckles here and there. [embed]288491:57587:0[/embed] Gameplay takes the form of planetary assaults, planned from the player's orbiting ship. Choosing between one of the three fronts of the galactic war, players are presented with a range of incrementally difficult worlds to attack, each with missions which must be completed to deliver it into the control of the Super Earth government. Missions consist of objectives which, while varying based on which race is being fought, boil down to defending control points, activating Super Earth technology already on the planet, escorting people and supplies, and destroying enemy installations. It's a decent variety, and missions tend to offer a mix of objectives across the maps, rarely weighing too heavily on any one type of activity once the player is taking on missions with three and four objectives to complete. Escort tasks will probably still be everyone's least favorite thing to do, whether it's leading a group of survivors or following a supply train, but there isn't a whole lot of punishment received for failing objectives on a mission, so long as you can get off the planet. Every mission ends with a last stand scenario where the team must hold out against oncoming enemies for an extraction shuttle to carry them safely away, and at least one Helldiver must extract for the mission to succeed. On the ground, Helldivers plays with an interesting balance of stealth and combat. Enemy patrols roam the map, looking for your squad. At worst, these are small packs of a few enemies that can be easily dispatched, but they're a tremendous threat to the mission. If a patrol spots the squad, they have to be killed immediately. Within seconds, patrol units can call in reinforcements to do real damage. And, while those troops are being dealt with, more patrols are moving in and calling their own squads of heavy hitters, snowballing into an massive conflict. Before long, the only options available become retreat or death. This system allows the game to produce two distinct, potent forms of tension for the player. Combat encounters are exhilarating, with enemies actively working to flank and surround, Helldivers firing madly into hordes. That's all good stuff. But the system of patrol units makes it equally tense to be out of combat, knowing that an encounter with the potential to escalate into an unsalvageable mess could happen at any moment. The three enemy races, Bugs, Illuminates, and Cyborgs, are all distinct entities. Illuminate patrols consist of lone scouting robots, while the Cyborgs have a pack of light troopers surrounding a sturdier commander and Bugs use units of four scouts, all able to call reinforcements. Cyborgs focus more on ranged weapons and Bugs take up a hard melee approach to combat. All of the races have their light, medium, and heavy enemy types, but that and a common enemy in humanity is about all they share. Helldivers can access many implements of destruction to help bring democracy to the galaxy. Players select a primary weapon before missions from a pretty standard selection of assault rifles, shotguns and submachine guns, though more exotic flamethrowers and laser cannons are options too. All of the weapons are fun to play with and there is no weapon with disadvantages that cannot be overcome by skillful use. In addition to guns, players complete their loadout with four "strategems," special abilities provided by the Helldiver's vessel in orbit. Strategems come in many shapes and sizes. Some drop in a pod with extra ammunition, powerful secondary weapons, or even vehicles. Others provide defensive countermeasures, like enemy lures and antipersonnel mines, while more offensive strategems lay down strafing fire or drop explosives. They're even used to heal and return fallen comrades to the battle. Coordinating with your squad in selecting them further enhances their power, as more squad members means more options. These powerful tools also come with some downsides. Deploying a strategem is a two-step process which begins by using a communication device to input an authorization code, achieved by correctly tapping out an onscreen sequence for the desired strategem with the directional pad. This puts a targeting beacon in the player's hand, which may be thrown into the field to indicate where the strategem should be deployed. Here's the hitch: If one wanted to get technical, one could say it's actually a three-step process, in that the first step is putting down the gun. If you're tapping away at codes, you are not shooting that horde of cyborgs bearing down on you, and you're certainly not going to be able to take out that patrol creeping up from behind. And then there's gravity. The Helldiver's requisitions arrive on the planet essentially the same way the Helldivers themselves did; they're dropped in from orbit. And while it seems obvious that you would avoid the immediate area around a beacon to which a phone booth sized hunk of metal is expected to plummet any second now, that little beacon can be overlooked when the bullets are flying (this is, of course, also a useful tactic for eliminating more troublesome enemies). It's especially risky when reviving squad members, as there's always doubt as to exactly where in the proximity of the beacon one to three people are going to suddenly crash on. Losing one Helldiver in the act of reviving another is a common occurence. There is a certain measure of glee to be taken from Helldivers' unsympathetic attitude toward its rules of engagement. Friendly fire isn't a possibility; it's a certainty, but it's one the game applies to all living things and can be exploited as a combat strategy. Defensive turrets are able to distinguish friend from foe, but they cannot distinguish between foe and friend standing in front of foe. They'll just cut down anything in the direction of a target, knocking a hapless Helldiver prone and struggling for life. Death happens so often and so quickly, it becomes a source of constant humor. You will eventually see someone crushed by an extraction shuttle as it lands and you will probably laugh. They will probably laugh too. Completing missions earns experience points toward increasing rank, with higher ranks gaining access to more powerful weaponry. Weapons and strategems can be upgraded by spending resource points, earned with each rank and by collecting samples scattered throughout mission areas. Finishing all of the missions on a planet provides its own reward, either a new strategem or bonus experience points. Missions also award influence, representing the player's contribution to the larger galactic war participated in by all players. Influence is earned by finishing all mission objectives successfully, escaping with the full squad intact, and keeping casualties to a minimum, with higher difficulties multiplying the amount of influence earned. These points are used to determine leaderboard rankings, but also to determine the course of the war. A single war will last four to six weeks, with the results affecting the difficulty of the war to follow. Each front is represented by a map with sectors separating Super Earth and the enemy homeworlds. Sectors become controlled by Super Earth when enough influence has been earned by all players, eventually extending all the way to the enemy homeworld. Reaching a homeworld triggers an event during which players have a limited amount of time to assault the source of an enemy race in the hope of conquering them completely, a feat which will require far more people than the small group playing in pre-release. The galactic war doesn't have a huge impact on the game, other than providing an excuse for event missions to occur. Yet, it does make you feel as though you're contributing to the accomplishment of a goal, and it's satisfying to see the rundown of which sectors have been taken and lost since the last time you played. It feels like something's happening around you, even if that something may just be statistics. Helldivers is best experienced as a multiplayer game, and joining an online session is about as quick and easy as starting a mission of your own. A couple of quick menu selections and you will, quite literally, drop in on another player's mission in progress. Local multiplayer is also an option and, in the absence of outside life, it's still enjoyable solo. Playing alone requires different strategies and offers less flexibility in strategem selection, which does make the already brutal higher difficulties seem even more insurmountable, but the satisfaction of single-handedly conquering a planet cannot be denied. Unrelenting and brutal, Helldivers delivers fast-paced combat, epic standoffs and a comical approach to death. Its enemies are varied, powerful and a constant threat to the players. While the full impact of the larger multiplayer experience remains to be seen, it still adds a nice little scratch to the progress itch. The strategem system provides great flexibility in squad building with many ways to build out team roles to maximize defensive and offensive capabilities. With procedural map generation and just enough mission and enemy variety to prevent a sense of repetition, the twelve levels of difficulty ought to keep players challenged for a good long time. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Helldivers review photo
In the grim darkness of the near future...
Mankind has expanded throughout the galaxy, having come together under one government, a "managed" democracy. From the Super Earth homeworld, humanity spreads its message of liberation and freedom to every planet they land upon; the liberation of their natural resources and freedom from human opposition, that is. And if you don't like it, expect them to spread a whole lot of ordinance instead.

Review: Blackhole

Mar 02 // Conrad Zimmerman
Blackhole (PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Xbox One)Developer: FiolaSoft GamesPublisher: FiolaSoft GamesReleased: February 27, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Blackhole tells the story of the star ship Endura and its crew who, tasked with saving the Earth from impending doom, find themselves trapped inside a multi-dimensional entity. Only the ship's most menial laborer and its artificial intelligence, Aluria, can rescue the crew, repair the Endura, and finish the mission. As "the coffee guy," players will explore the entity's varied dimensions, collecting "selfburns" (nanobots capable of fixing the ship) while looking for critical ship components and missing crewmembers. The writing in Blackhole is surprisingly good, with an intriguing mystery behind the origins of Aluria and the true purpose of the Endura's mission slowly revealed as the player progresses. Peppered liberally with jokes riffing on pop culture and sci-fi tropes, conversations with the crew are fully voiced with solid performances throughout. Occasionally corny but never dull, it scores big on charm despite suffering a bit in presentation due to its stage-based progression. [embed]288460:57582:0[/embed] Each dimension in the game contains a central hub area with about ten stages to explore, each containing multiple selfburns to be collected and ending with levels in which a crewmember can be rescued and a missing ship part retrieved. And this is where the plot progression becomes a bit of a hassle, as finishing a level opens up a new dialogue with a crewmember (who is supposed to be locating the next part or crewmember), but the player is expected to travel back to the beginning of the hub area to speak with them and get an update on their progress. It isn't mandatory that you speak with crew members immediately, and the hub stages are designed to loop back to their origin point (so the player will get to them eventually if they just keep moving forward), but then those conversations just stack up and the player has to sit through them all right after the high of accomplishing a dimension's most challenging stage. It kills the pacing and has the potential to turn what should be a light break from the action into a chore to be endured. Blackhole offers puzzles and platforming through its central mechanic, gravity platforms. Touching a gravity platform rotates the world around the player, usually opening a new route through the same environment they just traversed. Every stage in the game features this mechanic as a central component, tucking selfburns into areas only accessible when approached from the proper stage orientation. Only one selfburn has to be collected from a stage to unlock the next (and there's usually one that's significantly easier to nab), which allows the player to progress past levels which present a struggle. Eventually, stages will have to be revisited to collect more selfburns, as each dimension has a minimum requirement before allowing progress to the next set of levels. The gravity platform mechanic puts a tremendous demand on level design, and Blackhole delivers brilliantly in this respect. Every stage brings a new challenge that feels fresh and each dimension is unique, with its own stage elements that utilize gravity platforms in new ways. These include pulley systems, climbable walls, trampolines, and more, all of which function in different ways based on the stage orientation. The variety is broad and each environmental object is explored thoroughly, as levels squeeze every bit of potential use for them through the course of the dimension. It's a thinker's game, but equally demanding of platform skills. Knowing how to reach a selfburn is one thing, while actually executing that plan can be quite another. Simply collecting the selfburns isn't enough either; the player must also exit the level from where they started it and death returns the coffee guy to the stage entrance to start all over again. Only the selfburns collected in the best run count toward the total, meaning that to actually earn all of them requires a perfect, single run through the stage in which all selfburns are picked up and the exit reached. It often means executing a variety of difficult maneuvers, one after another, and completely finishing a stage feels like a real accomplishment. Packed full of challenges in an endearing package, Blackhole is an excellent 2D platform adventure which succeeds in nearly every aspect of its design. It's polished, visually attractive, and doesn't skimp on variety or difficulty. While the story could be delivered in a more convenient fashion, its writing is of a quality rarely seen in action/puzzle titles, performed skillfully by its actors and accompanied by catchy stage music. In a time when there seems to be a sudden rush of 2D platform titles, Blackhole is a cut above the rest. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Blackhole review photo
In space, no one can hear you giggle
There certainly have been a lot of creative 2D platform games releasing over the last couple of months, enough that there seems to be some genuine competition in the genre. If you're finding yourself in a position where it has become difficult to choose, allow me to make it easier.  Get Blackhole. Problem solved.

Review: Aaru's Awakening

Feb 24 // Conrad Zimmerman
Aaru's Awakening (PC [Reviewed], PS3, PS4)Developer: Lumenox GamesPublisher: Lumenox GamesReleased: February 24, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Players control Aaru, tasked by his master to destroy the temples devoted to the world's other deities. His tale, told through a storybook narration, is one about the trappings of faith, subservience, and the necessity of questioning authority. The plot is unremarkable and straightforward, serving up enough to establish the world of Lumenox and the character of Aaru, but little else. The game presents a 2D platforming style of play with an emphasis on challenging level design. Aaru can run left or right, jump, and employ an air-dash in any direction, but what makes him truly special is his teleportation ability. This is performed by firing a ball of light into the environment, acting as a targeting beacon Aaru can instantly move to. Like the air-dash, this teleportation ball can be fired at any angle and can also be charged up to increase its velocity. The ball is also a physical object that will bounce off surfaces and be destroyed by nearly anything which would also injure or kill Aaru. These properties of the teleport ball open up vast possibilities that the game's environments take full advantage of. To be successful, players will have to learn to use the ball in a variety of ways, such as firing it through tiny corridors Aaru is too large to pass, using it to keep aloft over lengthy stretches of deadly spikes, even applying it as a weapon by teleporting into enemies. By the mid-point of the game, maneuvers which require precise application of all three of Aaru's abilities become commonplace with little room for error. [embed]287961:57479:0[/embed] Controlling Aaru works well enough with a gamepad, but the better choice for most players will probably be to use keyboard and mouse. From an accuracy standpoint, aiming air-dashes and the teleport ball seems a touch easier with a mouse than an analog stick. The default controller scheme also binds the jump command to up on the left stick which makes it easy to accidentally jump at the wrong time, but the necessity of the right stick to aim effectively prohibits use of face buttons, so there aren't a lot of options to work with. Players will want that level of precision in the controls, too, as Aaru is not a hardy warrior. Most of the world's surfaces are covered in spikes, thorns, or water, all of which will kill instantly. Hell, just about everything kills instantly, with the exception of some enemy projectiles and pockets of gas or flowing water that can be survived if further contact can be avoided during a brief healing period. Odds are, if it looks like it might kill you, it probably will, sending Aaru back to the last checkpoint reached in the stage. It's likely players will die in excess of fifty times on their first attempt to navigate later levels. Thankfully, the game is generally liberal with checkpoints, though there are a few sequences which seem almost unreasonable in length, chaining together one difficult maneuver after another without any break. If this proves to be too simple for players, an additional challenge can be found in attempting to clear stages within target times, rewarded with medals. This is totally optional and excruciatingly difficult to accomplish in most stages. There is satisfaction to be had from earning these medals, but some elements in many levels appear in a random fashion, which undermines the goal of achieving that flawless, fast run through repetition. Aaru's Awakening features nineteen standard stages and five boss encounters, which take the form of more environmental puzzles but with a non-linear twist. Each features glowing targets in a variety of colors which need to be teleported to. Clearing all the targets of a set will grant access to an adjoining room with a challenging sequence to complete, but each destroyed target also impacts the main room where the boss resides by provoking a special attack or adding more obstacles. The targets can be approached in any order, which gives some control over how difficult the main room becomes, but all will eventually have to be hit to clear the stage and defeat the boss. This approach to boss design is excellent in the context of the game's minimal combat mechanics. Much like standard stages, checkpoints are established often (with the clearing of every secondary room), cutting down on the frustration of having to retread old ground. Unfortunately, the targets have no distinguishing characteristics beyond their color. This can make it difficult to differentiate between them, which in turn makes it harder to establish an effective approach. It's especially a bummer when considering how much attention has been paid to other facets of the visuals in Aaru's Awakening. The world of Lumenox is conveyed through a pencil drawing style which gives it a detailed, somewhat grungy look. Animations are smooth, particularly in the case of Aaru, as plenty of frames have been dedicated to animating him to reflect the changing angle of the targeting arrow. Sound design hits and misses in equal measure. Ambient music tracks which play during stages set an appropriate mood and do a lot to enhance the experience, but sound effects are often a bit grating and there are instances where respawning after a death produces a sharp noise which borders on painful, especially when you're likely to hear it fifty times or more over a few minutes. A fine game which presents a grueling challenge, Aaru's Awakening is perfect for the player who thinks 2D platform games today just aren't difficult enough. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Aaru's Awakening photo
Darkness before the Dawn
Aaru's Awakening is an unrelenting challenge of a game, which places players in the world of Lumenox, a mystical land in a precarious state of balance between four deities who rule it, Dawn, Day, Dusk, and Night. Now that balance is being disrupted, as Dawn sends a faithful warrior, Aaru, to travel the domains of the other gods on a quest to remake the world. Dark and twisted lands await.

Review: Harold

Feb 20 // Conrad Zimmerman
Harold (PC)Developer: Moon Spider StudioPublisher: Moon Spider StudioReleased: February 12, 2015MSRP: $19.99 The premise of Harold is centered in a school where angels are trained to become guardians of humanity. For their final exam, students are tasked with safely guiding a human as they race through deadly obstacle courses, working to ensure their human not only survives but is at the head of the pack. Players assume the role of Gabe, a top student who has coasted by on natural talent and needs only to place third in the final exam races to earn a coveted scholarship to Archangel Academy. In a cruel twist, Gabe has been matched up with Harold, a determined but physically inept racer. Where other angels are paired with athletes able to nimbly hop around obstacles, Harold will run straight into them and die without intervention, taking Gabe's hopes of higher education with him. Harold himself isn't so much controlled as he is prompted to act. In the vein of an auto-running platformer, he trundles straight along the path until he's compelled to jump by a button press or sent into a brief sprint with the expenditure of the "Puff Power" collected during the race (also used as extra lives for Harold). A sprint extends the length of a jump, but that's the extent of Harold's physical prowess, far from enough to safely navigate a course alone. To succeed, the player must manage Harold and his environment simultaneously to finish each of the game's twelve races. [embed]287901:57417:0[/embed] Each race is presented as a series of screens which Harold crosses from left to right, typically containing one or more objects that can be moved or manipulated for his benefit. There is considerable variety in environmental objects and how they're interacted with, using different applications of the left analog stick. Platforms can be pushed and pulled, quick flicks bash barriers with a wispy battering ram, and gears turn with rotations. Some objects, like wooden bridges and snare traps, won't stop Harold but offer opportunities to propel him forward more quickly. When multiple objects exist, pulling the triggers allows the player to switch between interactive elements. These objects are not only helpful to Harold, they can be a hindrance to the other racers. Every manipulable object has the potential to disrupt other racers and slow them down while additionally rewarding the player with more Puff Power for sprinting and mishaps of their own.  It's an exercise similar to plate spinning. Under the constant pressure of advancement through the course, the player has to remain mindful of Harold's position to time sprints and jumps, while ensuring that the coming challenges are prepared for his arrival. There is barely enough time to recognize what actions need to be taken before those actions must be performed, which makes it exhilarating to play when some confidence has been gained. As the courses become more difficult and introduce more complex configuration of objects, the game even grants the ability to pan ahead one race segment and get greater lead time on establishing the course. This is yet another plate. Moving ahead means leaving Harold to his own devices until the player returns to the prior screen or Harold catches up, further dividing focus. It also means additional opportunities to create interference for opponents ahead of Harold, which quickly becomes as important as keeping him alive if he's going to finish third or better. It would be horrible to leap into one of these races cold. Certainly, learning the intricacies of a course is one of the great pleasures of a racing game, but Harold is so demanding of the player's focus that running a stage without some knowledge of its contents would probably frustrate most players into quickly quitting. Moon Spider has wisely implemented a progression system which prevents this by putting the player through a practice mode on new stages before the race can be attempted. The practice mode presents the segments of the course individually as exercises, making sure the player can get Harold through each segment while also providing indications of optimal paths achievable by collecting the three stars on each screen. After completing a race, an even more difficult "challenge" mode becomes available for the stage in which Harold must navigate the course and collect stars while running at top speed. If Harold dies in this mode, that's the end of the attempt, making the stages extremely hard. Mastering a stage's challenge mode all but guarantees one has the skill to take first place in a replay of the main race, if desired. Harold is a satisfying challenge, but it may be a little too demanding of accuracy at times. I found rotating actions to be particularly difficult to perform evenly and had frequent issues getting back and forth flicks to register correctly. While I, as the player, am perfectly willing to accept the most responsibility for this, it's worth keeping in mind for the easily frustrated, especially as the game offers no means of reassigning controls nor allows for any input method other than a controller. Harold is also a looker of a game. Employing a hand-drawn animation style, it's bright and colorful, with exquisite detail. The visuals are almost wasted on a game where the player barely has a chance to observe their surroundings. Cutscenes before stages are not nearly as impressive from an animation standpoint, but do enjoy well performed narration and Harold's escalating pre-race mishaps are generally funny. Between its charming premise, beautiful graphics, and demanding gameplay, Harold is a winner in the end. Players who appreciate auto-running platform games should find it to be a fresh approach to the concepts found in such titles and a worthy challenge. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Harold review photo
Divine interference
Moon Spider Studio has released its debut title, Harold, an endearing and challenging race game about the most incompetent runner ever to need protection from a guardian angel. With some quick thinking, quicker thumbs, and an opportunistic eye, players guide the titular Harold to victory against all odds. Who doesn't love an underdog?

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Bud Light turns man into Pac-Man in Super Bowl ad


This will probably never happen to you
Jan 23
// Conrad Zimmerman
Bud Light has released one of the ads which will air during the upcoming Super Bowl XLIX, in which an unsuspecting beer consumer becomes the player of a fully-realized, physical Pac-Man game while a live DJ spins music in a ...
Sims 4 Free Trial photo
Sims 4 Free Trial

Play The Sims 4 free for 48 hours on Origin


Breathing virtual life into Origin Game Time
Jan 23
// Conrad Zimmerman
Electronic Arts has added The Sims 4 to its Origin Game Time program, which offers a trial period on some major releases in the Origin library. Players can install The Sims 4 now through Origin and play free for 48 hours, sta...
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Blacklight developer Zombie Studios closes doors


Leaves behind twenty year legacy
Jan 08
// Conrad Zimmerman
Zombie Studios, the developer behind Blacklight and responsible for launching the Spec Ops series, has stated they are shutting down operations after more than two decades in the industry. The announcement comes by ...
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Indiegogo providing new services for successful projects


Crowdfunding platform extending relationship with customers
Jan 07
// Conrad Zimmerman
Indiegogo has launched a new program, offering post-campaign support for projects which reach their crowdfunding goals. The new service, dubbed "InDemand," allows creators to continue to accept contributions after their ...
Poi photo
Poi

Poi trailer offers hope for the 3D platformer


Oh, how I miss them
Jan 07
// Conrad Zimmerman
This is the kind of thing I like to find when I wake up in the morning. It's a teaser trailer for a 3D platformer, Poi, and watching it makes me think that there's a bold adventure just waiting out there for me to exper...
League of Legends photo
League of Legends

Riot Games building dedicated network for League of Legends traffic


On track for the end of March
Jan 06
// Conrad Zimmerman
Riot Games has been toiling away on a new network designed to improve player connections to League of Legends. Detailed in a forum thread, this dedicated network will provide more direct connections to game servers,...
Limited edition New 3DS photo
Limited edition New 3DS

Nintendo offering limited edition New 3DS to Club Nintendo members


Seeking the willing to spread the word
Jan 06
// Conrad Zimmerman
Some Nintendo fans in Europe woke up to a surprise this morning, an opportunity for a limited "Ambassador" edition of the New 3DS handheld. The limited edition hardware bundles in an exclusive front cover plate, a pair of Sup...
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New screens to tease next episode of The Walking Dead


Third episode of second season to launch soon
May 02
// Conrad Zimmerman
Telltale Games has released a few screenshots for The Walking Dead's next installment, In Harm's Way. Clementine and the other survivors from the cabin have gotten themselves into a bit of a pickle, it would seem. We still don't have a release date for In Harm's Way, but Telltale assures that it's coming in the very near future.
Wii U photo
Wii U

Capcom confirms GBA games coming to Wii U


Mega Man Battle Network 3 first announced
Apr 29
// Conrad Zimmerman
Nintendo started launching Game Boy Advance titles for the Wii U Virtual Console earlier this month, but now the third-parties are getting in the act. Speaking with IGN, a representative of Capcom has confirmed Mega Man Battl...
 photo

Enjoy some video of the E.T. landfill excavation


One man's trash is another man's history
Apr 28
// Conrad Zimmerman
As you may have heard, one of gaming's great urban legends was confirmed over the weekend. Atari did, in fact, dump a large quantity of retail copies of E.T. - The Extra-Terrestrial (and other games) in a New Mexico lan...
Oddworld photo
Oddworld

PlayStation cross-buy announced for Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty


Pricing revealed while teasing announcement of release date
Apr 25
// Conrad Zimmerman
Oddworld Inhabitants divulged a few salient details regarding the upcoming release of Oddworld: New 'n' Tasty, remake of the original Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee. Most notably, the studio has announced that the game will be offer...
Ground Zeroes photo
Ground Zeroes

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes patch coming May 1


Update makes platform-exclusive missions available to all
Apr 25
// Conrad Zimmerman
Konami has announced that it will be releasing a title update for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes on May 1. The patch will unlock the up-to-now platform exclusive missions "Deja Vu" and "Jamais Vu" (available only in t...
Gardening Mama photo
Gardening Mama

Gardening Mama 2: Forest Friends ships to US retailers


You can buy this thing!
Apr 22
// Conrad Zimmerman
Majesco has announced that Gardening Mama 2: Forest Friends has shipped to North American retailers where you may offer currency in exchange for a copy.  Maybe it's just because I haven't played a Mama game si...
 photo

Batman: Arkham Origins Cold, Cold Heart DLC launched


New trailer to tease the Freeze
Apr 22
// Conrad Zimmerman
The next bit of additional content for Batman: Arkham Origins has released today and I'm personally hoping that they deliver when it comes to Victor Fries. I find him to be criminally under-appreciated as a villain for ...
PAX photo
Holmes talks with creator Jason Cirillo
One of the most common questions one gets asked when visiting a show like PAX East is, "what's the most fun game you've played this weekend." Woah Dave was my automatic response to any such query this past weekend. An a...

World of Darkness photo
World of Darkness

Development ceased on World of Darkness MMO


CCP CEO states, 'efforts were falling regretfully short.'
Apr 14
// Conrad Zimmerman
CCP Games announced today that development has been halted on the World of Darkness massively multiplayer online game. In a statement, CCP CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson expressed regret over the decision, sayin...
 photo

Cooperative multiplayer mode coming to Nuclear Throne


Vlambeer shoot-em-up to get even shootier
Apr 12
// Conrad Zimmerman
Today at PAX East, Vlambeer's Rami Ismail announced that their latest game, Nuclear Throne, will feature cooperative multiplayer. The mode will allow for up to four players to play simultaneously, either locally or over ...
 photo

Borderlands 2 PS Vita bundle available May 6


Game available separately a week later
Apr 08
// Conrad Zimmerman
Sony has announced a release date for the Borderlands 2 PlayStation Vita bundle today via PlayStation Blog. The bundle, which marks the first release of the handheld's slimmer hardware redesign in North America, will be avai...
LEGO photo
LEGO

LEGO The Hobbit now available


Watch this charming launch trailer
Apr 08
// Conrad Zimmerman
Warner Bros. has released LEGO: The Hobbit to retailers in North America today, with a European release coming on April 11. As one might expect, new marketing materials have been released for the game, including the abo...
Broforce photo
New trailer may cause fits of
I really want Broforce in my life. As of today, that can be a reality as the game has launched in Steam Early Access. You may now feel free to exchange $14.99 for the ability to play on PC or Mac. A new trailer has also...

AirMech Arena photo
AirMech Arena

Ubisoft to publish AirMech Arena on Xbox 360


Free-to-play robot warfare
Apr 07
// Conrad Zimmerman
AirMech, the action-oriented real-time strategy franchise from Carbon Games, will be arriving on Xbox 360 this summer. Published by Ubisoft, AirMech Arena will offer free-to-play cooperative and competitive multiplayer ...
 photo

Kung-Fu Master lampooned in live-action skit


Celebrate three decades of stiff combat
Apr 03
// Conrad Zimmerman
Maker of live-action videogame spoofs, El Gamer Cosplayer has released this video portraying old-school arcade game Kung-Fu Master. As they do in the game, bad guys fly across the screen, locked in the frozen moment of impac...
Anomaly photo
Anomaly

Anomaly trilogy to close with Anomaly Defenders


Third game features alien perspective
Apr 03
// Conrad Zimmerman
I loved the first two Anomaly games for how they turned traditional tower defense mechanics on their head to make something fun and different. I'm not so sure about the announcement of the series' final installment, rev...
Dead End photo
Dead End

Crush zombies in endurance racer Dead End


Now released for mobile devices
Apr 02
// Conrad Zimmerman
Released today for iOS, Android and Windows Phones, Dead End is an endurance racing game in which players strike zombies to earn cash while avoiding road hazards. Earned money can then be spent on upgrades to the car, a...
The Walking Dead photo
The Walking Dead

Online stores list The Walking Dead for Xbox One


May be shambling its way to the new generation
Apr 02
// Conrad Zimmerman
Telltale's widely acclaimed series based on The Walking Dead may soon arrive on Xbox One. NeoGAF poster MauroNL spotted listings for the Game of the Year edition of the first season and the second season on the webs...

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