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Review: Skyhill

Oct 06 // Stephen Turner
Skyhill (PC) Developers: Mandragora Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment Released: October 6, 2015 MSRP: $14.99 One man’s late-night extravagance ends up being his good fortune as Perry Jason’s penthouse suite shields him from a biological attack. Every guest and staff worker is transformed into a bloodthirsty mutant, leaving him the only human seemingly left alive. But without supplies and a wife lost to the city, he has no choice but to venture down 100 floors to escape this hotel-turned-house of horrors. Sounds easy, right? If only he wasn't already starving to death and in need of some makeshift weapons. Skyhill has the look of a horror game, but it’s a light RPG/roguelike/survival game at heart. You scavenge for food and items, combine ingredients for better supplies, all the while keeping an eye on your increasing hunger pains. It's not a scary game, especially with the comic book horror presentation, but it does an excellent job of handing the tension over to the player and their decisions. Every new floor is a gamble, every consumable carries short-term and long-term effects, and every push downward has to be thought out in advance. Essentially, Skyhill is about knowing when to hold and when to fold. [embed]313976:60617:0[/embed] Starting off in the VIP Room, which also serves as an upgradable home base, you work your way through each floor to reach the lobby (the end goal). Movement is done through a simple click on a room, but every location depletes a point from the hunger bar. Finding food is always the top priority; without it, movement depletes the health bar instead. Much of Skyhill is spent yo-yoing up and down the eponymous building, collecting random items, taking them back to the VIP room to craft better upgrades, then venturing back down to your last location. It might sound like a chore, but it's actually quite effective at creating an air of desperation; pushing forward due to a lack of supplies or a regained purpose. If you’ve played any survival games before, you’ll know what to expect from Skyhill’s crafting system. The tier system is easy to use, and it always tells you the items you need or already own. But keeping a hold of higher-tier items is a challenge, as you’ll always come across an elevator shaft that needs fixing with a certain item that you just created for something else. The same difficult choices happen with food supplies, too; eat the basics now for a short-term boost, or hold out to make bigger meal later on. It’s always a tough call. Of course, Skyhill wouldn't be a horror game without combat. Due to cramped environments onscreen, the game opts for turned-based attacks and statistics. Each mutant type has 2-3 body parts to attack, but the more damage you can inflict, the less likely you are to hit. Players can level up their stats – damage, speed, dexterity, and accuracy – by gaining XP after every fight. Though, honestly, the RPG elements don't really change up the combat, say, beyond landing more hits, and both end up becoming Skyhill’s weaker elements in the second half. Without an option to dodge (though you can retreat), combat is always tit-for-tat, and whoever gets the best string of hits wins. If there was ever a perfect representation of Skyhill’s negative traits, it would be found in the building itself; a rinse-and-repeat of exploration between two rooms and a stairwell. Skyhill never evolves, even close to the ground floor, preferring instead to throw more mutant attacks in the way. The only reason the final 50 floors are tougher is because they're more of a drain on resources; just more of the same without the breather. Still, Skyhill manages to be a decent stab at survivalist horror; rightfully using certain mechanics to avoid an even lesser game. It’s hard to imagine the combat working in real time due to the tiny spaces, or that if every room were visually more complex, it would lead to some tiresome pixel hunting. In a way, Skyhill is economical in what it does, even if it means being the old double-edged sword. That said, when you get right down to the core of it, see how the elements work in your favour or conspire against you, Skyhill admirably creates this tense game of hubris and courage, one that never lets up until you escape or, far more likely, die. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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'We're on an express elevator to hell!'
100 floors up, countless mutants on the way down, and only one way out of town. No, this isn’t your average council estate in Swansea. This is Skyhill.

Review: A Fistful of Gun

Sep 28 // Stephen Turner
A Fistful of Gun (PC) Developers: FarmerGnome Publisher: Devolver Digital Released: September 23, 2015 MSRP: $12.99 A Fistful of Gun is a bombardment of the senses. It’s your usual post-modern, knowing wink to the camera fare; very loud, very brash, but also raising a smile with its constructive asides and one-liners. So, an evil railroad tycoon has made a deal with the devil, but he’s about to get some karmic retribution from a diverse group of gunslingers. Along the way, these 11 wronged men (well, more than 11 if you count a whole regiment sharing a single horse) will take down anyone who stands in their way – KKK members, bandits, soldiers, Indians, voodoo men, the whole clichéd lot. And that’s it for the threadbare plot, really. The Story Mode is a marathon of randomised arena-based firefights, each one barely lasting more than a minute or two. Sometimes, you’re given an objective to complete in addition to killing everyone on screen, be it pushing a cart to its destination, duels and assassinations, or saving a hoedown from a stampede, to more loopy scenarios like Peyote trials and Bomb Fiestas. And since you can choose your next challenge, it’s always refreshing to see the variety and difficulty on the player’s own terms. [embed]312707:60526:0[/embed] Graphically, the Western setting is merely functional. Each location has its share of destructible environments, but it all looks intentionally sparse. Being a twitch shooter, you’re required to keep your attention on several things at once: your gunslinger, the bullets headed your way, and the tiny aiming reticule. The pixel art is charming when it’s calm, but when things erupt in spectacular fashion, it’s hard to keep track of the tiny characters and the aiming reticule is usually lost to the earthy colour palette. A Fistful of Gun is a difficult game, but it does offer plenty of risk/reward strategies in the way of power-ups, handicaps, and character playstyles. Causing havoc in the neutral zones might offer more money or lives, but you’ll also earn a wanted level and choice to either fight a fairly unstoppable Sheriff or take a fairly humiliating challenge like getting through the next level with an unpredictable hog or an explosive piñata on your back. Usually, if you can successfully weave in and out of trouble, you can pick up various whiskey bottles that can slow down time or give you extra damage. Horses give you extra speed and since this is a one-hit-kill kind of game, they allow you a second wind at the expense of their life. The main gimmick here is the different unlockable gunslingers. Each man has their own unique control scheme or weapon use. So for example, Abel can fire off six rapid shots in a row, but has to reload the whole cylinder before firing again. Virgil’s blunderbuss has to be charged for maximum effect, while Duke has a chaingun at the expense of movement speed, and Billy’s gun can only be fired by pressing the right key shown above his head. Some are clearly more favourable than others, and a select few are there for the added challenge, but nobody ever comes across as overpowered. While they all have to be randomly unlocked in the campaign, everybody is available straight away in Arcade Mode, and it’s also in this mode that A Fistful of Gun becomes more accessible, more fun. Basically, it’s an infinite gauntlet of arenas, where you’re rewarded with modifiers to take into the next battle – explosive bullets, faster movement speed, better accuracy, etc. But more importantly, it also benefits from having local co-op. It’s through that brief glimpse of partnership that I saw A Fistful of Gun at its fullest potential. Online is a mix of Arcade and Versus Modes (no co-op SP campaign, sadly) for up to nine players. Though, on launch weekend, the servers were dead. Ideally, it’s played best with a friends list, but if you don’t have a posse to call upon, then you won’t have much luck with public games; not to mention a lack of instant game matchmaking (which is supposedly being rectified in the near future). It would be pretty ridiculous to mark down A Fistful of Gun over a lack of consumer interest, but as a word to the wise and since many of its modes are reliant on co-op, it does currently come across as half a game. No, A Fistful of Gun’s only major errors lie in its repetitive and muddied action, all blasted through an ADD pacing. It’s still fun and humorous, but that relentless nature condenses its longevity into just a couple of sessions. If you’ll pardon the ham-fisted metaphor, A Fistful of Gun can best be described as a stick of dynamite with a short fuse; explosive and disposable in the brief time you’ll spend with it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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'My mistake... Four HUNDRED coffins'
Ah, another day, another pixel-art indie game with a Wild West theme. That said, A Fistful of Gun could’ve been set on the Moon and you’d be too busy dodging bullet hells and listening to arcade cabinet music to e...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill 3

Sep 19 // Stephen Turner
At its heart, Silent Hill 3 is about a girl coming of age. From the opening nightmare sequence, we’re treated to very familiar horror iconography: blood red hues, a fascination with blades, of something foreign inside the body, and a cute mascot in disturbingly lifeless poses, all set in an abandoned amusement park. Heather’s journey home takes her through teenage hangouts and public places, their dark sides brought to the fore, all the way to Silent Hill and deep within. Little Red Riding Hood by way of Dario Argento, if you will. Her survival depends on a reconciliation between childhood and adult life, with her former selves being these literal, separate slices of life. By the end, Heather is not Alessa, nor Cheryl, but its through their remembrance that she ultimately becomes her own person, able to make her own decisions in life. On the other side of the coin, there's Claudia Wolf, the story's misguided antagonist; a colourless imitation of a reasonable young adult, preferring the comfort of blind faith over autonomy. Adulthood, or at least what we find of it in Silent Hill 3, is represented by the messes of men. Douglas Cartland is a walking list of mistakes, whereas Vincent Smith takes a perverse pride in belittling the ignorant few. One seeks redemption, the other deals in exploitation. The cast might be minimal, but it works for the duality on display. Lines are drawn and lesson are learned. Douglas, himself, finds redemption through parental guidance, something he thought he'd lost, a lifetime ago. [embed]311452:60439:0[/embed] As a direct sequel to a fairly obtuse original, past events are recalled and plainly deconstructed. Riddle speak is deftly cut down by barbed tongues, infallible fathers are shown to be weak and vulnerable (breaking down our own hero worship in the process), and The Order is explained in definitive detail. It's this clarity that ends up being vital to Heather's character growth. Particularly telling is how her descriptive texts turn from dismissive to thoughtful, reflective and empathetic, along with the bloodstains that are eventually splashed across her pure white jacket. The Otherworld returns to its original form, now a higher-definition of improbable locations, foetal-like defects and rattling heads (for his final game, Masahiro Ito's designs were part-freakshow, part-macabre fairytale). It's a harsher world, full of abattoir tiles and maddening works of art, an intensity that almost goes overboard in places; bringing back the surface level scares that were missing in Silent Hill 2. It's visceral, but it needed to be that way. The Otherworld doesn't adapt, it grows with its protagonist. And it's most obvious in the way the skeletal walls and beasts of raw flesh develop rippling layers of skin as you progress. The Otherworld is a fearful representation of pregnancy and birth, all of which ends with an abortion of sorts. For a series that prides itself on subversion, Silent Hill 3 is rather transparent with its humanist values. Both pro-choice and nihilistic towards religion, the messages come through clearly at the most shocking of times and even breaks the philosophical fourth-wall when needed (note how Vincent usually addresses the audience through POV angles). At one point, the player is asked to forgive or condemn Claudia's actions, and the answer doesn't lie in the usual act of altruism. Silent Hill 3 will always be most famous for the line, “They look like monsters to you?” but that's always been a sly misdirection at best, or a love letter by a dev team on their way out. Personally speaking, it’s a symptom of why Silent Hill 3 never crawled out from Silent Hill 2's shadow; the constant post-modern distractions took focus away from the bigger picture. But you could also argue that it was down to a waning interest in survival horror, or an emphasis on unrefined combat, badly paced locations, or even the re-use of assets for a quick turnaround. And none of these would be wrong, either. That said, especially after replaying it for this retrospective, Silent Hill 3 is a game in need of re-appraisal. The tired, introspective tone from the developers is actually more relevant now than on release. Heather Mason also manages to be a strong female character, one that earns that title, rather than put on a pedestal from the get-go. And this was in 2003, remember. The Otherworld was as close as we were ever going to get an HD remake, complete with so many hidden details and huge advancement in character design. And it's rarely said enough, the haunted house section is completely underrated in the way it pulls the rug from underneath the player. Hey, maybe, ironically, it's a reconciliation with the past speaking. In any case, no matter where you place it – best, mid-tier, worst (personally, mid-tier) – Silent Hill 3 signaled the dying days of "Team Silent," but there was one more oddity that would send us tumbling down the rabbit hole and into a realm of existentialism that hasn’t been explored in video games since.
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'It's about your birth.'
Silent Hill 3 is a mean-spirited game, but then that was always the point. In order to value her future, Heather Mason is dragged, kicking and screaming, through the muck and mire of her past. Yes, she’s given the tools...

Review: Party Hard

Aug 25 // Stephen Turner
Party Hard (PC [Reviewed], iOS) Developer: Pinokl Games Publisher: tinyBuild Games Released: August 25, 2015MSRP: $12.99  Party Hard tells the tongue-in-cheek story of the Party Hard Killer, a man who just wanted to get some sleep at 3AM and eventually went on a murder spree around the US in the early '00s. It’s all played for macabre laughs, though there are flashes of genuine subversion throughout. In the narration, one random victim's identity turns out to be a slap to the face when you're in mid-chuckle, but other twists and turns rarely pay off. Though, in its favour, Party Hard is completely self-aware of its own weaknesses. It’s not trying to be the next Hotline Miami in that regard. Despite the pulsing and rather solid electro soundtrack, Party Hard is actually a slow and methodical game. As the Party Hard Killer (and other unlockable characters), the main aim is to divide and conquer a crowd of people by any means necessary. Of course, stabbing someone in plain sight means someone’s going to call the cops, so it's up to you to manipulate and set off environmental accidents. Dotted around the map are things you can use to flatten, poison, or blow up unsuspecting victims in order to achieve your goal. It's a sandbox game to a point, with a bit of improvisation thrown in for good measure, and watching several timed accidents go off at once is a dark joy to behold. But once all the environmental tricks run out, the game suddenly turns into a fiendish stalk-and-slash. Hiding bodies and killing in secrecy become a must, since the police are relentless in their pursuit of you. You can bump off the cops, but that means the next witness will bring in the more efficient Feds, and the escape routes are eventually boarded up. Finishing off the last 10-15 victims does become a drag, especially after the initial outburst of comical violence. Party Hard lacks the kind of distractions needed to splinter off the remaining survivors, so the last half of every level degrades into a waiting game. Along with the knife, you can bust-a-move that will either get people to dance in place, spurn them away, or give you a good kicking. It’s a little random and mostly useless, considering how everyone wanders around when left to their own devices. To speed things along, there are randomised power-ups to collect; smoke/stun grenades, bottles of poison, and new disguises. Bombs can cause a massive amount of damage, but on the negative side, a fascist SWAT team show up and start attacking everyone, including you. In one particular level, calling in a fumigation crew ends with them gassing out a good third of the party. Party Hard is a genuinely humorous game, crammed as it is with an assortment of “Where’s Wally [Waldo]?” pop culture references. A lot of it is anachronistic for the period, along with the excellent soundtrack, as it self consciously distances itself from the current '80s/'90s aesthetic trend, but it’s still amusing to watch the party unfold, as potential victims get drunk, pass out, or dance with bears that wear gold chains and shades. What Party Hard lacks in complexity, it makes up for with personality. And while it does run out of steam about two thirds of the way in, Party Hard doesn’t outstay its welcome. At only 12 levels long - one being a bonus round and another being a remix - it can be finished in a single evening. Despite owing a lot to Hotline Miami in terms of sight and sound, Party Hard is almost the antithesis of its most obvious influence. On a personal note, it's actually more reminiscent of How to be a Complete Bastard, a similar (and ancient) game involving house parties and a destructive protagonist. It’s not quite a lost weekend, and it’s barely an all-nighter, but Party Hard manages to do its thing before the parents get home. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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Scene is dead, but I'm still restless...
“I get wet when I know that you're dying,” sang Andrew W.K. on his debut album closer, I Get Wet. It’s actually a fine anthem for the terrible things you get away with in Party Hard, far more than the p...

Review: The Consuming Shadow

Aug 24 // Stephen Turner
The Consuming Shadow (PC) Developer: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw Publisher: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw Released: July 30, 2015MSRP: $9.99 As a lone investigator, you must travel across the UK in a hatchback full of infinite fuel, searching for clues about an invading Elder God and the ritual that will banish them from our world. Starting from the edge of Scotland, you move from town to town (some deadly, some friendly) before arriving in Stonehenge to finish the job. You only have 60 hours before the world ends, so do make those miles count. The Consuming Shadow can best be described as part dungeon crawler, part roguelike travelogue; FTL by way of Call of Cthulhu. It’s a lazy comparison to make, but one quite deserving of a game so transparently stitched together. If you’re expecting anything more than a reskin and a compartmentalization of cannibalized ideas, then The Consuming Shadow will disappoint. To quote Croshaw in the press release: “The graphics aren't the game's strong point: my goal with the game was to create a kind of horror game more akin to literature.” It’s an honest, if somewhat cowardly cop, considering the lack of sympathy that butters his bread. Graphically, it’s supposed to evoke the Commodore and DOS titles of yore, only it looks like Newgrounds Flash game from 2009. [embed]307557:60109:0[/embed] And with that in mind, The Consuming Shadow has to live and die by its own prose. It actually does an excellent job of selling the severity and doubt of each encounter, but it’s also undermined by a lack of procedurally-generated content. The line-by-line variations of the same paragraph quickly turn stale, despite being a solid read. But then, on the flip-side to that, The Consuming Shadow is a purposefully short game. It starts out with a first-person view of your car, which is suitably atmospheric; nothing but motorway signs and a passenger seat full of hastily gathered items. Using a GPS, you have to choose a nearby destination, always being wary of time and distance. Random encounters on the road are a case of risk and reward, but if you don’t have the right equipment, they usually end up being detrimental to your cause. Compared to other roguelikes that offer a fair gamble without the specialist items, The Consuming Shadow’s encounters are almost always stacked against you. Every destination is either a safe haven or a dungeon crawl. The former provides supplies and medical treatment and the latter forms the main crux of the game. Dungeon crawls are where you’ll find clues about each possible invading God and the runic chants needed to banish them; which would be an easy task if not for the scuttling creatures and end-level objectives in your way. Oh, and the fact this where most of The Consuming Shadow’s problems lie. From a third-person landscape perspective, you move through a maze of rooms – be it a house, hospital, warehouse, derelict estate, or park – collecting notes and battling silhouetted enemies. The exploration of an urban environment is a fine horror staple, and it’s a wonderful change from the current crop of first-person jump fests, but all the goodwill is undone by the almost unavoidable attacks and cumbersome controls on a keyboard/mouse setup. Combat is appalling. No witty metaphor or breathless soliloquy, here. It’s appalling. A handgun is always by your side, with three types of limited ammunition, and randomized spells. But between the flaky auto-aim, the minimal field of view and the enemies’ erratic speeds and ranged attacks, combat is a draining experience. Pistol whipping and an exploitation of blind spots turn out to be the key to success, as spells rarely help the cause. While the monsters are varied and left to the imagination, the tactics against them aren’t. I’m pretty sure you're not meant to stand side-by-side with a writhing mass, following it around like a conjoined twin, before pimp-slapping it to death. Since this is a love letter to H.P. Lovecraft, there’s a sanity meter involved. Running away from a problem or encountering a bad decision drains your sanity points, which results in some unnerving hallucinations on the motorway and in the urban mazes. Unfortunately, low sanity also induces an awful QTE event within the decision making. One mistimed click and you’ll blow your head off in a silhouetted suicide. It’s a novelty at first, then a time waster. Every session of The Consuming Shadow is clearly designed for repetition and tailored towards streaming (Croshaw is banking on it for exposure’s sake). Failure is never the end – every game over awards EXP for stat boosts and there are unlockable characters, too – though by the time the needed advantages arrive, it’s far too late in terms of interest. The major problem with The Consuming Shadow is that it’s a bubble-gum experience, especially compared to its peers. When it works, it’s only because of a new discovery. There’s something genuinely thrilling about finding a connection and jotting it down in your table of suspects, before setting off to the next hotspot. But when you enter another procedurally-generated dungeon, it’s a wearisome slog again. The Consuming Shadow is more Frankenstein’s Monster than Eldritch Abomination, shambling along as it does with once fresh parts, dug up from here and there. I can only hope Yahtzee sees the irony the next time he attacks a new game for being old hat or a cut-and-paste job. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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Had more fun in an 8-hour traffic jam
I wasn’t going to mention Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, not initially. But between the infamous handle splashed across the title screen and his pre-emptive comments against certain criticisms in the accompanying pr...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill 2

Jul 18 // Stephen Turner
Silent Hill 2 was always more of a character study than any other game in the series. Whereas Silent Hill used its cast to drive the story forward, the sequel firmly kept its protagonist in focus. The world literally revolves around him, from location to creatures; a deconstruction of a seemingly infallible man. His quest is examined through existential conversation and perspectives, as Team Silent (or at least this iteration) comments on survival horror heroics and the audience’s passive tendencies towards empathy. At its core, Silent Hill 2 is about two adults dealing with loneliness and compromise. James is unable to move on from his dead wife as her sexualised doppelganger, Maria, adjusts to his ideals. You might not think it, but their companionship takes many of its cues from film noir. The broken man struggles with the femme fatale; a fate that can only end in destruction. For all its surrealist theatrics, one of Silent Hill 2’s most memorable scenes happens to be the sparsest. It’s a brilliant example of visual storytelling in a video game as Maria tells an uneasy story under a single light bulb and between bars. A schizophrenia plays out under washed features and fluid shadows. The duality on both sides of the room suggests two prisoners, not one. Without revealing too much, you completely understand the characters without being told what to think. [embed]296234:59589:0[/embed] Perceptions are constantly challenged in James Sunderland’s new world. The town draws in an eclectic cast of runaways, each with their own conflicted reasons for being there. And it’s through them that our protagonist is slowly shaded in and exposed, along with our own participating flaws. The brattish Laura recalls the parental fears of Silent Hill, but also provides a catalyst for Maria’s maternal instincts. Eddie Dombrowski, all sloven and immature, highlights our own dismissive stance towards imperfection. And then there’s Angela Orosco; a layered subject of meta-commentary and character complexity. Just because we save her from the Abstract Daddy, it doesn’t mean we’ve saved her from years of sexual abuse or the murder that finally breaks it. The best we can achieve is an understanding of her desperation and hopefully find genuine sympathy for her self-judgemental inabilities. For Angela, The Otherworld is a Biblical hell, quite unlike the world seen from James' perspective. The Otherworld is no longer the industrial nightmare of before. Gone are the obvious sirens, the collapsing machinery, and the reflections of a childlike mind. Now it’s just damp, moldy, and earthy, full of soil browns, fleshy whites, and dank greens. Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack deals in regretful synths and piano-led sorrows instead of blaring cacophonies as James pieces the world together. Instead of schools and fairgrounds, we find apartments and date nights; the little reminders of domestic life. Rather than being the outsider looking in, James is confronted by his own subconscious. Repressed images become disturbing manifestations of the self. They scream with distorted female voices and click their heels in the dark. The Pyramid Head – now a defanged mascot of the series – is this relentless, mysterious force, a puzzle that can only be solved at a distance. It’s as much as an embodiment of The Otherworld as it is James’ dark half. Silent Hill 2 is a flawed game by today’s standards; sharing the rough gameplay of its predecessor and the Japanese attempts at Americanised dialogue. But that does not make its success overrated. It’s like that one landmark album that influences a hundred more, each one a little more refined than the last. What Team Silent did, or whoever you deem this development team to be, was to introduce audiences to the idea of cinematic codes and keys. They highlighted the need for more complexity in our characters, to show relatable ideas in unfamiliar ways. Silent Hill 2 is a milestone in video game narrative. Sure, maybe not in dialogue, but in the mise-en-scène of every location, every dress code, and every creature. It’s a game that says a lot without actually saying much at all. That opening 20 minute walk into town was everything you need to know about Silent Hill 2’s intentions. At times you were apprehensive, reluctant, lost in the unknown. But you kept going because you had to know how it all ended. You were James Sunderland without even realising it.
Silent Hill 2 photo
In our special place...
It started with a worried look in mirror dimly lit. For Silent Hill 2, this was a statement of intent; a progression in not only hardware, but also in narrative. Out went the B-movie horror about gods and the occult, and in i...

Review: The Masterplan

Jun 18 // Stephen Turner
The Masterplan (PC) Developer: Shark Punch Publisher: Shark Punch Released: June 4, 2015 MSRP: $19.99  It’s the start of the '70s and Richard Nixon is cracking down on crime with the War on Drugs, which means bad news for your dealing protagonist. After being busted out of jail, it’s time to stick it to The Man by pulling off a series of heists; each one leading you closer to the ultimate payday at Fort Knox. Actually, there’s not much else to say about The Masterplan’s plot, even if it does serve the funky aesthetics well. No special gadgets, here; just good old fashioned lockpicks, drills, and shooters. The Masterplan has a charming tongue-in-cheek vibe throughout, with anachronistic references, stumpy characters, and goofy violence. Presented from a top-down perspective, the hand drawn artwork is reminiscent of a board game. Each map stands out with its own detailed identity -- from stores to offices to casinos -- to the point where you’re interested in seeing the next location or need to remember for a bonus replay. As for the gameplay itself, it’s a real-time, semi-improvisational puzzler. Oddly though, for a game about heists, there’s no pre-planning at all. At a hideout, you hire crew members, buy some weapons, pick a destination, and work it out when you get there. It makes for some frustrating instances of trial-and-error runs. Plus there’s the odd design choice of having to kill a crew member to replace them and not one but two crew caps (six hires, but only four go on the heist). The Masterplan is really about fluidity and making decisions on the fly. Brute force is fine, but it comes with monetary penalties and alarms, so it’s obviously meant to be played as stealthily as possible; turn off the lights and cameras, and avoid the cones of vision. Though you’re given different objectives, every level boils down to one plan: get the grey key to get the orange key, which in turn will net you the red key and finally the loot. The maps might increase in size and complexity, but it’s always the exact same method for success. That’s not to say there’s a lack of flexibility. This is a game where you play it room-by-room, adapting to every mistake and accidental paths. As long as those major goals are completed, the next heists are unlocked. It also helps to have a choice, as being stuck on one doesn’t mean a grinding halt in progression. Each heist usually contains a useful tool for another location, like a disguise or a drill, and none of it ever feels overpowered. There’s a real feeling of relief when a plan goes awry at the last second and a previously opened shortcut becomes essential for your escape. It’s the little pressures that make it fun. The Masterplan rides a fine line between fiendish and finicky. The minimal UI, which encircles your character with a simple right-click, usually overlaps objects and characters in close proximity. When you’re on your own, it works great. When you’re moving two people together or need to multi-task, it becomes a real hassle; especially in a timed situation. Everyone walks around like they’re on ice, which makes for some troublesome encounters when you need make quick turns, fast draws, or lock swinging doors. There’s a slo-mo function meant for synchronised tactics, but it’s obviously the developers’ way of combating the negatives above. You see, there’s never much reason to have a crew working in tandem. Most heists have you donning a disguise and pulling off silent one-man robberies, as the rest of your crew idle about, acting as pack mules or lookouts. For the most part, The Masterplan feels incredibly slight. In the last third, where tactics shift from bull rushes to planning longer routes, the need for tactical complexity becomes too apparent. Though not exactly fast-paced, it works best when decisions are made on-the-fly and risks are taken for monetary distractions. Overall, The Masterplan is not a bad game, just one that misses some tricks because of scaled back designs. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
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I propagate British cultural depravity
Once upon a time, I played a PC game called Heist. It was truly dreadful, but it did spark my interest in seeing more methodical crime games on the market. Sadly, the wait has been more of a slow drip, with more cancellations...

Review: The Detail (Episodes 1 & 2)

Jun 10 // Stephen Turner
The Detail (PC) Developers: Rival Games Publisher: Rival Games Released: May 28, 2015 MSRP: $5.99 (Seperate Episodes), $9.99 (Episode Bundle) Though it’s mostly presented as a graphic novel, The Detail is a cop show at heart, owing a lot to the likes of NYPD Blue, The Wire, and Homicide: Life on the Streets. Players take control of several characters on both sides of the law – Det. Reggie Moore, a burned out cop, Katelyn Hayes, a rookie officer thrown into the deep end, and Joe Miller, an ex-informant-turned-family man – as they track down the suspect in a gangland murder. By the end of the second episode, things go from bad to worse, as Reggie struggles with the responsibility of a new Major Crimes Unit, and Joe resorts to desperate measures for his family’s safety. It might be a familiar premise, but it’s also one that makes for an intriguing set-up; where characters are presented with morally grey decisions on a regular basis and the stakes increase scene-by-scene. But, honestly, the writing never quite hits its televisual marks. Characters spout clichés like the last 15 years of contemporary crime novels never happened, maverick cops are constantly told to cool their jets, and the gang stereotypes are really on the nose. The Detail does have moments of subtlety though, enough to elevate solid characters over the eye-rolling narration. The main protagonists come across as sympathetic and realistically flawed – Reggie’s girlfriend being an escort and Joe’s bedtime stories to his daughter spring to mind – and for all the bluntness of Ep1: Where the Dead Lie, you perfectly understand the motivations and reflections that colour in their more questionable actions. Both episodes lean heavily on choice and consequence, but by the end of Ep2: From the Ashes, you never get a sense of the bigger ramifications. Most of the decisions are short-term affairs and callbacks usually end in a throwaway line of text. In several scenes, three choices really amount to two outcomes. This is particularly striking in Ep1: Where the Dead Lie, where a child molester walks free, no matter what you pick (completely ignoring his assault of two officers in the process). In Ep2: From the Ashes, aggressive tactics can cause a suspect to have an epileptic fit, but it’s never brought up again. Of course, the illusion of choice will always be there in narrative-led video games. Some hide it better than others, but here, only a handful of decisions clearly carry any weight. From conversations to investigations, player input feels fairly minimal, and that’s really down to the low-budget hallmarks of an iPad port. A crime scene is just a case of clicking on hotspots, which can also be permanently highlighted for ease, and they’re always capped off with a simple comparison puzzle, e.g. check the names on a map with a criminal record or match the calendar dates with a call log. When the story becomes more urgent, like getting into a fight, it’s more about picking the next panel in a comic book. Speaking of which, The Detail’s artwork is an acquired taste. Nothing on screen is ever consistent; jumping from stark black and white panels to comically expressive talking heads, with characters looking different in every other shot. Grammar is also spotty at times; not exactly egregious, but sometimes distracting. It’s not until Ep2: From the Ashes that the quality takes a massive leap for the biggest beats. But if there’s a real consistent high point throughout, it’s definitely the soundtrack. The low-key themes perfectly capture the downbeat mood, turning the right kind of screws when the situation gets out of hand, and getting into the head of certain characters when the dialogues fails to deliver. The Detail is a rough production. Past the clichés, inconsistent presentation, and slight investigative work, there’s the odd glimpse of potential in its characters and their dilemmas. Whereas Ep1: Where the Dead Lie leaves a bad first impression, Ep2: From the Ashes does its best to refine past mistakes, if not rectify them completely. Two episodes down in a five-episode season, and the nagging suspicion that The Detail won’t be anything more than average when it’s complete lingers in the mind. For now, it’s best to stick with the gimmicks. [This review is based on a retail build provided by the publisher.]
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'Game's the same, just got more fierce'
As someone who loves the detective genre in both novels and film, I’m always disappointed by the way they translate to video games. A lot of it boils down to gimmick first, mystery second; where you’re usually a g...

The Silent Hill Retrospective: Silent Hill

May 30 // Stephen Turner
Silent Hill was as much about crumbling economics as it was about night cries and picket fences. Much like Resident Evil’s Raccoon City, the dilapidated lakeside town was undone by greed. America losing its values to modernisation was a recurring theme in survival horror. It was a warning from those whom had lost their own traditions to capitalist growth, not that far removed from the J-Horror zeitgeist at the time. But more often than not, Silent Hill takes its inspiration from days gone by. Old Silent Hill's influences are worn on street names and ledgers, from Stephen King to Sonic Youth to Psycho. Even the intro pops to the sounds of vinyl, its theme song in equal parts Eastern tremolo and Western twang. These influences come together to create small-town America on the slide, full of “mom & pop” stores and tight-knit suburban mazes. But rather than a tourist, you’re a trespasser. Horror in all its forms has this element of invasion. Here, Harry Mason breaks into homes, schools, and hospitals, as he searches for his missing daughter. Though the overall plot ends up becoming more about the Otherworld, his parental fears are always at the forefront. Essentially, it's not Harry's story, but Alessa Gilesspie's. As the player, and as Mason, we're the outsiders looking in. Perception is the key to the story and scares. Memories are skewered to point where friendly faces are misjudged and emotional attachments lead to narrow-minded decisions. Harry falls through the layers of reality, like the waking waves of a bad dream, and sees the town for what it really is. The Otherworld is an abstract place, clearly a concept that reflects its tortured conduit. What could’ve possibly been a new paradise takes a horrific form because of Alessa's abuse and lack of care by her mother, Dahlia Gilesspie, and Dr. Michael Kaufmann. Later games would force the perspective onto the main protagonist, and at times would suffer for it, but few would capture that “traveller in a foreign land” feel of their predecessor. It's because of the Otherworld that Silent Hill is relentless and oppressive. It constantly toys with the audience, waiting to take shape, and gradually stripping away the safety nets. Harry is shown to be extremely vulnerable, early on. He stumbles off steps, puts out his hands as he crashes into walls, has to catch his breath, and is a terrible shot. Our first contact with the Otherworld ends in seemingly death. It’s a far cry from the shrug-it-off antics of S.T.A.R.S. or Edward Carnby P.I. Every attempt is made to obfuscate the audience, either by claustrophobic gaze, location, sounds, or virtual threat. Radio static is both friend and foe; warning us of monsters beyond the flashlight's reach and ramping up the tension just by letting us know that something's there. Ominous, hollow synths give way to industrial noise, punishing and overbearing. Akira Yamaoka’s soundtrack is comparatively brutal to his later work, the kind of unsettling cacophony that would give a pre-Grammy winner John Congleton nightmares. Even at its most calm in the Fog World, the music still sets your teeth on edge. And yet, by the final act, where reality is in actuality nothingness, Silent Hill does an amazing job of drawing sympathy out of horrific circumstances. To many, Lisa Garland is the human face of Silent Hill (both town and title), and our perception of her stems from Alessa’s own memories. She’s seen as this kind and selfless nurse that only wants to help, but as we delve deeper, endure and learn, we discover what lies beneath. The bright smile, the homely uniform, and her position of warmth and care, are all her “picket fences.” By the end, we find out Lisa was a drug addict, terrified of her only patient. Through Harry, she finds the strength to push onwards, only to realise her own fate was already set in stone. Truth shatters the façade, breaks down her body, and we’re confronted with yet another disturbing subject of horror. For Harry, it's too much and he runs away. But for once, instead of the oppressive percussion of Yamaoka’s themes, we’re treated to the melancholic Not Tomorrow. These were people, not monsters. [embed]292927:58733:0[/embed] In a time of hi-five heroics, Silent Hill offered no such compliments. The best ending closes on a bittersweet note. The town is still lost to the Otherworld, though probably not as powerful as it once was, and Harry doesn't quite get his daughter back. In a shot mirroring the intro, and with his cop friend, Cybil Bennett, standing in for his deceased wife, there's the nagging suspicion that for all we've done, it might just happen again. Sure, we saved a young girl's soul, but we didn't really win anything. Only lessons and traditions were learned. Maybe that was the point, considering the start of this article. As a game, the first and only PSX release has undoubtedly aged in the last 16 years. But much like the low-budget horror movies and low-fi recordings it emulated, Silent Hill overcame handicap through inventiveness. The Otherworld, the town, the storytelling, they were all informed by thinking outside the box. Everything we know about Silent Hill – every fan theory, every femme fatale characteristic, run-down aesthetic, social commentary, urban quest, childhood memory, occultist lore, and personal demon – stems from this very title. So it might be a little frayed around the edges, and certain conveyances are needlessly obscure, but for a mainstream horror game that was intended, quite cynically by Konami remember, to chase after that sweet Resident Evil success, it really was a very unique and artistic beast. It's still wonderful to think how something like that could be produced by such a small group of rag-tag developers, left alone to their own devices in a fairly corporate environment. Of course, though we had survived our first trip through the dark side of Americana, the world had been left open for more lost souls and more horrific layers to come…
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What's going on with that radio?
Western horror, Eastern eyes. That was what made Silent Hill memorable for a generation. It was visceral and relentless, oppressive and paranoid, and underlined with a tragic tale that hadn’t been seen on the normally e...

The Witcher photo
Books, aye, remember them?!
As we all know, Geralt of Rivia is back on fine video game form with The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt, but lesser known is his return to print with Sword of Destiny. First published in 1992, Andrzej Sapkowski's second short story...

Review: Uncanny Valley

Apr 27 // Stephen Turner
Uncanny Valley (PC) Developers: Cowardly Creations Publisher: Cowardly Creations   Released: April 23, 2015  MSRP: $8.99 (10% off until April 30) Things start off well enough with a panic-inducing nightmare, followed by a car journey through the pixelated wilderness. As Tom, the new night watchman at Melior -- an abandoned robotics facility -- it's your job to keep the pilot light running until the place gets bought up by new owners. Tom's only companions are Buck, a grouchy and overweight guard, and Eve, a cleaner who takes a keen interest in the new arrival. But while Tom suffers from nightmares of the past, his rounds at the facility quickly draw him into something much, much worse. Sure, there's a mystery to be found, but like a kid trying to pull a prank on you, it reveals its hand far too soon. In fact, with so many audio tapes freely scattered around the workplace, you'll figure out the major twist before you make it past the first night. Overall, Uncanny Valley is a good story poorly executed. It's choppy and muddled due to a reliance on repeat playthroughs and a presentation of two distinct halves. In the first half of the game, you're given a seven-minute work shift. In that time, you're allowed to go anywhere on four separate floors, where you can read emails, collect audio tapes, or play the arcade machines. Once the time limit is up, you have a choice of snooping around for longer (in which case, Tom eventually collapses from exhaustion) or getting back to your room for a good night's rest. Whatever happens, you're always thrown into a nightmare sequence that can be completed or failed without much consequence, beyond the reward of more backstory. [embed]291010:58344:0[/embed] Then after several shifts, time management is suddenly dropped in favour of a more traditional survival horror experience. It's an odd design choice; one minute, you're scrambling around to fit an investigation into your work schedule, and the next, you're given all the time you need, right before the point of no return. And it's in the second half that Uncanny Valley falls apart. It's certainly more engaging, even if it does wear several influences on its sleeve. There's a health system lifted from Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, where injuries slow you down, make you louder, or ruin your aim, while the hide-and-seek gameplay intentionally evoke memories of Clock Tower. Unfortunately, and especially for long standing horror fans, it's the consequence system and vague puzzles that turns all the goodwill into a frustrating experience. For example, after your first enemy encounter, you're conditioned to stay out of their way, but then a door puzzle requires you to get attacked, just so you can control an enemy and let it aid you into the next room. There's thinking out of the box and then there's going back on everything you just said. The consequence system, while subtle early on, ends up being a detriment to the narrative. Get knocked out at one point and you go from Scene A to Scene C, skipping Scene B and its vital exposition in the process; all because you didn't react quickly enough or even know there was a choice. Tailored, unchangable choices are fine, but in one ending, a character shows up injured from a scene I never encountered. In another ending, a suspicious group wait outside for Tom without an introduction or a reminder of their identity. You just had to play better to know. And for that, beyond the facility's macabre history, you never really get enough motivation to care. Your decisions are informed by player experimentation rather than character incentive. In Clock Tower, Jennifer has the option to escape early on, mainly because of Scissor Man and a sense of self-preservation. Here, in an obvious homage, Tom chooses to run away simply because you stumbled upon Buck's car keys, long before you encounter the horrors in the scary basement. As previously stated, Uncanny Valley is intentionally designed for repeated playthroughs, but after the second, third, and fourth try, it feels like a chore as you piece together the core plotline from different decisions. Detours aren't forbidden in storytelling, but with several listless endings on offer (plus one or two deliciously disturbing ones), it never feels definitive. Once you get the gist, there's no need to go back for dimishing returns. But there are positives lurking under all this frustration. For a short game (clocking at 2 hours at best), it does panicky horror quite well; holding off on the worst elements and planting the seeds early on, like the only working generator in the woods. It's more a case of when things strike, not what will strike. Once alerted, enemies smash through doors and chase you down until they fall apart. The shadowy horde that follow Tom in his nightmares are another horrific highlight. The pixel art is equally vivid and grim, with body horrors roaming the hallways and disturbing sciences haunting the background. The soundtrack flicks between reflective melancholy and weighty industrial themes, and the voice acting on the audio tapes is perfectly pitched as offbeat and ominous. All in all, it captures the doom-laden mood of '70s sci-fi perfectly; though, why the game chooses to make all the in-game dialogue as one-lined text is just puzzling. Unfortunately, I never finished my fourth run. Another save bug deleted a key item from my inventory and progression ground to a halt. I felt that after several endings and Tom's history explored, I'd seen enough. All of which brings us back to that original dilemma, for which I'll sadly say that, no, Uncanny Valley isn't worth it. It's a game that rewards you for being better on the next attempt, which means a lot of players will get that same jarring and incomplete experience as I did, early on, only for it to be replaced by waning interest as repetition sets in. I wanted to enjoy Uncanny Valley, especially with its opening concept and jump scares, but despite all the assurances and hard work with those patches, it just wasn't to be. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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Should've taken that job at the fireworks factory
I didn’t have the greatest of starts with Uncanny Valley. After only 15 minutes of play time, I’d wandered into one of the “bad” endings seemingly by accident. On my second attempt, I encountered so ma...

Survival Horror photo
Survival Horror

Uncanny Valley '101 Trailer' shows us the gory joys of working the night shift

'I was watching. I saw the whole thing. First it started falling over, then it fell over.'
Apr 08
// Stephen Turner
Do any of you remember the movie Nightwatch? No, not the Russian one with the iffy sequel. I mean the one with Ewan McGregor as a security guard at the local morgue, constantly harrassed by a presumably drunken Nick Nolte an...
Bloodborne photo

Official Bloodborne Soundtrack available to pre-order, releases April 21

"Rom only knows what I'd be without you..."
Apr 08
// Stephen Turner
I'm terrible at Dark Souls, and I'm too broken to play Bloodborne, but at least I can always appreciate the amazing score as the phrase "You Died, Ya' Feckin' Ejit!" seeps into view for the trillionth time. Thankfully, for mu...
Forgotten Memories photo
Forgotten Memories

Forgotten Memories iOS debut on April 23, watch the launch trailer now!

Wii U, Vita, Android, and PC will have to wait an ickle bit longer
Mar 30
// Stephen Turner
As you may recall, Forgotten Memories: Alternate Realities came out of near-nowhere with its Silent Hill 2 cast additions, after several years off the development grid. If you're still wondering what Guy Cihi's delightf...

Unsung Heroes: Bad Company

Mar 25 // Stephen Turner
[embed]289529:57907:0[/embed] Much like Kelly’s Heroes, Bad Company is a heist story first, war story second. What Marlowe and his squad try to achieve is pure robbery, plain and simple, and usually that can only lead to two things in a video game: Karmic retribution or a bittersweet resolution. The lead writer decides you have to grow a conscience and fight for the bigger picture. But B-Company doesn’t fit into the usual criminal mould, and for that they avoid the usual trappings. They’re portrayed as blue collar workers in a shit paying job, tired of each other and of the country they’re stuck in. But it’s those clashes of personalities (and yes, dreams of owning a Truckosaurus Rex) that makes them endearing to us. They’re you and me. Only they just so happen to be soldiers, too. As the new guy, Preston Marlowe is as good an avatar as any. He’s eager to get into the action and take orders, but he also delivers a sly narration worthy of 70’s Elliott Gould. We’re supposed to feel the same way as him, taking part in crazy set-pieces while making note of certain extremities, like flying a golden helicopter into enemy territory. But flying a golden helicopter is nothing in the grand scheme of things. These are desperate men, willing to die for something tangible and not for the detached whims of others. The beauty of Preston’s cohorts – Haggard, Sweetwater, and Sgt. Redford – stems from their disillusionment of being a soldier. That gold bullion is merely a character defining McGuffin. Sweetwater might be the panicky voice of reason, but all that reason goes out the window because of his infatuation with Mike-One Juliet, their sympathetic radio liaison. Haggard is in his element, revelling in his Gold Rush roots; his one man invasion poking fun at the invincibility of video game troops. And then there’s Sgt. Redford, who at first seems to be your typical Sgt. Apone knock-off, but ends up being quite the antithesis of that. He’s more Danny Glover than Al Matthews; Murtaugh (Lethal Weapon) and Harrigan (Predator 2) rolled into one. [embed]289529:57908:0[/embed] There’s a real litmus test for these characters about two thirds of the way through. At one point, Marlowe has to rescue the others on his own. As the action intensifies around a small hamlet, with all these exploding walls and deafening gunshots breaking the speakers, you come to realise something’s missing. There’s no dumb banter, no reassurances, no panic, nothing. Bad Company’s world is suddenly more lifeless without your “friends.” It’s also a reminder that, yes, the stakes are genuinely high, layering your resolve in the process. The odds are stacked against you, but these guys deserve that reward more than ever. That’s a sign of a good script, where characters and plot work together, pushing and pulling in each other’s favour. The comedic clashes might be come from an obvious place, especially with Sweetwater and Haggard, but it’s also the heist that defines B-Company. That’s why, personally, Bad Company works better than its sequel. Bad Company 2 feels more like The A-Team, and without anything truly personal at stake, B-Company drifted away from our original impressions, al a Ghostbusters to Ghostbusters 2. Marlowe and co. were still goofy, but now they were instilled with heroism and selflessness (especially at the end), and no amount of snide remarks to Modern Warfare 2 would hide that shift in characterisation. There’s little doubt that there was some focus testing going on, and we all know what EA thought of the original by now. Humour meant low sales! That was the problem, yeah! So we ended up with the no-nonsense Battlefield 3. And you remember the memorable cast of Battlefield 3, right? No? How about anyone from Battlefield 4 that wasn’t Michael K. Williams? Ah… When you look at Battlefield: Hardline’s campaign, there’s some sense that they’re trying to recapture that Bad Company magic. It’s got heart, but never in the right place; starting off like The Shield and Miami Vice, before turning into Burn Notice, and eventually into any number of 90’s action movies. You’re either one thing or your not, and in these PR disaster days for America’s police forces, you may as well just embrace Bad Boys and Lethal Weapon and give it a Last Action Hero spin. You see, in Bad Company, nobody cares about the war as much as you do with that controller in your hands. It’s a backdrop that colours in this cast of misfits and gives you an excuse to make detours through abandoned houses. So the games were deemed lower-than-expected with their sales. So what? That’s okay. In fact, that totally fits in with Bad Company’s theme. Marlowe, Sweetwater, Haggard and Sgt. Redford were never going to change the world, but they were always going to be your underdogs.  
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"Just tell me your favourite colour, baby!"
Way back in 2009, Charlie Brooker’s Gameswipe had this cutting observation about the po-faced nature of military shooters. During a particularly grim scene in Call of Duty: World at War, Brooker flambés several s...

Xbox One & PC photo
Xbox One & PC

State of Decay: Year One Survival Edition debut trailer, releases April 28

GOTY 2013, if you don't mention The Last of Us to me
Mar 19
// Stephen Turner
State of Decay was one of those pleasant surprises back in 2013. Sure, the sandbox/RPG-lite horror game was a little rough, but it was an intense experience full of free flow situations, base building, and likable survivors....
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Hey Eurotoid, Tokyo Twilight Ghost Hunters is out now!

It's looking at me, Ray!
Mar 14
// Stephen Turner
As a Brit, I do miss the weirdness that defined the PS2. Play novels, especially, had to make do with the DS. And yes, several years later, I'm still upset about Cing. But fret not, my niche loving console chums! NIS America ...

The Destructoid Guide to Community Podcasting

Mar 05 // Stephen Turner
For your podcast, you will need: 1 Skype 1 Microphone/Headset 2 Recording Apps (CallBurner or Pamela) 1 Editing Software (WavePad, Vegas, Adobe, etc.) 3-4 Human Beings 1 File Storage Platform As you can see, you don’t need to go overboard with your equipment, and a good podcast always boils down to great chemistry. Let’s look at that list in a little more detail: Getting a Skype account is easy. If it’s not built into your Windows, go to the website. Podcasting is, simply put, talk radio done over the phone. It’s a group chat edited into a listener’s digest. Most community podcasts are done over Skype – it’s a bit of a rarity for everyone to be in the same room – so obviously you’ll need a quality headset. Something comfortable in the £20/$25 range will do just fine. MY PRO TIP: Console headsets are no-no; too cheap and nasty. But if you’re on a shoestring budget and looking to reduce the popping effect on your mic, the foamy bit from an old 360 headset is well worth salvaging. A bit of a “No Shit, Sherlock” but you’ll also need a Skype recording app. Different podcasters use different recorders, e.g. Radio Destructoid uses CallBurner and Scary Granules uses Pamela. I’m sure audiophiles will tell you one is better than the other, but they’re both solid, accessible recorders for first timers. LAURA KATE’S PRO-TIP: Always have at least one guest recording the whole call with one of those Skype recorders. They've saved my life more than once when someone's local recording broke. The amount of people on your show can vary, but four is the golden number. More experienced podcasters are lower in number because they’ve built up a rapport. If you have a whole gang, then some voices tend to get lost. I find four is the best because you can tag in and out without interrupting the flow, like them wrestlers on TV. Editing software is the real deal breaker here, since that’s where the real work begins. For Menage-A-Toid, I used a free version of WavePad Sound Editor; very newb friendly and it comes with video tutorials. STRIDER HOANG’S PRO-TIP: Before Fapcast's hiatus, I actually used Vegas to edit my podcast on my old laptop. After the hiatus I had been using a new laptop and didn't have Vegas anymore. So I managed to use Adobe Audition which works great. Best of all, you can shell out for the modern version or simply download an older version for free. I believe Audition is currently version 5 but I found version 3 for free. Lastly, you’ll need a file storage site for streaming and downloading. Mediafire, Soundcloud, iTunes, all good platforms. YouTube’s also an option, but that’s really more for VODcasts like the awesome OSW Review. As anyone who’s podcasted before knows, getting the band together is the worst part. Lots of group emails, lots of scheduling, lots of last-minute cancellations. It’ll either be smooth sailing or plain frustrating, but always be mindful of other people’s time. Eventually, you’ll all come together for a show bigger than 10 Super Bowls! Now I don’t want to oversell it… KYLE MACGREGOR’S PRO TIP: Record at a decent hour. We record Podtoid in the early afternoon on Sunday and I'm so much more coherent than when we record Radio Dtoid (late at night). Look, don’t jump in, half-cocked. ALWAYS BE PREPARED. One time, when I was in the Cub Scouts, we didn’t heed our own famous motto. Several of us were mauled by a bear, and we lost another group to a time loop in the woods. Hell, two Cubs didn’t even bother showing up. So use this quick prep to honour those poor, poor souls: Test your equipment an hour before recording. Always call Echo/Sound Test Service on Skype. No feedback means a loose lead/Hardware & Sound problem. When all else fails, Skype has its own comprehensive troubleshooting guide. It’s pretty damn useful. Make sure those call recorders are activated. Fire it up along with Skype. It’ll auto-record all calls, including that “Meow Meow Meow” song you sung to the Echo lady. Remember: sound files are found in the designated recorder’s folder, not Skype. Group Call, test, test, 1, 2, 1, 2! Your first group call is a rehearsal. Here’s where you’ll iron out any sound issues. Don’t just say everyone sounds okay. If someone’s quiet/loud, let them know. They can cap the levels in Call > Audio Settings tab. End the call and play the audio file back. If it sounds fine, you’re ready to go. Remember: A small delay is nothing, so figure out the kinks before you all get settled in. You’ll be surprised how many mishaps occur before you go live. DARREN NAKAMURA’S PRO TIP: Have everybody record locally and stitch the audio together in post. It helps to easily silence background noise coming from one person, and gets rid of any latency effects (robot voice). With switches flicked and dials reading normal, the next group call will be The Big One, the ol’ “live in five.” Don’t worry, without fail, every podcast starts off with a lot of rambling and someone saying, “Are we ready yet?” Professionalism, huh?! This is the part where you’re probably thinking, “Oh, great, now they’re going to tell me how to make my show!” To which, I’d say, “No! Make whatever you want, just be original and fearless about it! If you’re not having fun, we’re not having fun!” That said, uh-oh, it’s best to have a structure. How Did This Get Made? is a great show, but bloody hell, it’s a mess at times. You could’ve seen Sleepaway Camp twice in one night and still have trouble following their time-skip observations. If you want to keep the listeners around, there needs to be a sense of direction. MIKE MARTIN’S PRO TIP: Having an overview/structure laid out helps immensely. Don't script things, unless you are really great actors. It comes off unnatural. Let conversations flow naturally. You can always remove rambling later, but you don't know what gem might pop up in off topic conversations. DARREN NAKAMURA’S PRO TIP: Don't ever think that "let's get drunk and record something" is an original idea or a good one. It almost never is. ANDY DIXON’S PRO TIP: Yeah, drunkenness is A-OK as a by-product of having a good time podcasting. It just shouldn't be the reason for the podcast :) Sure, have a drink, but don’t go nuts. Two beers are more than enough to calm your nerves and wet your whistle throughout the entire show. As the de facto host, it’s your job to introduce the show, the guests, and the topics, steer the conversations, and end it on a bang. Your presentation style is yours and yours alone.  You’re the Dungeon Master, the Conan O’ Brien, even the Awesomely Bearded Captain of the Titanic. The key is to be assertive once in a while. Also, make sure you write up a “Things to Say and Do” list in Word. So for structure, let’s look at Menage-a-Toid’s second episode. As you can see, it runs on a simple magazine format; an easy fill for 75+ minutes. It doesn’t even have to be this rigid.  As long as you know your A to B’s, everything else is a lovely scenic detour. *drives innocently away to the rocky valleys of The Hills Have Eyes* So how exactly do you converse with an audience in mind? Be engaging for one, but if you’re the de facto host, be sure to keep these tips in the back of your mind: Introduce the topic, along with your own opinion, before passing the buck along. Always keep things on the move. You know, like that infamous football scene in The Room. If anybody goes quiet for a while, bring them back in by asking for a thought. Conversations always go off on a tangent. Still, be mindful of the original point and bring it back to some conclusion before things get exhausted. Skype Messenger a valuable and silent tool. Write down your directions and queries there, as not to interrupt the conversation. If the topic is running dry, wrap it up. It’ll save you from dead air and repetition. Listener Questions are always welcome. Get the word out early and be sure to remind everyone again before recording. More interaction means more empowerment for your audience, which means regular retention for you in the long run. As a guest, it’s your job to be a lovable smart-arse like our very own Occams. Okay, maybe not that extreme, but ALWAYS BE ENGAGING. Popular podcasts pride themselves on a strong cross-section of personalities. Someone will always have you covered with trivia, gags, opinions, and general buffoonery. And no doubt, you’ll be covering their arses with own brand of wit, guile, or plain old sensibility. There aren’t any real no-no’s to podcasting, just some easily tamed bad habits. Here’s some I’ve encountered in my time: No snacks while recording. Drinks are fine. Snacks are for pre-production only. No distractions like clickable nibs. Trust me, even a crappy mic will pick up your fidgeting. *whispers*Sorry, Secret Moon Base guys*whisper* Brevity is the soul of wit. Rambling is bound to happen, but don’t hog the mic. The key to keep things snappy. Sure, you might have to explain the mechanics of something, but you don’t need to go into the exact specifics. People tend to zone out if you’ve been talking for 10 minutes straight. Don’t turn the conversation into a “schmohz.” Nobody likes a messy pile up… of noise. It’s an early evening bar conversation, so be polite in addition to being fun, and be mindful of the listener. It’ll also save the editor a headache or two. CONOR ELSEA’S (BAD) PRO TIP: Helps to live near an airport and leave your windows open. No matter the show, you’re looking at a three-hour recording session at most. Make sure you have a break in that time. Remember to have fun with the content and say everything you need to say. Nobody cares if you suck or not. Plus, there are plenty of chances at Destructoid to hone your craft. Just ask around! Editing eats up your time like nobody’s business. But stick with it because this is where your well oiled vision comes to life. Whatever you have planned: Don’t be afraid to kill your darlings. Guests will say a lot, but not all of it will make the cut. Some jokes work, some don’t. Some get to the point, some take longer. It’s all clay, baby. If you’re confident enough, you can even shave off seconds of dead air. Don’t worry about hurt feelings. Find a balance of voices, and do what’s best for the listener. Even out those sound levels. Sometimes, someone or something will be louder than the rest. You can actually reduce the decibels and keep everyone audibly in-line. Sure, it’s more time in the editing process, but you’ll end up producing a higher quality show for it. Music is a useful punctuation. Cues break up your topics and keep the listener engaged. No need to play an entire piece. Learn to fade early on for the maximum effect. Always make notes. As you continue to edit, something important at 1:30 will end up at 1:26. It’s a no brainer. Keep some sticky notes at hand. Treat milestones like separate save games. Overwriting’s fine for minor changes, but for the end of a session, it’s advisable to save your work as separate audio files.  That way, if anything irreversible comes up, an older edit will be close at hand. Send a rough cut to your guests. They don’t need to hear all of it, just the intro.  Everybody’s their own worst critic, so shake them down for good advice. Once you’ve nailed the opening half-hour, you won’t need any hand-holding for the rest. After you’ve uploaded your final cut, write a community blog with all the relevant links.  Don’t just say, “Here’s our podcast, listen to it.” Sell it to us in 200-300 words. If you want to promote yourself further, then by all means, make a trailer and send a message to our Community Manager/Podcast Recapper. Who knows? You might even get up getting a radio spot on another community podcast. It’s all about that networking, baby! Oh, and don't forget to check out the Podcast boards in our forum! Always remember: great podcasting comes with experience. You know, like that thing your mum and the milkman talk about on the sly. Well, you’re on your own now. Hopefully, this guide has either given you a shot of confidence to give it a try or it’s helped to refine your skills. Maybe you’ll think, “Wait, podcasting doesn’t sound so scary after all. In fact, it’s a genuinely great way of getting involved with the Destructoid community. Gee Willlikers, Mr. Turner! It’s just like being in a knife-fight gang down by the beach!” And I’ll look at you and say, “It sure is, Billy. It sure is.” We look forward to give you a spin. In my case, while doing the shopping. Or photoshopping myself into Sarah Koenig's "started off great then lost the plot" Serial. What about that Jay fella, huh?
Podcast Guide photo
The call is coming from inside the house!
So you wanna be a podcast superstar? And live large, a big house, five cars, you're in charge? Comin' up in the world, don't trust no body, gotta look over your shoulder constantly? Well, it probably won’t happen unle...

Promoted blog photo
Promoted blog

Magnetic love in the digital domain

Promoted from our Community Blogs!
Mar 01
// Stephen Turner
[Sometimes great Cblogs come from the community. Sometimes, they come from the staff. And sometimes, they come from community members who have since become staff, like this one from Stevil/Stephen Turner! --Mr Andy Dixon] So ...
Forgotten Memories photo
Forgotten Memories

Forgotten Memories drags Silent Hill 2 alumni back to the world of survival horror

Troy was never my Guy
Feb 27
// Stephen Turner
Psychoz Interactive's survival horror Forgotten Memories has been flying under the radar for some time now, but all that seems likely to change with the recent cast announcements of Guy Cihi and Dave Schaufele (Sile...

Promoted blog: Growing old disgracefully

Jul 31
// Stephen Turner
[Dtoid Community Blogger Stevil takes comfort in the fact that some of his favorite videogame characters are growing old with him. Because he's old. And smelly. Want to see your own words appear on the front page? Go write so...

Promoted blog: Honest endings for honest hearts

Apr 25
// Stephen Turner
[Dtoid Community Blogger Stevil gets the "bad" ending in videogames AND in life. Do not date this man! Want to see your own words appear on the front page? Get writing! --Mr Andy Dixon] WARNING: Spoilers f...

Unsung Heroes: Cass from New Vegas

Apr 09
// Stephen Turner
[Community member Stevil tells us why Cass from Fallout: New Vegas is so important to the overall game experience. Want your own work on the front page? Write something awesome in the community blogs. --Kauza] ...

Technical Difficulties: Rainbow Six FUBAR

Mar 09
// Stephen Turner
[We've been getting a ton of great entries for the Monthly Musing so far -- enough that I can promote a blog every single day this week! Today's blog is brought to you by Stevil, who discusses the decline and evolution of the...

2010 Sucked: Why Cing will be unknowingly missed

Jan 19
// Stephen Turner
[In his Monthly Musing blog, Stevil explains his disappointment over Japanese developer Cing's March 2010 bankruptcy declaration. If you want to write your own blog about this month's topic, go read the original post for all ...

The Lament of Solitary Antagonistic Horror

Aug 25
// Stephen Turner
[Stevil brings us some fascinating thoughts on survival horror games, how the genre has declined, and how we're getting away from the horror antagonists that made games truly scary. Give it a read and let us know what you thi...

E For Effort: The Adventures of Mega and Master (A Cautionary Tale)

Apr 20
// Stephen Turner
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware that it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid a...

Love/Hate: Shark jumping videogame writers

Dec 12
// Stephen Turner
[Editor's Note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...

Nothing is Sacred: 'It looks like the lock is broken. I can't open it'

Oct 14
// Stephen Turner
[Editor's note: We're not just a (rad) news site -- we also publish opinions/editorials from our community & employees like this one, though be aware it may not jive with the opinions of Destructoid as a whole, or how our...

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