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Review: Injustice: Gods Among Us

Apr 19 // Allistair Pinsof
Injustice: Gods Among Us (Xbox 360 [reviewed], PlayStation 3, Wii U)Developer: NetherRealm StudiosPublisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentRelease: April 16, 2013MSRP: $59.99I don’t know who Cyborg is. Nor do I know how to pull off the intricate combos that one needs in order to survive in a tournament. Consider this a disclaimer of sorts: I come to Injustice mainly as a fan of NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat reboot. Some DC fans that come mainly to see their favorite heroes interact may grimace at my confession, but that’s the beauty of Injustice: by the very nature of its concept, it speaks to a greater audience than most fighting games can dream of. More importantly, it successfully makes the most of it.I don’t dare to compare Injustice’s single-player campaign to Mortal Kombat’s (which was what I loved most of all in that release). For one thing, Injustice doesn’t have the novelty of working within a set storyline or the nostalgia trip that revisiting old arenas and characters brought out of me. Instead of B-movie camp, Injustice brings B-comic spectacle. Like with MK9, Injustice offers a cinematic story that seamlessly blends the transition from cutscene to combat while offering loads of memorable, over the top battles. Unlike MK9, the battles that occur with controller in hand compare favorably to the non-interactive cinematics. [embed]252010:48226:0[/embed]When I call Injustice a “B-comic,” it’s a mighty generous word choice. “Hot garbage” may be more accurate. But there is bad trash and then there is good trash. Exploring an alternate universe where Superman mistakenly fired a laser at his girlfriend’s belly which sets off a nuclear weapon that destroys the world? Good trash. Explaining Superman being as strong as The Joker with  nanomachines (did I miss Kojima's name in the credits?) Good trash. Frequently pitting characters against their evil doppelganger? Okay trash. Maybe I don’t have the stomach for such a trashy comic book story because I felt downright exhausted and confused in the game’s final stretches. I often couldn’t tell apart the good versions of characters to their bad counterparts, nor could I keep track of which one is on whose side -- a lot of traditionally evil characters, such as Lex Luthor, are good guys in this alternate dimension which serves as an excuse to let the player control them. While the overall story is a mess, Injustice manages to give every notable hero and villain faithful dialog and some time in the spotlight. Most DC characters take themselves way too seriously, which makes for a story that is the opposite of Joss Whedon’s Avengers. For this reason, I wish the fun loving, wise cracking characters, like Joker and Green Arrow, had a greater presence throughout the entirety of this six hour adventure. It's still worth seeing the story to its end, as it contains loads of eye candy and ridiculous fights. When compared to the brutal challenges available both offline and online, Injustice’s story mode is essentially a tutorial that familiarizes the player with most (but not all) of its characters and mechanics. It’s a good thing too because approaching the game’s traditional Battle mode, S.T.A.R. challenge rooms, and multiplayer can be downright daunting out of the gate, even for MK9 players. You may not find Raiden or Scorpion, but Injustice builds upon the foundation of MK9 without feeling like a sequel. From layout (three punches, must hold back or down to block) to the game’s unique environment and character specific abilities, Injustice is very much its own thing, both within the MK series and the greater history of fighting games.Here’s what makes Injustice a tricky game to learn, at first: the tactical options available to you are dependent on your character AND arena. It’s true that every character in a fighting game is (or at least should) offer its own learning curve, but Injustice provides a special character trait button that can be radically different from character to character. Batman’s trait can summon instant projectiles that slowly refill, while Doomsday can activate a shield that decreases damage. Most traits fall into these two categories but there are also some unique ones like Flash, who can slow down time temporary. Between my own experience and observing players online, it seems it’s easy to forget these perks even exist since they are so unique to Injustice. I can only imagine what can be achieved with them, once the competitive fighting game community tears into the game.One thing veteran players may not immediately take to is Injustice’s interactive arenas that supply creative ways of dealing damage. That motorcycle in the background can be hijacked and driven into Solomon Grundy. Suddenly being cornered isn’t such a bad thing, since there is a button to launch a rocket at Batman. Many of these objects react differently depending on the character. Bigger characters can pick up and throw objects, roguish characters can plant bombs on them, and nimble characters can use them as springboards. Discovering which category your character falls into will take some trial-and-error. I fought many online matches where it was hilariously apparent that my opponent expected to throw an object at me instead of hurl himself into my uppercut. Players can also kick opponents into entirely different areas of a level, triggering an over the top scenario during the transition. It’s too early for anyone to have the authority to say that these environmental elements make for an unbalanced game -- you still need to spend meter and consider timing and positioning, after all -- but those who are concerned can disable them in local play. MK9’s super bar returns with the ability to power-up special moves, counter the enemy, and unleash a devastating blow via outlandish cinematic when full. What worked in MK9 works well here. Injustice side-steps Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe’s limp finales by filling the void of grotesque finishers with hysterical super moves that defy even comic logic: Batman ghost rides the Batmobile, Aquaman feeds his sharks, and Doomsday auditions for the next Asura’s Wrath. Discovering each special is part of the fun. Even though these lengthy moves (along with arena transitions) can put a halt to the action, I never grew tired of watching. Injustice has a generous cast of characters (24 with more to come via DLC) that cleverly remixes abilities and builds from Mortal Kombat. Sure, Batman has a hook shot that brings to mind Scorpion and Shazam is comparable to Raiden, but no character feels like a direct copy of any Mortal Kombat favorite. I was pleasantly surprised then to find myself becoming so attached to the characters, especially Aquaman. I got comfortable with a couple others, while there are still others I have barely toyed with. Each character has a great range of moves that is further amplified by environmental objects. You may find players machine gun spamming with Deathstroke this week, only to find Nightwing’s furious combos become favored next week.Online offers ranked and player matches with a ranking system and netcode that worked as promised during my post-release sessions. There are no tag team matches, but Injustice makes up for it with its awesome revision of King of the Hill. Eight players can occupy a room, compete for the crown, set challenges for themselves (that will earn them XP), and bet XP on players in a match. This mode can be a double-edged sword for newbies, as you’ll likely lose when you play against the king but you can also learn a lot by watching others play. But screw learning! Simply watching the environments crumble and the insane special moves is fun enough. I feel exhausted writing this review, as I constantly remind myself of all the parts I haven’t even touched on yet. The massive S.T.A.R. Lab that offers 240 character-specific challenges, arcade-style Battle mode that places a variety of mutators on matches (play while poisoned, for example), and a huge amount of unlockables (costumes, art, XP boosts) all deserve more attention than I can give in this review without droning on. Also, these are my least favorite parts of the package along with the lack of character-specific tutorials. At the same time, I can see these being someone’s favorite parts. Injustice is large in both concept and execution. Just as some may come for MK gameplay instead of DC characters, some may stay for offline challenges while others settle into online matches.Going into Injustice, I worried that as much as I enjoyed the game that I would wish it was just a Mortal Kombat game instead. My greatest fear was unfounded. As much as I enjoyed the game’s outlandish story, intense combat, and various modes, I can only imagine how much more it will mean to someone who is also a DC junkie. Instead of asking for Sub-Zero to appear in Injustice, I am now prepared to ask for Aquaman DLC in the next Mortal Kombat. Because Aquaman feeds his enemies to sharks. And that’s pretty badass.
Injustice review photo
Can't justify this love
When DC Comics’ most popular heroes and villains appeared in 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Aquaman was nowhere to be found. Thought of as a laughing stock with a shaky history in videogames -- the less sai...

Need for sequels photo
Need for sequels

Criterion is moving away from racing games and sequels


Creative director says next game will not be a Need for Speed, Burnout, or Black sequel
Apr 15
// Allistair Pinsof
Criterion creative director Alex Ward has had enough with floating rumors, so he's taken to Twitter to debunk speculation that his team is working on a Need for Speed or Burnout sequel. In addition, he said his next game won'...

BioShock Infinite is the history lesson gamers deserve

Apr 15 // Allistair Pinsof
Great science-fiction, from The Twilight Zone to Star Trek, provides commentary on the state of our society through the lens of another, offering an outlandish world that parallels ours in ways subtle enough to be lost on the greater populace. Instead of focusing on the present, Infinite focuses on our overlooked past, exploring a history in miniature that isn't talked about much. It's the forgotten history of our country. America never floated away or invented sky-hooks, but the majority of Columbia's history is not so unlike our own. Columbia isn't a complete fantasy and that's what makes Infinite such a brilliant, disturbing, and emotionally complex adventure at times. Before going further, I must warn that there will be early-to-mid-game plot spoilers. I also recommend reading Rober Rath's excellent historic look at Infinite on The Escapist. I will not go as into depth, but I owe his history lesson a great deal as it opened my eyes to what makes Infinite such a smart game. Booker DeWitt, Infinite's anti-hero, is the embodiment of America's ills of the time that it wished its citizens would quickly forget, ignore, and move past. Booker served at Wounded Knee, where 150-300 Native Americans were slaughtered, many of which were unarmed women and children fleeing. After that, he became an agent at the government funded Pinkerton Agency that hunted down and armed union leaders that protested for fairer treatment at factories and other industries. Whether Booker is a willing participant in 20th century America's deplorable acts or a victim of being part of a country that would ask him to do these things is something that is left to the player to decide. Perhaps, a closer look at Columbia may guide your feelings. While Rapture was an outlandish social experiment populated by cartoon psychos that embodied unrestrained Objectivism, Columbia explores unrestrained Capitalism that mirrors America in the early 20th century to a surprisingly accurate degree. Columbia has three leaders that progress the story throughout Infinite: Fink the industrial leader, Fitzroy the anarchist leader, and Comstock the spiritual leader. To tax the black more than the white, is that not cruel? To forbid the mixing of the races, is that not cruel? To give the vote to the white man, and deny it to the yellow, the black, the red, is that not cruel? Hm. But is it not cruel to banish your children from a perfect garden? Or drown your flock under an ocean of water? Cruelty can be instructive. And what is Columbia, if not the schoolhouse of the Lord? - Comstock Comstock's pursuit of spiritually cleansing the world (via fire and brimstone) makes him feel it's okay if the lower class and minorities are treated like caged animals as long as the true men of worth (read: wealth) live honorable lives. Comstock's philosophy and actions reflect those of the Third Great Awakening ministers of the mid-to-late 19th century. Comstock's take may be a bit more extreme, but it's a fair comparison, nonetheless. These beliefs and leaders also made their way into colleges, industry, and political offices. That Comstock is a spiritual leader who also runs the city is not so far fetched. It's this philosophy that allows a man like Fink to exist. The truth is, I don't have a lot of time for all that prophecy nonsense. I tell you, belief is...is just a commodity. And old Comstock, well, he does produce. But, like any tradesman, he's obliged to barter his product for the earthly ores. You see, one does not raise a barn on song alone, no sir! Why, that's Fink timber, a Fink hammer, and Fink's hand to swing it. He needs me...lest he soil his own. - Jeremiah Fink Discovering Fink and his hellhole factory Finkton is one of the most interesting parts of Infinite, as it lets the player see what really goes on below the realm of shiny happy people. There are parts of Finkton that seem far too extreme to have ever been part of American history, but it's really not. Paying employees with time tokens? That happened. Having laborers compete at work auctions? Yes. Threatening unhappy work forces with hired military force? It didn't stop with Booker leaving the Pinkertons. In fact, most of these awful conditions continued until the 1930s. You ever see a forest at the beginning of a fire? Before the first flame, you see them possums and squirrels, runnin' through the trees. They know what's coming. But the fat bears with their bellies fulla' honey, well--you can't hardly wake them up from their comfortable hibernation. We're going to Emporia. And then, we gon' see what it takes to rouse them from their slumber. - Daisy Fitzroy And then there is Fitzroy, who went from Comstock caretaker to being wanted for assassination attempts against the Comstock house. In our history classes, we like to pretend that progress was made in the treatment of factory workers, minorities, and lower class through discussions on Capital Hill. As Infinite so aptly demonstrates, it's through bloodshed that these discussions were ever even raised. Horrific acts of terrorism, that led to public bombings and the death of innocents, were done on the part of unhappy workers who demanded change, even if it meant death must come first. Fitzroy may be a monster but her environment made her that way. If these class terrorists never acted, would America be what it is today? This is what I love about Infinite. It demands you to look at America's history and not ignore the hard truth. Great force is necessary to incite great change. There will always be a janitor to clean up the upper classes' mess. And unrestrained capitalism can create a society in unrest. But maybe you got something else out of it, because Infinite is so subtle in its delivery that it never tells you what to think. It only asks you to look. Science fiction serves as a conduit to serving the player a history lesson in condensed time, Wounded Knee, zealots, and worker retaliation all fit on the same platter through the game's use of science fiction. It paints a much clearer picture of American history, since it is taken out of context and exists in its own little floating utopia. To say that you disagree with Columbia's actions is to say you disagree with America's actions of the time, but you likely wouldn't know it. It's unfortunate then that all the interesting ideas, characters, and places of Infinite get thrown out in the final act, as the narrative turns the lens off its world and onto its protagonist. Much like the original BioShock, it's the world that I invested in and fell in love with so the finale felt like a distraction. So much of a distraction that it seems like the only thing I see people discussing when there is a much more interesting dialog to be had about the game's representation of early America. From the abandoned Six Days in Fallujah to the lukewarm Spec Ops: The Line, we've often been let down by game developers' reluctance to provide commentary on America, industry, war, and politics in the way that great films like Apocalypse Now and There Will Be Blood have done. BioShock Infinite is the first game to really put the lens on our country and dare to have us ask ethical questions. If the downloadable expansions to come don't further explore the world of Columbia and its combating leader's ideologies (or explore new ones), I'll be disappointed because science-fiction is only the tool that gets us to the point of introspection. It is a means to an end, but never the actual end. So, let's observe, continue this dialog, and hope another developer comes along that is as daring and smart as Irrational. We could use another, but that we focus so heavily on violence and science-fiction logic makes me worry that we may not be mature enough an audience to deserve one.
BioShock Lessons photo
Made in America
According to Google, "Boxer Rebellion", "Pinkerton" and "Wounded Knee" have been trending lately. BioShock Infinite is teaching gamers about the American history that often evades classrooms, churches, and homes. After years ...

pretty badass photo
pretty badass

Become the crazy nastyass badger in Shelter


By Pid developer, Might and Delight
Apr 15
// Allistair Pinsof
Pid was one of the most charming games I played in 2012, so it's no surprise that developer Might and Delight's next project, Shelter, focuses on the most mighty and delightful creature in the animal kingdom: the crazy nasty...
Mickey Mouse photo
Mickey Mouse

Castle of Illusion remake announced for PSN, XBLA, and PC


Nostalgia engaged
Apr 15
// Allistair Pinsof
Remember the '90s? Before our eyes ever (accidentally) set upon Disney hentai and before Mickey Mouse got thrown into a bunch of lame platformers? We had Castle of Illusion and it was enough to get me giddy to visit my grand...
Tetris photo
Tetris

Apple co-founder shows off his legendary Tetris skills


Woz the Tetris wiz
Apr 12
// Allistair Pinsof
Steve Wozniak is an oddity. Though many know Wozniak for his work at Apple, in his earlier days he was known for his work with videogames, both as a designer (creating Atari's Breakout) and player. This video shot by Game In...
Road Rash photo
Road Rash

Road Redemption channels Road Rash for 21st century


Get those chains ready
Apr 12
// Allistair Pinsof
It's been a long time since there was a Road Rash sequel, but Road Redemption may take away the ache of waiting. Composed of a team with 35 years of combined experience and in production since 2009, Road Redemption is a homa...
Crime, indeed photo
Crime, indeed

Taito's Crime Connection wants your phone's contact info


I'd rather pay to play than agree to these terms
Apr 11
// Allistair Pinsof
Crime Connection, the latest iOS and Android title from Square Enix subsidiary Taito, is a free-to-play "social crime simulation" in the style of Mafia Wars. There is a serious caveat to the game, however, and I'm not talking...
Dark Souls 2 trailer photo
Dark Souls 2 trailer

Cram this Dark Souls II trailer into your dark holes


Nothing like dramatic pans to get your audience excited
Apr 11
// Allistair Pinsof
It's been Dark Souls II day at Destructoid, as we finally got to see it in action in footage, screens, and in person. Now, Namco Bandai presents this gloomy teaser ("Despair") that shows off some of the environments. Yeah, t...
layoffs photo
layoffs

EA Montreal faces more layoffs, rumored studio closure


EA Montreal is to be shutdown, says source
Apr 11
// Allistair Pinsof
EA Mobile in Montreal faces 200 - 250 employee layoffs with more to come, a source with connections to EA Mobile told Gamasutra, and the studio will gradually become completely shutdown. EA confirmed layoffs but said that the...
Music photo
Music

GTA radio playlists now on iTunes and Spotify


Everybody Wang Chung tonight
Apr 11
// Allistair Pinsof
Popular music has defined Grand Theft Auto's eras, styles, and budget. It also has defined many of our lives, as Vice City introduced us to 80's classics and GTAIV reminded us of a great 90's band we forgot about. Now, you ca...
Poor Darkstalkers sales photo
'We've not given up. But I'm disappointed in the opening sales'
Capcom senior VP Christian Svensson recently said that fighting game re-releases are dropping in popularity, and now the sales numbers for Darkstalkers Resurrection confirm his theory. After years of fans asking for a downloa...

Always bet on Duke photo
Always bet on Duke

Surprise: Japan doesn't like Duke Nukem Forever either


You don't say?
Apr 11
// Allistair Pinsof
Japanese gamers have spoken and they have said, "You know, Duken Nukem Forever isn't all that good. In fact, it's the worst game of the year." But, you know, in Japanese. The Kusoge ("crap game") of the Year Wiki lets Japanes...
Don't do drugs photo
Don't do drugs

Jeff Minter's next ball tripper simulation is TxK on Vita


I'm getting really hot and thirsty just thinking about it
Apr 11
// Allistair Pinsof
Lover of goats, llamas, and psychedelic arcade games, Jeff Minter and his development house Llamasoft will continue his legacy with a Vita release called TxK, a sequel to Atari Jaguar classic Tempest 2000. "We’re going ...
Tales of Xillia photo
Tales of Xillia

Tales of Xillia Collector's Edition doesn't hold back


Collector's Edition includes figure, music CD, and book
Apr 11
// Allistair Pinsof
Tales of Xillia, Namco's anticipated entry in the Tales Of RPG series, will arrive on PlayStation 3 on August 6. After setting a high bar with its Ni no Kuni limited edition, Namco is once again not slouching: Tales of Xilli...
Shadowrun Returns photo
Shadowrun Returns

Shadowrun Returns comes to Steam this June


Collector's Edition pre-orders end April 28
Apr 10
// Allistair Pinsof
Shadowrun Returns, the long-awaited Shadowrun reboot funded through Kickstarter, will come to PC in June, developer Harebrained Schemes announced in an update. As the days to release count down, so does the time before the Co...
SimCity photo
SimCity

SimCity: Cheetah speed returns, Mac release June 11


It's kind of like the game I bought, now.
Apr 10
// Allistair Pinsof
"Do you like to play with Cheetah Speed?" SimCity's Facebook asks. "No, I prefer not having basic functionality that keeps the game from being boring and painfully slow!" But for the rest of you, you may be happy to hear that...
Carnival of Monkey Island photo
Carnival of Monkey Island

Carnival of Monkey Island is a fanmade, hand-drawn sequel


Please don't Cease and Desist this, Disney!
Apr 10
// Allistair Pinsof
I want a new Monkey Island. So does some guy on the Adventure Game Studio forum, who announced Carnival of Monkey Island, which is a fanmade entry that will take place inbetween the second and third MI games (is that a m...
Donate photo
Donate

Indie developer asking for donations for surgery [update]


You've funded games that may suck. So help fund someone's life who may continue to make games that may not suck
Apr 08
// Allistair Pinsof
[Update: Indiegogo has removed Chloe Sagal's page and is refunding the money to those who backed it. "When suspicious activity is detected, the campaign is immediately suspended and all contributions are refunded," an Indiego...
Micro$oft photo
Micro$oft

Retro City Rampage dev's Microsoft horror story


Developer says Microsoft cancelled his game and then released it at wrong price
Apr 08
// Allistair Pinsof
After a shaky relationship that put his career and game on the line, Retro City Rampage developer Brian Provinciano joins Jonathan Blow and Team Meat in talking mess about Microsoft. After developing RCR for over four years, ...
DualShock 4 photo
DualShock 4

Developers told Sony to change DualShock 4 controller


By game developers, for game developers
Apr 08
// Allistair Pinsof
Sony put the future of the DualShock 4 in the hands of developers, who dictated changes to the longstanding controller's form and feel. Guerrilla Games (Killzone) and Evolution Studios (DriveClub), in an interview with Edge, ...
Surveys!! HELL YEAH!!! photo
Surveys!! HELL YEAH!!!

Male game developers earn 25% more than females


Game Developer Magazine's survey shows
Apr 08
// Allistair Pinsof
Though we often discuss the insensitivities that females face in the game industry (see above image), a recent survey conducted by Game Developer Magazine presents a more internal conflict: on average, male game developers ea...
AVGN PC Game photo
AVGN PC Game

The Angry Video Game Nerd gets his own game


You're s**tting me! This game is s**tting me!
Apr 08
// Allistair Pinsof
Internet personality, classic game reviewer, and alter-ego of filmmaker James Rolfe, The Angry Video Game Nerd will get his own retro 2D platformer, courtesy of ScrewAttack Games. Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures will come t...

Review: Tactical Intervention

Apr 05 // Allistair Pinsof
Tactical Intervention (PC)Developer: FIX KoreaPublisher: OGPlanetRelease: March 14, 2013 (Beta), March 28, 2013 (full release)MSRP: Free Tactical Intervention is everything I love and hate about the early days of Counter-Strike, before it became a Valve brand and major entity in the eSports realm. It is completely nuts and busted, but I can't bring myself to stop playing it, during its open beta, because it's fun. It's the type of fun Minh 'Gooseman' Le, co-creator of Counter-Strike who infamously left Valve to pursue his own vision of a follow-up, is known for. But now that I spent more time with the full release, the lack of depth and polish is leaving me wanting something more. In a recent interview with Joystiq, Le stated his main reason for leaving Valve was that he favored fun design over technical stability which clashed with Valve's SOP. This ideology is written all over the Tactical Intervention. At times, it's some of the most fun I've had online since the release of Battlefield 3, but with the code and level design held together with duct tape and rubberbands, the fun didn't last as long as I'd like. Now that we have the full release to evaluate, I am further concerned with how developer Fix Korea can ever repair the faulty code, dress up the ugly UI, and find a F2P approach that isn't a nuisance. [embed]248795:47606:0[/embed] TI runs on Source engine so some of the similarities are obvious: font choice, general aesthetics, HUD elements borrowed from other Valve releases (Left 4 Dead), etc. Upon booting up TI, its CS roots shouldn't be lost on veterans but a lot has changed. In the age of Call of Duty, CS's pace of action crawls with all the fury of a snails' velocity. Instead of making a paper crown replica of Activision's behemoth, Le and developer FIX Korea have found their own unique ways of making tactical combat exciting again. As mentioned at the top of this review, opportunities for action are fairly straightforward these days. TI changes this by introducing a variety of game mechanics; some feel like a stroke of genius, while others are superfluous nonsense and poorly implemented. TI's mission mode, in the open beta, is like a beefed up hostage match in CS, except maps are half the size and hostages operate in a completely different way then you may be accustomed to. Almost but not quite like Condition Zero, hostages are unruly NPCs that hilariously FREAK THE FUCK OUT! As a terrorist, you'll need to contain them by slapping them with the back of your pistol and herding them into a corner. Watching teammates perform this role can be hilarious at times, disturbing at others. Instead of guiding hostages to an exit, the opposing team only needs to hold the action button on them until they are rescued. This is a very quick action which makes the low round timer (~2 minutes) reasonable. To further complicate things, mission mode alternates between two playstyles: One where a team must contain hostages in a defined area (exiting it means sniper fire/quick death), and another where hostages are points to be claimed, by both teams, in the middle of a map. Both of these can be fun when teams know what they are doing (i.e. not ending a match by killing hostages). The real thrill of TI comes from the crazy acts you can perform with and without hostages. You can pick up propane tanks, throw them, fire a bullet, and watch it go spiraling across a map. You can rappel down an elevator shaft, roll across to cover, jump out a window like John McClane, and reenter a floor below via an open window you shot out. You can grab a hostage, use him or her as a human shield, gun down two enemies, kick the hostage into the third, and exit with a flashbang. You can hire a fat ass doberman who does your bidding long after you died in a match. All of these things are awesome when they work. All of these things rarely work, in this beta, making me wonder why release the game so ... soon. From the aiming to the many graphical glitches, TI is a mess of a game in its current state. The full release contains a meager five mission maps, most of which are utterly forgettable. I'm also bothered by the free-to-play elements that require players to constantly repurchase weapons, which expire over a couple days (or months, if you pay more). The open beta gifted players with more money than they know what to do with, so having to unlock guns and hire dogs in the shop wasn't much of a fuss, at first. But now, it's an unncessary bother that keeps me from wanting to revisit the game. I want to jump in and have fun, and the thought of needing to constantly buy, equip, and customize loadouts each week is a bummer. It doesn't help that TI's menus look and function like a botched weekend development attempt. Last but not least, I must mention mis_highway. I'm making a snap judgement but: This map is an instant classic that needs to be put in the hall of fame ASAP and merits a weekend spent with TI on its own. Highway, unlike the other missions, revolves around driving a computer controlled VIP to a helicopter on the other side of the map. Each team has three cars with drivers that can wield a pistol or SMG while steering. Passengers can lean outside windows and unload at other cars. Every time I play, chaos and laughter ensues until the map changes. Some rounds will offer a mad rush to the VIP drop off, where the real fire fight will occur. Other rounds will revolve around a planned blockade that brings an emergent Heat-esque fire fight. Rolling between cars, picking up the briefcase from the disposed VIP, and driving like a mad man to the helicopter pick-up is amazing. Some day soon, I have no doubt I will enter TI's lobby and find the majority of servers are mis_highway-only servers. If TI had more maps like this, I'd be more forgiving of its many shortcomings. Though mis_highway feels like a random aside, it perfectly encapsulates TI. While Valve turned Le's baby into a stagnant game for the sake of eSports, TI continues to design like a mad man who cares only about immediate enjoyment. Does it work? Who cares. Is it fun? YES! If only for a short while, but that's more than many of CS and CoD's copycats can claim. For those of us who remember the days of hostages falling down canyons and giant APCs glitching through walls in Counter-Strike, Le has made a game for you. It's unfortunate then that the game is buried under a myriad of problems, from dated, ugly presentation to shooting that feels clumsy. With how Le has talked up the game over the years, it's not a surprise that it's so ambitious. And with the many delays and last minute open beta, it shouldn't be a surprise that it's a total mess.
Tactical Intercourse photo
Terrorists win
[This post originally ran as impressions on the open beta and is now updated to reflect the full release, which came two weeks later.] Call of Duty has dumbed down the modern shooter to being about planting bombs, capturing p...

Free game photo
Free game

Play as Tim Schafer in Host Master Deux


Help Schafer make it thorugh the GDC Awards
Apr 05
// Allistair Pinsof
Host Master Deux: Quest for Identity is a free, browser based sequel to 2009's Host Master. Once again, the player must help Double Fine founder Tim Schafer bumble his way through preparing for the GDC Awards. It may be the c...

Review: Dungeon Hearts

Apr 05 // Allistair Pinsof
Dungeon Hearts (PC [reviewed], iPad)Developer: Cube RootPublisher: Devolver DigitalReleased: March 28, 2013MSRP: $2.99Rig: Intel i5-2500k @3.30 GHz, 8GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 580 GPU Like the most basic of Final Fantasy entries, Dungeon Hearts puts the player in control of four: A warrior, a white mage, a dark mage, and an archer. Each character has hit points, mana, and levels up, acquiring up to three spells that fall in line with their class. Instead of repeatedly clicking "Fight" in a semi-zombified state, the player must frantically drag icons across the screen in a mad dash to deal damage before damage is received. After a couple matches, the puzzle elements become a natural extension of the menu navigation you find in Final Fantasy encounters. Instead of taking turns, Dungeon Hearts battles play in real time and occasionally "Oh God, stop going so fast!"-time. Once a difficulty is selected, a new, randomly generated game is set before the player. It's not exactly a roguelike, but having a different assortment of the 47 enemies each time keeps the game fresh after repeat plays. There are no towns or field map; it's war all the time in Dungeon Hearts. Even leveling your characters is a battle of sorts, as the player must quickly match three items as potential experience points literally fly away -- if you mess up on these sections, you'll find yourself on a downward slope of misery as the difficulty goes sky high. [embed]250815:47948:0[/embed] Once engaged with an enemy, shapes of different sizes and four different colors (correlating with your heroes) slide from the right side of the screen (the enemy) to the left (you're party) in one of the four rows your heroes occupy -- and, yes, they did screw up! If harmful icons manage to arrive at your party's side, damage/ailments will be done. To prevent that, the player must match three icons of the same color, combining the icons into a diamond "Striker" that will clear out all harmful elements in a row. Higher level play revolves around combining Strikers and positioning them in clever ways for maximum damage (essential later on). All the complications of a role-playing game are in Dungeon Hearts: stat buffs, ailments, combos, etc. This makes for one hell of a daunting first attempt, as the game backs up its info dumptruck and buries the player under ten tons of info sludge. Be brave because most of the different icons don't really matter and everything will fit naturally as you play the game. As long as you are quickly matching icons, positioning multiples of Strikers for increased damage, and destroying the enemy's harmful icons, everything will make sense in time. With each game of Dungeon Hearts (which can last up to an hour, if you beat it), I found my comprehension, speed, and overall skill increasing in a way that you don't often get in an RPG. Once I reached this state, I could then analyze the RPG elements like managing party health and timing spells. Spells vary from summoning a shield to firing poision arrows. No crazy summons, but the spells do function in a way that brings to mind Final Fantasy VII's limit breaks. Each spell is its own fun little distraction that tests your accuracy, speed, and timing in different ways. What didn't expand my enjoyment over time is the mouse controls that did more damage to my wrist than puberty. That I still had fun and worked through the discomfort, says a lot about how fun this game is and how much more fun it may be on iPad (though I've heard rumblings that the build isn't solid). As of the time of this review post, the achievements and leaderboards don't work on PC. Though it's far from a polished experience -- one game broke as I almost beat the final boss, a mighty feat -- and its controls are far from ideal (maybe a controller or keyboard controls would be better), I still recommend it on PC if you don't have an iPad. Once a game of Dungeon Hearts is won, new soundtracks unlock (five total). This would a stick instead of a carrot if it weren't for how great of a musical score it is. Along with the graphics, the music is a clever homage to the days of SquareSoft but manages to have an identity of its own. I can extend that statement to the entire game. Dungeon Hearts takes the Final Fantasy worship that has inspired many a RPG Maker indie and does something far more inspired and enjoyable with it. On a positive note, Cube Roots has been very active on listening to feedback on social networks and even provided a noteworthy update four days after release. Whether you are a fan of fast-paced, challenging puzzle games or an old-school RPG fan, Dungeon Hearts' charm will rub off on you. And if you are a fan of both of those things, you won't even mind its shortcomings, in time.
Dungeon Hearts review photo
This heart is on fire
Dungeon Hearts is a match-3 game, yet that observation didn't solidify until I sat down to write this review. From music to mechanics, Dungeon Hearts is so ingrained in traditional Japanese role-playing games (think Final Fan...

2 SEXY 4 U photo
2 SEXY 4 U

Study: Xbox gamers way more awesome at sex than PC gamers


In other news, here's a picture of Tingle
Apr 05
// Allistair Pinsof
UK discount site Voucher Codes Pro asked 1,747 partners of gamers how they would rate their partner "in the bedroom." I think they mean sex. Those who primarily game on Xbox received the highest marks with 54% describing them...

Looking back at Star Wars, Monkey Island, and LucasArts

Apr 04 // Allistair Pinsof
I sometimes wonder why more games don't feature extensive use of time travel, and then Iremember that Day of the Tentacle exists, so they don't need to. Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer's first game as lead designers is adventure game perfection. It's set in one location yet covers three distinct time periods. It won't melt your brain with time travelling quandaries like Primer, instead it focuses on humor and puzzles that, while steeped in loony adventure game logic, never threaten to become unintuitive.My original copy of Day of the Tentacle was the floppy version, but there was a second CD-ROM version that came with the wonderful voice acting I no longer know how I could have lived without. When my folks finally upgraded to a computer not stuck in the past, the first purchase I made was the “better” Day of the Tentacle, and what a delight that second playthrough was.This was LucasArts at its peak, and it's how I always want to remember the company. Not as a bully of a publisher, not as a company that milked Star Wars dry, and certainly not dissolved, but as a studio that churned out some of the most hilarious and clever games I've ever had the pleasure to play. - Fraser Brown Our family didn't have a decent PC until the mid-90s, so the majority of my gaming had been done on the NES and SNES. Once my dad dropped the cash for a blazing fast Pentium 75, I knew one of the first games I absolutely needed was X-Wing.The X-Wing series (followed by TIE Fighter, the multiplayer X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and finally X-Wing Alliance) were space combat sims that put you in the cockpit of a Rebel (or Imperial) starfighter. While I'd loved the vector based Star Wars arcade game when I was younger, the X-Wing games' free flight, varying missions, and realistic (for the time) graphics blew it out of the water. There was nothing more exhilarating than deciding "screw the mission objectives" and dodging banks of turbolasers to single-handedly take down a Star Destroyer. This series was also responsible for my undying hatred of escort missions.The catalog included with X-Wing introduced me to some of LucasArt's non-Star Wars stuff, including my personal favorite: the adventure title Sam & Max Hit the Road. Based on Steve Purcell's comic about a fedora-wearing dog and his psychotic lagomorph partner, you control the duo on a road trip across the country searching for a stolen bigfoot. It made me realize that games could not only be funny, but downright hilarious. Although the follow-up Sam & Max: Freelance Police was sadly cancelled in 2004, thankfully Telltale Games (made up mostly of former LucasArts employees including Purcell) picked up the ball the next year and gave us two great episodic sequels. - Aaron Yost I have a fond place in my heart for a lot of LucasArts games, but if I had to pick one favorite, it'd be Indiana Jones and the Fate Of Atlantis. I ordered it out of a Scholastic Book Fair catalog from my school, in spite of the fact that it wasn't remotely a book. At the time, I was having a miserable beginning to junior high school, and had moved from living next door to my best friend in a fun neighborhood, to an old house miles from anything in the middle of the woods. 1996 was a rough year for me, especially the cold and dark Connecticut winter spent in that lonely house, and some of my fondest memories from that time are exploring Crete, The Azores, and Monte Carlo with Indiana Jones. Even when stumped by some intensely frustrating (no, seriously, they still piss me off) puzzles, I still managed to entertain myself by trying to make Indy jam a broken ship rib into Sophia Hapgood's Atlantean necklace. "I don't think that will work."We all have a game or two that makes us get all sentimental, for reasons that transcend your run-of-the-mill nostalgia, and Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis is one of mine, and that's enough to make me pour one out for LucasArts. If nothing else, it's an Indiana Jones sequel that didn't involve Shia LaBouef swinging around with CGI monkeys. - Max Scoville Maniac Mansion completely changed the way I looked at games. Just utterly destroyed it. Up until that fateful day in the late 1980's when I brought the game home for my recently acquired Commodore 64 computer, the concept of different playable characters requiring their own approach to problem solving had never really crossed my mind before. I had probably had the experience by this point without really thinking about it (the North American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was already out by this time and I'm sure I had played it somewhere), but seeing the various combinations of kids that were possible and the realization that every group would require me to find other ways to rescue Sandy from the clutches of the mad Dr. Edison blew my young mind. It was so effective that I never even noticed how startlingly inappropriate the game's content was for a nine year-old. No child should be exposed to the tragedy that was the Ford Edsel.It became something of an obsession, ultimately, and I still have a batch of 5/14" floppy discs with save files for every possible combination of kids. I wonder if I ever finished with Jeff and Michael... - Conrad Zimmerman   Maniac Mansion changed my idea of what videogames could be, and in doing so, changing the trajectory of my life in a permanent way, but it was Zak McKracken the really blew the lid off for me. The game worked to parody aspects of American culture that had already seemed ridiculous to my 12 year old mind, while effectively giving me a believably "realistic" adult world to safely explore. These two aspects worked together in perfect sync. The more believable the world, the more effective (and hilarious) the parody, the more drive to explore the world, and so forth. The power in that formula is unquestionable. This is a videogame that made me believe, even if for only the briefest of moments, that aliens might be using telephones to make me stupider, and that someday, little plastic cards may replace paper money. What am I saying "had"? I still believe those things to this day, and for arguably good reason. More than anything though, Zak Mckracken amazed me with how unique, original, and personable it was. Unlike Maniac Mansion before it, and Monkey Island after, Zak Mckracken didn't rely on film genre gags and tropes to get by. It was a wholly original madcap adventure, released for Commodore 64, in the year 1988. That in itself is amazing. This was a time before the internet, before Adult Swim, before any non-Monty Python Frankenstein-ing of ludicrous surrealism sewn together with cultural satire was known to be potentially palatable for the mass market in any form, let alone in the largely untested medium of videogames. And here was a game about a tabloid reporter who meets a two-headed squire, digs a into solid rock with french bread, travels the world, infiltrates a secret alien headquarters, trades brains with a dolphin, and goes to mars, all of which with nearly no death or violence to be found. I couldn't believe it was real. To be so consistently surprised, amused, and enlightened by a game was a first for me, and it's a feeling I've been chasing ever since. I can only hope that the original creators of Zak McKracken will reacquire the license for the property, so that Zak's adventures may outlive the flawed, trailblazing, and now sadly departed studio that birthed it. - Jonathan Holmes The first time I played through The Dig I did so huddled in front of my parents' 486, my two brothers and neighbor at my side. We didn't care that it was voiced by the dude who played T-1000, produced by Steven Spielberg, or written by that guy who wrote Ender's Game; we were there for one reason and one reason only -- the thrill of discovery. And boy did The Dig thrill.The production values were astounding, the world was exciting, and goddamn if some of these puzzles weren't downright hard. In fact, to this day I still have the original game manual filled with our notes and solutions to the puzzles, and when it was finally released on Steam not too long ago, I was able to fly through the entire adventure in a matter of minutes -- a far cry from the days upon days we spent on that original outing.The Dig was the first adventure game I ever remember really investing myself in, and the first game I played through from start to finish with my brothers and friend (who would later become my gaming compatriots), and for that I will always hold it dear to my heart. - Andy Dixon If there was ever a game that was eligible for the "most improved sequel" award, it would be Dark Forces II. Although the original Dark Forces is a serviceable first-person-shooter, Jedi Knight really took the genre by the throat, turned it on its head, force-gripped it, and threw it off the ledge.What was the simple innovation you ask? Lightsabers. By adding a third person lightsaber mechanic into the game, Lucasarts wowed PC fans everywhere and let them give into their darkest Jedi fantasies right in their own living rooms.But it wasn't just melee combat that made you feel like a badass -- the power to wield the Force -- either dark, light or neutral (a rarity for any Star Wars game) -- allowed you to customize the experience to suit your playstyle. With my group of friends through LAN play, all of us were able to craft our own unique way of experiencing the game -- ages before "perks" were a widespread first-person-shooter mainstay.To this day, no one really does lightsaber combat quite like the Jedi Knight franchise, and it will be sorely missed. - Chris Carter George Lucas always talked about how the Stars Wars franchise -- the comic books, the toys, the games, the lackluster prequels -- are there to allow him to make experimental films, returning to his roots established in his USC short films and on the set of THX 1138. He never made good on this promise, but game developer and publisher LucasArts sure did. While Star Wars games -- many of which were experimental and incredibly influential in their own right -- continued throughout the years, LucasArts used the revenue to invest into some of the most memorable and peculiar games of the '90s. I still don't know how to play Afterlife, I still think Outlaws sounds and looks like nothing else, and I still want to set aside time to check out Gladius and Herc's Adventure, one of these days. What I'll think about most, when it comes to the LucasArts name, are all the days spent playing its adventure titles. I still return to The Curse of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango, and instead of being let down by nostalgia, I find so much more to appreciate now that I know how rare it is to find quality storytelling, good humor, and innovative art direction in games. When I load them up on my Nexus 7, it still feels like the future to me and everyone else is just struggling to catch-up. - Allistair Pinsof [image via AllGamesBeta]
LucasArts Retrospective photo
'Death makes sad stories of us all.'
With the Stars Wars license and money behind LucasArts, the studio only needed to follow. Instead, they innovated for 31 years. Not only did the studio have a hand in adventure, first-person shooter, real-time strategy, and f...

Oh, Japan! photo
Oh, Japan!

Umihara Kawase gets 3DS sequel and enormous boobs


Only on next-gen hardware can such breasts be imagined
Apr 03
// Allistair Pinsof
Agatsuma Entertainment (Code of Princess) is bringing cult, Japan-only series Umihara Kawase to 3DS with Farewell, Umihara Kawase. No release date or likelihood of Western release has been announced. Umihara Kawase is a platf...
Roger Ebert photo
Roger Ebert

Film critic Roger Ebert teases videogame film adaptation


"Once completed, you can engage me in debate on whether you think it is art"
Apr 03
// Allistair Pinsof
Roger Ebert, influential film critic and Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within defender, has quietly announced intentions to make a film adaptation of a videogame or "mobile app." "And gamers beware, I am even thinking about a mo...

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