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Gearbox

Review: Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak

Jan 20 // Patrick Hancock
Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak (PC)Developer: Blackbird InteractivePublisher: Gearbox SoftwareReleased: January 20, 2016MSRP: $49.99 Deserts of Kharak is a prequel to previous titles, and takes place on the desert planet of Kharak (duh). The "primary anomaly" has been detected in the Kharak desert, and Rachel S'jet and company need to head deep into Gaalsian territory to retrieve it. Players who know their lore already know what that anomaly is, but that doesn't detract in any way from the 13-mission campaign. Unlike many other real-time strategy games, the campaign is the main draw in Homeworld. The lore is rich, yet approachable for newcomers. Some of the jargon will be confusing at first, but it doesn't take long to grasp what or who a Kiith is or that Rachel S'jet is not a case of a misplaced apostrophe. The missions themselves are varied. They do a great job of teaching the player the mechanics and introducing new units at a comfortable pace. The best thing about the campaign, which was also true for the originals, is that the player's army stays with them between missions. The units who survive are the same ones that start the next mission. The same goes for resources, too, which makes them very finite. Finishing a mission in good standing goes a long way here, and forces the player to play intelligently. This design also dictates playstyle. When I had heavy losses at the end of a successful mission, I went into the next one with extreme caution. I looked at my current resources and the resources available and actually thought about the most efficient way to spend them. This can be turned off with an option, but in the spirit of the series, you should keep it in tact. [embed]335091:61939:0[/embed] A big problem is the AI. It's not so great. There have been times when I could see my enemies clear as day, and they were just sitting there. Forever. I never bothered with them unless the mission forced me to clear all remaining forces. Other times, the AI simply follows its path until the player puts ground units within range. It is possible to pelt a group of units over and over again with air strikes until they are completely dead, and they will never respond. Scenarios like this are worsened by the fact that the campaign is, overall, fantastic. Cutscenes are gorgeous and often set a threatening atmosphere, only to be followed up by awful AI behavior. Tense moments dissipate pretty quick when a cluster of enemy units is just dancing around a bit in a circle while being attacked from a distance. Despite this, there are some amazing scripted moments throughout the campaign. A cutscene may show a large enemy force heading the player's way, then show the same force in-game. That's when the music kicks in. The music in Deserts of Kharak is nothing short of perfect. It raises the intensity of battles and sets the mood so well that I very much looked forward to the next large-scale battle. In fact, the entire aesthetic is spot-on. Zooming in shows the intricacies of movement for the units -- particularly the wheels of vehicles maneuvering around rough terrain. Once you feel comfortable with how a battle is going, try zooming in nice and close and watching the action. It looks great! I know what you're thinking. "How can it be Homeworld if it's not in space?" Rest assured, this is Homeworld through and through. Remember watching your ships swirl around while attacking other units? The same goes for the smaller units in Deserts of Kharak. That feeling of continuity throughout the campaign as your units stayed persistent? Still there, and in spades. Since the "main base" is also a mobile unit, the feeling of having your own personal convoy is firmly implanted into the design of the game. Having the main base, called a Carrier, as a unit is certainly an interesting mechanic to utilize. It can be quite the powerful unit, too, making the idea to use it offensively enticing. The Carrier has energy that can be routed to different aspects of the ship: defense, self-repair, missiles, and range. All self-explanatory. The player can change these on the fly, though energy is limited by artifacts, which can be collected and returned to increase available energy. The most interesting gameplay mechanic is line of sight. If a unit can't logically see another, it can't fire at it. This makes the terrain of each map incredibly important. Having and holding the high ground can make or break a battle in many cases. The game does a great job of conveying this information to the player. If a unit can't see another, a broken red line appears. While issuing many of the commands, a "blueprint" of the terrain will appear, clearly showing what is high ground and what is not. Terrain also affects unit pathing. Well, it affects one unit's pathing. The Carrier is a large (read: very large) unit, and can't simply drive over hills like the others. It's important to remember that it needs to take the roundabout way, since it'll be the only unit to do so unless otherwise ordered. Just...keep that in mind when playing. Homeworld has always primarily been a single-player experience. That being said, there are AI Skirmish and multiplayer options. The issue is that there are only two races, both of which play similarly. There are also only five maps. Stir these facts together into a pot, and it doesn't yield the greatest competitive experience.  The main competitive mode is artifact retrieval, which tasks both players to fight over artifacts scattered over the map. The objective is to pick one up with a specific unit and bring it to a designated area. It's neat, but the whole multiplayer experience just feels rather shallow. For free-for-all matches of more than two players, deathmatch is the only available option. I've run into a handful of bugs in Deserts of Kharak, and judging from the forums, I'm not the only one. The most annoying, which may not even be a "bug," is that the camera goes to an awful position after every in-game cutscene and needs to be reset. Other than that, there were a couple of cutscene glitches where animations wouldn't play or in-game talk continued while a cinematic was playing. It's also impossible to re-bind the keys, which is hopefully an oversight, not intentional. While the multiplayer is mediocre at best, the campaign more than compensates for fans of the series. All the worries of "it can't be Homeworld if it's not in space!" should be put to rest, because Deserts of Kharak says otherwise. The asking price is a bit steep for those who are just interested in the campaign, since most won't bother to touch multiplayer. That being said, the campaign is well executed for veterans and newbies alike, proving that over a decade without Homeworld is far too long. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Homeworld Review photo
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What was 3D Realms thinking with the Duke Nukem fiasco?

Feb 25 // Brett Makedonski
The entire issue stems from a February 2, 2010 asset purchase agreement in which Gearbox bought the Duke Nukem IP from 3D Realms “except for very limited exceptions.” These exceptions are for the re-issuing of past games, such as the recent release of Duke Nukem 3D on Steam. Outside of that, Gearbox has the rights and control of the future direction of Duke Nukem. Despite this contract being in place, Gearbox alleges that 3D Realms then went and licensed the franchise to Interceptor to create Duke Nukem: Mass Destruction. Gearbox is suing for, among other things, a permanent injunction to prevent this game from being released. It’s difficult to imagine Interceptor as anything more than an unknowing pawn in this entire ordeal -- a developer that thought it was making a legal deal because how should it know the company that was selling something didn’t actually own it? That doesn’t explain the actions of 3D Realms, though. Given the details of the asset purchase agreement, it seems clear-cut that it had no right to make this deal. Did 3D Realms think it was being sneaky and that Gearbox would never find out? Because of the companies’ history of litigation, did it want to try to stick it to Gearbox any way it could, legal ramifications be damned? Is 3D Realms just that hard-up for money that it knowingly brokered an illegal contract to have some cash in the short-term? Unless 3D Realms has a side of the story that’s wildly different than Gearbox’s, it looks like it simply put its middle finger in the air. Again, it’s all conjecture at this point, but how could these actions possibly be explained? This unsavory approach reeks of a developer that had one idea more than a decade ago and can’t move past it. However, even if 3D Realms wanted to sell, why on earth did Interceptor want to buy? The Duke Nukem brand is not in good shape right now. After the throttling Duke Nukem Forever took, there might not be a worse IP to invest in right now. The entire “rude and crude” crutch that the series depends on has aged so poorly that it’s not viable for Duke Nukem to be a successful character in 2014. The majority of the targeted audience for Duke Nuke can be broken up into two camps -- those that grew up with the franchise, and a younger crowd that reacts in kind to its trademark humor. The former has mostly matured beyond what Duke Nukem is willing to offer. That was clearly apparent given Duke Nukem Forever’s reception. The latter has absolutely no allegiance to the brand. They didn’t grow up with Duke Nukem, so the name rings evokes no sentimental emotions from them. There’s a sliver of people still fond of the franchise, but that group’s so small that it’s not feasible to market a large-scale game solely to them. The wise thing for Interceptor to do would have been to create its own IP. That way, it would have been afforded the opportunity to mold a character and world that would have stood a chance right out the gate. Duke Nukem is absolute poison in 2014. It’s going to take a miraculous effort that vastly changes the series’ core tenets to make it relevant again. To boot, Interceptor wouldn’t have had to pay any licensing fees, as frivolous as they may have ended up being. At the end of the day, it seems like Gearbox is going to come out of this one smelling like roses. Although, why didn’t it let Interceptor put out Mass Destruction and then sue for royalties? It surely would’ve been more simple to collect a check than to permanently prevent a game’s release. In the Complaint, Gearbox requests statutory damages as well as punitive damages -- the latter awarded for conduct that is found to be willful and wanton. Gearbox is smart to take this approach, the reasoning being two-fold. First, assuming that it’s successful in its litigation, it’s less of a gamble to seek these damages than to try to take a percentage of what a game sells. No one knows how Mass Destruction could be received, and if it absolutely tanks (which is certainly within the realm of possibility), there might not be much money at all to draw from. Second, by obtaining the injunction, Gearbox gets to maintain full control over its property. Duke Nukem might not have much of a reputation right now, but you’d be hard-pressed to fault Gearbox for not wanting someone else to further screw that up. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that Gearbox knows that neither of these two companies has the type of money to be able to satisfy any sort of judgment that’s awarded against them. With punitives in the mix, it has the potential to be very high. If this is the case, Gearbox is likely posturing itself to be able to obtain the work that’s already done on Mass Destruction in a sheriff’s sale -- similar to what Nintendo recently did. The saga of this game is probably far from over, and I’d be surprised if we don’t eventually see it released under Gearbox’s banner. We’ll have to wait a while for the court proceedings to play out before we know what kind of resolution this ultimately has. The preliminary evidence all points in Gearbox’s favor, though. However, this could’ve all been avoided if 3D Realms and Interceptor hadn’t made such terrible decisions in the first place. Poor showing, guys.
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Interceptor's not off the hook either
With this week’s news that Gearbox Software has filed a lawsuit against 3D Realms and Interceptor for unauthorized use of the Duke Nukem property, it raises the question – exactly what the hell are 3D Realms and I...

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Gearbox files suit against 3D Realms over Duke Nukem IP


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