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Review: Hard West

Nov 18 // Zack Furniss
Hard West (PC [reviewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: CreativeForge GamesPublisher: Gambitious Digital EntertainmentMSRP: $19.99Released: November 18, 2015 Hard West starts off so promising. Instead of one big campaign, it's divvied up into eight little chunks starring different characters. The first one stars a father and his son trying to make their own way in life through a combination of mining for gold and killing the men that would try to stop them. This chapter serves as a tutorial of sorts, teaching you the basics of combat. You have two action points, which you can use to move, shoot, or use special abilities. Shooting always ends your turn (some weapons alleviate this), so it's always best to keep moving.  In some circumstances, you can make your own cover by kicking over tables or lifting up barriers. One of the special abilities enables you to ricochet bullets off of metal surfaces in a zig-zag of death across the battlefield, but you're never taught how to do this. Halfway through the game I noticed the slight glow that some metallic objects emanate denoting that you can use this ability. Once you get the hang of these shots, they become an impressive and effective method of dealing death. Though the battles feel mechanically similar to XCOM, one of the main differences in Hard West doesn't stick the landing. Whereas in the former game it was perhaps to easy to rely on the Overwatch ability (wherein you automatically attack enemies who pass your field of vision), here there's no such thing...for the player. If you get too close to an enemy, they have a small range around them in which they can use an attack of opportunity, but you're never afforded this same benefit. This leads to repeated scenarios where you're trying to cautiously approach the enemy so that you don't get too close and get blasted, and then they walk right up to you and shoot you from behind for higher damage. Another new system that Hard West tries is the "setup stage." In some levels, you have the drop on your opponents and you can sneak around. You only have one action point, so you move much more cautiously. In order to successfully infiltrate an area, you have to use the Subdue ability, which prevents enemies from firing at you for a few turns. Enemies sometimes have cones showing their field of vision, but this is inconsistent. Whether that was because of a glitch or my character's stats, I was never sure, The whole system is poorly explained, but luckily you're never forced to use it. Even when I figured out how to successfully do this, going in guns blazing always seemed to be the better option. One of the best parts of the combat is the Luck meter. While you still have percentages telling you how likely you are to hit an enemy, they don't feel as random as most tactical RPGs. Your Aim stat and your position determine if you'll hit, and the enemy's cover simply lessens the damage they receive. Each character has a luck bar that serves as both a sort of armor and your ability resource pool. If you have enough luck, when you get shot at, it'll soar right past you. If you get hit, your luck replenishes so you'll have better odds next time. Once you get a feel for this, you'll learn to risk taking weak hits through cover so you can use your more powerful skills. This all adds up to incredibly entertaining combat when it's not doing its best to frustrate you. Getting bum-rushed time and again isn't fun. But earning increasingly fantastical weapons and cards (which give you active and passive skills) in each campaign remains compelling throughout. When you aren't in combat, each chapter has its own world map and goal. In the aforementioned starting story, part of your HUD shows your family's gold-mining tools. Another chapter sees you managing peons à la Oregon Trail, making sure you have enough food to keep them strong enough to do your bidding, One of my favorites stars a clairvoyant woman as your main character, using her abilities to cheat both poker and death. If we're being reductive, these world map moments are just variations of text adventures, but they're enjoyable and convey a lot of flavor through both these different goals and the story text you have to parse. Once in a while you'll solve a puzzle for better gear, or choose the wrong thing and gain a crippling injury. All of these have a direct effect on the many battles you'll fight, so there's not as much of a disconnect as you might expect. Some choices you make will lead to differences in missions as well, such as choosing to sneak in through the back or charging in through the front. Consumable items, clothing, and weapons don't carry over into the next campaign, so each time is small arms race to get back up to the top. I initially thought this would be frustrating, but since each story is two hours long at the maximum, it never becomes monotonous. Each character's chapter has three special items that they can unlock through a variety of methods that are sold at a vendor who appears throughout the game. This allows you to get to the punch more quickly if you like, and it encourages thorough examination of the map. The playing cards that I mentioned previously are randomly earned by finishing battles and exploring and give you passive and active abilities like being able to turn into a demon or heal whenever you're in the shadows. In keeping with the theme of the ol' west, arranging them into straights and royal flushes provide additional stat bonuses. Since characters don't level up, this provides just enough customization to be interesting instead of overwhelming. So again, this all sounds great! But then there are the bugs. The hot desert sun didn't cook Hard West enough. This is evident everywhere, from menus that take entirely too long to open, to a glitch where accidentally hitting the delete key sets the camera at a horizontal angle on the ground that renders the game nigh-unplayable. There are typos galore in the text and there are times when said text implies that there should be another dialogue option, but there's nothing to be found. I also dealt with a handful of hard crashes. This is frustrating because there's a legitimately great game to be found underneath all of the blood and sand. I'm going to fondly remember the small vignettes in this game. Running around as an inquisitor, manipulating people into killing others so that I can build an eldritch artifact. Seeking revenge as a half-man, half-demon. Playing as the villains I saw in previous chapters, understanding what motivated them to become such evil pricks.  This is a world worth exploring, and I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of it. Maybe that'll be in the form of a huge patch that puts this broken machine back together, or a sequel that brings the best of Hard West to the forefront. What I'd really like to see is a tabletop game in this setting, because it honestly feels like it might be better suited in that realm. Either way, I hope there'll be a reason to come back. 
Hard West photo
A fistful of sand, blood, and bugs
After twenty or so hours in the blistering sun (my cold, unkempt room) with my hands on the well-used revolver (bargain basement keyboard and mouse), I'm walking away from Hard West in turmoil. A tactical turn-based west...

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: The Ice Dragon

Nov 17 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: The Ice Dragon (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: November 17, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit The reason I'm being so cavalier with discussing in general terms how my story ended -- spoilers be damned -- is that other players might see things play out quite differently. It took the whole season to make good on the promises that we may shape the future of House Forrester, but The Ice Dragon finally introduces significant divergence. Important characters may live or die, depending on not only the choices presented in this episode, but also on those made earlier. With Asher joining Rodrik and the convergence of those two paths at the end of A Nest of Vipers, more time can be spent on each individual thread. Up north, Gared and company finally make it to the North Grove. Down south, Mira learns who had been conspiring against her. Nestled in the middle of it all is the drama in Ironrath, with the Whitehills mounting up for war against the Forresters. Gared's path is probably the most disappointing of the three. After five episodes wondering what the significance of the North Grove is, I was hoping for a revelation when he finally made it. The main concrete takeaway is that it's important and must be protected, but precisely why is up for debate. [embed]321059:61115:0[/embed] What makes Gared's journey to the North Grove sting so much as a part of the story of the Forresters is that it feels like he made no measurable impact on any other section. The final recap does hint that he might have been a bigger player in the grand scheme if I had made different choices, but my personal Gared could have been cut from the story entirely and it would have made no difference. In contrast, Mira's scheming in King's Landing is at least mentioned by the characters on the home front. She may not have had any concrete effects on the conflict at Ironrath, but her path still feels important in the overall narrative. In Sons of Winter, I was so pleased with myself for winning a war of words as Mira. I was shrewd and calculating, manipulating the situation to get exactly what I wanted. Somewhere along the line I lost that slyness and turned into a softie, and Mira paid for it. I can't say I'm happy with how Mira turns out at the end of this episode, but I don't think I'd be particularly pleased with the possible alternatives either. Of course, the main action is at Ironrath, where the Whitehills have mounted up for war against the Forresters. There were hints in this episode at a possible diplomatic solution, but as Asher and his band of gladiators, battle seemed like the most appropriate option. The climactic scene is probably the most brutal in any Telltale game to date. There was figurative backstabbing followed by literal backstabbing. There was frontstabbing. There was sidestabbing. There was ramming a greatsword into someone's mouth and out the back of his head. Good lord, there was a lot of stabbing. It fits the universe perfectly, in that in one fell swoop a dozen named characters meet their ends, and the whole time I'm watching in horror, muttering obscenities to myself and wishing thing weren't the way they are. Valar morghulis: all men must die; fans of the source are well-versed in that concept, but it hurts more when it's my men dying. There may still be a glimmer of hope for the Forresters, despite being broken, beaten, battered, and beheaded. The finale leaves a few loose ends open (possibly for a second season), but the family as we have known it is done. In a way, I'm almost pleased the story finishes the way it does. In Iron From Ice, I noted the similarities between the Forrester clan and the more famous Starks. I realize now that I modeled my Forresters' behavior after them as well. I fought with honor and I did the right thing, though it eventually spelled my own doom. I can take solace in the moral victory. The Ice Dragon caps off a year of fretting and worrying. Telltale's take on Game of Thrones has been spot-on in that regard. Now that it's over it's almost a relief, even with a bleak end. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
A chilling finale
In my review for The Lost Lords, the second episode of Game of Thrones, I lamented that I was making all the wrong decisions and that my version of House Forrester was doomed. With The Ice Dragon wrapping up the series, my pr...

Everything from the November Nintendo Direct

Nov 14 // Chris Carter
Zelda: Twilight Princess HD confirmed for Wii U Twilight Princess HD's Wolf Link amiibo looks hot Zelda: Tri Force Heroes gets a lot deeper next month Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon looks to please its fans Finding new Super Mario Maker levels gets easy in December New Splatoon map coming out tomorrow 'Free to start' Pokemon Picross is coming in December Zelda: Tri Force Heroes gets a lot deeper next month Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam finally has a release date Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow are coming to 3DS Lucas and other amiibo are coming January 22 Star Fox Zero launches for Wii U April 22, 2016 Final Fantasy Explorers Collector's Edition is the real deal Linkle confirmed for Hyrule Warriors Golden Mega Man amiibo confirmed, with exclusive challenges for Mega Man Legacy Collection Cloud Strife is the newest Smash Bros. character Fire Emblem Fates will have three different versions Dragon Quest VII and Dragon Quest VIII finally coming to North America and Europe Bravely Second journeys west next spring Pokken Tournament strikes Wii U spring 2016 Such a tease! Mother 3 is headed to Wii U in Japan [embed]320911:61108:0[/embed]
Nintendo Direct photo
Cloud Nine
That Nintendo Direct won E3. With a far better showing than its June event (sans the amazing puppets), Nintendo knocked it out of the park. While the Direct itself would have won over many fans, it blew up the entire Internet on Thursday with the unveiling of Cloud Strife in Super Smash Bros. Here's everything else that happened.

Xenoblade Chronicles X is sprawling and unforgiving, and I love that

Nov 14 // Chris Carter
Xenoblade Chronicles X starts off with a straight-forward premise: humans have been pushed off Earth by aliens in the future, and only one "ark" is said to have made it to a far off new planet. It's a Macross-esque setting where humans are fairly advanced with their weaponry and warfare, including the Skells (mechs). From there, your character (male or female) awakens in a pod, is greeted by your first party member, and the adventure begins. I really mean "your adventure," because early on, the story mostly takes a backseat beyond a brief rundown of the situation on this new planet. This is something I'm completely okay with because of how Monolith Soft has crafted each gigantic map. There are hundreds of locations to find, secret dungeons to delve into, and enemies to battle -- and nearly all of it rewards you for your efforts. Seeing gigantic, screens-high enemies towering over me induced Final Fantasy XI Notorious Monster flashbacks, you know, in a good way. Your primary source of damage is by way of auto-attacks, but combat gets much deeper once players start unlocking more abilities. Flanking options, bonus effects (for those who patiently wait for double cooldowns), and the power to instantly switch between melee and ranged attacks are a few mechanics that pop up. Dashing is also enabled in combat, which makes for some awesome fights when popping off an enemy appendage with a rifle, and running in with dual daggers to slash at their exposed body. [embed]320860:61101:0[/embed] I'm over 20 hours in so far and still don't have access to the Skells. Very early on there's an option to buy one for an exorbitantly unattainable price, but you still need a "license" to pilot them, which I haven't obtained yet. I've already seen this design choice turn off some prospective players out there after hearing impressions from the Japanese release, but I have to say, it doesn't bother me. Movement is fairly swift, as players can sprint indefinitely and leap high into the air like a superhero. It's very easy to get from place to place, and fast travel -- it still exists. Stay tuned for our review at the end of the month.
Xenoblade Chronicles X photo
Our review is coming later this month
I've played MMOs with smaller zones than Xenoblade Chronicles X. The scale here is absolutely breathtaking, and a mite surreal once you realize that you're playing on the Wii U, where the development team couldn't even optimize the game on a single disc. Here's a few thoughts after spending a ton of time with the experience.

Figuring out which of the usual suspects I'll play in Fallout 4

Nov 13 // Nic Rowen
Character creation is something I love in games, maybe a little too much. As I’ve talked about before, I have a tendency to slip into an eternal planning mode -- sketching out possible character builds, ideas, and dorky little stories -- while never actually sitting down to play any of them out if I’m not careful. Or I end up chain-smoking characters, making one, playing around for an hour or so (which barely counts as playing at all when you’re talking about the Fallouts and Dragon Ages of the world), and wandering back to the “new game” screen to try out another one. Pretty soon, I’ve had the game for over a week and have only managed to see the tutorial area. Not a great use of one’s time. What I’ve come to over the past few years has been a system of recycling a few characters over in different games in different genres. I take the same characters with the same basic preferences and attitudes and run with them. Building around a few personality traits like “loves sneak attacks and charms his way through conversations” or “always goes with the most aggressive combat option available and never tells a lie” and try to fit them into whatever game I’m playing. Sometimes that means running straight at the enemy with a two-handed sword, other times it means teleporting to them with a nuclear-powered shotgun in hand. To me, it’s been the best middle ground between ruthlessly planning out my characters and pointlessly faffing about. Not only do I have a rough idea of what kind of skills, equipment, and storylines I want to lean towards with a character, but by having clearly defined characters with their own weird ways of going about their business, it also keeps the gameplay fresh. I’ve made characters based on myself in the past, or just gone with the generic hero type they start you with, but you know what? That’s boring. When I call a character Nic, curse him with a mop of red hair, a slightly round face, and send him out to save the galaxy or tame the wasteland, he always turns out to be a real fence-sitting drag about it. Because I can’t help but start approaching the game the way I would in real life, as a kind of generally decent guy who doesn’t want to set off a nuclear bomb in the middle of a crowded settlement, or really stick his nose in other people’s business either. I end up equipping weapons and armor based on stats and efficiency because it’s not like I have a strong preference in real life. Left to my own devices, things tend to be a little drab. But if I put myself in the shoes of Jabberwalk, a bomb-chucking madman, it’s a different story. Or Sophie, a de facto serial killer who always takes the most backstabbing or underhanded “solution” to a problem possible and has a real love for stilettos and straight razors. Or Gershom, a lumbering old man driven by his principals to help the weak as best he can, and grind the wicked into a fine paste with the biggest hammer or piece of unwieldy artillery around. Or maybe Piss-Pot, a disgusting lizardman who is always a treat to try and build in games that don't include lizardmen as an option. Things get interesting fast with those weirdos. Their baked-in preferences force me to approach the game differently, to play around with different perks, conversation choices, and gear that I might not touch otherwise. Which leads me to Fallout 4 and trying to figure out which of my little rotating cast would fit the game best. Fallout 4, annoyingly enough, starts out presupposing the player character is the type to have successfully held down a pre-war job and a working relationship, not exactly traits a lot of my characters tend to fit in with (which maybe says a little bit more about myself than my characters). I plan to spend a lot of time wandering the Boston wasteland, and I want to make sure I’m doing it with a character that will enjoy it as much as I’m hoping I will, so it’s not a decision I take lightly. I’m leaning towards a sneaky type of character; the villainous side quests in Fallout are always the best, after all. I’d love to know how other people do it. Do you make a fresh character out of whole cloth every time you start a new game? Brew up a self-insertion character and stab orcs or shoot super mutants as a slightly cooler version of yourself? Or is this the most obvious thing in the world and everybody has their own set of recurring characters like me and I’m the last one to know about it? Did Fallout 4’s implied backstory change the way you made your character this time around? Let me know in the comments!
Character creation photo
A man's character is his fate
I never walk into a character creation screen alone. Every time I start a new RPG where you have to brew up a character to spend the next 30-80 hours with, I bring a few familiar faces with me. A small cast of characters I&rs...

Hearthstone's League of Explorers is probably my favorite adventure yet

Nov 12 // Chris Carter
Blizzard is trying something slightly different this time. Instead of the typical five-wing setup, there's only four, and it actually works out better for me personally. As a result, the price is dropped from $24.99 to $19.99, which is a bit more digestible. With one less wing, it's one less week to wait for each part to unlock. Plus it delivers more cards in the long run, with 45 in all, including some legendaries. The missions are a bit more inventive, too. The first quest involves a genie who grants you wishes each turn in the form of cards that you can spend for zero mana; these grant you random rewards, which are not bound to your current deck or class. The second fight is with an Anubis-like boss who holds an immunity staff, forcing players to attack it to gain its power -- and then defend it at all costs. But the third quest is by far my favorite, and probably the most original encounter yet. Framed around an escape from a crumbling temple, you have 10 turns to survive, essentially. What unfolds from there is a choose your own adventure of sorts, where you can pick from one of two buffs, or in some cases, two bad choices (take five damage now, or go for a 50% chance to take 10 damage, or none at all). It's really, really fun, and although I didn't have to make a specific deck to best it, I opted to replay it multiple times with different choices just to see how it played out. Class challenges are back too, with the Warrior and Warlock variety available as of today. They also reward you with cards.  [embed]320554:61090:0[/embed] League of Explorer's story remains tongue-in-cheek the entire time, and it looks like each wing will feature a different adventurer guiding you along the way. The first is led by Reno (third from the left in the above picture), who is a clear Indiana Jones reference, mixed with a bit of Kronk from Emperor's New Groove for good measure. Blizzard is also teasing an overarching storyline featuring the Staff of Origination, which you build piece by piece during each episode. Right now, only the first wing is open, with the others set to arrive over the course of the next three weeks. Once all of them are available, I'll provide a full review of the expansion.
Hearthstone DLC photo
45 new cards in all
Blizzard does a great job with its single-player expansions for Hearthstone. I dug Naxxramas despite the high price point, and I really enjoyed Blackrock. League of Explorers, by comparison, is a bit less straight-faced, aping films like Indiana Jones at every turn, and it's all the better for it.

Smash Bros. photo
Not a drill
This is not a drill. Nintendo has announced the newest Smash Bros. character, and it’s only god damn Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII. The trailer up top shows both his FFVII and Advent Children costumes, as well as...

Xbox One photo
Very smoothly
The New Xbox One Experience rolled out today, and for me and many others, the transition has been painless. I simply booted up my console, downloaded a roughly 1GB update, and the UI popped right up after a restart. I think s...

Podtoid 312: Call of Duty: Black Oddish III

Nov 12 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]320399:61078:0[/embed] Recent Episodes: Podtoid 311: The Fallout 4 S.P.E.C.I.A.L. Podtoid 310: Intergalactic Child Abduction Podtoid 309: Code Name Li Po Podtoid 308: Back to the Force Podtoid 307: The Millennials Podcast You can reach us by email at [email protected]
Destructoid Podcast photo
Nuclear Blizzard
Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or download it here. On this episode of Podtoid, the gang chats about Fallout 4 again, Blizzard's Overwatch, StarCraft II, Rise of the Tomb Raider, not Steam machines, bad Pokémon puns, and Spectre 007.

Review: Moco Moco Friends

Nov 11 // Chris Carter
Moco Moco Friends (3DS)Developer: RacjinPublisher: Aksys GamesMSRP: $39.99 (a portion of proceeds go to Make a Wish)Release Date: November 17, 2015 Moco Moco's main conceit lies with "Plushkins," which are described as "cute but violent" creatures who can only be controlled by witches. Moco, the titular witch, has just graduated. She wants to be the very best -- naturally -- and is on a quest to obtain the Stella Medal. That's all you're really getting in the way of a story, so be warned. Despite the shallow setup, the presentation is undeniable charming. Creatures are literally sentient stuffed animals, and the cast consists of characters like a dog who is afraid of going bald to a talking cat-head staff. Every character is so amazingly upbeat, including some of the adversaries, that you can't help but smile while playing. It helps that the in-game character models are well animated, but the artwork is generally faded, and the dialogue font just It's obviously translated for the English release, but all of the vocal work is raw Japanese -- which is fine by me, but may be jarring for others. Additionally, don't get your hopes up over the prospect of exploration. This is mostly a dungeon crawler. Most of the game's chapters consist of an errand or object that's found at the bottom of a dungeon, which can be accessed in list format in the hub world. It's fun, but repetitive, as most of the areas look the same and the mazes aren't all that complex. Rooms are linked in a box-like fashion with very little deviation, and enemies are visible on-screen, initiating a combat sequence if touched. You've seen this all before, I'm sure. [embed]320280:61075:0[/embed] Combat is thankfully a tad more nuanced. Each party member boasts a separate set of skills, which can range from offensive magic, to healing powers, to party buffs. Creatures also belong to a pool of elements, which counter each other in a rock, paper, scissors type fashion. Selecting abilities instantly using the d-pad or touch screen is a cinch, and the fast-forward button makes trash fights much more manageable. As time goes on, bosses start to get tougher, and while it never really reaches the point of becoming overly challenging, this is a pretty competent RPG all told. Once you return to the hub though, Moco's world starts to shrink back to size. There's a crafting station, item shop, and a garden that grows in real time, but that's about it. Players can use yarn to create new monsters, which is kind of cool (there's 120 to capture in all), but tedium will likely start to sink in after 10 hours or so when you delve into dungeon after dungeon. While I did enjoy acquiring new party members and items on a consistent basis, this isn't something I'd recommend playing for hours on end. Beyond the cute veneer, Moco Moco Friends is a slightly above average dungeon crawler with a decent crafting system and serviceable combat mechanic. At this point, there are so many better games to choose from, but if you can't get enough RPGs, Moco is ready and willing to accept your call. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Moco Moco Friends photo
Gotta sew them all
While the concept of catching cute monsters and battling them is innately linked to the iconic Pokémon series, I'm hesitant to plaster the word "clone" over similar games, as RPGs have had party-based systems for ...

Is Rise of the Tomb Raider the best Uncharted?

Nov 11 // Steven Hansen
Now, though, Lara's come out ahead. It was a mild challenge during the Rise of the Tomb Raider review to not compare it to Nathan Drake's adventures. The things that excited me about Uncharted 4, that differentiated it from its stale third entry, a lot of those have -- at least superficially -- been done by Rise of the Tomb Raider. The contextual stealth bushes (as seen in the upcoming Horizon Zero Dawn, too), the grappling hook. Uncharted has always had stealth and its grappling hook might prove more meaningful than Rise's I-can-jump-further-now tool, but those things might not feel like meaningful additions with two games from a direct competitor now released since the last Uncharted five years ago. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception was less than well-received for bringing little new to the table, instead offering a disjointed series of set-pieces that could have been strung together by throwing darts at a board. Rise of the Tomb Raider threads its hub worlds and set-piece sections -- a derelict Soviet gulag built vertically into the side of a mountain -- together much more organically. It also basically mushes Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3's antagonists into one game (spoilers in this paragraph). Konstantin is a Burberry-clad Lazarević, just as driven and merciless -- a common trope of a character -- and even serves as Rise's final boss fight in full tactical gear, not unlike in Uncharted 2. Here, though, it's a stealth affair with Konstantin disarming Lara, who must sneak around the ruined arena and stab him a few times. Meanwhile, equally posh Ana, the character really running things, has shades of Katherine Marlowe. Superficial, maybe. Maybe it stands out because of the general rarity of older-aged British women as villains. Rise of the Tomb Raider also handles the requisite third act turn to the supernatural better than any Uncharted since the first, which became a creepy, horror-tinged affair to smartly contrast all the lush jungle violence. In Rise, it means expansion to the visual palette with all the blue flames and orange embers (shortly after introducing the new class of regular enemy with the lens flare-ish flashlights and dot sights -- a good look). The enemies' melee focus makes sense and moves the third act away from strict cover shooting, which is welcomed for its variety but also because the cover shooting is probably Tomb Raider's weakest part. Then there's Rise's position as one of the prettiest games of the year, an Uncharted staple. It isn't just the technology or graphical fidelity, but a new focus on using color, lighting, and other visual cues to set the mood. It is colorful without Uncharted's more cartoonishness. Had Uncharted 4 made its holiday 2015 release, it mainly would've been up against itself, or its past self. Being better than Uncharted 3 would've been enough for a lot of people. Rise of the Tomb Raider raises the standards though, by iterating in a lot of areas where Uncharted excels. The former is still bogged down by bloat (crafting and skill trees and static menu audio logs and so on) and a go-nowhere story that was more than tired by the time Uncharted got to it (protagonists want thing, antagonists also want thing), but it nails movie-like visual direction (down to the color grading) and exhilarating platforming.
Rise of expectations photo
Standards up five years post Uncharted 3
Both Crystal Dynamics and Microsoft lucked out that the tumult behind Uncharted 4: A Thief's End's development shift and scrapped work pushed Naughty Dog's adventure into 2016. It gives Microsoft the best exclusive holiday...

Where to find companions in Fallout 4

Nov 10 // Jordan Devore
A few notes: Thankfully, companions can't die. If they're taken out in combat, they'll squat down and wait for you to a) heal them with a stimpack or b) kill all nearby enemies. There are lots of dead dogs in this video game, but rest assured, you won't have to dig a grave for your beloved Dogmeat. If you stick with the same companion, over time, you can gain their loyalty and a unique perk. That deathclaw in the first picture isn't going to hurt me, but he's not my buddy, either. I wish! If you'd like to know more, head to the Museum of Witchcraft at the top right of the map. There will be spoilers in this post, of course, but I'll try to keep them to a minimum. This little guide is intended for people who either want a specific type of companion (say, a super mutant) as soon as possible and don't know where to look, or just have a desire to catch 'em all. Codsworth (Mister Handy) The family robot survived the bombs! Drop by your old neighborhood (Sanctuary Hills). Dogmeat (uh, dog) You can't miss him. One of the first areas you'll encounter after emerging from Vault 111 is a place called Red Rocket Truck Stop. Just follow the path straight out of Sanctuary Hills. Preston Garvey (Minutemen supporter) You'll bump into Preston early on in the main story. He needs a help clearing out the nearby town of Concord. Later in your journey, once you've helped rebuild the Minutemen, he'll be a seemingly never-ending source of cookie-cutter quests to find and help the other settlements scattered across the Commonwealth. Paladin Danse (dude in power armor) He's your way into the Brotherhood of Steel. Go to the Cambridge Police Station and take on a few quests. Eventually, he'll want to tag along with you. Curie (Mister Handy with a French accent) She's associated with a quest in Vault 81 called "Hole in the Wall." To access the vault, you'll first need to cough up three fusion cores (the "ammo" for power armor), and those don't come cheap. With that in mind, after using most of the energy in a core, set it aside -- the vault gatekeeper will accept mostly-used fusion cores, so don't hand over fresh ones. (Tip: Keep Curie around at least until she asks for help with something. It's a neat little quest.) Nick Valentine (detective; best character in the game) Over the course of the story, you'll end up in Diamond City. There's a detective agency in the back of town, but the owner has gone missing. Head over there and see what's up. Piper (journalist) There's also a news reporter in Diamond City. You'll bump into her on your way in.  Cait (rapscallion) It took me about 50 hours before I randomly decided to enter the Combat Zone, so Cait was one of my last recruits. Go inside, kill a bunch of raiders, and then speak with the ghoul. Strong (super mutant; milk lover) He says a lot of weird stuff, but that's what makes him so endearing. Keep an eye out for Trinity Tower and a side quest called "Curtain Call." John Hancock (cool ghoul) There are some entertaining characters in Goodneighbor, so make sure to stop by sooner than later. After you've helped some of the locals (one side quest is "The Silver Shroud"), report back to Hancock in the settlement's Old State House and he'll yearn for adventure again. Robert MacCready (one of the annoying kids in Fallout 3; he's now a man) While in Goodneighbor, visit The Third Rail. Head all the way downstairs, and swing by the VIP room. Bring caps (and/or charisma). Deacon (man of a thousand faces) One of my other favorite companions. He's hilarious. Deacon belongs to a major faction in Fallout 4 called The Railroad, and finding their secret base is a pain in the ass. It starts with the quest "Road to Freedom," which has you follow the Freedom Trail, a winding path that goes from Boston Common to the Old North Church. (Tip: If you're going to do the trail proper, follow the red markers on the street at Boston Common, not the nearby lanterns. Chris and I both had trouble with this at first.) X6-88 (???) Supposedly! NPCs won't shut up about him, but I haven't been able to locate him inside The Institute (you'll access it through the main story). Probably for the best that I don't find him.
Fallout companions photo
Meet your new BFF
Seeking a friend for the end of the world? Good idea. The Commonwealth is a nasty place. Even if you can handle super mutants and deathclaws, it's best to bring a buddy along if for no other reason than to have someone help h...

Review: Just Dance 2016

Nov 09 // Caitlin Cooke
Just Dance 2016 (Xbox One [reviewed], Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Wii)Developer: UbisoftPublisher: UbisoftMSRP: $49.99 (Just Dance Unlimited streaming service is an additional $6.99/month, 39.99/year)Release Date: October 20, 2015  In addition to the usual modes in the Just Dance series there are a few new ones present to provide different offerings to newcomers and spice things up a bit for seasoned players. Along with the normal competitive Dance Party mode, you can now play cooperatively with other players and work together to reach a high score. Dance Quest is also new, showcasing an interesting concept where you compete against a robot leaderboard and move through the ranks in a set playlist. World Video Challenge allows players to compete with people from around the world in a pre-recorded environment, and Showtime is the most different of the bunch, essentially allowing players to participate in glorified karaoke. Perhaps one of the most useful features to be carried over from Just Dance 2015 is the ability to play the game without a Kinect by holding your smartphone, and allowing up to six players to join in. The Kinect seems to be a forgotten accessory these days as the game no longer supports menu navigation through Kinect, rather players need to use the controller to scroll through. I find this to be a win in my book as I never felt as if it did a good enough job of tracking navigation anyway. The phone navigation is fairly smooth overall but with a limited interface compared to using the controller. I also found the phone tracking buggy at times and even less reliable than using the Kinect to play. For example, if my phone had some kind of notification (like a low battery indicator) go off, it paused the game mid-dance. This caused a lot of frustration since I didn’t really feel like disabling notifications every time I turned the game on. However, I do feel the added flexibility of allowing smartphone play is worth it overall and I’m glad they included it again. Unfortunately the meat of the game, the song list, is lackluster. Recent hits seem sparse, and the variety of genres and time periods also seem to be missing. A majority of the music combs sub-par top hits from the past five years, with only a few one-off gems out of the bunch. I would have liked to see more hits from the '80s and '90s, or at the least better songs from recent years. The choreography for the most part seems lacking across the board with a few exceptions. Perhaps it’s impossible to raise the bar here with six other versions behind its back, or maybe it's betting on the unlimited streaming service to fill the gaps. Some of the dances stand out -- for example, in “Under the Sea” you mimic Ariel and have to sit down, using arm movements and moving your “fins” to the beat. There are also a few interesting choices that mix the game up including a kung-fu style choreographed segment, an Irish dance, and a song featuring Hatsune Miku. These are the high points of the game, especially if you love making your friends dance to silly songs. Outside of this, it’s standard pop fare. The new Showtime mode isn’t much to talk about unless you enjoy humiliating your friends, in which case it’s a complete masterpiece. There is no set choreography, just pure singing and forming your own dance moves to an effects-driven video filled with overlays. It’s not something I enjoyed doing on my own, but watching friends go through it was delightful. I do however wish it offered more songs as you can only pick from a handful -- I suppose designing those overlays and graphics takes a lot of time. The game overall feels a bit limited -- despite all of the new modes, it doesn’t seem very open in terms of what you can do. For example, the Showtime and other video uploads only show a few brief clips from other players around the world, and there isn’t really any way to sort or find new videos -- it only shows you what’s popular and what’s most recent. I was also disappointed that Dance Quest mode, although a bright concept, was extremely limited in that you’re dancing against robot scores (not real people) and you’re not able to create playlists or jump around to different quests. Despite my qualms, I had fun playing Just Dance 2016 -- but then again, it’s hard not to. It’s still a favored party game and one that has almost perfected the fun-for-all game model. Heck, it’s reached a point where it’s thrown in some mediocre new modes and a subscription model just to keep itself fresh, so in some cases you can call this a success. However you can also say that Just Dance is a dying breed, one that is taking its last breath to capitalize on the streaming craze that’s enveloped our little gaming world. I say we don’t think about it too deeply, and just dance. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Just Dance 2016 photo
I've had a little bit too much (much)
Yes, another Just Dance -- the seventh in the series -- has arrived. This latest edition is no exception to the usual hallmarks that defines the series with its ease of accessibility and colorful party atmosphere. It hol...

Podtoid 311: The Fallout 4 S.P.E.C.I.A.L.

Nov 09 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]319617:61046:0[/embed] Recent Episodes: Podtoid 310: Intergalactic Child Abduction Podtoid 309: Code Name Li Po Podtoid 308: Back to the Force Podtoid 307: The Millennials Podcast Podtoid 306: Tales of Tokyo Game Show Send any questions and hate mail to [email protected]
Destructoid Podcast photo
So, bongo, bongo, bongo...
Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or download it here. Fallout 4 comes out tomorrow, so the Podtoid crew assembled a crack team of Fallout 4 veterans to have an in-depth chat about their experiences with the most-anticipated release of the year.

Fallout 4 photo
Beginning spoilers, obviously
As is the case with nearly any RPG, it's best to go into Fallout 4 blind. But if you're undecided, or aren't picking up the game until the inevitable GOTY edition, here's the first 30 minutes of the game for your perusal. It covers the entire intro, before your character is allowed to explore the new open world.

Experience Points .27: GoldenEye 007

Nov 07 // Ben Davis
No guns, mines only, final destination The main reason GoldenEye is remembered so fondly is no doubt because of the multiplayer. Four-player split-screen multiplayer was a big deal at the time, especially for a first-person shooter on consoles. It was actually my very first experience with a first-person shooter. I played GoldenEye so much with my brother, friends, and cousins that we started to develop our own rules and go-to gameplay modes which dominated our multiplayer sessions. My absolute favorite thing to do in multiplayer GoldenEye is to play "proximity mines only." Choosing proximity mines also comes with a few guns as well, but my friends and I played where we would only kill each other with the mines. Guns were only to be used to shoot mines, never other players. Of all the weapon types to choose from, and even of all the different types of mines to choose from, proximity mines were the most fun, in my opinion, due to how unexpectedly they can explode. Just toss a mine up on a wall, wait for someone to wander too close to it, and BAM! "Proximity mines only" matches were especially tense because of how tiny the mines are, making them rather difficult to spot. If a player sees one before walking too close, they can carefully aim and shoot it down, or even toss another mine at it to make it explode. This could also cause a chain reaction of nearby mines exploding as well, engulfing the entire area in flames as players run for their lives. I always tried to find clever places to hide mines, such as on the ceiling, on the floor, on an ammo crate, or on a glass wall (which I then shot, of course, leaving the mine floating in thin air). The element of surprise when someone walked into a room and suddenly exploded without seeing a mine anywhere in sight never got old. Sometimes a player would even respawn directly on top of a mine, dying in a dramatic explosion immediately after coming back to life. My friends and I would sit there and play with proximity mines for hours, blowing up and howling with laughter every single time. Nooks and crannies Speaking of multiplayer, the Complex stage was totally my jam. The Basement may have been the best layout for proximity mine matches, but I always felt the most comfortable running around the Complex. The reason for this was because of the Complex's secret hiding places. There are a few areas in the Complex where it's possible to sort of phase through the walls, leading to small rooms where I could hide and wait for people to walk by. Somehow, very few of my friends knew about these hiding spots, so I could wait in safety while they wandered around the building desperately searching for me, then pop out and shoot them while their backs were turned. They would never see me coming, and would get so mad because I surprised them every time. I felt like a ninja. The Complex also had some of the best sniping spots. Whoever managed to make it to the upper-level room in the middle first usually ended up racking up a ton of kills, since there were windows opening out to several of the main rooms all in one convenient location. There's also a spot in the room with the spiral ramp where it's possible to hide in the shadows and shoot people from below. I tried to take advantage of all of these different hiding spots to kill my friends from safe locations and confuse the heck out of them by staying out of sight. Of course, after a while my friends stopped picking that level because they knew I would win! Kong. James Kong. GoldenEye's cheat options were a ton of fun to play around with, and conveniently available to choose from a menu on the main screen. Paintball Mode was almost required to be turned on while playing with my friends. All it did was replace bullet holes with splotches of paint, but for some reason, it was the only way we played. I always liked to draw smiley faces out of the paint by carefully shooting designs onto the walls. We also played around with Turbo Mode occasionally, which greatly increases everyone's movement speed. This made "proximity mines only" even more chaotic! The weirdest cheat in GoldenEye, though, was called DK Mode. This cheat transforms all of the character models into grotesque shapes which are apparently supposed to resemble Donkey Kong, with huge heads, tiny bodies, and really long arms. The characters look so inhuman and ridiculous that it's almost impossible not to laugh. I mean, look at Natalya up there. What even is she? Combine DK Mode with Turbo Mode and my friends and I would be out of breath from laughter in no time at all! Crazy gorilla people zooming around at high speeds, their gigantic heads popping up out of nowhere with their freakishly long arms pointing a gun at me... it's just too much. I'm so glad Nintendo published this game, if only because it gave us these hilarious, hideously deformed characters as a cheat option. I am invincible! Everyone has their favorite Bond character to choose for multiplayer matches, whether it's the classic choices of James or Natalya, the villainous Xenia or Jaws, or even the more generic Helicopter Pilot or Moonraker Elite if you're feeling sassy. Just don't go picking Oddjob, or else you're probably going to lose some friends! My favorite character has always been Boris. He may just be a boring old computer technician, but I loved his bold fashion choice of wearing a brightly colored Hawaiian shirt and shorts for combat. There's no way to be stealthy while wearing a Hawaiian shirt, which means Boris is apparently confident enough in his abilities to attract the attention of everyone around him and still come out a winner (he is invincible, after all). Or maybe he's trying to confuse everyone into thinking he's a civilian. Or he's simply clueless when it comes to combat situations. Whatever the reason, I love his style and wouldn't want to play as anybody else! Far from the uncanny valley One of my personal favorite things about GoldenEye is all the bizarre faces on each of the character models. They're meant to look like the actors from the movies, and the enemy faces are meant to look like some of the staff at Rare. What they actually look like, however, is more like a cut-out of a real human's face stretched over a cartoonish 3D model, which I suppose is a technically accurate description of how they were made. The faces look so weird on the character models though, to the point that it's honestly hilarious. The enemy soldiers' faces are especially fantastic, because many of them have these exaggerated expressions that never change. So as they're rolling expertly across the ground, shooting with a gun in each hand, and falling over in dramatic death animations, they always have that same silly expression no matter the situation. I think my favorite face is the bearded guy with the crooked grin and what looks like a scar across one eye. I feel like I see him all over the place, and no matter what he happens to be doing at the time, his expression always makes me laugh. I wonder who that guy is? Spies on a train The multiplayer isn't the only fun thing in GoldenEye, of course. The single-player campaign is solid as well, taking Bond on missions throughout Russia and Cuba to visit all of the main locations from the film. There are a bunch of neat missions, including Frigate, where he must rescue several hostages on a ship near Monte Carlo; Statue Park, where he has to navigate a maze of creepy statues in the dark; and the Streets of St. Petersburg, where he drives a tank through the city while trying not to kill too many civilians. One of my favorite levels is the Train mission. This level was pretty difficult for a few reasons. It takes place almost entirely aboard a train, with Bond moving from the tail end up towards the engine, which means combat happens within confined spaces. Not only are the train cars small, but they're packed full of boxes and swarming with enemy soldiers, so Bond has to be very careful or else he might end up trapped between a group of bad guys all shooting him at once. The most intense bits are towards the end when he has to move through the passenger cars, since soldiers could be hiding behind any of the multitude of closed doors. Somehow, a few enemies always manage to end up behind me! The most difficult part of the level comes at the end, though. When Bond enters the final train car, he finds Natalya being held hostage by Ourumov, with Trevelyan and Xenia standing guard behind them. He must act quickly and shoot Ourumov before he can kill Natalya. The other two make their escape (I always tried to shoot them anyway, even though they always manage to get away), leaving Bond and Natalya trapped inside of the train with a short amount of time before it explodes. The rest of the mission involves trying to find a way out of the train by using Bond's handy watch laser to melt open a panel in the floor, while waiting for Natalya to hack into a computer in order to locate the Janus secret base. As usual, Natalya is slow as molasses and takes her sweet time cracking Boris' password, leaving just a few seconds to escape the train before she blows up. This is life or death, Natalya, hurry it up! Past Experience Points Level 1: .01 - .20 .21: Katamari Damacy.22: Tomb Raider.23: Mother 3.24: Deadly Premonition.25: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars.26: Dark Souls
GoldenEye 007 photo
For England, James?
Experience Points is a series in which I highlight some of the most memorable things about a particular game. These can include anything from a specific scene or moment, a character, a weapon or item, a level or location, a p...

Review: The Age of Decadence

Nov 06 // Patrick Hancock
The Age of Decadence (PC)Developer: Iron Tower StudioPublisher: Iron Tower StudioMSRP: $29.99Release Date: October 14, 2015  The plot of Age of Decadence largely depends on decisions the player makes. While this is par for the course for many RPGs, I want to stress how committed the developers are to this concept. There are decisions within the first half hour of the game that can completely remove characters and their quest lines from the game. In fact, I took one of the first situations pretty lightheartedly, only to have my character's mentor completely removed from the city. I quickly understood the tone set thereafter. There is no shortage of heavy decisions, either. Many times RPGs will pester the player with small-time decisions before laying on an obvious game-changing decision. Age of Decadence throws game-changer after game-changer at the player, and forced me to pull back and contemplate my options many times. There is a lot of gray area in these decisions as well, which even makes going "cruel and evil" or "pure and good" somewhat difficult. Instead of aligning between good and evil, players are more often forced to choose between the many "houses" and alliances already established within the world. Personally, I backstabbed just about anyone dumb enough to trust me, and switched alliances quite frequently. Other players may do the exact opposite and stay with one of the first leaders they come across. The game is truly what the players make of it. Likewise, the gameplay can alter drastically based on decisions the player makes. For example, as I tend to do in RPGs, I made my character a wise-talking son-of-a-bitch. I talked my way out of every fight I came across. Well, okay, sometimes I said the wrong thing and ended up fighting, but after dying almost immediately every time, I simply loaded up the most recent autosave and tried again. Regardless, thanks to my persuasion, streetwise, charisma, impersonate, and lore skills all being high, I was able to smooth-talk and flirty-wink my way past any aggressors I came across.  [embed]318681:61024:0[/embed] Those who choose to go down a more combat-oriented route are in for an almost completely different game. Just as I melodiously coerced my foes to listen to my brilliance, players can brute force their way to the end. Combat works on a turn-based grid, similar to many strategy RPGs. A character's stats and equipment are the deciding factors that go into miss percentage, movement turns, damage, criticals, and so on. In addition to weapon attacks, there are many status effects like bleeding or immobilized to spice things up mid-fight. Combat can feel a bit clunky at times, which is largely a result of the whole game being a bit rough around the edges. The bottom line is that the combat works as it should, once the player understands how the numbers affect the outcome. Death is permanent, but the game does a great job of creating a ton of auto-saves to make sure the player never loses too much progress. When fighting, death may come quickly for those unprepared, and some of the death animations are pretty slick. Each situation even has a small death blurb for the player to read, and they are genuinely interesting, even knowing that it means the player's character has been ruthlessly murdered in some way. Combat scenarios are often extremely difficult. There are a lot of stats to spread out points between, and players who are going a more hybrid route may find themselves dead in a lot of scenarios. Players are first given an opportunity to escape an encounter through words, but if the various speaking skills don't have enough stats in them, that will fail. Then, occasionally there's another way out, like brewing a potion or crafting something. Again, if the player doesn't excel at this, it will fail. Then, there's combat. Occasionally players will have help in battles, but there still needs to be a solid base of skills and stats to succeed. For those planning on spreading out their statistical focus, I'd recommend looking at online guides to prevent future headaches.  While part of me loves that there are so many ways to customize a character, it can get very confusing and frustrating. I knew I wanted to specialize in speech, but there are a handful of areas that affect it. Persuasion, impression, streetwise, lore, and etiquette can all factor in to talking your way out of a situation, but not every skill is always useful. In some situations, persuasion and streetwise are necessary while in others, just etiquette will be enough. It's impossible to know what is more important, so the only solution, to the player, is to spread them out evenly between them.  For anyone worried about the breadth of content: don't be. Due to the choices the player must make, it's impossible to see everything the game has to offer in a single playthrough. Just judging from the achievements available, I've only seen a portion of the content available within the game. Considering how different one playthrough can be from another, it doesn't feel like a slog to go through the game a second time; yes, many of the big events share commonalities, but there are still huge branching paths available to the player all throughout.  The quest design is a lot stronger than typical RPGs. Every quest has some weight to it, even if its not immediately apparent. Exploring some cave could lead to the discovery of a device long since forgotten, or talking with an outpost leader could lead to your next big betrayal. It's crucial to always read the well-written dialogue carefully! There are no quest markers, so if a quest says to talk to somebody, you better remember where they are! Players can fast travel from the very beginning, which took me a while to realize, so there's little downtime in between objectives. The graphic fidelity of Age of Decadence is, well, not great. Just as the gameplay hearkens back to the classic games of decades past, so do the visuals. The animations are hit-and-miss, as it's not uncommon to see every single stationary townsfolk scratch their leg at the same exact time, but as I've mentioned, some of the death animations are extremely well done. The music, on the other hand, is wonderful. Appropriately supporting the fantasy setting and giving powerful moments that much more "oomph," the soundtrack hits all the right notes.  Age of Decadence is an RPG to its core. It offers the player a wealth of choices, many of them carrying lofty consequences along with them. The core design element of player choice transcends simple dialogue choices, as players can progress through the game in a variety of styles. Many games offer up the illusion of choice while failing to actually deliver, but Age of Decadence serves up difficult and tangible crossroads with no looking back. It may have some rough spots, but it is one of the most well-designed RPGs I have had the pleasure of enjoying. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Age of Decadence review photo
Deliciously decadent
The Age of Decadence has been in development for quite some time. Hell, I listed it in my indies game list from 2013! Since then, I've been remembering that it exists every once and a while, only to find out it was still...

Podtoid 310: Intergalactic Child Abduction

Nov 05 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]319173:61003:0[/embed] Things we talked about Professional athletes' male pattern baldness Putting razor blades in Halloween candy Bob Ross, a commenter, and Chris Carter Recent Episodes: Podtoid 309: Code Name Li Po Podtoid 308: Back to the Force Podtoid 307: The Millennials Podcast Podtoid 306: Tales of Tokyo Game Show Podtoid 305: The Voice of God Send any questions and Steven Hansen-Gardevoir fan art to [email protected]
Podtoid 310 photo
Attack of the Flash Clones
Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or download it here. Did you know Halo 5 is the Star Wars of video games and is secretly about abducting children and making their parents very sad? We learn all this and more on the latest episode of Podtoid.

PlayStation 4 photo
They're much more aggressive this gen
When Sony says that shooter fans are switching over to the PS4, it makes perfect sense. I mean heck, it's ahead in console sales by millions of units, so sheer popularity would dictate that more people are inherently playing ...

Call of Duty: Black Ops III's Dead Ops Arcade II minigame is batshit crazy

Nov 05 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty photo
Chicken love
Just like the original Black Ops, there's a hidden arcade game locked within Call of Duty: Black Ops III. It's actually quite easy to access (just select the top-left icon in the video on the mission hub screen), and like its...

Konami LA closure photo
Promises to continue Metal Gear support
Konami has confirmed yesterday's reports that it closed Konami LA, the studio responsible for the Metal Gear Online portion of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. The Los Angeles studio, formerly Kojima Productions LA befor...

MGO studio gone tho photo
Right after reports of closing Konami LA
Konami seems to have closed its LA studio, formerly Kojima Productions LA before Konami scrubbed the Metal Gear Solid creator's name from as many places as it could. The studio opened in 2012 and most recently was responsible...

Divinity: Original Sin - Enhanced Edition is comfortable on console, if a little slower

Nov 03 // Zack Furniss
Split-screen co-op functions much like ToeJam & Earl from back in the day: both players share a screen when they're close to one another, but if they drift far enough away, the screen splits and each player has their own camera to control. This can be jarring if you separate and rejoin multiple times in rapid succession (imagine someone flailing their hands in front of your face really fast to obscure your vision) , but it otherwise works surprisingly well. I also didn't anticipate being able to wander so far away from you partner. There were multiple times in the ten or so hours we played where he would be in town and I'd be fighting enemies on a distant beach. Controlling characters works better than expected in that it actually works without making me want to throw my controller into the toilet in exchange for a mouse and keyboard. You can move your character around with the left thumbstick, or you can click it to create a small cursor. This effectively allows you to maneuver your avatars like a point and click RPG and is blessing when you want to go to the bathroom while you traverse to the other side of a map. Combat is easy enough to handle, with multiple radial menus and shortcuts providing quick-enough means to an end.  An RPG can live or die by its inventory, and Divinity: Original Sin was never exceptionally manageable in the first place. While the presentation is pleasant (little chests, barrels, and gore piles show up as a cute lil' grid when you look through them), picking up items can be a tad tedious. Holding down the X button brings up a search circle around you so that you can look at multiple items simultaneously, which minimizes minutia but still isn't completely ideal. If you hadn't played the PC version before you'd probably think it was a little slow but nothing out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, even with hands-off experience I know how much faster that can be, and in a game as large as this one, poor inventory accessibility goes from a wrinkle to a wound after awhile. Moving items out of your way is probably the offensive activity here. Instead of just clicking and dragging it out of your way, you have to hold down that search button, choose the item, go to a separate small menu, choose move, and then determine where you'd like to place said item. That is entirely too many commas and clauses to complete an action that you'll do often. It does work better if you use the point and click control scheme, which I found myself utilizing often. Overall, I wouldn't call these controls unwieldy so much as inconvenient. But if you can manage to acclimate to these puppets' strings, there's a fantastic game underneath. Divinity: Original Sin - Enhanced Edition is one of those rare fantasy RPGs that has charm, charisma, and doesn't feel completely generic. Now that almost every NPC is voiced, the world feels even more alive and personable. The co-op conversations, in which your main characters can agree, disagree, argue, and jest with one another, eventually leading to traits that have a tangible effect, are perfect for couch sessions. Turn-based combat doesn't seem like it would flow as well, but it does. Each time my brother covered an orc in oil and I set him ablaze, we high-fived like a couple of douches. The environmental/elemental battles always find a way to remain exciting. I'm no Chris Carter, so I can't finish a 100 hour game in two days. There's still a garbage dump's worth of shit that I haven't in Divinity. So far, the extra quests and dialogue feel right at home, and the addition of dual-wielding has made my rogueish spellcaster even more formidable. Even after the little that I have played, though, I'm confident in saying that this one's worth your time. Just remember to pick up every shell on the beach and send one to your brother's inventory every time he checks his phone. See how many shells you can send before they notice. Have fun!
Divinity: Original Sin photo
Couch co-op clickiness
While playing through the lukewarm Sword Coast Legends last week, I kept telling myself there was a light at the end of the tunnel. Once I finished my slog through the Sword Coast, I could revisit Rivellon in Divinity: O...

Metroid short film photo
This is actually quite lovely!
Nintendo doesn't much care to do anything with Metroid save for soccer games, so here's a professional grade Metroid production, The Sky Calls. I was a bit dismissive of this for about as long as it took to see those excelle...

Review: Kingdom

Nov 02 // Steven Hansen
Kingdom (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Noio, LicoricePublisher: Raw FuryMSRP: $9.99Released: October 21, 2015 (PC); 2016 (Xbox One) Kingdom takes the sprawling, granular nation-building of games like Civilization, stripping labyrinthine menus down to a button press. As a randomly generated King or Queen atop your horse, you can walk left or right, and sprint for as long as the horse's stamina allows. Otherwise, the only thing you can do is drop a coin from your purse.  You're versed in this simplified building with a brief tutorial section that encourages you to start a camp fire, hire two peasants (one coin recruits wandering souls into citizenship), buy a bow, buy a hammer, and build a wall on either side. Whichever citizen picked up the hammer will start building the wall while the archer starts shooting game, which will net you coins. Kingdom is completely hands-off from there.  It's possible to wander too far left or right by the time the first night hits, at which point you might get attacked by a crowd of malevolent, No-Face-looking creeps that'll bop your crown off your head and snatch it. So your kingdom goes. You didn't even last a night. Each run becomes as much about experiential learning, figuring out the systems, and this is where Kingdom shines. Deciding on the proper allocation of funds, or learning little tricks like rushing far into the wilderness to scare deer back towards your archers (they're worth three coins to the rabbits' one) for early gold gain. But then you've survived long enough to realize farms are the income-generator of the future and stock up on scythes. You've expanded so far there are hardly any deer left, anyways. [embed]318616:60960:0[/embed] While these moments of clarity are appreciated, Kingdom's hands-off approach can frustrate. I went weeks into a run (the day and night cycle is very quick) and expanded considerably, but the goblins' nighttime raids -- particularly the huge waves that occur every five nights -- kept utterly destroying my facilities, stealing my citizen's tools (removing them from their job) and coins (reverting them back to peasants, who need to be re-recruited for a coin). Later I would realize that it's because I didn't invest in the shrine I walked past deep in the woods (I couldn't afford it), which would grant my kingdom the knowledge of masonry and provide a host of stronger wall upgrades and the like. But while the inscrutability can grate, the biggest problem is the simulation not holding up to its scope once you've puzzled everything out. Kingdom's simplification eventually impeded me more than the massive night raids that early on feel somewhat unearned, like an asshole shaking your Etch-a-Sketch. Archers not stationed in towers, for example, all pool behind the nearest wall at night to shoot at incoming enemies. This means that once that one wall goes, you could lose clusters of dozens of archers, while all the other walls the enemy waves will slowly tear through are only protected by lone tower-mounted archers. And while it becomes apparent immediately there is a need to put yourself behind the kingdom's walls at night, the archer AI (and, later, knights) will frequently get themselves picked off by not being home before dark. Archers will often bunch of inappropriately, too; I've had had double the amount of archers on one monster-free end of the kingdom while the other was under attack. Once you know exactly what to do, the beginning bit of building out your kingdom feels pretty rote. Start with the next-furthest walls to get the inner set for free. Travel far left or right to make sure the masonry shrine is close, and probably the one that strengthens archers, too, or you're screwed. Hope that you don't get a weird load out where there's just no wildlife early on and no way to make money (happened once). Eventually I would consistently get to a point where I constantly had way more gold -- the sack literally over-flowing, coins falling into the river -- than I could use, yet still couldn't make any quicker headway on successfully "beating" the game because of the bottleneck caused by a lack of citizens and the quick day/night cycle compounded by my expanding kingdom length and limitations on the horse's stamina. You recruit peasants from outlying campsites, but expansion in either direction can destroy those sites, decreasing your stock of recruits. Plus, each site will only net you two folks per day. It can require a ton of time to replenish your forces after a big wave, thanks to flying enemies that can permanently kill citizens, just to have it happen again five days later. It takes some precision and failure to avoid a Sisyphean set up, but by that time the building becomes rote, the exploration is gone, and it becomes simply a gorgeous set of systems you're minding like a bean counter, except they're jumping beans. The lack of precision, then, caused by the stream-lining that is so laudable, becomes frustrating. While learning certain things feels like honest revelation, I too often felt like I was playing against the game, like when I'd force mounted archers out of their towers by starting new construction on them, because mounted archers won't hunt to generate profit, even though it becomes obvious there are no daytime threats. Or when I would try to start a new project nearer the city center to distract my engineers who were blithely heading out into the unprotected night into a swarm of pickpocket goblins to work on a further out project because I mistimed how long it would take them to get the cue and start walking all the way across the kingdom. Kingdom very cleverly reduces a complex genre down to something digestible, but that same simplification struggles against its later scope. When your land grows too wide, traveling end to end becomes a chore (it can waste entire day/night cycles), while getting to that point requires gaming somewhat imprecise AI. Losing it all after an hour basically means re-doing the early game the exact same way and finding a point of divergence, say, at the 50 minute mark that previously undid you. It's too much retreading as the simulation naturally caps how quickly you can return to prior strength regardless of accumulated knowledge. When all the arcane is teased out and the seams obvious, not even the beautiful score and gorgeous pixel reflection in the river can encourage me to execute the precise, efficient moves that would lead me to victory.  But while I wasn't so interested in mechanically performing the "correct" blueprint of success after I figured it out, the journey towards acquiring that knowledge was still worthwhile. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nothing lasts photo
My horse, my horse...
I can remember building sandcastles in San Francisco's wonderfully-named Ocean Beach when I was young, armed with just one bucket with an embattled parapet mold to give the formations that distinct "castle" look, and another ...

Xbox One controller photo
Plug and play on Windows 10
Finally -- Microsoft is releasing the wireless Xbox One adapter for PCs. After years of waiting I can finally eschew all of the wires that have been sitting in my desk drawer, or more specifically, four micro-USB cables to ho...

Star Wars: The Old Republic's latest expansion marks the best the game has ever been

Nov 02 // Chris Carter
Let's start with some of the enhancements the expansion has made globally, outside of the confines of the new storyline. I immediately created a new character and found that there have been a ton of concessions to make it less of a slog. For starters, XP gain has seen a stark increase across the board, so you don't have to do nearly every mission on a planet to move on to the next one -- instead, you can essentially follow the core storyline and that's it. This is how it always should have been structured, as most of the sidequests are rather dull. It's also much easier to see what is and isn't story related (narrative quests have a purple tint). Gear statistics have now been simplified so you don't find nearly as much trash, and fast travel is enhanced thanks to instant access to flight paths. Companions have been severely streamlined when it comes to gear as well (in a good way), so you can basically choose whoever you want and fit them into any role you wish. Here's the biggest change: you can basically do everything, including required Flashpoints (dungeons), by yourself. It's silly to say since this is technically an MMO, but Old Republic has made a ton of concessions for solo players. For the most part when I embarked upon my journey to max out at level 50 years ago I played alone, but there were a ton of sections where I needed assistance or was required to grind to progress with the story. With the dawn of Knights of the Fallen Empire, that need is basically eliminated. In this way, it now truly feels more like a Knights of the Old Republic 3. In the past it was ludicrous to ask someone to pay a subscription fee to experience that by yourself, but it's much easier to swallow for free. As previously mentioned, the new narrative is actually quite good, and feels like a true follow-up to KOTOR. To start the Fallen Empire storyline (which now goes to level 65), you'll need to have a maxed out 60 character. By subscribing (and thus gaining access to the expansion), you'll net one max boost, so you can breeze past the previous Hutt Cartel (previously 55) and Shadow of Revan (previously 60) add-ons. From there it's dead simple to start up the campaign, as you only need to queue up the mission on your ship. Missions in Empire are now more pointed. They don't feel like a shoehorned-in excuse to justify an MMO and a subscription fee -- they feel like quests from a classic BioWare RPG. Everything is much more cinematic and imposing, and the dialogue feels more meaningful. They're also completely removed from the gamey elements of Old Republic, almost like a separate mode entirely, devoid of grindy, time-wasting activities. In essence, this is something worth paying for, especially if you have some free time and want to go through it in a month before unsubscribing again. Over half of the Empire chapters have been released, and others will subsequently be released over time. It's something I would normally get kind of miffed about (gotta keep people subscribed somehow), but given all the other improvements, I just took to creating another class instead. It took BioWare long enough, but Star Wars: The Old Republic's 4.0 build really feels like what the game should have been like at launch. Whether you're a new player jumping in for the first time or a disenchanted veteran who's cautiously interested in subscribing again, The Fallen Empire is worth a shot. [This impressions piece is based on subscription time purchased by the reviewer.]
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'Knights of the Fallen Empire'
Man, I'm surprised Star Wars: The Old Republic is still trucking along. You have to give it to BioWare (and to some extent, EA) for staying with it after its mixed reception at launch, so-so expansion packs, and its tran...

Review: Poncho

Nov 02 // Laura Kate Dale
Poncho (Mac, PC [reviewed], Vita, Wii U)Developer: Delve InteractivePublisher: Rising Star GamesReleased: November 3 (PC, Mac), TBA (Vita, Wii U)MSRP:  $14.99, £10.99Rig: Intel Core i5-4690K @ 3.5 GHz, with 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, Windows 7 64-bit Having witnessed the end of the world, robotic protagonist Poncho sets out in search of a gigantic tower, in the hopes that tracking it down will allow the world to be saved. Poncho is a side scrolling, pixel art, 2D platformer with a twist. While parallax layers are generally only aesthetic, in Poncho you play an adorable robot who can leap at will between foreground and background environment layers. Jumps between layers take into account your vertical height. Momentum is conserved during the layer jump, so the challenge is getting yourself into the perfect gap at the perfect time. The biggest problem with Poncho, as well as the biggest strength it had going for it, is the way puzzles are designed to incorporate switching layers. When the puzzles work they are fantastic. Jumping off a foreground platform, timing your layer switch perfectly so you land on a background platform, continuing your movement to leap and mid-jump switch again to catch yourself in box, before switching forward one layer further to drop a small distance to safety. When layer switching puzzles are well thought out, they are a joy to play through.  [embed]318651:60965:0[/embed] When those puzzles fall apart in execution, the game tends to become a frustrating mess, where progress is arbitrarily slow, and lengthy twitch challenges are presented with minimal safety nets. Vertical jump puzzles that go on far too long, with failure resulting in starting from scratch. Horizontal jumping challenges where numerous platforms switch layers at differing speeds, without the ability to study all of them in advance of attempting the challenge. Solid platforms that incorrectly register as having been landed on, causing infinite falling loops. A good chunk of Poncho's level design stopped being inventive and ended up simply frustrating. Also of note, often Poncho feels like its reaction-based platforming and slow, methodical exploration gameplay are at odds. Keys hidden through the world need to be collected to progress, but often I missed hiding places in the world because I was too concerned with managing to complete a lengthy, safety net-free challenge. When the only chance to collect information on a puzzle is while half way through it, searching for progression-unlocking keys was the last thing on my mind. Ultimately I'm left at a little bit of a loss with Poncho. It's a great concept, and when it's working it's a great inventive challenge, but when it goes downhill, it put a huge damper on my experience as a whole. I wanted to like it, but it was tough given some of the rough puzzle and level designs on show. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Poncho review photo
Adorable concept, poor execution
The first time I played Poncho was at EGX around two years ago. Its unique visual identity, compelling set of gameplay mechanics, and endearing protagonist drew my attention among the crowd of other indie games playable at th...

Podtoid 309: Code Name Li Po

Nov 01 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]318540:60947:0[/embed] Stuff we talked about: Greg Rice, M.D. How free games on PlayStation Plus work Pecs and breast tissue Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle Remasters How Double Fine scored the rights to remaster classic LucasArts games Comedy in video games (and why it's so rare) Halo 5: Guardians Rocket League Quality testing Guitar Hero Recent Episodes: Podtoid 308: Back to the Force Podtoid 307: The Millennials Podcast Podtoid 306: Tales of Tokyo Game Show Podtoid 305: The Voice of God Podtoid 304: The Phantom Pain Send any tips, queries, and Jennifer Capriati-autogaphed apparel to [email protected]
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Guest starring Greg Rice of Double Fine
Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or download it here. On this week's episode, Double Fine renaissance man Greg Rice joins the program to discuss the studio's Day of the Devs event and other topics both Double Fine and not Double Fine-related.

Video game ghost stories #3: Buried in the ground

Oct 31 // Ben Davis
~ I met all of my neighbors today. Most of them were really nice; I can already tell that Samson and I are going to be great friends. The eagle was a bit grumpy though, and the cat seemed full of herself. But I'm sure we can get along! A lot of them also have Gyroids in their homes. I tried to ask where they came from, but no one seems to know for sure. Buzz, the grumpy eagle, told me that he sees them in the ground sometimes when it's raining. Very strange... I'd never even heard of them before moving to this town. Aside from meeting the neighbors, I also got a job working at the raccoon's convenience store. So he runs the only store in town and manages all of the properties. It seems like he has as much influence on the town as the mayor. Maybe even more. He gave me a job and a place to live, so I definitely owe the guy. I'm not sure where I would be without him. ~ It was raining all day today, and guess what I found? As I was running late to work, I tripped over a lump in the ground. It was a Gyroid; Buzz was right! It was making this really weird gurgling sound and moving around every now and then like it was trying to break free of the mud. It had that sad, vacant expression that all the other Gyroids have. For some reason, I felt like I couldn't just leave it there, so I decided to take it home. ~ I got a letter in the mail today from Monique, the snooty cat. Apparently she's moving away soon. I've only been in town for about a week, so I didn't get to know her very well. The other neighbors say that people come and go all the time here, so it's not really strange for someone to suddenly decide to move out. Well, maybe someone a bit nicer will move into her place. In other news, that Gyroid I picked up the other day seems to be doing fine. It's still making that gurgling sound, though. I thought it was just doing that because it was stuck in the mud out in the rain, but it keeps gurgling away every so often. The sound mixed with its expression is a little unsettling. Sometimes it almost feels like it's trying to tell me something. ~ Today was the day that Monique was supposed to move out, so I decided to walk over to her place to see if she had left yet, and her house was gone! There was no sign of it anywhere. I got really confused, thinking I had walked to the wrong part of town, but her house definitely used to be right there. I remembered she lived directly south of the post office, so there was no mistake. Did they just bulldoze her house as soon as she left or something? Why would they do that? I went over to ask Samson what the deal was, and he says this kind of thing happens all the time. Whenever someone decides to move away, he gets a letter from them in the mail, and then a few days later they've left town and their house is gone. He thinks it must be Nook's idea to demolish old houses, since he owns the properties. It seems like a waste of money to build brand new houses for every new neighbor, though. Oh well. It's not really my problem. ~ It's been raining all week. I went to the post office today to deposit my rent and happened upon another Gyroid. Strangely enough, it was lying in the ground right where Monique's house used to be. This one was writhing around and making a horrible wailing noise, rather than the gurgling sound the other one makes. Wailing with that sad, empty expression... it sent a shiver down my spine. Once again I felt compelled to bring it home with me. I stored it in the basement next to the gurgling one so that I wouldn't hear the wailing all the time. They only seem to make noises when they see me. ~ Today was a big day! There was a sign near the museum saying that someone new was moving in soon, so construction on their house was underway. I also got a letter in the mail from Buzz saying he's about to move away. Things sure do happen quickly in this town. I went to say goodbye to Buzz, since we've been on good terms lately, but he seemed really distracted. I guess he has a lot to do to prepare for the move, so I can't blame him. I'll miss him, but at least I can look forward to meeting the new neighbor. ~ It rained again today. I had the sudden urge to go for a walk near where Buzz used to live, and guess what? I found another Gyroid, right where his house used to be. It was just like what happened when Monique moved. This one makes a hollow wooden sound, but it still feels like it's trying to tell me something. I took it home, of course. I'm starting to get a very weird feeling about these Gyroids, though. I keep finding them whenever someone moves. Could it be a coincidence? ~ Samson will be moving away soon, according to a letter I got in the mail. I can't believe he didn't tell me in person! I went by his house to talk to him about it, but he seemed out of it. It reminded me of how distracted Buzz had been before his big move. This is really sad news; I'm gonna miss that mouse. But it does give me a chance to settle some suspicions I've been having. I plan to camp outside Samson's house to see what happens tonight before the big move. ~ Oh my god. He killed him. Tom Nook killed Samson. I was hiding in the trees next to Samson's house, and around three in the morning, Tom Nook knocked on his door. When Samson opened it, Nook hit him in the head with an axe! I couldn't see what happened next, because Nook went inside and closed the door. All I could hear was the sound of an axe thumping. Next thing I know, Nook came back outside, dug a hole in the ground, and buried what looked like body parts. Then he stole all the furniture and disassembled the entire house with unbelievable speed and skill, and walked calmly back to his store with all of Samson's belongings in tow. My heart was pounding out of my chest as I ran back home. What just happened? I have to get out of town quick. Should I warn the other villagers first? A hollow wooden sound made me heart skip a beat. I looked in the corner and saw the Gyroid from Buzz's house, and suddenly it hit me. Nook had buried Samson's body in the ground outside his house. He must have done the same with everyone else. Is this how Gyroids are created? From the bodies of the dead? But why are they still moving and making sounds? Do they remember? My mind is reeling from everything that has happened tonight... ~ I must have passed out last night. I awoke to someone knocking on my door, and got up and answered it without thinking. It was Rasher, the new neighbor. He said he got a letter from me in the mail telling him I was moving soon. Was I being pranked? It took a moment for his words to register, but suddenly everything made sense. I didn't know what to say. I must have shrugged off Rasher in a haze as I stumbled back into my house. It must have been Nook who sent all those letters. No wonder Samson didn't tell me he was moving. It wasn't his choice. Tom Nook chooses who comes and goes in this town. And I'm the next to go.
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Happy Halloween!
Journal Entry #1: I moved to a new town today. It was a last-minute decision, and I didn't even have a place picked out, so it was a little scary. Luckily, a raccoon named Nook showed me some really cheap houses to rent, so I...

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