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3:45 PM on 03.06.2015

Downwell has a simple premise but it's damn fun

A glance at Downwell's tricolor palette in still shots doesn't really do it justice. Watching it in motion gives a better idea what it does, but not until actually playing it does it all click. It is built around a simple mec...

Darren Nakamura




Soul Axiom is a cross between Journey and Tron photo
Soul Axiom is a cross between Journey and Tron
by Mike Cosimano

Everything you could say about Soul Axiom feels reductive. It looks like Journey mixed with Tron, except when it looks like Tron mixed with Tron. It’s a puzzler that evokes The Talos Principle in both its non-linearity and its environmental conundrums. And the story is a spiritual successor to developer Wales Interactive’s previous title Master Reboot. This is the kind of stuff I try to avoid when doing previews.

But it’s still accurate, and it doesn’t diminish how interesting this game looks. Soul Axiom is an unsettling and compelling techno/cyber-thriller, with a killer visual style that matches its high-concept premise. Whether it actually delivers on its many promises is another thing entirely, but there’s a lot to be excited about so far.

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Borderlands: The Handsome Collection shines in some spots, has problems in others photo
Borderlands: The Handsome Collection shines in some spots, has problems in others
by Brett Makedonski

Traditionally, Game Developers Conference is a very busy show. After what seems like a three-month hibernation, the game industry slowly creaks back awake and GDC is the first time everything's in full gear again. As always, this conference is packed with games worth lookng forward to.

However, that doesn't mean we can't look back if the circumstances are right. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection is one title that warrants such treatment, as it bundles Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel together on PS4 and Xbox One. It's a big ol' pack of content, but while it promises a wealth of things to do, there are some worrisome snags.

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Dyscourse is a survival game that's light on survival photo
Dyscourse is a survival game that's light on survival
by Mike Cosimano

Owchemy Labs’ Alex Schwartz is one of the bravest men I know. In the midst of GDC, perhaps the most inside baseball-heavy of all conventions, he told a member of the press that Dyscourse was a "survival game." Of course, that phrase was immediately followed by caveats, but to use a genre descriptor that has become an enormous red flag takes an enormous amount of courage.

It also takes a great deal of faith in your game, which, as it turns out, is well-earned. Dyscourse is like Telltale's The Walking Dead filtered through old-school LucasArts. There are branching narratives, witty dialogue, an eclectic visual style, and choices that will affect whether a character lives or dies. But there’s also survival. Except it’s not actually survival. Follow me so far?

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Volume is a more thoughtful approach to Metal Gear Solid VR Mission-like stealth photo
Volume is a more thoughtful approach to Metal Gear Solid VR Mission-like stealth
by Steven Hansen

Volume is a fitting name for a polygonal, Metal Gear Solid VR Missions-looking stealth game with enough rectangles to feed a geometry class for the entire year. In the case of Mike Bithell's Thomas Was Alone follow-up, however, "volume" is more about sound than shapes.

Lead Locksley can't kill or attack. It's all about being a sneak. Noise, then, becomes an important weapon for luring guards from their posts, and every bit of noise fractures the world so you can nicely see its effect, along with the ever-present enemy fields of vision.

It's about sight, too. Sound, sight, shapes. These things come together to make a readable stealth game with enough abstraction that it feels more puzzler than sneaking romp. Think Hitman GO compared to Hitman.

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Smash Bros. dev bringing blocky puzzler BOXBOY! to 3DS photo
Smash Bros. dev bringing blocky puzzler BOXBOY! to 3DS
by Steven Hansen

HAL Laboratories (Super Smash Bros., Mother) has been busying itself with a couple Kirby games recently, but it looks like someone over there had an idea for a lil puzzle game and rolled with it.

BOXBOY! (already released on the 3DS eShop in Japan) is minimal outside of its charming animations. It is black, white, and mostly made of squares. You can walk Qbby left and right in an overworld with a Ms. Pac-Man-esque bowtied Qbby trailing behind. Enter doors to start a world, most of which seem to be designed around a particular technique. Five worlds (with around seven levels each) were playable during my GDC demo. There are 17 in total.

Aside from running and jumping, Qbby can bud blocks from his body. Each level gives you a limit to how many blocks you can produce at any given time, while there is also an overall number of blocks you can use on a stage. Getting to the end while collecting one or two black crowns will net you a "perfect" rating (and give you currency to unlock fun extras).

When you start, you can produce one block from your body and usually throw it to use as a step to reach a higher platform. As the levels go on and the block limit gets higher, you use new techniques. One section is themed around using blocks as a hook. That is, you produce three stacked blocks straight up, followed one to the right, forming a hook atop your head. You can then latch that last block onto a high ledge and have Qbby contract up to that latched block like folding in one side of the accordion.

I'm fine with the absentee art style (and Qbby's dumb lil feet as you move the box back and forth), but I never felt stumped throughout the first five worlds. It was more relaxing than puzzling. Maybe that's the point. Or maybe the later worlds will combine the various techniques a bit more, or make it so the limit of blocks you can produce per stage actually feels like a restriction; I never ran out.

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Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide goes all in with hectic co-op action photo
Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide goes all in with hectic co-op action
by Alessandro Fillari

I've long been an admirer of the Warhammer franchise. While a lot of people seem to put more of their attention towards the 40K universe, the high-fantasy setting of the former is so rich and features such a breadth of potential. As such, I was surprised to hear last month that Fatshark is making a new Warhammer title.

During a special hands-on session at GDC, the folks behind Warhammer: End Times - Vermintide showed off their co-op title that'll seek to offer hardcore action within the high-fantasy universe, while giving loot hungry players the urge to explore the street and depths of Ubersreik. 

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Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns seeks to redefine MMO endgame progression photo
Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns seeks to redefine MMO endgame progression
by Chris Carter

Guild Wars 2 is an ambitious project. While ArenaNet's initial offering of Guild Wars was more of a social dungeon crawler than an MMO (the company called it a CORPG, or competitive online role-playing game), the sequel was a bonafide massive experience.

The kicker? ArenaNet was still able to cut out the subscription fee, effectively making Guild Wars 2 buy-to-play and allowing players to return at any time.

Here we are over two years later with the Heart of Thorns expansion on the horizon, and the developer continues to find ways to innovate.

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The Flock is an intense, scary game of flashlight tag photo
The Flock is an intense, scary game of flashlight tag
by Alessandro Fillari

With so many horror titles out, it's difficult to keep things interesting for players. While some focus on throwing countless monsters at you, others seek to make players feel nearly powerless against a limited number of foes. But what about a title that seeks to create a blend of the two? The Flock is a unique title that mixes multiplayer action with the sense of dread felt in horror games.

At the Indie Megabooth at GDC 2015, developer Vogelsap showed just how intense flashlight tag can feel in an unnerving and darkly atmospheric setting.

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Megaton Rainfall is superhero action on an epic scale photo
Megaton Rainfall is superhero action on an epic scale
by Alessandro Fillari

Last month, we got a tease from an upcoming indie action title that will put players in the role of a superhero during an alien invasion. The trailer certainly inspired a lot of interest, as it was more somber and earnest, not loud and over the top like other superhero games we've seen.

Watching the footage, I got the impression Megaton Rainfall was a mix between Superman and Earth Defense Force, which sounds like it would make for an exciting title. Thankfully, we didn't have to wait too long to play, as the sole developer Alfonso Del Cerro was excited to get the game in player's hands at GDC 2015's Indie Megabooth.

Dubbed a "first-person superhero game" by its creator, Megaton Rainfall feels like a unique blend of genres.

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Mushroom 11 is a very different game than we saw in 2014 photo
Mushroom 11 is a very different game than we saw in 2014
by Brett Makedonski

We haven’t gotten a look at Untame’s Mushroom 11 since we gave it a Best of PAX East award in 2014. It captured our hearts at the Boston show, with its approach to kinetic energy proving absolutely entrancing. Seeing it at GDC 2015, Mushroom 11 isn’t the same game we played 11 months ago. It’s come a long way.

The PAX demo put a lot of emphasis on forcing your way from the right to the left as quickly as possible. Environment served as the primary obstacle, walls and whatnot requiring creative erasing of the omnipresent green blob to hopefully get up and over. It was a skill-based affair, through and through.

Now, Mushroom 11 wants you to think. Each chapter is littered with puzzles that put a halt to the endless scurry leftward. For instance, we saw a bit that necessitated using the blob to form a ramp that would launch a rolling boulder. Another section needed a bridge that would cover five sensors at the same time.

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Y2K is a surrealist fantasy told through the lens of a Murakami-loving hipster photo
Y2K is a surrealist fantasy told through the lens of a Murakami-loving hipster
by Brittany Vincent

Y2K began with protagonist Alex Eggleston returning to his his hometown from college. I watched him gaze out of bus windows until the scene shifted to him sharing a seat with a man in a panda costume.

This was jarring enough to give Alex reason to look completely shaken and offended, and as the jaunty soundtrack suggested, should have felt super quirky and weird. It didn't.

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We've got to go to Mars in Offworld Trading Company photo
We've got to go to Mars in Offworld Trading Company
by Jason Faulkner

In a future where corporate greed has depleted the Earth's resources, humanity has taken to space to acquire the goods needed for survival. The asteroid belt was supposed to be the great salvation, an almost limitless bastion of metal and minerals which could be used to prop our depleted world up. However, the same corporations that harvested the Earth dry laid claim to all the most bountiful asteroids, forming a syndicate that continued to subjugate even the most powerful of the world's governments. That's where you come in. In one last great experiment in capitalism, you'll be claiming stake in the New Martian Colonies, the last place within humanity's reach that hasn't been claimed by the hand of the syndicates.

Offworld Trading Company is being produced by Stardock, developed by Mohawk Games, and headed by Soren Johnson, Civilization IV's lead designer. It's a real-time strategy where there are no armies to move, units to build, or cities to conquer. Instead your fight is purely financial; sell high, buy low, and bankrupt the competition. It's still in Steam Early Access, but the main gameplay modes are already all there. There's a dynamic campaign in which you'll play through a series of scenarios to make your way to the top of the Martian economy. They've also integrated a fairly intuitive set of tutorials that help get you into the game quickly, as well as take you through the advanced mechanics if you need the extra help. Multiplayer is also fully integrated, although when I checked there weren't a ton of people playing the game yet.

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The first three rounds of Sid Meier's Starships are not enough photo
The first three rounds of Sid Meier's Starships are not enough
by Darren Nakamura

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth released to mixed reactions. I loved how it took the took the classic gameplay to alien worlds, and I especially appreciated its underlying narrative about the future of the human race. Other long-time fans of the series saw it as derivative of Civ V, with too little added and too much stripped out.

Like it or not, one thing that Beyond Earth has done is to lay the foundation for Sid Meier's Starships. It continues the story of the human settlements on an alien planet, far enough into the future that they are able to travel between stars in less time than the initial exodus from Earth took. The result: a series of skirmishes for control of a very tiny galaxy. Sure, why not?

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Saving the newly erected Ass from poop water in Cities: Skylines photo
Saving the newly erected Ass from poop water in Cities: Skylines
by Steven Hansen

Paradox is sticking with, "let’s talk about our product on its own merits" tact with its upcoming city-builder from developer Colossal Order, but I am under no such nice-marketing guide (nor do I know tact, as this post will confirm).

Cities: Skylines is looking to be what busted ol' SimCity should’ve been.

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In the world of Sorcerer King everything is terrible photo
In the world of Sorcerer King everything is terrible
by Jason Faulkner

This turn-based fantasy/strategy with city-building elements is super enjoyable. Even in Steam Early Access, it's got a surprising amount of polish, more so than several AAA games I can think of. I have encountered no gamebreaking bugs, and the main problems right now seem to be stat balance and unimplemented art.

If you enjoyed the RPG elements of Heroes of Might and Magic and the city-building of Civilization, there's a lot to like in this game's eclectic blend of gameplay. However, if turn-based gameplay isn't really your thing, Steam's $39.99 price tag may be a bit too steep. 

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