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Astroneer photo

Reshape planets with a friend in Astroneer

I'm so into this
Oct 07
// Jordan Devore
It's morning still. I feel way too groggy to let out an audible "whoa!" while watching a trailer for a video game, but Astroneer managed to elicit one anyway. Two, actually. It was the player-controlled terrain deformation th...

Review: Armikrog

Oct 06 // Caitlin Cooke
Armikrog (PC)Developer: Pencil Test StudiosPublisher: Versus EvilReleased: September 30, 2015MSRP: $29.99 The game opens with a spectacular bang, showcasing an animated sequence of our hero Tommynaut and his sidekick Beak Beak crash landing into Armikrog, a strange complex on planet Spiro 5. Within its walls there are puzzles to explore, secrets to unlock, and history to discover as Tommy and Beak Beak make their way through the desolate alien buildings full of various oddities to find a way home. From the onset Armikrog contains the charming, silly humor you’d expect from a TenNapel game, and of course throwback themes that reference The Neverhood. Gameplay rests on your ability to explore and figure things out on your own, moving from room to room collecting items that will come into play later. The age-old point-and-click rule of thumb “click on literally everything” especially rings true as each area contains various puzzles which you (hopefully) put together to make it through to the next building in the complex. There’s not much life to Armikrog save for a few adorable fuzzy blocks, raptor-like creatures on wheels, and alien octopi who speak in a strange tongue – but it’s up to you to figure out why. A statue of a wise-looking man appears in different rooms from time to time and talks to you in a whimsical manner imparting general advice, but that’s about the most interaction you’ll have besides chatting with Beak Beak. Just like being in The Neverhood, for the most part, you’re on your own. At any given time you can switch between controlling Tommy and Beak Beak with a simple click. Beak Beak’s abilities allow him to fit into small doors and occasionally fly around which prove useful when finding various items, however that’s generally the extent of the dual-character system. Tommy doesn’t really have any special abilities going for him (besides being the protagonist, if that counts). It’s fairly obvious when you need to use Tommy vs. Beak Beak, like when a button needs to be pressed or stood on, but the tricky part is understanding the order of when these things need to happen as contextual clues are virtually non-existent. The gameplay mechanics are quite simple since there’s not much to the action besides clicking on things and moving from room to room, however it’s the complication of the controls which may throw players off. Old-school game logic is very much prevalent – I often took an extremely long time to figure something out only to realize I wasn’t in the exact spot for it to trigger. There were also moments when the opposite was true, and actions were far too fluid – like a traveling cart that can send you flying in various directions if you’re not careful. Puzzles range from straightforward to insanely obtuse, and there were a few interesting ones in between that hit the sweet spot. I particularly enjoyed a music-based puzzle that popped up from time to time which had me placing little adorable nursery toys in a certain order. For the most part, puzzles rely on your ability to keep track of certain themes and recall various symbols and patterns throughout your journey. Unless you want to rely on GameFAQs, keeping a notebook and pen handy are pretty much key. Armikrog didn’t hold my hand and indicate what I’d done right or wrong, so blindly guessing and forging through by clicking around was a common strategy. I found myself backtracking through rooms multiple times to see if I had missed anything, but more often than not I just had a general misunderstanding or difficulty navigating puzzles. Some puzzles have a distinct or unclear order to them that won't register if done incorrectly. I also had trouble with certain color-specific puzzles – some feature yellow and orange, or blue and purple pieces that I found to be nearly indistinguishable from each other. Those who have a hard time with colors may have difficulty getting through these puzzles as well. The lack of an inventory, although a callback to The Neverhood, was still something sorely needed. After picking up an item, Tommy puts it into his stomach, and it’s never to be seen again save for when you click on the correct place on the screen. I would often forget which items were on hand, making it hard to connect the dots when the time came. There were also a few outdated choices in terms of the interface – the manual save/load function is ancient, the cursor is plain without indicating what can be interacted with and how, to name a few. I believe Armikrog aimed to be specifically old school in this sense, but it was a tad frustrating. Whether these choices were intentionally nostalgic or not, it got in the way of actual gameplay. Armikrog could use a bit more tightening in general. Subtitles were inaccurate to the point that it was fun for me just to turn them on and see what dialogue was meant to be in the game originally. However, the biggest offender was the bugginess around puzzles. At some points, they wouldn’t trigger correctly – for example after feeding a bug to Beak Beak (which is meant to trigger his flying abilities), he just sat there staring at me instead. There was also one point when he became stuck in his flying state, unable to move or trigger anything. Saving often is necessary to prevent situations like this. On the brighter side, the environments are stunning and truly make the game come to life in a way that was hard to achieve back in The Neverhood days. Graphics are crisp and vibrant, animations are smooth, and the environment is full of quirky textures like fuzz and moss that make it pop. The clay is of course the hallmark style of the game, and sometimes I found myself getting lost looking thinking how long it took someone to mold that particular scene. Music by Terry Scott Taylor was wonderfully quirky, but I wish there were more of it throughout. It was especially noticeable when working on a puzzle for a long time, as a single song would play and stop for a long period of time, then pick back up again later at a random interval. Similarly, despite the voice acting being top notch, I also noticed that sound clips would fade in and out when Tommy or Beak Beak were meant to speak – subtitles would appear but nothing would come out of their mouths. Armikrog’s story is simple and charming, even though the pacing is a tad rushed for my tastes. Besides the opening sequence, there’s not much to the plot until the very end. I was hoping for more substance, or even more silly vignettes to keep me company – but perhaps I’m being selfish considering how long it takes to animate one of those sequences. Overall, I appreciated the atmosphere and especially one of the very last puzzles, which I felt was one of the more creative things I’d ever experienced in a game. Armikrog does not surpass The Neverhood, but just like a successor to any celebrated piece of media, that would have been an impossible task. However, it does contain a unique charm in its own right which fans of The Neverhood or other old-school point-and-click adventures will especially appreciate. Those followers will likely forgive its faults for a taste of nostalgia, but others new to this realm may find it too outdated and unpolished.
Armikrog review photo
Claymation heaven
I still have my original copy of The Neverhood, bestowed upon me when my family bought our first Gateway computer in the mid-'90s. I was in complete awe over the challengingly silly puzzles, phenomenal claymation, and the ecl...

Sci-fi adventure photo
Sci-fi adventure

Pollen is a sci-fi thriller without jump scares

VR optional but recommended
Oct 05
// Jordan Devore
Another game for the "best played in virtual reality" list. Pollen, as you might recall from that time Brett ran a story about bees, is a sci-fi exploration game set on the largest moon of Saturn. You're on a research station, pulling and prodding things to solve puzzles, take in the environmental storytelling, and find out "what hides under Titan's surface."
Murder photo

Tokyo cyberpunk adventure Murder is releasing this month

Ghost in the Pixel Art
Oct 05
// Joe Parlock
Peter Moorhead, creator of Stranded, has announced his newest project: Murder, a sci-fi point-and-click inspired by the likes of Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Gone Home. Set in a cyberpunk Tokyo, the game aims to explore &l...

Monster Hunter 4 photo
Monster Hunter 4

Holy hell, Monster Hunter 4 is still getting free DLC

It ends next month though
Oct 02
// Chris Carter
Monster Hunter 4 launched all the way back in February in the US, and it's steadily been getting a ton of free DLC every month, ranging from missions to weapons, to sets of gear. It's pretty damn awesome, and not a typi...
Just Cause 3 photo
Just Cause 3

Check out Just Cause 3's 400 square mile map

Will you explore it all?
Oct 02
// Vikki Blake
The latest Just Cause 3 developer diary reveals the game's immense, 400 square mile map. The video details the game's expansive territory of the Mediterranean island of Medici and offers sneeky peeks across the lan...
Land Sliders photo
Land Sliders

Land Sliders is a pretty decent stopgap game between Crossy Road sessions

Casual fun
Sep 28
// Chris Carter
I could probably play stressful games all day long without quitting. Sure, it may get frustrating from time to time, but playing these types of experiences is in my blood. But that doesn't mean that I can't enjoy everything, ...
Adr1ft photo

Adr1ft will be an Oculus Rift launch game

Delayed to Q1 2016
Sep 24
// Jordan Devore
Stranded in space, alone, and low on oxygen. That's the setup for Adr1ft, a nerve-wracking exploration game in development at Three One Zero. It's now releasing in Q1 2016 for PC. As revealed alongside today's Oculus Rift dev...

Assassin's Creed producer talks returning to the series' roots

Sep 24 // Alessandro Fillari
I've had an affinity for the AC series all the way back to the original. I remember getting hyped for an action-adventure title set during the Crusades, and then again for its follow-up in the Italian Renaissance period -- two settings that don't get much play from the medium. But ever since its move to the annual release schedule, I sometimes find it hard to get excited about new entries when they can come off as more of the same. While some of these games are off the charts when it comes to fun and offering an interesting setting to explore, Assassin's Creed has missed the mark a few times. Obviously, this presented Ubisoft with a challenge for how to tackle the upcoming jaunt through Victorian-era London. As one of the most-requested settings from fans, the developers felt extra pressure to get it right while making sure not to repeat the mistakes of past titles. As the ninth mainline Assassin's Creed title (yes, already), it's definitely a challenge to keep things interesting, because you can only play as an Assassin so many times without any major shake-ups before things get stale. Senior producer Jeff Skalski spoke at length about their vision for Syndicate, and how they hope the return to basics will reinvigorate the brand. "That's been a challenge for any game that's been a franchise," he said while discussing development. "Whether you're working on the second one or fifth one, but for us, we've been working on this game for two and a half years, so there's a lot of things we know about what Assassin's Creed has done in the past. We have a sense of maybe where it's going, but no one has a crystal ball. So we really evaluate what is important, where do we want to innovate, where do we want to focus, and then we kind of start building that game with that kind of mindset." The elephant in the room when talking about this series is the troubled launch of last year's Unity. While a solid entry in the series featuring  some gorgeous visuals and a stellar recreation of 18th-century France, this unfortunately, and quite understandably, was lost on many gamers who had to wade through technical issues and oddities that put a serious damper on the whole experience. While there are many reasons for how that turned out, the developers at Ubisoft Quebec wanted to ensure they nailed their interpretation and execution of the setting right at launch. "We took a real kind of fine-tooth comb and we looked at the combat, stealth, what do we change that didn't work so well, and we really evaluate it all," stated Skalski. "We've all been fans of the game, we're gamers first before we're actually developers, so these are things that for us is an opportunity. We have one shot of building an Assassin's Creed game in Victorian-era London, and it's almost a dream come true for a lot of us. And we wanted to knock it out of the park." Even though multiplayer and other online components have been present for the majority of the AC titles, this marks the first time since 2009 that a main entry in the series will be strictly single-player. With 2010's Brotherhood introducing multiplayer, along with the annualized release schedule, it set the standard for  titles going forward. So it was especially surprisingly to see that Ubisoft decided to brings things back with its focus on a pure single-player narrative. The studio made the decision early on to create a stronger narrative with denser content to back it up. "When we were conceptualizing the game and figuring out what did we want to build, but more importantly what did we not want to build -- because the more we built in the game, it means we'd have to stretch our resources thin -- we really wanted to go all in on the single-player experience. That's not to say we don't believe in multiplayer, and I think there's a place for that, but for this round we wanted to focus on the single-player. But yeah, we looked at the previous AC titles, and saw the various pillars they were built on, and thought 'How can we improve this?' [...] So it was a very conscious decision, and it was one we made very early on." For me, one of the highlights of playing Syndicate, and I'm sure many will share this sentiment, was the setting. The Victorian era was an evocative period with the old world slowly shifting into the modern era before everyone's eyes. And with the Industrial Revolution in full swing, it created many challenges for those living in the heart of the Western Empire. The devs saw this as not only an interesting setting that stands out among the predecessors, but also allowed them to open the gameplay into new areas and introduce abilities and gadgets not possible from the time period. "There's so much for us to play with in the Victorian time," explained the producer. "As you stated, it was the turning point in terms of the modern society that we live in today, so we felt that was bringing something fresh and something very new, and allowed us to kind of break the rules in places that would be exciting for players. Even today, it's a city that's a melting pot of society, so we were not short on ideas. We had to pick our top-top favorites and realize those as best as we could and work with our writers to make sure it was accurate and authentic." Despite the gloomy atmosphere and depressing subject matter, Syndicate manages to display a lot humor from the characters. In retrospect, many of the AC titles portrayed their stories earnestly with some slight scenes for humor to break up the tension.  Syndicate's dual protagonists, who are brother and sister, share a kind of sibling rivalry and make constant jokes at their expense. I'd imagine with the bleak atmosphere, they had to offer some levity. Which thankfully works quite well. "Humor was very important to us. As we were writing the game, and looking over the scripts, we were laughing, and that was a good sign for us. During mo-cap, I would laugh at lines and still find myself laughing when they came up in the game, so I hope players will enjoy the narrative, the characters -- every one of them is super special -- and the relationships they form with Jacob and Evie, and how they experience London for the first time."  Since the reveal earlier this year, the creators of Syndicate (then titled Victory), had a bit of an uphill battle to get through to ensure they were all in when it comes to creating the next big entry for the series. Fortunately, my several hours with the game got my interest piqued for what's to come. What I enjoyed most about the era is that it felt as though it was stuck between two different periods -- one from the past, the other towards the future. With many of the characters clinging onto the old ways while living in a civilization that has introduced vehicle traffic and gas and electrical infrastructure, Assassin's Creed Syndicate's interpretation of Victorian-era London should be one of the more exciting, visually striking locales the series has seen in a long time. For more info about Syndicate, check out my hands-on impressions. 
Interview photo
In a West End town, a dead end world
As the tenth anniversary for the Assassin's Creed franchise draws closer, it's hard to imagine the series has been around for so long. I was two years out of high school when Altair and Desmond first made their appearance on ...

Assassin's Creed Syndicate's London is an exciting and evocative setting

Sep 24 // Alessandro Fillari
Assassin's Creed Syndicate (PC, PS4 [previewed], Xbox One)Developer: Ubisoft QuebecPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: October 23, 2015 (PS4, Xbox One) / Q4 2015 (PC) Set nearly eighty years after the events of Assassin's Creed Unity, Syndicate thrusts players into the gritty and bustling city of London during the Industrial Revolution. With the Assassin Order struggling to rebuild, sibling assassins Jacob and Evie Fyre come to Victorian-era London during a relatively modest mission and find it under heavy Templar control. Witnessing the extent of the corruption in the heart of the Western Empire spearheaded by powerful industrialist and Templar operative Crawford Starrick, the siblings disregard the demands from their Order to abandon the city and take matters into their own hands to dismantle the Templar power structure. Using their Assassin abilities and gadgets, along with their keen eyes for scouting potential alliances with the locals, the Fryes will have to unite the criminal underworld of London in order to overthrow a common enemy, who may be in possession of another Piece of Eden. As one of the most-requested settings for an AC title, the developers at Ubisoft were keen on bringing the series to the Victorian era. London during 1868 was a period of equally great innovation and social unrest. The Industrial Revolution gave way to mass production and advanced technologies, but it came at the cost of humane working conditions, child labor, and poor quality of life for the working class. With factories peppering the city of London and smoke blotting out the sky, urban living was not what it was cracked up to be -- there was a lot of misery for those on the bottom of the social structure. This makes for an evocative setting for Assassin's Creed, and adds a greater connection with the city. While it would sound a bit cheesy to say that the city is a character itself, it does feel that way. I was impressed with not only how accurate the city looked, but also how much life exists within the game. There are several districts to travel to including Southwark, Westminster, Lambeth, Whitechapel, and the City of London (metropolitan area). Travel can be done by train, fast travel via landmarks, or even using carriages, marking the first time Assassin's Creed has an actual traffic and vehicle system to work with while in town. As the first AC title featuring dual protagonists in the same era, Syndicate does a lot to switch things up for players. Both characters serve as the focus for the general narrative. At any time in the menu, you'll be able to switch between the two while out in the open world, and each of them have unique content to tackle. Essentially two sides of the same coin, the Frye twins have varying approaches and mindsets when taking on obstacles but still seek the same result. With Jacob being the more hard-headed, brutish assassin who seems to relish his time getting into brawls and sharing a pint with commoners in the pubs, many of his ventures tend to have a more over-the-top flair to them. Evie, on the other hand, is clearly the more rational and logical twin, focusing on hatching clever plots to accomplish her long-term goals. In the end, a sledgehammer is sometimes more effective than a scalpel, and vice-versa -- so the twins will have to rely on each other to successfully overthrow the Templars. I rather enjoyed the dynamic between the Fryes. It's a change of pace for the series, and it's refreshing to have a female assassin put in the spotlight. Jacob's brash and devil-may-care attitude works well with Evie's stoic and uncompromising demeanor, which often times conflicts with her brother's spontaneous behavior. Essentially, it's a buddy-assassin plot, and it works quite well. These characters are invested, but still manage to find time to make jokes at the expense of their sibling. Given how expansive London is -- more than three times the size of Paris from Assassin's Creed Unity -- the twins will have a lot of ground to cover in the open world. Eventually, they'll gain access to a personal train which serves as a mobile command center for their operation. As the train makes its rounds, they'll be able plan their next move and ride the railway to missions. During their exploits in London, the Fryes will come across many important figures who have their own stake in the city, and they'll come to rely on the two assassins for assistance. From Alexander Graham Bell -- who builds a rope-launcher that allows the twins to scale rooftops and make zip-lines -- to Charles Dawrin, Charles Dickens, and even the infamous Jack the Ripper; the Assassins will come across many allies and foes on the streets, and they've all got their own ambitions in mind. But the twins won't be able to succeed on their own. With the many gangs and factions around London made up of citizens frustrated with feeling powerless, Jacob and Evie will have to win them over in order loosen the tight grip the Templars have over the city. As you retake areas of London from the Templars and gangs, key leaders will make themselves available and offer assistance. In Sequence 3 of the campaign, Evie forms an alliance with Clara O'Dea, the leader of a gang of children who've been used by the corrupt factory supervisors and seek their own way of life away from controlling adults. Each key figure within the different districts of London has a relationship with the Fryes, and doing missions and side-quests for them will strengthen their bond and unlock new gear and valuables. Over time, cash made by your network of gangs will be kicked back to the Fryes. It's a clever way to work key characters into the core progression. In previous titles, most of the advancement was done in menus and general side-missions, so incorporating character growth along with the related content makes the progression feel as though you're having a deeper impact. As always, the assassins will have several areas of the game world to conquer, and completing side-objectives and story missions are the best way to do so. In Syndicate, however, it feels as though there's a much greater level of variety for the side-missions. With the lack of multiplayer and co-op modes, this gave the developers resources to flesh out the world with side-events and points of interests to explore. For instance, instead of going around and tailing contacts, Jacob can compete in local fight clubs to strengthen bonds with allies. As you accomplish missions and side-quests, you'll gain experience to level up and acquire skill points to spend in the universal skill tree. Skills range from buffing melee attacks, eagle vision effective, upgrades to the arsenal, lockpicking, store discounts, and boosts to the economy. When you acquire more resources and control more of London, the assassins can spend their cash on new items, armor, and weapons. Given the era, the Fryes will have to be far more practical in their approach to carrying out their missions and assassinations. With great swords, hammers, and crossbows now considered antiqued in mid-1800s London, and many of which would get people arrested for possession, concealed weapons were a major part of self-defense in urban life. Between the standard cane sword (a short sword hidden in the shaft of a cane), daggers, brass knuckles, pistols and revolvers, bombs, poison, and the tried-and-true hidden blade, the concealed weapons add personality to Syndicate and feature an added level of customization, which also speaks to the increasingly modernized era. As covered in my last article, the combat system has been overhauled. It's now far more active. While Unity experimented with some new ideas, Syndicate advances things quite a bit. Given how easily players could abuse certain skills and rewards during combat, the developers felt it was time to try and switch things up. Here, battles prompt players to go more on the offensive, as enemies now only attack when they seen an opening and guard more frequently. Players will have to use stuns and guard-breaks to open up these defenses, all the while using parries and their side-arms (knives, revolvers, bombs) to manage multiple foes. The combat felt much more challenging this time around, and I was surprised at how tense things got. Heavier enemies in particular take a lot longer to bring down. Unfortunately, I was concerned with the overall technical performance of the game. There were several instances of texture and environmental objects fading in, along with NPC characters popping into view, and some slight frame rate dips throughout my preview session. While this title is in a much better state than Unity was last year at launch, I do hope that the devs can iron out the issues. Given how rich the setting is -- they nailed the atmosphere and tone of the era -- it would be a shame if these technical hiccups persist in the final release. Graphical worries notwithstanding, I was largely pleased with Assassin's Creed Syndicate. This is very much a dream setting for fans, myself included, and to see it all realized so vividly was great. From the bustling streets filled with carriages, to the back alleys full of criminals and roughnecks looking for their next target, the atmosphere in Victorian-era London is the strongest an AC game has had in a long time. I'm looking forward to my trip back to the foggy city, but I do hope they'll fix the kinks. This is one era that deserves the best the developers have got.
Preview photo
City of London, City of London
With October nearly here, it's about that time for Ubisoft to release another entry in its annual time-traveling trek through history. While Assassin's Creed has had highs and lows, no one can deny it's one of the few series ...

Escapists photo

Retro Walking Dead adventure game is arriving this month on PC and Xbox One

Sep 24
// Chris Carter
Next week, you'll be able to play the mashup between The Escapists, a pretty cool little adventure game, and The Walking Dead. On September 30, it will hit the PC and Xbox One platforms, and will see developer Team17 collabor...

Review: Aerannis

Sep 22 // Jed Whitaker
Aerannis (PC)Developer: ektomarch Publisher: ektomarch Released: September 15, 2015MSRP: $9.99Rig: Intel Core i7-3930K @ 3.2 GHz, 32GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 64-bit, Intel 750 SSD After receiving an email from one of the developers stating you play as a transgender character, I couldn't help but give Aerannis a chance. I was rather surprised how well the Kickstarted game was able to mesh the adventure genre with a stealthy metroidvania. Traversing different parts of the cyberpunk world to find and complete missions -- mostly consisting of either stealthy sneaking, hits, or investigating -- was pretty satisfying and never felt dull.  The formula is overall pretty simple: Talk to your robot buddy / boss / NPC and receive a mission with directions, follow the directions till you find an arrow in front of described building, do the mission, rinse and repeat. The world isn't exactly huge, but save stations allow you to fast travel between them, thankfully cutting down on dull backtracking that many games in the same genre suffer from.  Missions are all relatively similar even if the goal at the end can be a bit different: Going from point A to point B while hiding or blasting enemies until you reach the goal. But thankfully new mechanics, weapons, and enemies are introduced along the way to keep things interesting, such as the abilities to hang from ledges, jump off walls, and drop varying types of bombs. In a few levels you'll also be tasked with taking down giant boss monsters, which are always satisfying and unique.  [embed]311778:60469:0[/embed] As someone who typically hates stealth sections in games, I actually found the stealth missions fairly enjoyable as they are a bit more action-oriented than games like Hitman. I found myself never having to wait more than a few seconds for an enemy to mill about allowing me to either sneak by or grab them from behind with the decision of instantly killing them or taking them hostage, with any option being equally satisfying.  Politics: this game has them and we have to talk about them. Seeing as you play as a transgender female in a world where men don't exist because... well... the game doesn't really ever explain this, nor does it explain how trans females exists with no males. Are babies born male and forced to be female? How are babies born? I feel like the developers had some kind of agenda with the game's story but never truly make it 100% clear one way or another, which is probably intentional. I imagine that players of every belief will be able to feel like Aerannis story falls into what they think if they wanted.  For instance, one section has you enter a part of the city known as TERF Turf, where radical feminists are in control and rally against "snowflakes" as they call them, a shortened version of the pejorative "special snowflakes" which is often used to slur transgender people. TERF is an acronym for "Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists" by the way, so it makes sense that the sign outside their part of town says "you must be this cis to enter" with a picture of a tampon. The game treats TERFs as the main villains even going as far as referring to them as Nazis, though without directly saying the word. So many people will take this as meaning "excluding trans people is bad" while others will surely interrupt it as "all feminists are bad," a distinction that is never directly made. My biggest gripe with the game is it never really says anything. Sure it talks about feminism, transgender people, and diversity, but what is the message it is trying to convey? In the end the whole thing kind of feels like the ramblings of a conspiracy theorist who finds the most radical outlier of a group and makes an example of them for what a said group must be like, when that isn't necessarily true. I have a hunch the developers' intentions was to try to hide a wolf in sheep's clothing or apply gotcha tactics by having players play as a transgender character while preaching to them about the dangers of feminism -- insert laughter here -- and it really just never works, mostly because the writing is less than great and the message isn't clear. For a game having two endings, neither really had much to say or made sense to the context of the rest of the game. One ending has the main character reveal a secret twist they had been keeping the entire game, which would be fine if their internal dialogue wasn't presented at times, which made the ending feel jarring and disconnected from the rest of the experience. The other ending just goes completely off the rails that had me audibly exclaim "What the fuck!?" Maybe that is part of the beauty of Aerannis -- aside from its crisp pixel art, matching soundtrack and solid gameplay -- is that it is like staring into the abyss of the mind of a conspiracy theorist, or any random internet hive-mind; it might not make much sense, it might be completely off kilter with the real world, and it might be the complete opposite of what I believe, but it was still good for a laugh. Aerannis is a beautiful, diverse metroidvania with solid mechanics mixed in with some tin-foil hat madness, and regardless of your political views you should give it a shot; you might just enjoy it, I know I did. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Aerannis photo
Transgender Feminist Illuminati Blues
In a cyberpunk future where men cease to exist, a trans woman and for-hire assassin is fighting the feminist Illuminati that runs the government. Along the way she encounters shape shifting monsters that often are shaped like...

Dankest Dropsy Beats photo
Dankest Dropsy Beats

Get a damp hug from a dank clown in Dropsy's launch trailer

Sing-a-long, even if the notes are wrong
Sep 10
// Jed Whitaker
The surreal point-and-click adventure game Dropsy is available now on PCs everywhere and to celebrate the occasion Devolver has released this hot new sing-a-long trailer that provides some insight into his damp world. Appare...

Contest: Renowned Explorers

Sep 10 // Mike Martin
Win one of 10 copies!
The fine folks at Abbey Games were awesome enough to bestow 10 copies of Renowned Explorers: International Society upon us, so that I may give them to you fine folks! That's not all though, they are also offering a one of a k...

La-Mulana 2 will probably break me

Sep 05 // Zack Furniss
Since the interface and overall graphical style of La-Mulana 2 looks almost identical to the original, it's appreciated that the new character is distinctive enough that you'll know which game you're playing. Instead of inhabiting the Indiana Jones-alike Lemeza Kosugi, you'll be playing his (maybe) daughter Lumisa. Skill-wise, the only major change I noticed is Lumisa seems to have slightly more air control; instead of being locked into a forward jump, you can ease off a bit. Though I eventually acclimated to the strict leaping rules in the first game, I immediately felt more comfortable exploring the ruins in this demo. That comfort was obliterated in approximately one minute. While a jovial PR rep was telling me that puzzles aren't necessarily easier, so much as they have better signposting, I stumbled through trap after trap and wandered up to a boss. I was supposed to whack him in the face, but he kept charging through and knocking me down, killing me in a few quick blows. This happened about four times, until I gave up and went in a different direction. Another change is that there's a more noticeable sense of depth (at least in the stage that I played). La-Mulana 2 is built in 3D in the Unity engine, as seen above. Though this first area didn't play with this too much, I imagine the late-game ruins will use this newfound depth to their advantage. I'll be damned if clues to certain puzzles won't be hidden in the background. With such limited time and access to the demo, it's hard to get a sense of whether the signposting has actually been improved. The first game played a sound effect when you had advanced a step in a puzzle, but there was often no clear way to figure out what exactly had changed. The platforming and bosses still feel as tough as ever, but a series like La-Mulana really demands at least a few hours to see just how inextricable the labyrinthine ruins will end up being.  The PR rep ended our meeting by saying that when they polled players about difficulty, Japanese players overwhelmingly wanted the sequel to be easier and the Western players wanted it to be harder. They're trying to strike a middle ground here with tricky riddles that still require a sharp eye, and more forgiving platforming. We'll see how that turns out when it launches early next year.
La-Mulana 2 photo
And I look forward to it
I only recently finished La-Mulana, Nigoro's "archaeological ruin exploration action game." It tried its damnedest to make me quit at every turn; with its obtuse puzzles and tricky platforming, I don't feel it's hyperbole to ...

Review: Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder

Sep 04 // Jed Whitaker
Evoland 2: A Slight Case of Spacetime Continuum Disorder (PC)Developer: Shiro GamesPublisher: Shiro GamesReleased: August 25, 2015MSRP: $19.99Rig: Intel Core i7-3930K @ 3.2 GHz, 32GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 64-bit, Intel 750 SSD Serving as a spiritual sequel, Evoland 2 doesn't require knowledge of the original game, which is a good thing for me as I've never played it. Judging by our review of the original, it sounded like a fairly short and linear experience, which the sequel is anything but -- for better and for worse. The story took around 16 hours to complete and even then there were a few optional collectibles that I didn't bother getting to 100% the game. They felt like filler. A majority of my time was spent in conversations with characters that often seemed to drag on as they talked about nothing in particular or kept a joke going for far too long. Between scenes, there are often transitions that almost feel tailor made to extend the playtime. For example, when climbing onto a boat, instead of just showing the main character get onto the boat, your party splits up and walks on one at a time.  The story of Evoland 2 is pretty par for the course as far as RPGs go: hero of time meets party members with their own conflicts, and travels through time collecting parts of an item to stop a terrible event from happening. You won't find anything too impressive, but there are at least a couple of twists to add a bit of flavor to a story we all know.  [embed]309159:60250:0[/embed] Once the dialogue ends is where the real fun begins. A majority of the game plays much like top-down Zelda games from the past meaning you'll be hacking and slashing enemies and solving puzzles in dungeons. Other times, you'll be playing levels based on many genres of old with tongue-in-cheek references to the games that popularized them including Cave shooters, Double Dragon, Puzzle Quest, and even Dance Dance Revolution. These levels work in your party's abilities seamlessly, which is impressive since there are so many different genres.  While these levels are parodies or homage to the games of old, I couldn't help but feel I'd rather be playing most of those games than the levels in Evoland 2. The beat-'em-up level's mechanics were pretty generic, and the tactical RPG level was tedious, while the Metroidvania and shooter levels were decent, especially the final level that combines the two in an experience unlike any other I've played. You'll be zipping around in the skies with the option of dropping to the ground when needed; the level was so great I couldn't help but wonder what an entire game in that style would be like. An optional collectible card game side quest that has you playing what feels like baby's first Hearthstone is entertaining, but as I'm a Hearthstone addict I wasn't tempted to finish it when I could just play the real thing instead. Throughout the entire experience, you'll be swapping between in-game times which have their own graphical styles that match up with Game Boy, 8-bit, 16-bit, and more modern-day 3D graphics. There isn't a lot of guidance or hand holding, and you're free to come and go as you please with the ability to do dungeons in any order starting around the middle of the story. Graphically, Evoland 2 nails the games and systems it is based on, from sleek pixel art to more modern 3D graphics. Unfortunately, my playthrough was not a bug-free experience for me, as I experienced stuttering, graphical glitches, getting stuck on the overworld map, and a red error that wouldn't leave the screen after the graphics failed to load. There have already been various updates fixing some of these issues, but leaving the game in the oven for a couple of more weeks probably would have been beneficial. That being said, a simple restart fixed all these issues making them minor but noticeable inconveniences.  Overall, Evoland 2 is a pretty good Zelda-style game with mediocre pieces and parts of other games mixed in; it doesn't reinvent the wheel but pays homage to the wheels that came before it. If you're thirst for an RPG and just can't decide what genre of RPG to play, or are just looking for your Zelda fix, this is the game for you. Otherwise you might just find yourself wishing you've played the games it is inspired by. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Evoland 2 photo
I'm every genre, it's all in me
Real-time RPG, turn-based RPG, tactical RPG, hack and slash, bullet hell, beat-'em-up, rhythm, side-scrolling shooter, fighter, puzzler, platformer, Metroidvania, and more: Evoland 2 takes basically every classic genre a...

Monkey Island photo
Monkey Island

Ron Gilbert really wants Disney to sell him the Monkey Island IP

Threepwood shall rise once more... maybe
Sep 04
// Joe Parlock
Monkey Island is a pretty major series in the history of adventure games. Famed for its humour, story, and setting, the series later received an absolutely gorgeous set of remakes. I know countless people who’ve been in...
Road Not Taken DLC photo
Road Not Taken DLC

Where is the Until Dawn pre-order DLC? In the middle of the story

This isn't how to do pre-order DLC
Aug 27
// Jed Whitaker
Over the past three nights I've watched my lovely boyfriend and our hunky Australian roommate stream Until Dawn and after finishing the game we decided to play the pre-order DLC chapter "The Road Not Taken" only we could...

Review: Corpse of Discovery

Aug 27 // Jed Whitaker
Corpse of Discovery (PC)Developer: Phosphor GamesPublisher: Phosphor Games Released: August 25, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: Intel Core i7-3930K @ 3.2 GHz, 32GB DDR3 RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 64-bit, Intel 750 SSD "Our feature presentation" is displayed on the screen the moment Corpse of Discovery is launched, followed by a live action video of a press conference with a representative from the "Corps of Discovery" -- a space exploration company -- explaining that communication with one of their astronauts had been lost. Cut to an astronaut groggily waking up in a space station to a recorded voice stating this is your final mission and to make your way to the main computer to be briefed. On the way to get briefed you'll come across various items to interact with including laptops playing silly videos, pictures, and a hologram with an audio message from your wife and kids. Upon reaching the main computer a hologram of the planet is displayed and your mission is read aloud by a recorded voice, letting you know you'll be placing markers on this unexplored planet. Just outside the main computer room is a space suit you'll have to slip on before stepping outside into a barren red planet. The atmosphere of this planet is exactly what one would expect as a lone astronaut on an unexplored planet; extreme emptiness, a lifeless wasteland, and your thoughts.  After you get over the initial awe of walking out of the spaceship onto the planet you'll notice the framerate often dips quite low when moving quickly, and there is a great deal of objects popping in thus breaking the immersion. I played the game on two different computers to see if it was just me or if the game was just optimized really poorly, to unsurprisingly find out my suspicions were confirmed. No matter what settings were adjusted, the results were the same: pop in and frame rate dips; It sure as hell didn't look silky smooth like the slow movement and quick cuts of the trailer lead me to believe it would be, nor was there a helmet around the edges of the screen like shown in both the trailer and screenshots.  [embed]307987:60150:0[/embed] Once you've accepted the dismal optimization, you'll find a nearby helper AI-- a floating orb-shaped robot with glowing blue eyes -- that gives you directions, tips, updates from the Corps HR department and seems to have an intelligent personality of all her own. She warns that standing in direct sunlight will cause radiation levels to increase and points to the first place that needs to be marked, so you set off in that direction. Along the way, between heavy breaths inside your suit, you'll hear the bot remind you that after this mission you will be retired, how appreciative your family will be for all your hard work, and that she hasn't been able to get out a distress call as your ship crash landed leaving you currently stranded. As you find the last marker the bot says her battery is about to die, her distress signal was never heard and that your family will be well compensated. After your bot passes into the battery-less afterlife, you'll be given one last point to go to while avoiding gigantic tornadoes surrounding the area. Taking floaty jumps across the map until arriving at the final point is horrifying, as you're given no hope of surviving and you're light years from home. Upon arriving at the last way point an alien flies onto screen and fills you with radiation causing you to black out, only to wake up back in the base for your final mission, again, only this time on a different planet.  This passing out, waking up back in the base cycle happens a handful of times before the credits roll. Each cycle has hints of passage of time and new messages from a family that misses you, all while being told this is your last mission yet being on a brand new planet. Each planet looks vastly different, with the second being full of lush vegetation and some living organisms, a stark contrast to the starting planet's emptiness, while others have floating rocks, lava, and deserts filled with caves and rocky peaks. There isn't a lot to do on any of them though, as every mission is "walk over there, press action, rinse, repeat" though eventually a jetpack is added to the mix. The catch is that it can only boost for so long before you'll have to wait a bit for its power to recharge, though you can reach the altitude you want and keep tapping it every couple seconds to nearly infinitely stay midair, allowing you to quickly glide between points of interest.  Other than the main objectives there are some other interesting objects to find -- though I use the term interesting loosely in this case as finding mirages of food you miss from Earth is anything but interesting -- that add a bit of information to the astronaut's backstory, giving glimpses at his family life and personal tastes. There are also a couple of kind of funny celebrity impersonators that can be found, one of which is Matthew McConaughey talking nonsense about wormholes like his character in Interstellar. The best extras to find though have to be satellites that play commercials, TED talks and a music video, all that are tailor made to reference what is going on in the game and taunting you with "You're going to die alone on this planet."  Later in the game the tone switches from mystery, to deep hypothetical questions about choice and religion before going off rails and becoming a satire of itself. Suddenly your AI robot friend is more self aware, swears and doesn't even provide you your assigned mission, before mocking you for doing the same thing over and over. Perhaps your character is going mad or is in Hell, the game doesn't really ever make it very clear.  I have a feeling the developers don't even know what to do with the story and kind of just gave up and decided to try to make it comical, which makes the last level feel less like an awesome sci-fi adventure game and more like a shitty mod a teenager would make of a game to impress their friends. Corpse of Discovery's intro sets a very serious and cinematic tone that is carried on through most of the first half of the game before derailing and turning into a parody of itself, ruining what could have been an otherwise beautiful experience apart from the horrible optimization. At around three hours, it's hard to recommend Corpse of Discovery to starved sci-fi fans, let alone the general public, and especially at full price. With some optimization patches it would be at least worth a play through for sci-fi fans, but as it stands I'd let this one get lost in space. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Corpse of Discovery Rev photo
One Man's Sky
I'm a huge fan of the recent resurgence of sci-fi blockbusters such as Gravity, Interstellar and the upcoming The Martian, and when I watched the trailer for Corpse of Discovery I couldn't help but see the influence...

Forest of the Sleep photo
Forest of the Sleep

Proteus developer announces Forest of the Sleep

A game based on Russian fairytales
Aug 27
// Joe Parlock
Proteus developer Ed Key has announced his latest project. Apparently making one pretty game with Proteus wasn’t enough, and so he’s back with Forest of the Sleep. Forest of the Sleep is a collaboration betwe...

Thirsty, hungry, and crappy in ARK: Survival Evolved

Aug 18 // Nic Rowen
There are tons of survival games to choose from these days, but I downloaded ARK: Survival Evolved almost entirely on the promise of weaponized dinosaurs. If I was going to go down this road, I would do it in style -- on the back of a giant, heavily armed lizard -- and indulge all of my Dino-Rider fantasies. The fact that ARK's character creator is busted and will let you roll up with a nightmarish mutant of disproportionate body parts and bizarre growths is just the icing on the cake. I never read any instructions or watched any tutorials; I went in completely blind. My survivor woke up on a sandy beach as God and Studio Wildcard intended – confused, nearly naked, and shivering. I don't know much about these games, but I do know that they all boil down to collecting resources and building things with them. I start picking up stones on the beach, slightly disappointed that I can't seem to pick up any of the glittering sea shells scattered around. My survivor almost immediately shits himself, somewhat spoiling the moment. But hey, bonus, I can pick up the turd! I can't collect sea shells, but I do start a catalog of dookie samples. I come across a flock of dodo birds on the beach. They're dumb as bricks and don't seem to react to my presence in any way. I punch them and punch them, but only succeed in rendering them unconscious. I savage the flock until I'm standing over a pile of comatose birds and have somehow learned how to write notes and sew pants in the process. This is caveman education at its finest. Soon my pockets are heavy with stones, the beach is awash with pulverized birds, and my survivor is complaining. In fact, complaining seems to be all he does. I never knew the raw nature of primitive man was so whiny. During the day he complains that he's too hot. At night, the big sulky baby is too cold. And he's hungry, and thirsty. I'm starting to worry that Child Services is going to come and take my caveman away. A series of icons depicting sweltering fires and frigid ice cubes, along with unending penalties to my stamina let me know what a terrible job I'm doing of keeping him alive. I stuff some narcoberries I've picked off the local plants down his gullet, hoping the natural sedatives will fill his belly and put him to sleep for the night letting him doze through the cold. But he just staggers around in a haze for a bit, stamina lower than ever. It's time to engage with the crafting system before I get arrested for criminal neglect. As a species we are tool users, after all. It's time to take advantage of that. Looking at what I have available to make, it seems like building a pickaxe would be a good start. I'd need stone (check), thatch (nope), and wood (na-da). Can't I just make it with narcoberries? I still have plenty of those. I waste a good 20 minutes wandering around a small forest looking for loose sticks to collect, thinking they'd be like the stones on the beach. I can't find any and the, "I can't get wood" jokes got old about 19 minutes ago. I punch a tree out of frustration. Gouts of blood spray from my hand and a piece of wood lands in my inventory. Oh, so it's like that, huh? I punch trees until my knuckles are bloody and broken and I've managed to pick enough splinters out of my hand to fashion a crude pickaxe. Then I get into the holy guts of these games – hitting shit to build more shit. I hit rocks with smaller rocks until they give me the other kind of rocks I'm looking for. Then I use those rocks to hit other rocks more efficiently. I make hatchets, spears, a shirt to cover my misshapen body. Caveman essentials. Is this really all there is to life? We've lost a generation of gamers to this? I suppose the closest comparison to ARK would be Rust, which also throws you into the wild with nothing and expects you to build up from stone-aged flint spears and hemp pants to assault rifles and flak jackets. But ARK has a different vibe. You're a caveman sure, but there is a pulsating metal jewel embedded in your arm. You have a number and, ominously, a projected survival expectation based on your performance. You're tagged and tracked like an animal, which begs the question of who exactly is doing the monitoring. At night, pillars of light and energy reach into the heavens. High-tech obelisks stand alone in the middle of miles and miles of untamed jungle and roaming packs of dinosaurs. Clearly something is going on here. If there is a concrete storyline, I haven't picked up the thread yet. I'm sure it exists out there in wikis and forum posts scattered around the net, but I don't want to seek it out that way. I want to know what my survivor knows and live in that reality. And right now, it's all just sci-fi mystery and terrible giant lizards that look like they could snap me up as a light snack without even thinking about it. It's terrifying and fascinating, and truth be told, I kind of like keeping it vague. My mind wanders while I play. Are we all futuristic criminals banished to an otherworldly penal colony? A kind of Space-Australia complete with raptors and megalodons? Are the inhabitants of the island subjects of some kind of twisted social experiment? Or is it somewhere in-between? Like the '60s British classic The Prisoner? Do I need to be careful of Rovers if I try and leave the island? The best moments I have in the early hours of ARK are moments of transgression. Moments that I'm not particularly proud of. Players are given unfettered freedom to do what they like in ARK, and somewhat predictably, most people like to be jerks -- myself included. I came across a player's unguarded camp once and looted everything that wasn't nailed down. I even stole the charcoal from his fire, blackening my hands and soul with the theft. I stumbled on an unconscious player, half hidden under a rocky outcrop. I knew I should just leave him alone, but I hovered over him, freshly made spear in hand. I mean, I should probably take a chance to test it out right? It's just good survival. He wasn't the last. Like the old lady from Mad Max, I killed everyone I ever met out there. Or at least I tried to. My belligerent, mutant caveman would shake his spear and charge at everyone, no matter how unclear the actual threat they posed or how hopelessly outmatched he was. Maybe it speaks to some deep-seated trust issues of mine, but I never saw the point in playing nice with the other neanderthals. Better to go down spitting and stabbing than take a chance. I know I should probably reach out, join a tribe, engage with others. Maybe find someone with skills I don't have and combine our efforts to mutual benefit. You know, like our ancestors did. I know we could work together to make this land livable, to build a life. But, it's a matter of motivations. I didn't come here to make the world a better place. I came here to strap machine guns on a T-Rex. I came to trample, shoot, and devour anything that stood in my way. I came to make the world a distinctly worse place. I die a lot. I die of malnutrition and deprivation. I die from giant mosquitoes and their toxic stings. I die from dinosaurs I don't even know the name of. Each time, I respawn in some new random location with nothing in my inventory, right back to the raw state of nature. But I keep the knowledge and skills I've accumulated and it's easier and easier to rebuild with every attempt. Well, except for that one time I respawned right next to a saber-toothed tiger and had to play hide-and-go-seek with it on a pile of rocks for a good ten minutes before it finally got on top of me. It's hard out there for a sci-fi caveman. I still haven't yoked and tamed a dinosaur. My dreams of loading up a T-Rex with cannons and missiles and riding it around like some prehistoric Metal Gear haven't come to fruition, and I don't think they will anytime soon. It just takes too long to level up, to learn the skills you need to tame a thunder lizard, or stitch an appropriately intimidating saddle to ride on (I'm thinking skulls, but I'm open to rows upon rows of claws and teeth). It's even more effort to make a pen to keep a three-story tall dinosaur in and gather enough food to prevent it from turning on you. Then of course there's the long, painfully slow journey towards making gunpowder. I'd have to mine for raw metal and build a furnace to stamp out just a simple blunderbuss, never mind a high caliber mini-gun (as a consolation, I just recently discovered slingshot technology). It's too much for any one would-be warlord to do on their own. It really would take a village. A savage, bloodthirsty village. But I think I saw it. I glimpsed the abyss, the way one would get sucked down into these sorts of games and never come back. At the end of my third or fourth night of playing, after hours of exploration deep into the island, I realized that I didn't want to die and start over again. It was late, I was tired, but I couldn't go to sleep and just leave my caveman to die in the wilderness like I had at the end of previous sessions. I found a nice spot secluded in the trees and laid down a simple foundation and a campfire. It was a simple hut. Four walls, a door, a roof, and just enough room for a sleeping bag if you stood outside and dithered the placement just right, but it was home. I had enough wood in the fire to last all night, a bounty of meat to feast on, and full waterskins. My caveman was looking sharp too, fully dressed, new shoes, a backpack full of extra spears -- this was a person who was going to make it. My mind immediately unspooled reams of future designs. A bigger house, wood and stone structures, spikes for defense. If I built near a river I could make a simple plumbing system, grow my own patch of berry bushes, maybe tame a few dodo birds for pets (or food, the line is blurry for cavemen). I could make my survivor more comfortable, I could provide more for him, and he'd be okay, protected and safe. I went from Kull the Conqueror to Mr. Nanny in the space of one night. It was the same feeling I used to get from placing all of my action figures in their proper boxes or play-sets when I was a child. It reminded me of an article I once read explaining why people get screwy sometimes and start adopting all the neighborhood stray cats or obsessively outfit their backyard with squirrel feeders and multiple kinds of birdhouses. It's that fleeting feeling of control, of finally, actually taking care of all of a creature's needs (inanimate toy, video caveman, or small wild animal). To be able to give something the kind of security and finality that is outside of your control and impossible to provide in your own life. I think back to what it was like in grade school; All the uncertainty, the nasty and brutish classmates that made those formative years a gauntlet of survival. I used games to escape from that setting, but it was all about hopping into other worlds, being a tourist. I wonder how much more time I would have spent in any one of those worlds if they let me build with the same degree of granularity a game like ARK or Minecraft does. I always assumed the appeal of survival games was the trolling, of ruining the fun for other players. Or failing that, the creativity of playing around with the tools. While I'm sure those things are the reason some players come to these games, I think the reason they stay is more simple than that. Maybe it's just the pleasure of building a home, of having something to come back to. Maybe it's time I learn to play nice with the other neanderthals.
Ark experiences photo
Out of my Comfort Zone #01
[Out of my Comfort Zone is a new series where I try to combat complacency in my gaming habits by trying different genres and tackling challenges I might otherwise never attempt. In this debut entry, I try my hand at a surviva...

Hob photo

Torchlight developers announce adventure game Hob

Borderlands' art style meets Zelda?
Aug 18
// Joe Parlock
Torchlight developer Runic Games has announced its newest project, Hob. Hob is a vibrant, suspenseful adventure game. As players delve into the mysteries around them, they discover a planet in peril. Can it be mended, or wi...
I like rusty spoons photo
I like rusty spoons

The first act of Salad Fingers point-and-click adventure game is out!

Where's May Gone
Aug 09
// Jed Whitaker
Remember Salad Fingers, the creepy online Flash cartoon by David Firth? Well an officially sanctioned point and click adventure game has been in the works for some time, having even been Steam greenlit. The first act is now ...

Review: Submerged

Aug 03 // Jed Whitaker
Submerged (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, Xbox One)Developer: Uppercut Games Pty LtdPublisher: Uppercut Games Pty LtdRelease Date: August 4, 2015 (PC / PS4 NA), August 5, 2015 (PS4 EU), August 7, 2015 (Xbox One)MSRP: $19.99Rig: Intel Core i7-3930K @ 3.2 GHz, with 32GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 64-bit An immobile young boy with a gash on his abdomen and a young girl arrive on a boat to what looks to be a very tall church surrounded by water and the peaks of skyscrapers; the girl spots a parachute on the top of a skyscraper in the distance and decides to investigate. Upon hopping back in the boat and making her way to the structure without issue she slowly climbs to the top and finds an emergency ration that conveniently has just what she needs to help her brother.  Instead of scaling back down the skyscraper a cutscene plays showing the girl arriving back at the church and standing over her brother applying bandages. She then takes a nap before waking up and spouting off some random thing she needs to find to help her brother recover from his ailment, and sets off to scale another skyscraper. This cycle happens nine more times over the course of around four hours before a very predictable ending as unceremonious as the beginning. Maneuvering the boat between the top most portions of skyscrapers through the glistening ocean underneath you as dolphins, whales, stingrays and other wildlife make themselves known is awe-inspiring at first; then you realize everything kind of looks the same. The main buildings where rations are located have their own unique architecture from afar, but when scaling up them they all seem rather similar. [embed]297002:59765:0[/embed] Driving the boat isn't exactly thrilling and at times can feel rather clunky especially when trying to fit through tight spaces and bouncing off surroundings. A boost button gives one a bit of extra speed at the cost of making it even harder to control, but it isn't that useful as the game is open and exploration of basically the entire world is necessary. A map and periscope are provided to make exploration a bit easier; the map fills itself in while exploring, and the periscope can be used to locate rations, drawings and boost upgrades. Any items spotted with the periscope are marked on the map for easy locating. These tools combined make finding most everything rather easy, though they aren't exactly hard to locate to begin with. Climbing up buildings is the other main activity in Submerged, and it couldn't be more dull. Close-up views of cement walls of the girl shimmying along randomly placed ledges just to climb up and find another ledge to shimmy and climb; it is one of the utmost boring gameplay mechanics in any game ever, and it makes up a majority of time spent in Submerged. Occasionally there will be a drain pipe to climb while enduring an extremely annoying clunk sound each time the character's hands hit it, as if she were holding stones in her palms; luckily a minute climb up a ladder on the side of a crane at one point is more bearable. There are branching paths while ascending buildings where 60 collectable drawings can be found that tell the story of how the city came to it's watery demise. Each building that houses a ration will have a few of drawings, mostly on their own little side paths that are easy to spot. If a drawing is passed while ascending and the ration box is located you'll have to make the call whether or not it would be worth it to backtrack, as grabbing the ration will take you back to your brother automatically and  you'll have to re-scale the building otherwise. Since there are no fast travel points and the ration boxes can't be reused to go back to your brother it leads to tedious backtracking no matter which option is chosen, there just may be more or less of a trek.  The rest of the city story drawings can be spotted in small buildings tucked around the city. These small buildings are nearly identical to each other and just require climbing up one or two easy to spot ledges to get to drawings, and have clearly been used as an excuse to extend the length of a still short game.  Overall collecting all the drawings easily took more time than gathering all ten rations, and those who don't care about the story of the city will surely be able to complete the game in around two hours or less. I personally collected all the drawings and I still don't know exactly what happened to the city; the drawings equate to colorful cave paintings and leave a lot to interpretation. In hindsight, I'd recommend not fretting too much about collecting them at all. The main story is also told through similar drawings displayed with no real contextual in-game reason after collecting rations and going back to your brother. What little story here is so predictable and trope-ridden that it was hard to care about; a troubled family with an alcoholic adult and a protective older sister. I'm all for playing as a female character, but a girl in a post-apocalyptic world whose only trait is that she takes care of her younger male sibling just isn't interesting or original. The story has been done a million times over, and really the only thing original Submerged has going for it is the setting.  Within under ten minutes time you'll have experienced all the game has to offer; boring boating, equally dull scaling of buildings and peering out a periscope to find the next white and green building to climb. There is no failstate, no urgency, no combat, just moving from point to point and monotonously collecting shit. The story isn't interesting, the gameplay is boring, everything looks the same aside from a few landmarks, and the whole ordeal is over in no time. You're better off saving your money instead of sinking it on the titanic failure that is Submerged. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Submerged review photo
Drowning in monotony
Sometimes games take concepts from other popular titles and combine them into a beautiful mix -- this is not one of those games.  Was boating your favorite part of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker? Do you play Unchart...

Review: Niko: Through The Dream

Jul 27 // Jed Whitaker
Niko: Through The Dream (PC)Developer: Studio Paint Publisher: Studio Paint MSRP: $9.99Released: July 10, 2015  A girl named Niko wearing wild face paint visits the grave of a passed loved one. She lays down and drifts asleep, when a tiny cute black creature with big bright white eyes sneaks into her mind and influences her dreams; or at least that is how I interpreted the opening pencil-drawn anime cinematic of Niko. The story is told subtly from then on via drawings found in-game and a post-credits cinematic, most of which lets you interpret it as you will instead of outright telling you what you just experienced, something I wish more games did.  Niko's minimalistic style makes beautiful use of the Unreal Engine. Most early levels are white and almost canvas-like other than shadows and a few a colorful pieces, and later on things get a bit more dark and eery. The soundtrack evolves alongside levels, starting bright and charming and eventually becoming chilling and tense. Rarely do game soundtracks feel so on point with what is on the screen and as memorable as Niko's, especially for a team's first game. Each level of Niko features a unique puzzle based on colors, shapes, platforming and even sounds. Most puzzles can be solved without much fuss, particularly for observant players as clues are usually hidden somewhere not far from the puzzles themselves. I'd be here all day if I described each type of puzzle, so just know the variety is enough to keep the whole adventure interesting.  [embed]296684:59697:0[/embed] Platforming puzzles aren't frequent, but when they do occur be ready to die a few times. Luckily, the checkpoints are really frequent and loading them is instantaneous, keeping frustration near non-existent. Niko aims to provide an enjoyable experience over one that tests your skills, and it certainly delivers. Nothing ever felt too difficult. Puzzles are mostly easy to figure out once you've got the logic down, though one of hardest puzzles is a platforming section where you turn into a ball. In ball form, the control scheme is vastly different: the view is top down, and if you're using a gamepad, the left stick moves the ball while the right stick decides the trajectory. Once I finally mastered the controls, I was able to finish the puzzles without much fuss, but it felt out of place in an otherwise beautifully-crafted game. Along the journey a few different characters come into contact with Niko such as cute black fuzzballs with eyes, and a giant white-masked black figure, both of which would feel right at home in a Studio Ghibli film. There is no dialogue in-game, but rest assured the characters are anything but flat. Over the course of the story, you'll see the masked figure evolve and convey emotions all without a single word of speech.  Niko only takes around five hours to complete, but those hours are time well spent. Completionists can seek out hidden collectable teddy bears that unlock Steam achievements, and a few other secrets along the way that will help extend the playtime a bit. The bears are often hidden behind some of the more difficult and rewarding puzzles, or just out of sight.  Beautiful levels with equally beautiful story, characters, and music come together to form one amazing puzzle adventure. Niko: Through The Dream is easily one of the best first-person puzzle games I've played, and a strong contender for my game of the year. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Niko Review photo
When Portal met Ghibli
First-person puzzle adventure gaming was reinvigorated with the release of Portal, and the genre has since become one of my favorites. The surreal Antichamber showed us how to think outside the box. The Unfinished Swan&n...

Journey photo

Here's what Journey looks like on PS4

It's still breathtaking
Jul 20
// Chris Carter
As part of the 2015 "PLAY" sale, Journey is going to be re-released on the PlayStation 4 tomorrow for $14.99 ($11.99 for Plus members). For the most part this is the same exact game most of you have already played, but ...
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PS4 / UE4 Ethan Carter

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks better on PS4 but runs worse

There are some frame rate issues
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Until Dawn still hasn't wowed me, but I'm intrigued

Jul 13 // Chris Carter
Until Dawn (PS4)Developer: Supermassive GamesPublisher: SonyRelease: August 25, 2015 This is largely the same experienced that's been teased for the past few years or so -- a horror movie simulator with stars like Hayden Panettiere, Rami Malek, Brett Dalton, and Nichole Bloom lending their likenesses and performances to the experience. As previously stated I played the first four episodes, which is roughly three hours, and enough time to ramp up the "horror" bit of the plot after three episodes of table-setting. Yes, this is very much an adventure experience similar to Indigo Prophecy and Shenmue, complete with mild exploration and plenty of quick-time events, so you can show yourself out if that's still not your thing. Until Dawn started its life as a Move game, but thankfully Sony has retreated on that device over the years, and it's now possible to play it with a traditional controller scheme or controller-based motion. After a cheesy intro explaining the butterfly effect (like no one saw the Ashton Kutcher movie here), Until Dawn places you a year before the current storyline, in a snowy isolated cabin in the woods. You'll learn of the tragedy that happened there through the eyes of the victims, which sets up the ensuing (and illogical) return to a year later, where all of the remaining friends attempt to move on with their lives. The key plot point here is that they don't know the deaths were actually murders, and they're setting themselves up for the same possible fate -- I mean, they should know, but this is a horror work after all. [embed]295431:59461:0[/embed] Visually, I actually dig the move to the PlayStation 4, and there are very little remnants of it being a PS3 game. I feel like with Arkham Knight we've finally started to move on in terms of fidelity, and I'm noticing the generational gap with each passing month. The setting is also sufficiently gloomy and impressive, but sadly, I experienced severe slowdown during some action sequences -- as in, sub-30 FPS -- something I hope is fixed in the final version. Gameplay mostly consists of walking around, picking up and manipulating items (like Resident Evil), and making choices that can either modify short-term conversations and actions, or long-term decisions that will drastically change the narrative, and perhaps even kill off major characters. Although I haven't gotten the full taste of this mechanic in just four episodes, it already feels far more impactful than any recent Telltale game. Telltale is great at telling its story, but that's just it -- it's its story for the most part. Until Dawn gives me hope that multiple playthroughs will be worth it. It's all very linear though, which I'm sure will scare some people away. There's very little in the way of exploration, to the point where at most, there's only one stray path (and it's usually obvious) to take beyond the other road that continues the story. QTEs, Until Dawn has 'em, and they're here in spades. Personally I still don't mind them, even if they're a cheap device when overused, so your mileage may vary here. As for myself, I found them to be entertaining and helped fuel the endearing cheese-factor of the package. And I mean that with sincerity -- this doesn't feel like a cash-in, but a proper love letter to horror in general, complete with a great atmosphere and creepy, ingenious camera angles. Cheesy it may be, but I actually wanted to find out more about the game's world, and that's where Until Dawn excels -- lore building. You can find totems that show tiny visions of the future (good or bad, but mostly bad), which eventually complete a little meta-narrative on the history of the surrounding area, and a possible curse that dates back hundreds of years. I also wanted to find out exactly who the assailants were and what their motivations are -- and I won't even spoil the insanely interesting meta-narrative with the always talented Peter Stormare. My gut is telling me that Until Dawn is going to turn out far better than the lackluster Heavy Rain or Beyond: Two Souls, and having grown up with the adventure genre, I'm excited to see what it can dish out. I suspect like many horror movie staples, this one is going to be pretty polarizing upon release regardless of your opinion on these types of games though.
Until Dawn photo
Murder at Teen Mountain
I'm a sucker for horror, even if it dips in "B," heck, "C" territory. While I can turn off my brain and enjoy slasher and gore flicks like the Saw series (they walk the line of "so bad it's good" so well), more often tha...

The Magic Circle photo
The Magic Circle

The Magic Circle launch trailer pokes fun at games industry egoism

'Trailers are just lies set to music'
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// Alessandro Fillari
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Vanishing of Ethan Carter photo
Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter has just turned up on PS4

In Europe anyways. He's still missing in the US
Jul 07
// Vikki Blake
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is headed to PlayStation 4 on July 15. A teaser tweet from developer The Astronauts last week hinted that the game was due in "weeks, not months", and they weren't wrong - the game turned up...

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