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The Flame in the Flood photo
The Flame in the Flood

Everything is out to kill you in The Flame in the Flood


The wilderness is not your friend
Feb 10
// Ben Davis
After a successful Kickstarter campaign a couple years back, The Molasses Flood is set to release its first game, The Flame in the Flood, later this month. The team, comprised of industry veterans who have worked on AAA games...
Plague Inc on Steam photo
Plague Inc on Steam

Plague Inc: Evolved leaves Early Access soon


Spread disease with a friend
Feb 08
// Jordan Devore
After nearly two years and some 800,000 copies sold, Plague Inc: Evolved is ready for a full release on Windows, Mac, and Linux. That'll happen next Thursday, February 18. "By the time we launch, 18 major Evolutions (updates)...

Review: Firewatch

Feb 08 // Steven Hansen
Firewatch (PS4, PC [reviewed])Developer: Campo SantoPublisher: Panic Inc., Campo SantoReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Henry is sad. Why else retreat to the woods of Wyoming to become a fire lookout? It starts in Colorado when Henry, plastered, tries to hit on a woman at a bar. She feels so bad for him she gives him a pity date that turns into a relationship. These bits are done purely with text and music, interspersed by full three dimensional segments of Henry walking out of an elevator into a parking garage and getting into his beat up, fire-engine red pickup. Not unlike Kentucky Route Zero, a high mark in the adventure game genre, Firewatch opens with opportunities for the player to partially define Henry's character. When your girlfriend Julia wants a dog, do you accept the beagle she falls in love with, or insist you get a German shepherd (for protection)? When she asks about children, do you ask her to wait? These choices are not superficial; they are real-life important. More than affecting the outcome of that relationship (you already know he is escaping to the Wyoming woods by the mid-80s), they take on personal meaning in how you sharpen elements of Henry's character.  Mixing these text-adventure-style segments with Henry's dutiful trek into the woods makes them more poignant because you already know how it ends. Badly. Yes. But with a surprising complication. Julia, by then Henry's wife, comes down with early onset Alzheimer's. I didn't expect to be hit that hard by two white text options, but the decision to keep minding her around the house 24/7 or put her in a home was not easy -- and I don't even know what she looks like. While Julia and the relationship are defined in broad strokes, the choice doesn't feel as abstract as choosing to save a character and let another die in The Walking Dead, for example. These are familiar, real-world issues. As Henry settles into his role as lookout, ascending his tower after an eight mile hike, he is met by the voice of Delilah, his boss, who communicates with him via walkie-talkie. This makes up the bulk of the gameplay: walking around, chatting with Delilah via radio. It is a welcomed evolution of the stationary choice-based dialogue trees (you use the triggers so you can walk, talk, and probably even chew gum at the same time). Their conversations are natural thanks to strong dialogue matched by each character's voice performance. Delilah's constant cursing and groan-inducing puns are met by Henry stammering "p-p-p-panties" on the way to keep those aforementioned nude teens from setting off any more fireworks in light of the extreme fire warning. The chemistry is natural as they alternate jabbing back and forth and opening up with one another, though still I found it difficult to bring up my abandoned wife the first few times opportunity arose. Silence is a viable dialogue option. Henry, though, is not just defined through player-guided dialogue. Everything about the production furthers his character. He is not a camera on wheels. You see shorts-clad legs when you look down or his large, meaty hands as he exerts himself clambering up a one meter lip. He is human, average, and the animation work reinforces that. Firewatch is filthy with telling details like these. Some pieces just add flavor (in the confiscated bundle of bottle rockets, one is called the Screaming Wife, and all have original artwork), but it all works towards a cohesive tone. [embed]339920:62167:0[/embed] Art director Olly Moss' color palette is not just pretty to look at. The exaggerated hues work towards the overall tone, from the warm oranges to vivid, dark evenings, while the stylized look is readable, moving away from obfuscating photorealism. I rarely got lost in the unfamiliar woods (though there is a paper map Henry physically pulls up and scribbles notes on). The area is designed and the story paced with just enough backtracking to breed familiarity with the territory, while the relative isolation still leaves it frightening, especially as the story moves away from potential drama-cum-romcom into a thriller.  Most impressive is the thematic cohesion. Firewatch is broadly about guilt, which metastasizes here as isolation-induced paranoia when things turn frightening. After day one on the job Henry comes back to his tower to find the place smashed into. The teens, maybe? Or that silhouette of a hiker spotted on the way back home? While Henry has Delilah on the radio, isolation is what drove him into the woods, perpetuating a cycle of guilt leading to self-imposed loneliness shared by the major characters. The same nagging doubt, decision-questioning, and fear is externalized in the second act as outside forces appear to be stalking Henry and monitoring the conversations between him and Delilah. At which point, incidentally, their carefree, innocent flirting now seems lurid. Something to be ashamed of for the still-married Henry. Let's not forget guilt, internalized anger that can lead to isolation. Ambient sound design shines brightest here, as everything from the weirdly strong rattle of a chain link fence to scurrying in the distance invokes fear -- especially after Henry is sucker punched unconscious on the way to do some fishing. It was here for me Firewatch accessed fear on a Hitchcockian level. No monsters. Only one encounter with some kind of assailant. Still the surveillance, the mystery, the vulnerability and the isolation left me wandering around always checking my six rather than frolicking through gorgeous woods. Music, art, and dialogue quickly established the forest familiar, giving me nostalgia flashes of camping as a kid and first stepping out of the car, dwarfed by redwoods, twigs crunching underfoot. Then that comfort is stripped away. The analog inputs (pulling up the walkie-talkie or map, spinning the same "1234" tumblers to unlock every single park lock box with Henry's paws) combined with unique animation and believable voice work help ground Firewatch, which manages both restraint and maturity in its story without ever going full mumblecore "walking simulator." The warmth of the budding relationship between two voices with natural chemistry is undercut by harsher realities and the drawn out segments of feeling stalked and vulnerable are legitimately stressful. The result is a tight, taut human tale well worth the trek.
Firewatch, with me! photo
A watched fire never kills you
The drunk, nude teens bathing in the lake at sunset summed up Firewatch neatly: "you're just some sad man out in the woods." Kids always know just where to cut. If you could translate the insult quadrant of their brains you'd...

Review: A Boy and His Blob

Feb 06 // Brett Makedonski
A Boy and His Blob (Linux, PC, Mac, PS4, PS Vita, Wii, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WayForward TechnologiesPublisher: Majesco EntertainmentReleased: October 13, 2009 (Wii), January 20, 2016 (Re-released on other platforms)MSRP: $9.99 WayForward's take on A Boy and His Blob is intentionally vague and that's possibly its best quality. In an opening sequence reminiscent of EarthBound, a child is woken in the middle of the night to a crash outside his window. After a brief bout of exploration, Blob is discovered. From there, it's just adventuring for the sake of adventuring, and saving the world for the sake of saving the world. Blob is billed as the greatest asset, a shapeshifter who can perform about a dozen different functions. For example, Boy feeds Blob a jellybean and Blob turns into an anvil. Or a soccer ball. Or a trampoline. Over the course of 40-some levels, variations of this sequence play out hundreds (maybe thousands) of times as the main function of this puzzle platformer. You wouldn't think it from the game's title, but Blob is actually a tertiary character. If it were named more accurately, this would be called A Boy and His Jellybean Wheel. A disconcerting amount of time is spent in a time-frozen state clumsily navigating a menu of the level's eight-or-so pre-assigned jellybeans. After a jellybean is thrown and Blob (hopefully) performs his duties, it's only a matter of seconds until you're forced to again pull up that menu. That process sucks the life out of A Boy and His Blob. Even though most of the game's levels are notably short, they often feel like arduous endeavors because the pace grinds to a crawl. Puzzle solutions are usually easily identifiable -- in fact, there are often giant signs pointing out the answer -- but their execution is needlessly slow and sluggish. [embed]338372:62152:0[/embed] Making matters worse, there are many many instances when Blob simply won't do what you want. Blob has a tendency to shift shapes just ever-so-slightly not quite where intended. It's annoying at first, but becomes a detriment in later levels. That combined with stiff and unresponsive platforming controls often leads to starting the section over from scratch.  And, that's all when Blob is actually on-screen. It's not uncommon for Blob to be missing altogether, either because it was left behind or it hopped into an abyss. When this happens, the game would like for the balloon jellybean to be tossed, causing Blob to eventually float to your position. Mercifully, however, there's a call button that can just be impatiently pressed over and over until it balloons your way automatically, slowly but surely. What A Boy and His Blob has on its side are intangibles, of sorts. They're plucky attributes that significantly and understatedly enhance a game, but don't necessarily make a game. For instance, there's no denying A Boy and His Blob's innocent aesthetic, unspoken emotion, or charming spirit. Those are the qualities that make the game more tolerable than it would otherwise be. Without much option of anything besides leaning on the NES version's method of using Blob (a non-playable character) as the means of gameplay execution, WayForward's take on A Boy and His Blob is frustratingly imprecise and inaccurate. But, by deviating a bit and adding the jellybean wheel, it killed any momentum and turned the game into a slog. That is truly the worst of both worlds. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
A Boy and His Blob review photo
Blah-b
A Boy and His Blob, a 2009 "re-imagining" of the NES game of the same namesake (and recently re-released on current platforms), is an interesting case study. When does retro game design and a devotion to source material becom...


Review in Progress: XCOM 2

Feb 05 // Nic Rowen
XCOM 2 (PC [reviewed], Mac)Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: February 5, 2015MSRP: $59.99 I'm a sap. A total and complete sap. If a game has an option to individually customize characters, I will always engage with it to the exclusion of everything else until I'm happy with what I've done. Even more so in a game like XCOM where the stakes are high and characters run a high risk of dying a horrible, and permanent, death. What better way to make that loss feel real? When a squadie gets flayed by an alien soldier wielding a rail gun in my game, I'm not just out a decent Ranger, I've lost one of my friends. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who does this, because Firaxis leaned into the character creation element hard in XCOM 2. Before you even begin fighting the alien menace, you can hop into the character creator and start making your dream squad, filing them away to show up organically in your game as fresh recruits and VIP extraction targets. As I said, I know I'm a sap, but that didn't stop me from being positively giddy when I found a grizzled rifle-toting version of my brother in my first randomized squad. Unlike XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which had fairly limited customization options, there are tons of small, silly, character-establishing quirks to fiddle with in XCOM 2 when you should be plowing through missions and writing a review. Sunglasses, tattoos, cigarettes, scars, camo patterns, accents, all sorts of small ways to make your squad feel like yours. It does make me wonder why there are only a handful of possible faces to round out all these options, but that is a minor quibble. XCOM 2 seems harder than Enemy Unknown, but in a satisfying way. Whenever a game builds up a reputation as punishing, there is always a risk that the developers will take it too far in the sequel, ramp up the difficulty in ways that don't seem fair. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case. The challenge is stiffer, but it comes from a more varied and tactically interesting set of options and enemies than a brute force buff to enemy stats. While the aliens have always outnumbered the XCOM force, the imbalance is even greater here. Even in early missions you'll run into stacked odds. This is mitigated by the new concealment mechanic which allows your squad to move freely in stealth to setup a devastating ambush before the fight begins in earnest. Play your cards right, and you can trap the aliens in a crossfire straight out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It's almost unhealthy how satisfying it feels to drop three aliens on your very first turn of combat. Not that you'll always have time to get that ambush in motion. Timed missions and pressure conditions are more common in XCOM 2, urging you and your squad to overextend and take stupid risks in an effort to beat the clock. In these situations, trying to set up that ideal ambush situation can hamstring you in the end when you run out of turns to complete the mission. You have to get a feel for when you need to rush and when you have time to get cheeky. I've already managed to lose a couple of squad members (including Jane Kelly, the named tutorial character with spoken dialog; hope she's not supposed to show up in more story stuff later on!) and I expect they are far from the last. Despite playing hundreds of hours of Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, XCOM 2 has done enough to change up the formula to make fighting the aliens an unpredictable, surprising, and scary experience. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm going to need more time to beat the game, test the other difficulty options, and try out multiplayer before I'll be able to issue a final verdict. (2K Games only provided us a copy on the day before launch for some reason so unfortunately we're playing catch-up. Sorry!) So far, though, XCOM 2 is an impressive feat. A total improvement to a game that I already thought was pretty damn close to perfect. I've yet to pull out its guts, but if the first few hours are any indication, this is going to be one hell of an alien autopsy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
XCOM 2 review in prog photo
Welcome back, commander
I've only had a few hours with XCOM 2, Firaxis Games' follow-up to its 2012 XCOM: Enemy Unknown and I can already tell it's a different beast. At its core, it is still the same isometric turn-based strategy game it has always...

Hidden Folks photo
Hidden Folks

Modern Where's Waldo-like Hidden Folks is mesmerizing


This could be a screensaver
Feb 04
// Darren Nakamura
Certainly, the drawings shown here are works of art on their own, but Hidden Folks really comes alive in motion. It's a far cry from the last Where's Waldo game I remember playing, which featured a series of low-res pixel art...
Batman Arkham Knight photo
Batman Arkham Knight

Warner Bros. formally cancels Batman: Arkham Knight on Mac


Don't forget to apply for your refund
Feb 04
// Vikki Blake
Warner Bros has confirmed that Batman: Arkham Knight has been cancelled for Mac/Linux platforms. In a brief statement on Steam, the publisher said: We are very sorry to confirm that Batman: Arkham Knight will no longer be co...
Cities: Skylines photo
Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines' snowy expansion drops Feb. 18


Send in the plows
Feb 03
// Jordan Devore
I've seen snow only once or twice this year, and even then, it didn't stick around for long. Meanwhile, Brett is regaling us with tales about how he's just now venturing out of his snowed-in house for the first time since Sun...
Firewatch photo
Firewatch

Firewatch hits PS4, Steam next week for $20


There's a little discount
Feb 02
// Jordan Devore
February got here in a hurry, and that means Firewatch isn't far off. Campo Santo's first-person, wilderness-set mystery game is coming to PlayStation 4, Linux, Mac, and Windows on February 9, 2016. It's going to be $19.99, n...
Knights and Bikes photo
Knights and Bikes

Former Tearaway, Ratchet and Clank devs team up for action RPG Knights and Bikes


EarthBound sensibilities
Feb 02
// Darren Nakamura
I could write up a basic synopsis of Knights and Bikes right here, but honestly, readers will benefit most from just watching the video below. If you want to skip the obligatory "two dudes sitting in front of a camera talking...
Crashlands impressions photo
Crashlands impressions

Crashlands is much longer than it needs to be


I get it, let's move on
Feb 01
// Darren Nakamura
It's easy to settle into playing Crashlands. To start, it takes on the fairly well-trodden survival genre, where players start with nothing, punch some trees, harvest resources, and eventually build fantastic items. It most c...
Superhot release date photo
Superhot release date

Superhot releasing on PC February 25, Xbox One in March


Trailer gets me superhot and bothered
Feb 01
// Darren Nakamura
Superhot has been looking supercool for a while now; those immediately sold on the initial concept have had to wait for a superlong time. The wait is set to be over supersoon; Superhot will release on Linux, Mac, and Win...

Review: American Truck Simulator

Jan 29 // Patrick Hancock
American Truck Simulator (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: SCS SoftwarePublisher: SCS SoftwareRelease Date: February 3, 2016MSRP: $19.99  Euro Truck Simulator has quietly worked its way into the lives of many gamers over the years, myself included. I'm not sure why or when I thought I'd enjoy it, but I'm certainly glad the decision was made. These types of games are many things for many people; some enjoy the serenity, others enjoy the realism, and I'm sure there are those who turn their trucks into a replica of Darkside from Twisted Metal and ram into anything that crosses their path. For those veterans, American Truck Simulator is more of the same but in a new region. Calling it "American" seems a bit disingenuous at the moment, since players can only drive through California and Nevada. That's a lot of area to be sure, but hardly represents America. Many will envision a coast-to-coast trek from New York to Los Angeles, or traveling on Route 66 from state to state, but neither of these are possible at the moment. I say "at the moment" because, like Euro Truck Simulator before it, players should understand that they are buying into a platform. Nevada is technically free DLC at launch (and is included in this review), and the development team is working on Arizona as future free DLC as well. As of now there's no definitive DLC roadmap, but SCS Software has stated that "it will take us years to cover the continent," if it is financially viable. For newcomers to the series, or those simply curious as to how this is a real thing, here's the deal. Players assume the role of an American truck driver, making cargo deliveries in California and Nevada. Early on, taking jobs from various companies, using their trucks, is a steady income. As profit increases, players can afford their own trucks and even hire other drivers to carry out jobs. There are only two trucks available at the moment, which is a bit of a bummer. There are, of course, plans to add more, but as of now there are a Kentworth T 680 and a Peterbilt 579. There are variations of the two and plenty of  customization options, which help make them stand out more, but it's still only two models of truck at launch. Drivers will also gain experience and level up as deliveries are completed. Upon leveling, stat points can be distributed to categories like fuel economy, long-distance deliveries, and unlocking new types of cargo. As if making an expensive delivery wasn't nerve-wracking enough, think about delivering explosive or chemical cargo! Increasing these statistics will net the player higher rewards for completing assignments under those categories. The benefits are very detailed to the player, allowing them to make informed decisions when leveling up. While driving, it's important to remember the rules of the road. Running a red light will result in a fine (damn red light cameras), as will speeding. While Euro Truck Simulator utilized speed cameras, here in America things work a little differently. Cops are constantly on patrol, and if caught speeding near one, a fine will instantly be deducted. There's no car chase or even getting pulled over, just cop lights and sirens and $1,000 removed from your bank account. Along the way, players may need to stop for gas, rest, get weighed at weigh stations, or get repairs. These must be done at certain locations and have corresponding meters on the HUD. The biggest concern with these is the time invested, since each assignment has a window in which the recipient expects their items to be delivered in. Just a heads up: if you're driver starts yawning, stop at a rest station! The traffic AI seems to be vastly improved in American Truck Simulator. Cars will stop early at intersections, making those wide turns that much easier. They also rarely pull out in front of your giant truck barreling down on them, though I have had that happen once or twice. Hell, they'll even slow down if your blinker is on to let you move over! Well, sometimes. There are a few different control methods, ranging from very simple to complex. Steering can be done with the keyboard or mouse, and of course the game supports both console and steering wheel controllers. I found myself most  comfortable with the Steam Controller and gyro controls. The biggest gap between the simple and the complex is changing gears manually, though even at its most complex it's not exactly a "hardcore" simulator. There's definitely a lot to manage, especially for me, but people who were looking for more depth in this entry won't find it here. Is it difficult? Well, it's as difficult as you want it to be. Making the controls complex is an easy way to make the game more engaging. Personally, I think the most difficult aspect is parking. When delivering cargo there will be three options. The hardest option yields the most experience, and will ask players to pull some fancy backing up and maneuvering in order to place the trailer where it needs to go.  The second option is much more achievable, while the third option is to skip it entirely and earn no bonus experience. It's a great to be able to say "you know what? I really don't feel like parking this explosive gas tank right now." To help pass time, a good amount of radio stations are available to listen to while on the road, and it is also possible to input a personal music library by relocating some files on your computer. I enjoyed listening to some classic rock stations while "working." I must say, listening to Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" while driving a big rig at night into Las Vegas is something that will stick with me probably forever. That's in part due to the beautiful engine. The scenery is quite a change of pace compared to the European scenery, which helps make this feel like something fresh, despite the mechanical similarities. Cities are also fleshed out more and feel more "alive" than ever before. Google Maps has been used to help create a realistic recreation of the Golden State, so many areas will be immediately recognizable to those familiar with them. Yes, players will begin to see repeat storefronts over and over again, but it hardly detracts from the overall immersion. American Truck Simulator caters to a wide array of people. There's something to be said for the serenity of cruising down a highway at night and obeying all the traffic laws. It's also a great opportunity to enjoy some audiobooks or podcasts while somewhat-mindlessly growing a trucking enterprise.  Those looking for vast mechanical or design improvements in the series won't find them here. The map is relatively small, considering the size of America, but the tradeoff is worth it: the scenery is fresh, accurate, and varied, while cities feel much more realistic. With two trucks and two included states, and another one on its way, American Truck Simulator is an investment into the series' future, but it's not a steep one and easily earns its value with what is already presented. So, while it may not be possible to go from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, it is possible to go from Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down. And that's just fine. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
American Truck Sim Review photo
California love
I live in New Jersey, so I think I know a thing or two about California. After all, I've listened to plenty of N.W.A. and Tupac, plus I've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Oh, and I've been to California a whole lot to visit my brother and for that one E3 I attended. Does this make me an expert? Yes. Yes it does.

GOG.com early access photo
GOG.com early access

GOG.com has started selling early access games


Hand-picked, refunds available
Jan 28
// Jordan Devore
These days, if I'm getting an email about a new PC game, chances are high it's something on Steam Early Access. Even Microsoft has embraced the sale of work-in-progress titles on Xbox One, and starting this week, you'll find ...
Sunless Sea photo
Sunless Sea

Sunless Sea celebrates submarines with a free Steam weekend


Sorry, zubmarines
Jan 28
// Darren Nakamura
Sunless Sea is one of those games I wanted to check out last year but never got around to. I guess I should have, because it showed up on a couple of our personal game of the year lists. This weekend, I have even less of an e...
Paws photo
Paws

The next Shelter game is a spin-off called Paws


I'm the baby, gotta love me
Jan 20
// Jordan Devore
Might and Delight is continuing its animal adventure series with Paws, a new standalone game set in the "world of Shelter 2." Instead of tending to lynx cubs as their mother, this time around, you are one. And it looks like y...
Layers of Fear photo
Layers of Fear

Layers of Fear is bringing its psychological horror to PS4, Xbox One


February 16, 2016
Jan 20
// Jordan Devore
I quite liked the sound of Layers of Fear, a first-person horror game from Bloober Team about a painter who has gone mad. It's playable now in an unfinished state on Steam Early Access and Xbox One, if you're so inclined. The...
Cities: Skylines' Snowfal photo
Cities: Skylines' Snowfal

Next Cities: Skylines expansion buries you under a blanket of snow


Cities: Skylines' Snowfall expansion
Jan 19
// Steven Hansen
Paradox and developer Colossal Order are smart to couch bigger Cities: Skylines expansions in visually transformative ways because, much like when the day/night cycle was added in After Dark, damn do these snow-kissed cities...
Knuckle Sandwich photo
Knuckle Sandwich

Knuckle Sandwich is another peculiar RPG


Keep 'em coming
Jan 18
// Jordan Devore
I could have sworn one of us had already touched on Knuckle Sandwich, but I guess not. This latest teaser is as fine of time as any to introduce the surreal role-playing game and its prominent noses. The story, at least initially, has to do with a cult and missing people. Could the two be connected? Playing as a dude who is bored to tears of his new job at the diner, it's on you to investigate.

Review: The Bug Butcher

Jan 18 // Jordan Devore
The Bug Butcher (Mac, Linux, Windows [reviewed])Developer: Awfully Nice StudiosPublisher: Awfully Nice StudiosRelease: January 19, 2016MSRP: $7.99 When I close my eyes, I now see aliens splitting apart into smaller aliens, again and again, until there is nothing left. I can picture exactly how they will move; when they'll strike. Clearly, this game has seeped into my mind. It only took a few short hours. As the titular exterminator, you're called into a research facility to clean up an infestation of creepy crawlers. Each of the 30 levels has the same basic premise -- "the only good bug is a dead bug!" -- but varying stage hazards, gimmicks, and enemy types keep the action engaging. Even after going back through most of the levels several times now, I'm yearning for more. It's all so very satisfying, and the scoring system and character upgrades further incentivize repeated playthroughs. I'll happily oblige. Every alien has a distinct look and movement pattern, but there are constants. They always enter the screen from above, telegraphing their descent so you aren't caught off guard. This is a game that rarely, if ever, feels "cheap." The majority of the bugs bounce around, touching down for a split second before going airborne again. Others hover from side to side, or stick to the ceiling. One pest crawls on the ground, waiting to pounce like a Facehugger. After taking enough damage, most will split into smaller beings that can quickly fill the room if left unchecked. This is important because, crucially, you can only shoot straight up. Positioning is everything. [embed]334931:61897:0[/embed] You'll have to keep an eye out for items that temporarily boost your damage or speed, and weapons like a laser beam, lightning gun, or rocket launcher. None of these last long, but they all pack a hefty punch and are enjoyable to wield. By keeping your combo up, you can also earn one-time-use abilities to, say, become invincible or freeze every alien in place if you're in a bind. Vanquished bugs litter the floor with coins, and there's a score-based, end-of-level payout. In the main Arcade mode, you can buy passive perks and permanent upgrades to make any weapons or abilities you might encounter mid-battle more useful. (To be clear: you always begin levels with your standard machine gun. Which is fine! It's quite good.) You're only able to equip a single perk at a time and, between the three choices, I prefer the one that lets you take a hit without dropping your combo. There's also Panic mode, playable alone or with a friend in split-screen, in which you try to survive for as long as possible. You can keep fighting until you're either out of health or out of time. For me, it's invariably the former. I have no problem scrambling to grab time extensions, but in doing so, I become too reckless. At any point, it's possible to pause the action to buy upgrades for your current run. Unlike in Arcade mode, these purchases aren't persistent across levels. The Bug Butcher gets chaotic, but rarely is it frustrating. Even when the screen is packed with enemies, you still have this overall awareness of where you should be standing, and when. The difficulty curve is spot on. It does a stellar job of making you feel mostly in control -- and, at times, over-powered -- without letting you sleepwalk to victory. You'll have to work for those high scores. I loved the responsive controls, and that's a big factor when examining an action-heavy game like this, but the presentation is also commendable. The art and sound design play pivotal roles. Bugs are squishy, just as you'd expect, while power-ups serve as a visual and auditory jolt of energy. The thumping electronic soundtrack is unrelenting, further helping to keep you in The Zone. If there's a major complaint to be made about The Bug Butcher, it's that there simply isn't more of it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Bug Butcher review photo
Do your part!
When I first heard about The Bug Butcher last year, I thought it looked like a nice modern take on the bubble-popping shooter Super Pang. But I held off. I have a regrettable history of playing games in Steam Early Access onl...

Lovely Planet Arcade photo
Lovely Planet Arcade

Super cute, super tough Lovely Planet is getting a sequel


Don't be fooled by the cheerful graphics
Jan 15
// Ben Davis
A sequel was just announced for Lovely Planet, the deceptively adorable, exceedingly difficult first-person shooter from indie developer Quicktequila that released on Steam in 2014. The sequel, called Lovely Planet Arcade, cl...
OmniBus photo
OmniBus

OmniBus is the unstoppable force of public transit


Goodbye immovable objects
Jan 14
// Darren Nakamura
According to the trailer below, the long-awaited OmniBus is finally on its way, after a two-decade toil in development hell. Also according to the trailer below, it has made the cover of Time, Forbes, and Rolling Stone. Somet...
Element photo
Element

Element is a space RTS 'for people who don't have time'


To play space RTS
Jan 14
// Steven Hansen
Our community monster Mike Martin has the real box quote when he alerted us to Element: "Guys... This gave me wood." But I'll soldier on for context. The minimal real-time strategy game is actually available right now on Ste...
One Dog Story photo
One Dog Story

Serious Cave Story vibes come off One Dog Story


Woof
Jan 14
// Darren Nakamura
Cave Story is so revered among indie game enthusiasts, it's little surprise it would be cited as an influence for others making a game. One Dog Story lists it up there with others like Battletoads and Shovel Knight. One Dog S...
Saiconauts photo
Saiconauts

Psychonauts 2 campaign closes with $3.8M in funding


Psycho killer, run run away
Jan 12
// Steven Hansen
Double Fine took to new crowdfunding/investment platform Fig for the development of a sequel to the beloved Psychonauts. The project reached its funding goal of $3.3 million five days before the close of the campaign before c...
Psychonauts 2 photo
Psychonauts 2

The first Psychonauts 2 story info is starting to emerge


Raz needs to deal with some old wounds
Jan 12
// Laura Kate Dale
Since Psychonauts 2 recently got announced, many fans of the first game have been wondering where the plot of this new game might be heading. Thanks to a reddit AMA with Tim Schafer, we now know a lot about the plot of Psycho...
Yooka-Laylee photo
Yooka-Laylee

Former Rare designer Kev Bayliss joins Yooka-Laylee developer Playtonic


Playtonic is 99% Rare alumni now
Jan 12
// Joe Parlock
Kev Bayliss has one hell of a history in gaming. He was part of some of Rare Software’s biggest games. He was the producer and character designer for Killer Instinct, and also had an integral role in the graphics design...
Longest Night photo
Longest Night

Longest Night is a nice little tease for Night in the Woods


It's been updated with new writing
Jan 06
// Jordan Devore
While combing through the wasteland that is my pre-holiday-break email, I happened upon a link to Infinite Fall and Finji's Longest Night from our beloved gift-giver Jonathan Holmes. I'm glad I did! This is a short lead-in ...

Review: Minecraft: Story Mode: A Block and a Hard Place

Jan 05 // Darren Nakamura
Minecraft: Story Mode: A Block and a Hard Place (iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: December 22, 2015 (Mac, PC)MSRP: $4.99, $24.99 (Season Pass)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Where the first two episodes in the season induced apathy, this one causes ambivalence. It's a fine distinction: I was struggling to care about Jesse and his friends at first; now I care enough but find myself disappointed with the final result. For every beat Minecraft: Story Mode hits well, it stumbles once or twice. On the one hand, the more deliberate progression of this episode can be a good thing. It opens up the gameplay to include actual (albeit easy) puzzles along with the standard dialogue trees and quick-time events. Also, without lulls in the action, it could be bombastic to the point of grating. If it's always high energy, then it's all the same. On the other hand, the plodding of the first half of this episode is as dull as can be. There's a horse travel montage near the beginning illustrating just how far it is to get to the Farlands, and protagonist Jesse has the option of the classic whine "Are we there yet?" Even with the cuts of the montage, I felt the same. I get it; it's far. Let's move on. [embed]327542:61558:0[/embed] Once the action finally does pick up at the end, it still treads a questionable path. The full story about The Order of the Stone is revealed, and it plays out as foreshadowed. It's always a little awkward when a story treats something like an earth-shattering reveal when most would see it coming from the hints in previous episodes. Perhaps if I had led the life Jesse did, it would have been more impactful. Then, almost as if checking off all the Telltale boxes, we get another character death. This loss feels more important than the one in the third episode, since it's a likable character. Death in children's entertainment is nothing new (see: Bambi, The Land Before Time, Transformers [1986]), but it generally comes with a purpose. While we'll have to wait for the fifth episode, my sneaking suspicion is the only reason this death was written in was a cynical attempt at eliciting emotion. The really strange part of the whole scene is that in the middle of the mourning (when I have a full pout on my face), Story Mode lets loose a visual gag referencing the source material. Admittedly, it's probably the funniest thing in the whole episode -- so few of the jokes are worth even a chuckle -- but it feels wrong to have it punctuate the rest of the sad scene so bluntly. With the Wither Storm properly defeated, Jesse and the gang are proclaimed to be the new Order of the Stone, and A Block and a Hard Place ends with the vague promise of new adventures coming in the next episode. Unless it's tightly written and self-contained, I'm not interested. More likely, the last episode will open up a can of worms that won't get resolved until Season Two. This episode could very well be considered the finale for the first season. It wraps up the Wither Storm saga, it answers the questions about the Order of the Stone, and it delivers a semi-happy, hopeful ending for the crew. If only it did that without an utterly boring first half and the clumsy insertion of mandatory Telltale story elements, it might have also been a good ending. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Minecraft review photo
Denouement-craft
What a weird episode. After the high energy of The Last Place You Look, this one slows down the action shortly into it, and it doesn't really pick back up until the very end, which feels like the end of a season. But then, th...

Minecraft screenshots photo
Minecraft screenshots

A cartload of Minecraft: Story Mode Episode 4 screenshots


Better late than never
Jan 04
// Darren Nakamura
Vacation travel kept me from being able to get to the latest episode in Telltale's Minecraft: Story Mode right away. I just finished it, and as always, I had my finger on the screenshot button the whole way through. Mayb...

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