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Atlas Reactor's competitive turn-based play shows promise

Sep 02 // Jordan Devore
Atlas Reactor is turn-based, but players have a limited time (30 seconds by default) to lock in their decisions, and everyone's turns are simultaneous. That goes for your allies and enemies. It's quick and chaotic and not unlike rock, paper, scissors. After committing to a strategy, your actions (attacking, shielding, buffing, trapping, moving) play out across three different phases. There's an order of operations to keep things fair, in other words. During any given turn, you have to get into your opponents' heads and try to predict how they'll behave. If you're sure an enemy is going to dodge, don't plan to fire a shot that will inevitably miss -- lay a trap instead. If you're guaranteed to be hit hard and have no escape, set up a shield. It's a system that borrows from fighting games (reading your opponents), tactical games (grid-based positioning), and MOBAs (varied characters, free aiming). The end result is a promising fusion of genres that, at least to my knowledge, has never been explored quite in this way. [embed]308953:60233:0[/embed] "Once you have the basics, it's pretty interesting," said executive producer Peter Ju. "You want to play one level above your opponent. If you play two levels above your opponent, you're just going to out-think yourself and you basically are going to seem like a noob compared to the guy who doesn't do anything." Out of nowhere, another Trion Worlds employee, who was not a part of my demo, chimed in. He said he had far better results early on when he first started and didn't really know how to play. No one could predict his strategy because he simply didn't have one. I can relate. Atlas Reactor is only now entering alpha, and while the core mechanics are set and seem solid, there's still stuff to figure out. Which modes to create, for one. The match I saw was pretty standard: two versus two, first to four kills wins. Based on what players do with custom games during alpha testing, Trion will adapt to their preferences and "make more of that." I liked the sound of lighting rounds, where you have a precious few seconds to plan your moves. As for cooperative play, challenge maps of some sort are planned. "I really want to play XCOM with buddies," said lead designer Will Cook, "but I can't do that. This is the key to that." I'd be down to play with Steven. Between this, Hard West, and XCOM 2, there's a lot of love for turn-based strategy on the horizon. As long as Trion Worlds doesn't mess up the free-to-play aspects of Atlas Reactor -- I suspect it'll charge for skins and taunts -- it should turn out well.
Preview photo
I'm pleasantly surprised
Signing up to see an unannounced title at a gaming convention or expo can be risky. I've never been burned before, but I'm aware my streak could end in an instant. I went into my PAX appointment with Trion Worlds (Rift, Defia...

Review: The Flock

Sep 02 // Zack Furniss
The Flock (Mac, Linux, PC [reviewed])Developer: VogelsapPublisher: VogelsapReleased: August 21, 2015MSRP: $16.99 If you've followed The Flock's development or seen any videos about it, you may have decided that it's a digital version of flashlight tag. This is an apt comparison. The difference is that the flashlight (here called The Artifact) can immolate organic beings upon illumination. Each of the three to five players of the game play as the Flock, a skeletal alien race. These lithe beings crawl on all four limbs when they want to move fast, and can turn to stone when they stay completely still. They can also place decoys of themselves and later teleport back to said decoy once per life. Their final ability is a scream that can increase the speed and strength of nearby kinsmen. When a match starts, each player is tasked with finding the Artifact as quickly as possible. Whoever finds it becomes the carrier, a being with less physical prowess than the Flock. Though you're no longer able to jump, you can now incinerate players who attempt to kill you, since that's their sole objective. While they're busy trying to get the jump on you, you have to shine your light on markers spread throughout the three maps. Using the Artifact is simple. You have to keep moving to keep it charged, which I like since it promotes active footwork. The scroll wheel changes the distance and width of your light; you can have it wide and short-ranged or narrow and long-ranged. While it can be satisfying to scorch one of your attackers, playing as a carrier never feels particularly exciting. The hide-and-seek antics grow weary after only a couple of play sessions. The first few times I played merely flirted with tension. I immediately found the Artifact and began searching for the objective markers, and heard footfalls behind me. I would turn around in a facade of panic and either burn a member of the Flock to death or find a stone statue behind me. You can't hurt the statues, and sometimes it's hard to discern if it's even an actual player controlling the alien gargoyle since these stone effigies are littered across the stages. Wracked with doubt but driven by the need to reach my goal, I backpedaled to where I needed to go. My more clever opponents would use decoys to circumvent situations such as these, but the vast majority of people I played with had no solution to me being able to watch them and move backwards. When playing with a full team, I'd usually be swarmed from all sides and this was less of a problem. Good luck finding enough players, though, as I usually was only able to find one or two people to play with at all times of the day. And that's the entire game. It doesn't take long to realize that aside from a slight variance in player tactics, every match feels identical. If you tell a friend about an especially exciting round, you've told them about every round you will ever play. It doesn't help that no aspect of The Flock seems to have been cooked long enough. I like the look of the Flock themselves, but the Artifact, the carriers, and even the environments exhibit all the fidelity of an early Half-Life 2 mod. If these were placeholder assets for an alpha build waiting for another layer of polish, I would understand, but these are the uninspired end results of Vogelsap's efforts. The stereo positioning of the sound is functional but every effect has an odd, muffled quality about it. Fortunately, the music doesn't suffer from this same issue, but there's not enough of it to ward off monotony. What hurts The Flock the most is that there's very little to do, and none of it is entertaining. With only one game mode and three maps, you can see all that the game has to offer in two hours (and most of that time will be spent looking for willing players). It's difficult to justify paying $16.99 for something that's going to vanish eventually, and it's even more difficult when what's vanishing won't be missed. With over 200,000,000 lives for people to lose, it's going to be approximately forever before we see whatever happens at the end. The Flock is a promising idea dressed in the blandest of clothes. It's damning that I was convinced I was doing an Early Access impressions piece until I looked and realized the game had been released two weeks ago. This lack of content and polish is acceptable when there's an implicit promise of more to come, but aside from a nebulous end segment that may take literal years to reach, this is all The Flock is and will ever be. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Flock photo
Oh, for flock's sake
I'm a huge horror fan, and love to see any kind of innovation brought into the genre. Vogelsap's The Flock has a Big New Idea that I kind of love: there is a finite pool of respawns for all players, and once it has ...

Meddle in the affairs of others, control their minds in Randall

Sep 02 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]308786:60224:0[/embed] Randall (releasing on PC, PS4, and Vita) takes place in a world where everyone's been brainwashed by the authoritarian powers that be. A corporation has the citizens under its control, but the populace is completely unaware of the oppression at hand. We The Force wasn't willing to go too far into the story, but hinted at a "bigger things are at play" angle. One person is acutely aware of the oppression, however. That's the titular Randall. In a "taste of your own medicine" type of twist, he's trying to take down this faceless juggernaut through the use of mind control. It's this mechanic that takes Randall from an action-platformer and injects a puzzle element into it too. Rooms will often have a throng of enemies in them that need to be cleared out in a particular order. A rudimentary example was an area with one foe on the ground and two on platforms above who could shoot projectiles. Those platforms were unreachable from the floor, but if you controlled the bottom enemy, you could jump off of him and up to the top. Order of operations is important to figure out. It was obvious in that instance what needed to be done, but later encounters surely won't be as telegraphed. Most of these guys won't just allow themselves to get taken over, though. They require a quick beat-down. This comes in the form of simple button-pressed combos. We were shown an earlier level, but there was a definite sense that tactics would have to be switched up as the game progresses. That's only half the battle. Studio head Cesar Ramirez Molina told us that the developer's aiming for about a 50/50 split on combat and platforming. The platforming aspect isn't as intuitive as it could be, and it took several deaths before I got the hang of it. There's likely a better learning curve and teaching process in the full game than in the quick slice I played. Fortunately, Randall checkpoints graciously and there wasn't too much lost progress. There's promise in Randall, but there's more promise in what Randall represents. We The Force Studios is one of the few video game developers in Mexico. Currently, the scene is dominated by software and web developers. It's a much safer prospect to follow the established market than to risk your family's security pursuing what no one else is. That's why We The Force was doing web development up until it made the bold decision that it wanted a legacy. That's why the team started creating games. Randall is its first project, and Molina lamented what a tough transition it has been. He spoke about how challenging it is to make a decision about gameplay and then have to do all the research to figure out exactly how to implement it. Seasoned developers already know the technical side, but Molina and his crew have learned most of it on-the-fly. Randall is projected for a release sometime in 2016. It's a loose window, but it needs to be considering that the studio's inexperience possibly makes it more subject to delays than others. Regardless of when it launches and how it turns out, it's admirable that We The Force went out on a limb to pursue a dream while sacrificing safety. Just like its protagonist, these developers are going against the grain and chasing what they believe in.
Randall preview photo
Freedom fighter
Clerks has a scene where Randal Graves, an irresponsible and indifferent video store employee, tells a customer that he finds it best to stay out of other people's affairs. The laissez-faire approach isn't a noble a...

Review: STASIS

Sep 01 // Patrick Hancock
STASIS (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: The BrotherhoodPublisher: The BrotherhoodReleased: August 31, 2015MSRP: $24.99  The story begins with the main character, John Maracheck, woken from a stasis (heh) pod on a spaceship called the Groomlake. It's immediately obvious that something big has happened here, as there is broken machinery, plenty of bloodstains, and no one around. John sets out to find his wife and daughter, in addition to finding out what the hell he's doing here in the first place. I won't spoil anything further, but what follows is a grim and morose tale that will certainly leave an impression on the player. As the story begins to unfold and more elements of the Groomlake's history become clearer, players shouldn't be surprised if a sickening feeling washes over them. There are scenes in STASIS, especially towards the end of the game, that I'm not sure I'll ever forget. The only way I can think to describe them is: fucked up. And that is the kind of "horror" that STASIS sets out to achieve. The game doesn't just throw jump scares at the player in every scene; instead, it builds an atmosphere that will make players uneasy. There are a few jump scares, but they actually work because they're infrequent and unexpected. This is a true horror game: creepy and unsettling, with scenes sure to embed themselves in the player's mind, whether they like it or not. Much of the plot is told through PDA journal entries found around the ship. These entries are well written, and players will find themselves excited to find new ones. Entering a room often reveals quite the scene, and as players read the PDAs, the events that transpired in the room come in to view. All of a sudden that blood splatter or broken machinery makes perfect sense. [embed]308755:60221:0[/embed] The biggest issue the plot has is pacing. For someone who figures out all of the game's puzzles with relative ease, the pacing is great. For those like myself, however, who struggle with classic adventure game puzzles, the pacing can fall apart quickly. In general, I suck at figuring out puzzles in adventure games. That being said, I managed to get through most of STASIS' puzzles without struggling. When I did struggle, however, oh boy was it rough. After spending over an hour trying to figure out what to do, the game's atmosphere and themes crumble away, and the I began to look at it from a mechanical point of view. "Okay, what haven't I clicked on yet," or "which item haven't I tried to use on everything yet?" are signs of desperation and even frustration. At that point, the creepy background sounds and eerie music were just noise and I was furiously clicking on everything in hopes that it would work. For players who end up at this point, I have a few tips. First of all, make sure you've read everything. Many times, hints are offered through various PDA journal entries or in the mouse-over descriptions of things. Read them carefully! Always try to combine items, and use items on just about everything. Finally, if you're truly stuck, look it up! It's better to keep moving with the story than to spend hours banging your head against the wall, hoping for the best. Shoutouts to my Destructoid colleague Stephen Turner for helping me through some of the harder puzzles; that guy is a rockstar. With the exception of those few obtuse puzzles, most of them range from very obvious to "just the right amount of thinking." As mentioned, hints are almost always available to those who are observant enough, even though some don't come off as hints initially. Piecing together these clues feels great, and solving most puzzles provides a strong sense of accomplishment. The game takes an interesting isometric perspective, similar to RPGs like Baldur's Gate or Planescape: Torment. The view cannot be zoomed in or rotated, so what you see is what you get. This is probably for the best, since the game uses a fairly low resolution and zooming in would not be pretty. It isn't always easy to see where to exit a room, so it's best to hover the mouse over the edges of each room to find all of the exits.  Objects that can be picked up or PDAs that can be read have a glint of light, signaling to the player that they should click on it. This helps alleviate the "pixel-hunt" that many adventure games suffer from, though not completely. While interactable items sparkle like a gem in the sky, environmental objects do not. I did occasionally find myself slowly scanning my mouse over an area to see if I had missed something to click on.  While this is inconsequential, the pathfinding in STASIS is a little wonky. Often times John will take the longer route to get to an item instead of the obviously shorter one. Some of the animations are also a bit funky; certain movements don't quite line up with the surrounding environments at times. Both of these have no gameplay impact, but they can break immersion and remind the player that they're playing a video game.  The model for John also stuck out as odd. He's completely dark, like a shadow. Other character models seem to have some texturing done, but John...doesn't. Even when in a room with plenty of light, John stands as a dark figure. It comes off as unfinished, though it seems to be a deliberate choice. The sound design, however, is top notch. Various background noises easily take front stage at times, making an already creepy room into a downright terrifying experience. Sound effects after interacting with specific objects are downright perfect, and make me question the lengths that the developer went to to get such sounds. STASIS is one of the most memorable experiences I've had from gaming in quite a while. Some puzzles can be frustratingly obtuse, but the majority are a pleasure to solve. The game will take most people between six to ten hours to complete, depending on puzzle-solving skill, and just about every moment is sure to stick with the player in some way. STASIS is a game that is not to be missed by anyone craving an eerie and sinister experience. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
STASIS review photo
Something you won't forget
Generally, I tend to avoid both adventure and horror games, which makes my attraction to STASIS a bit perplexing, since it's both of these things. I've been invested in the game's development for years, anticipating its relea...


Video Review: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Sep 01 // Myles Cox
[embed]308699:60215:0[/embed]
Metal Gear video review photo
Standing on the edge of the crater
In case you haven't seen Chris' written review of The Phantom Pain (or you're not fond of reading), I've prepared a relatively* spoiler-free video review of the long-awaited final(?) entry in the Metal Gear Solid series. *All gameplay footage is spoiler-free. All cutscene footage has been shown in previous trailers.

Review: FEIST

Aug 31 // Caitlin Cooke
FEIST (PC)Developer: Bits & BeastsPublisher: FinjiRelease: July 23, 2015MSRP: $14.99 In FEIST you control a small furry creature trying to make its way through a mysterious forest rife with larger, furrier, and angrier beasts who have a penchant for killing and/or capturing your kind. Along the forest path you encounter smaller monsters who, unsurprisingly, are also extremely hell-bent on killing you. The only protection you have is within the environment -- ie grabbing a stick, pinecone, or other forest object to hurl at the creatures, or if that fails then running away. Much of the game consists of learning these monsters’ patterns and using the environment to either avoid or directly confront the problem. Making use of the environment is also critical in progressing throughout the levels -- crates, sticky pine cones, ropes, and rocks are all puzzle mechanics which allow you to move through the game, sometimes while also being ambushed. There is very little direction in how to approach each situation, so often times arriving to the solution involves lots of experimentation and do-overs. For example, leveraging a crate as a shield against a dart-throwing centipede and pushing other monsters into the fray is a common tactic to avoid death. Nothing is randomized, even the behaviors of enemies are predictable, however FEIST manages to make each level extremely difficult by throwing a lot at the player. The encounters are sometimes clustered and can escalate quickly if not approached in the right manner. There aren’t any power ups in the game so relying on your platforming skills and muscle memory is key. In other words, FEIST is not a game where you have time to pause and think of what the solution is -- it’s best to run through, burn out, and repeat what you’ve learned from your death. I find that because of this premise, FEIST teeters on the edge of being almost too demanding. If you’re not able to master these precise movements and quick reactions, the game can become frustrating fairly quickly. The first couple of chapters through the forest were intriguing, latching onto more of a puzzle-solving nature, but sadly as I progressed I found the mechanics and monsters to be repetitive and annoying. The visuals are simple but captivating, displaying a bright and sunny environment beyond the veil of the dark forest -- a constant reminder that you’re trapped. The music is also entrancing, matching the ambience of the game and sometimes even providing a sense of calm in the chaos. I did find myself hoping for more setting to accompany the strife of actually making it through the levels -- as FEIST only has a loose story that wasn’t entirely clear, or interesting for that matter. Unfortunately, FEIST also suffers from a number of other issues. For a game that demands so much precision, so much is left out of the player’s hands. In many situations monsters have a hive mentality or tossing mechanism which essentially throws the player back and forth, making it useless to combat. It’s also impossible to tell how many hits you can reasonably take, as there is no health bar yet many ways you can get hurt to varying degrees. It’s also unclear when, or if, the game is saving your state. When dying, it brings you back to the beginning of the scenario as expected, however when exiting the game there is no clear indication of where you will begin when re-entering. At one point, I had spent an arduous amount of time getting through a level only to find that when I picked the game back up the next day, it had erased my progress and placed me back at the beginning of the chapter. Despite it drawing similarities from Limbo and other games in the genre, FEIST manages to separate itself and make the experience its own through dynamic gameplay and an emergent environment. However, that experience is a brutal one, and something that is extremely hard to swallow. Although its premise was simple and delightful at first, playing through FEIST was a trying experience and one that I would not want to repeat. Others who have a penchant for unforgiving games like the Souls series may find joy here, and if you’re looking for something more thoughtful or forgiving, keep walking.
FEIST Review photo
Masochism at its finest
FEIST is at first glance very reminiscent of Limbo, checking all the boxes in terms of its dark visuals, lonely atmosphere, eerie music -- it even has the same creepy, hanging crates and doom spiders. Despite the similarities...

Review: Satellite Reign

Aug 31 // Josh Tolentino
Satellite Reign (PC)Developer: 5 Lives StudiosPublisher: 5 Lives StudiosReleased: August 28, 2015MSRP: $29.99Reviewer's Rig: Intel Core i5 3.40Ghz, Nvidia Geforce GTX 780 Ti, 8GB RAM I mentioned the discrepancy between my memory of what Syndicate was and the fact of how it actually played, and Satellite Reign's existence makes that difference all the more apparent. That's because, despite the latter game's obvious tonal and thematic debt to Syndicate, it's a closer cousin, mechanically speaking, to Firaxis' XCOM: Enemy Unknown.  Whereas Syndicate and Syndicate Wars had you controlling a squad of roughly identical agents, each distinguished mainly by the weapons you had them carry, the corporate wetworks team you run in Satellite Reign's consists of four distinct character classes; each class has unique abilities unlocked through the leveling system, as well as individualized ways of dealing with the obstacles in their way. Soldiers can attract and resist enemy fire or hardwire enemy power generators to turn off turrets, doors, and cameras. Hackers can shut down security systems, use drones, and "hijack" enemy and civilian NPCs to puppet as they please, a la Syndicate's Persuadertron. Support agents heal their comrades and can use a "World Scan" ability to trace systems and find suitable hacking targets. Infiltrators can use ziplines, vents, and cloaking devices to sneak past guards while packing powerful melee and sniper attacks.   [embed]307082:60210:0[/embed] This class system, in addition to the game's requisite suite of cybernetic augmentations, weapons, and equipment, as well as an XCOM-like cover system, makes every encounter and excursion in Satellite Reign a far more involved affair than in its inspiration. Whereas those older encounters usually boiled down to how quickly your guys could mow down theirs, here, every member can work in concert, their abilities complementing each other to lay even the toughest defenses bare. Evasion, subterfuge and pitched combat all have their place, and can happen at virtually any time on the game's open map. That open map is another way 5 Lives stands apart from its peers and inspirations. Instead of missions, whether bespoke like in Syndicate or procedurally-generated like in XCOM, Satellite Reign opts for an open-world structure set on what the developers claim is one of the largest maps ever generated for the Unity Engine. The map is that of a city owned and run by Dracogenics, a massive future megacorporation propped up by selling "Res-tech", a cloning technology not unlike that seen in The Sixth Day. Your team, part of a rival corporation, is dropped into the city with an older, pirated version of Res-tech (their explanation for respawning), and tasked with overthrowing Dracogenics' monopoly in the name of business, no matter how much murder and robbery it takes to do so. Everything happens on the map, as your agents claw their way through the city, with nary a loading screen between tasks. Each district, from neon-soaked Downtown to the smog-choked Industrial zone, houses a number of side missions designed to reduce Dracogenics' control. For example, infiltrating the local police station can lengthen the time it takes for guards to call in reinforcements, while planting bugs in a surveillance center keeps security cameras from recognizing your agents too quickly. Breaking into the district bank can increase the speed at which ATMs funnel cash into your coffers. Bribing a disgruntled sanitation worker can unlock a side entrance into a heavily-guarded military base. Locating a conveniently hung power line might give your agents a quick way over the walls, but only if your Soldier can sabotage a nearby generator to keep that line from frying anyone trying to slide down it. It all feels interconnected and detailed in the manner of the best obstacle courses and levels. Through it all your agents will be getting their hands on new gear, unlocking new abilities, and getting more formidable, as the game's structure allows for a near total freedom of approach. Virtually every scenario can be handled in the way you choose (short of peaceful negotiation), limited only by your ability to coordinate your agents and their own equipment and abilities. Every upgrade makes you feel more powerful, but not just in a simple "numbers went up" sense, but in the way that new upgrades unlock new options and ways to break past barriers that limited you before. Unfortunately, like a proper cyberpunk story, Satellite Reign's shiny, polished exterior reveals some grit and ugliness upon close examination. Civilians walk aimlessly to and fro, only there to provide a source of fresh clones for your agents and inconvenient witnesses for their crimes. The open-world structure of the game excises the possibility of truly lasting consequence, with the world, guard patterns, and even destroyed cameras eventually resetting over time. Enemies are a touch too durable as well, their multiple layers of armor, health, and energy shielding limiting certain approaches, and turning most firefights into drawn-out affairs as enemies summon reinforcements faster than you can kill them. Perhaps the most disappointing thing about this otherwise brilliantly-executed game is how hollow its world feels. Despite the gorgeously rendered city visuals and a goodly amount of text to be found by digging through random data terminals, Satellite Reign's city feel less like a world than a cyberpunk-themed playset. You direct your little squad of action figures around and play as you like, but rarely feel lost or immersed in the setting. It would be churlish and greedy to demand storytelling on the level of, say, Deus Ex from the game when it already does everything else so well, but it's saying something when Syndicate still manages to establish a better mood despite being nearly twenty-two years older. At the same time, rough edges like that are a small price to pay when Satellite Reign does Syndicate better than Syndicate ever did.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] [embed]307082:60210:0[/embed]
Satellite Reign Review photo
Guerilla Startup
I can still remember the first time I played Syndicate. It was after school in late 1993, and I was messing around on an office computer while waiting for my mother to finish a meeting and take me home. I remember the cool mi...

Through the Woods uses psychological horror to retell a classic myth

Aug 30 // Alissa McAloon
Conversations between the mother and her doctor drive the greater plot. The events of Through the Woods happened long ago; the players are simply helping the mother with her retelling of the tale. The demo begins with the mother alone in the dark woods with only a flashlight to guide her way. Branches crunch beneath her feet as she slowly makes her way through the environment. From time to time, an object in the distance catches the light of the flashlight. These objects, the mother explains to the doctor, are reflectors her son often collected. Reflectors sometimes trigger a short conversation between the mother and the doctor, but more often than not simply serve as a welcome reminder that you're on the right path. Eventually the forest directs her toward an isolated cluster of cabins. As she tries to open each door, she calls her son's name into the night. After finding every door locked, the door farthest from her creaks open and the soft sound of a woman's singing beckons her toward the cabin. I was somehow still surprised when the door then slammed shut behind her. The sound something loudly drooling and shuffling nearby filled my ears and it was then I became well acquainted with the run button. The game bills itself as psychological horror and it isn't hard to see why. Through the Woods uses a finessed merging of sound, design, and narrative to craft an experience that is equal parts intriguing and terrifying. I can't wait to give Woods another shot when it releases next year, but chances are I'll be playing with the lights on. 
Through the Woods photo
Norse mythology is messed up
I knew I was in over my head with Through the Woods the very second I started the demo. The moment I put those headphones on, the loud world of PAX disappeared and was replaced with the unsettling ambiance of a dark forest. ...

CONTEST photo
Courtesy of Xbox and The Coalition
The original Gears of War is back almost nine years to the day on Xbox One with the HD soul-patched Gears of War Ultimate Edition. To celebrate, Xbox and The Coalition are giving away a custom Xbox One designed by The Coaliti...

Cliff Bleszinski: We want players to actually use verticality

Aug 29 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]308291:60187:0[/embed] "I don't mean to slag any other games, because those core loops of getting a lot of kills quick are what kill streaks and kill streak rewards are built on," Bleszinski said. "With us, we want to have a little bit of that dance, a little more like Halo where if someone gets the drop on you, you at least have a shot at either getting away or at least taking a dent out of them so they might die by your teammate." The hook that allows LawBreakers this freedom lies in the world-building. Because of a cataclysmic event known as "The Shattering," Earth is left with pockets of low gravity in certain areas. Conveniently enough, LawBreakers' maps are set in some of these areas, which should make for interesting and varied gameplay. Bleszinski was visibly excited about this. "We see these moments where there's this giant zero-gravity pocket where everyone's vertical and people are actually knocking each other around with rockets. One of the comments on Twitter was someone asking if rockets actually propel people. Since you have a rocket jump now, you actually have a radius. We found that with rockets not being a one-hit kill (because we don't really want them to be), even with Kitsune who's a very light character, once we have the law equivalent of her, she probably might be a couple rockets minimum. Still, it's a light character, but we want you to juggle." There's a reason he wants players to juggle. "When you introduce low gravity and the concept of juggling as well as a rocket that you can air-burst with the alt-fire, you see somebody flying through the air blind-firing propelling themselves, and you can suddenly send them over to the other side of the map by air-bursting a rocket and then follow through with your stomp move and kind of chain your moves together. We want the FPS dance to kind of come back." That FPS dance means that players stay alive longer and actually get to make use of the game's vertical axis. "It's a lot greater than your Call of Duty grind. It's a little bit faster than your Titanfall one. It's somewhere around Halo-ish is what I like to say," Bleszinski ultimately said of Spencer's original time until death inquiry. Figuring out exactly how to properly execute all that action is the tough part. LawBreakers' gameplay trailer showed a handful of different characters, each with their own abilities and traits. Bleszinski and his team are now in the position of getting all of those characters work in conjunction with one another without any of them sticking out like a sore thumb. "Perfect balance is nearly impossible to get," Bleszinski commented. "We're still working on it. Right now, in the current build that people are playing off-site, it's very asymmetrical -- two unique classes on both sides. The Law has all sorts of weapons whereas the Breakers have like area-of-effect stuff. That's been really hard to balance. One of the first things we're going to do when we get back is, you have Breacher on the Law side, we're figuring out who the Breacher equivalent is on the Breaker side. That's something that when we go back to symmetrical gameplay, I think it's going to be easier to balance. But, it'll still be slightly asymmetrical." It may not be exactly what he's shooting for, but Bleszinski made reference to a revered fighting game when talking about balanced gameplay. "I saw a graph where they're pointing out the Smash Bros. characters from the original that we've used over the years. Smash Bros. may be the most perfectly balanced game ever because they kept finding a new character and a new exploit without the game ever being patched or updated." An interesting analog, but LawBreakers won't take that approach. Bleszinski continued "Thankfully, we're going to be a living product so we can keep introducing updates, hopefully every couple weeks. Pump that shit through, have test kitchens and things like that. Basically, if we find an exploit that breaks the game, fix it. But, also recognize when there's an exploit that adds to the game. You know, rocket jumping is one of those accidents that actually is cool." Bleszinski and Boss Key can expect to find a lot of those exploits given the combination of possibilities between several unique characters and maps with variable gravity. There are a lot of factors at play. Some exploits will evolve into part of the game, some will get squashed. Those that make verticality more enjoyable and contribute to the FPS dance (as Bleszinski put it) have a better chance of surviving.
Bleszinski interview photo
Doing the FPS dance
Just this week, Cliff Bleszinski and Boss Key Productions pulled back the curtain on LawBreakers -- the free-to-play arena shooter that has been in development under the codename Project BlueStreak. It's more than just the co...

Metal Gear memories

Aug 29 // Nic Rowen
I remember the entire route through Shadow Moses. I remember the area with electrified tiles inset in the floor and steering a tiny rocket over them. I remember resenting not being able to use my guns in the nuke disposal area. The cave with all of Sniper Wolf's wolves running loose -- one of them pissed on my cardboard box. I'll sometimes forget the best way to get downtown, but the map of Shadow Moses is burned into my memory. The bosses were legendary, both for their design and the surreal conversations you'd have before, during, and afterward. One-on-one with an old west gunfighter, circling each other around a hostage in the middle of a room rigged up with C4. He showed off his fancy carnival trick-spinning and made comments that distinctly implied that he wanted to make love to his pistol, or that gun fighting was an allegory for sex to him. I don't know, he was a weird dude. There was that shaman who you'd fight twice, once in a literal tank and once while he carried around a gun the size of a small tank. He discussed ear-pulling competitions and the futility of struggling against fate. He was eaten by his own ravens. Then there was the suffocating tension and isolation of dueling a single sniper hundreds of yards away. The battle with Sniper Wolf would be eclipsed in every way six years later by Naked Snake's duel against The End, but at the time it was one of the most intense fights I'd ever experienced. I feel like there has probably been enough ink spilled on how crazy the fight with Psycho Mantis was, but holy fucking shit. How did any of that happen? It was like stepping into some alternate reality where Andy Kaufman had been a game designer and somebody cut him a blank check. Memes of plugging the controller into the second slot, or the infamous “HIDEO” error screen are well worn now. But I don't think secondary accounts can do justice to just how crazy and bizarre that fight, and the rest of Metal Gear Solid, truly was. All of that weird fourth wall breaking shit -- holding the controller to your arm for a massage, having the Colonel explain combat maneuvers to Snake directly referencing the DualShock and a bunch of video game jargon, it was something that had to be lived in the moment. It felt like Kojima was peeling back our skulls and attaching electrodes to areas of the brain that were previously entirely unstimulated. He was showing us a new way of making and thinking about games. I remember taking that instruction book with me while on a short shopping errand that Saturday afternoon in a calculated move to ensure I wouldn't have to stop thinking about Metal Gear. It had its hooks in me, and once I was in that world of spies, rogue special ops groups, and shadowy conspiracies, I never wanted to leave. We were supposed to visit our grandparents that Sunday, but stopping wasn't an option. So we took the PlayStation with us, hooking it up to an ancient TV in their dusty basement where we could continue to save the world from nuclear disaster and learn more dubious information about genetic engineering. I know, it was a scumbag move. But in our defense, we'd just finished the torture scene, found the corpse of the real DARPA chief, and escaped a jail cell using a bottle of ketchup -- neither of us were in the best head space to make positive decisions. It was a weekend I'll never forget. My brother and I tackled Shadow Moses together, experiencing the entire mission as a single unit. It was was a battle march, a do-or-die suicide mission to finish it in a single weekend. Even if it meant wearing out our welcome at our grandparents with multiple pleas of “just 15 more minutes!” as we pummeled Liquid Snake to death and tried to watch the hour-long ending without completely alienating the rest of the family. So yeah, we kept the stupid manual. Call it a battle trophy, or a war memento. My brother still has it buried in some desk drawer. Besides, we did Blockbuster and the next person to rent the game a solid. When we returned the game, we taped an index card with Meryl's codec number to the inside of the sterile white and blue plastic box. We had to crack that puzzle with brute force after we couldn't convince our mom to drive us back out just before midnight to look at the back of the CD case on the shelf. Kojima never accounted for us rental kids with his fourth wall shattering puzzle, but I forgive him. How could I not? He made some of my favorite memories. The best moments I had with Sons of Liberty all happened years after the game first hit the shelves. Nowadays, I consider Sons of Liberty to be one of the most important and subversive games of all time. When we picked it up on day one though, I thought Raiden was a turd and Kojima was playing a mean spirited prank on us. You want to talk about memories? I remember thinking “boy, I hope this is just a joke and Snake takes over again reallll soon” about a million times during the first few hours with it. That's not to say I didn't like Sons of Liberty or that it was a bad game or anything, it was just frustrating. It seemed to exist only to validate every criticism of the original. That it was a bunch of nonsense for the sake of nonsense, or that it was a nice movie with some neat game bits in between. I wanted to love it, but it didn't seem to care one way or the other for me. Subliminally, I was picking up on the entire meaning of the game. But it'd be a long time before I could fully appreciate it. Sons of Liberty isn't a game you tackle in a single weekend of obsessive dead-eye play. It's an intricate and nuanced criticism of the industry, players, and power fantasies that you revisit every few years with a scalpel and a fresh set of eyes. It's a game that was so prescient that only now, with games like Spec Ops: The Line and Hotline Miami, are other titles even attempting the same kind of criticism it levied. It's a game that I've enjoyed reading about more than I enjoyed playing. And I've enjoyed playing it a lot. It would be easy to dismiss Sons of Liberty's message as postmodern gobbledygook, or its criticisms of Raiden, and by extension the players, as overly impressionable rubes playing pretend at being a super solider as a creator taking a shot at his audience. But I remember a time in high school when I skipped Mr. Hogarth's class in the morning and couldn't afford to be caught. How the blood in my veins began to pump as I saw him looming just in front of the door of one of my afternoon classes having a conversation with Mr. Jones. How I slipped seamlessly, without consciously thinking about it into STEALTH MODE, creeping up just behind him, turning with him as he turned, like I was staying just outside of the vision cone of any of Metal Gear's hapless guards, slipping in just past him to take my seat, no alarms activated. The S3 plan worked better than Kojima could have dreamed. Even a pudgy high school nerd could have his own Solid Snake moment with the kind of training he provided us with. The Substance Edition on the Xbox was where I really came to love Sons of Liberty. The VR missions more than made up for the intractable cinematics and radio conversations of the main game, finally letting me feel like I played Sons of Liberty rather than watched it. With a few years to get over the shock of playing as Raiden and absorb the message of the game's screwy third act, I was able to enjoy the story and characters. It's one of the few games I can think of that benefited from a remaster in a way that was more meaningful than just a graphical update. But when it's all said and done, I think my favorite memory of Sons of Liberty has to be slipping on bird shit and falling to my death. I don't know why, but that's the moment that crystallized Sons of Liberty to me. Snake Eater is one of my favorite games of all time. I've completed it maybe ten or so times give or take. Certainly more times than any other game I've ever owned. The reason I played through it so many times is simple -- it kept giving me something new every time I did. I'm not sure how many people appreciate how incredibly dense and rich Snake Eater is. If you just want to mainline the game on normal mode, stick to dependable tactics, and don't care too much if you get spotted or have to drop a few extra people, it can be a fairly straightforward affair. If you want to dig deep though, if you want to get weird, that's when Snake Eater really shows you what it's really made of. I did all of the normal things. A regular playthrough where I slit every throat I saw, blundered into enemies and tripped off alarms, and was admonished by The Sorrow who seemed very cross with the number of Russians I set on fire. I did the professional thing, where I snuck in like a shadow over Groznyj Grad, with no alarms and no surprises. Then I did the goofy stuff -- theme runs where I would try and see if I could complete the game as a North Vietnamese regular (all black camo, unsilenced pistol, AK-47, grenades, and SVD only). I did runs where I would only eat fresh killed food, no Calorie Mates or insta-noodles. Runs where I tried to kill as many people indirectly as I could, to see how many I could poison with rotted food or knock off of bridges, the spirit of bad luck. Runs where I made a point of blowing up every supply shed and armory in the country. Every time I thought I exhausted the very last bit of Snake Eater, there was just a little bit more to find. A new mechanic or trick (that of course was almost totally useless and impractical, and great), or some new weird quirk of enemy behavior (did you know you can kill The Fury with a few swipes of your knife? He even has custom dialog for it), or a new radio conversation or song I had never heard before. I played Snake Eater for years, and I'll bet there are still one or two things left to find; Kojima's bag of tricks never seems to end. I still have the memory card with all of my Snake Eater saves on it, just in case I ever feel the need to get down on my belly and crawl through the weeds and marshes of Tselnoyarsk again. I had a whole library of saves, most of them right before discrete scenes or moments I knew I'd want to play again and again. The mountain infiltration right before you rendezvous with Eva and the treacherous march back down again. Dodging KGB special operation units armed with flamethrowers, mindful of the differences in elevation and the gun emplacements littering the hill. I've heard The Guns of Navarone was one of the movies that inspired Kojima when working on the series, and I like to think this area is his little homage to the cliff-side raid of the movie. I saved right before the sniper duel with The End, two different versions. One where Snake would run into his valley clad in camo greens, ready to fight a war of attrition with the legendary marksman. Another, where I assassinated the old man earlier on in the game with a single split-second crackshot (Snake Eater lets you do this because Snake Eater is a game that gives and gives every time you play it). In that version, his valley was full of Ocelot's personal entourage of soldiers to play with. Can you slip by unnoticed while being hunted by a pack of red beret-wearing hotshots? Or maybe it would be more satisfying to unzip each of their throats one by one, or to fight them all in one glorious running battle of machine gun fire and shotgun blasts (I never really used the thing unless I was goofing around). Of course, I saved just before the final showdown against The Boss. It's probably the single greatest scene in the entire series and one of the best boss encounters ever designed. Sure, taking down the Shagohod was satisfying, and sneaking up on The End and forcing him to give up his special camo and rifle made you feel like a sneaky master, but this was the real test. Fighting a person with all of the same skills and tactics you've spent the game developing and mastering, but she's better at them than you. After all, she invented them. I have less personal attachment to the other games. Guns of the Patriots I had to enjoy vicariously, reading about it and watching other people play. Same with the Metal Gear Acid games. I've spent a good chunk of the last month catching up, reading wikis about them and watching Let's Plays to fill in the gaps of my Metal Gear knowledge. I think I'm ready. I'm ready to finally close the loop on this series I've been playing my entire life. I'm ready to experience the last chapter in this decades long story of espionage, betrayal, and hiding in cardboard boxes. I can't wait to get into The Phantom Pain next week and see it for myself. I'm hoping Kojima can give me a few more memories on his way out.
Metal Gear memories photo
More than the basics of CQC
We stole the instruction manual when we rented Metal Gear Solid from Blockbuster. It's the one and only time we ever did that. Normally we were fine upstanding rental citizens who held manual-thieves in smug contempt. But in ...

Burly Men at Sea is such a delightful adventure

Aug 29 // Jordan Devore
[embed]308368:60185:0[/embed] I think I would've preferred to play with touch controls given the way movement flows, but using a mouse was fine. Burley Men at Sea is coming to Windows, Mac, and iOS, so we'll have that choice. The demo at PAX was only a hint, and I am intrigued. Toward the end, a whale swallows the bearded brothers, which one of them finds "really very discouraging." I helped them escape by finding and tugging on the creature's uvula, prompting a quick blowhole escape. It's real cute. There's promise of folklore creatures and I can't wait to see how they translate to this art style.
Hands-on preview photo
Scandinavian folklore
Strolling through the Indie Megabooth at PAX Prime, Burly Men at Sea stood out thanks to its clean, charming art direction. The adventure game has a small presence within the bustling independent area, but I sincerely hope ot...

Guild Wars 2's base game goes free-to-play today, no purchase needed

Aug 29 // Chris Carter
Opening up the conversation, O'Brien talked a bit about how the core message of the game is staying the same, despite the move to free-to-play. "We don't want to ask for more money, and all of the additional purchases will stay the same" he stated. Going on, Mike noted, "What we looked at after the release of the core game, is things like 'how can players catch up with their friends' and this new model makes that easier to do. We've always said 'if you wan't Guild Wars 2, just buy the game, and we'll provide free updates for it for months.' We'll continue to do that for Heart of Thorns: just buy the expansion, and you'll get every update for free." Another big new change is the addition of raids, which will make their debut in Heart of Thorns. Speaking on this new adventure, Colin Johanson, keeping with the spirit of the game, insists that "this is our way of doing things differently, even with the traditional format of raids with other MMOs. We're getting rid of barriers to entry. The way Heart of Thorns is built is by way of masteries, which will upgrade your character beyond the typical gear-based setup of other games. In that regard, raids will still be relevant six months later, and won't be completely replaced by a new tier of gear." Going on, Johanson stated that "although you can't necessarily PUG (pick-up-group) these raids, they are skill-based. In other words, you can use any combination of characters to complete them." Upon probing him a bit, asking whether or not it was difficult to design raids around the lack of a trinity (healer, tank, and damage), he responded with, "it's not necessarily tougher but balance them within our game, but they will be more fun since everyone can fulfill any role. You don't have to wait 40 minutes for your healer to get online, and you can use any class you want to play. It really is all about skill." If ArenaNet and their team can follow through with these promises, an accessible yet challenging raid scheme would be an enticing prospect for players old and new. I'm anxious to see what they come up with when Heart of Thorns finally comes out.
Guild Wars 2 F2P photo
Heart of Thorns still a paid expansion
Nearly three years after the release of Guild Wars 2, the base game is going fully free-to-play. Instead of following a method where users are required to purchase the core package before they are greeted with a subscrip...

Get your XCOM fix this year with the brutal Hard West

Aug 28 // Steven Hansen
[embed]308273:60179:0[/embed] At one point in my demo I had to rescue a man held on a cannibal farm because I needed information from him. An elixir vendor further south, when pressed about the cannibalism (information gleaned from earlier adventure), admitted some of that crew come into his shop to buy spices and things. He offered to vouch for me if I drank one of his elixirs. I did, and it was poison, which weakened me a bit. But I was also able to take that poison to a well near the farm and poison their water supply, thus weakening all my upcoming enemy combatants. Plus, with the snake oil salesman's help, I was able to stealth my way through my turns and to the hostage's shack. With my cover, enemies would get suspicious if I got too close for too long, but I was able to get through fairly easily. After the rescue, that upped our ranks to three, leaving me even better off for the impending slaughter. (An optional objective was to try the human meat, which would restore strength, but it could've had some drawbacks; I opted to avoid it). There are a number of cool options available within the tactical half. Like XCOM, you have to reload, sometimes after just one shot, because of the period guns. You can also hold up an enemy if you don't want to kill them (or don't want to kill them yet). There's also no overwatch phase, so if you know where an enemy is and they aren't expecting you, you can run up on them and unload. Hard West also challenges the random number generator. You can permanently lose characters (as I did, last minute, with my would-be informant); the game is not easy. But it tries to reward you for playing well, which all comes down to positioning. Accordingly, you don't have those point blank, 98% chance shots that somehow always miss when you need them most. If you get close enough, you were playing well, and you're rewarded with sure hits. Which is important when both you and your enemies can go down in one or two hits. There are plenty of other wrinkles in Hard West I'd like to explore. There is full/half cover, but you can also make your own cover by, say, flipping over a table in the middle of a room. There are also challenging richochet shots, which I didn't try out, and each gun has secondary fire (a spread cone for the shotgun, fanning for multiple pistol shots). Playing card modifiers also enhance your characters -- by greater degrees if you also make a poker hand. And I didn't get to the early promised bit about dynamic sunlight casting shadows that can alert you to enemy positions (and vice-versa). Hard West is coming to PC this fall.
Hands-on preview photo
Cowboys and strategy
With XCOM 2 just pushed back into 2016 and, I assume, everyone needing a short break from 1,000 hours of Invisible, Inc, strategy-minded folks seem to have a good option this fall: Hard West. The Western turn-based strategy g...

Hang out with Destructoid at PAX Prime 2015

Aug 28 // Steven Hansen
The general schedule of funsies is as follows: THURSDAY Join the Destructoid staff and community for some pre-PAX drinking and arcades at Gameworks (1511 7th Ave). Meet new folks, catch up with the homies, play Taiko Drum Master, and let me coax you into drinking strange liqueurs (round of Fernet? Round of Fernet) Let's say folks roll in around 8PM allowing time for dinners (find people to dine with!). FRIDAY Nothing "official" planned for today, but you've made so many new friends last night at Gameworks that you'll have no problem coming up with some great plans, eh? SATURDAY Elephant & Castle, it lives! Located in the Motif Hotel (formerly the Red Lion, 1415 5th Avenue), it's a fake English bar to remind you of home. You're all from England, right? Let's plan for typical convening around 8PM, but note that this joint does food, too. SUNDAY Our yearly picture, days into the show, when when we look near our worst, but new and old friendships have had time to ferment and everyone has that glint in their eye, probably from all the sex. (No one is allowed to have sex, this is a family website - Ed.). Be ready for your close up at 12PM at Pike St in front of the convention center. MONDAY I'm leaving. I probably should get home and feed my cat. But elsewise, to quote the much better at this Andy Dixon, "Monday means sad goodbyes to friends you don't see nearly enough, and as always, we'll be meeting up at Rock Bottom (1333 Fifth Ave) about 8pm." - Plans can always change. Stay frosty. Keep friends in the loop. Use any means of communication you got. Take pictures. Get hugs. Give hugs. Say no to drugs. Let's have a lovely weekend.
PAX Prime 2015 plans photo
THAT MEANS YOU
PAX Prime is this weekend. It's a yearly, consumer-focused gaming convention held in rainy Seattle, Washington that always has a large turnout of Destructoid folks. And I'm not just talking about us writerly jagoffs, though w...

Borderlands movie photo
Can it top Tales from the Borderlands?
Borderlands is Gearbox's star property. Though The Pre-Sequel was kind of a letdown, Borderlands, Borderlands 2, and Tales from the Borderlands have all been critical and/or commercial successes. Of course 2K and Gearbox woul...

Review: Flywrench

Aug 26 // Ben Davis
Flywrench (PC)Developer: MesshofPublisher: MesshofReleased: August 24, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Flywrench is a little difficult to describe without actually seeing it in motion. It's essentially an aerial obstacle course, where the goal is to guide the ship to the end of the level while passing through barriers and avoiding walls. It has the same sense of intense difficulty with rapid respawning as many notably punishing platformers such as Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV, without actually being a platformer per se. The flywrench moves by flapping its wings, and it will plummet to the ground rather quickly if it doesn't keep flapping. If the flap button is held down, the wings will come together to form a vertical line and the ship will change colors from white to red. Another button makes the ship barrel roll out of control and turn green, and also allows it to bounce off of boundary walls. The color of the ship is very important, because it can only pass through barriers if it matches the color. A big part of the gameplay involves quickly switching between forms so that the ship can safely travel through barriers, all while continuously flapping to stay afloat. [embed]307954:60146:0[/embed] The levels start off rather simple, slowly introducing new mechanics in short areas so that the player doesn't get overwhelmed too quickly. Moving from planet to planet, the levels steadily become more difficult. Each planet introduces a new obstacle to overcome, such as rotating barriers, turrets, switches, gravity pools, and more. All of this culminates in the final planet, Mercury, which steeply ramps up the difficulty by throwing every mechanic at the player in a gauntlet of truly challenging stages before the grand finale of the Sun. Like Super Meat Boy, Flywrench is one of those games that requires a lot of patience and determination to master, and you'll be filled with joy and rage simultaneously as you try to overcome the challenges. Once I got to Mercury, I found myself involuntarily clenching up as I tried repeatedly to overcome a tough level, tossing out all kinds of expletives every time I died, before rejoicing and fully relaxing every part of my body once I finally succeeded. And then I continued on to the next level and repeated the process all over again! But it's all worth it for those beautiful moments where I seem to soar quickly and flawlessly through a tough level, pulling off impressive aerial stunts like it was second nature. The Steam release of Flywrench makes a lot of much-needed improvements upon the prototype version. Perhaps most importantly, the physics have been tweaked to make it much easier to maneuver precisely through the air. The ship keeps its momentum going with every movement and flap, and barriers now hold that momentum until the ship has passed through them. It also feels much easier to maneuver left and right while changing colors now. Also, the ship will slightly gravitate towards the exit portals when it's close enough, so even if your aim is a little off, it still might be good enough to get sucked into the exit. All of these changes make the gameplay a bit less frustrating and allows the player to feel more in control. Granted, it is sometimes a little too difficult to break momentum, which led to a huge number of deaths as my flywrench flapped one too many times and was unable to slow down before crashing into a wall. But that's just something to get used to. The graphics and soundtrack were also greatly improved. It now has that signature Messhof art style seen in many of his other games such as Nidhogg, with added effects such as a trail of exhaust leading out of the ship and an explosion upon death. The soundtrack was completely redone with electronic tracks by Daedelus and a host of other artists, and they sound much nicer than the previous scratchy, industrial-sounding music. Overall, the game is simply more pleasant to look at and listen to. A few new modes were added to the Steam version as well, including time trials and a level editor. Each planet has its own time trial which unlocks once you have beaten every level for a given planet, so you can test your skills by beating each stage quickly with as few deaths as possible and try to climb the leaderboards. The level editor is also pretty neat. It allows you to create your own planet and add as many levels to it as you want, which can then be downloaded and enjoyed by other players. It'll be interesting to see what kinds of challenges other people can come up with. Flywrench comes highly recommended from me, especially to those gamers who are always seeking a new challenge. If you enjoyed Super Meat Boy, VVVVVV, and the like, you will certainly enjoy this one as well. It does a really great job of easing new players into the mechanics too, so it's worth trying out even if the difficulty sounds daunting. I can definitely see myself coming back to replay Flywrench many times down the line. The feeling of determination as I try to conquer a punishing game and the satisfaction of finally emerging victorious is like an addiction, and I'm forever thankful that games like Flywrench exist to scratch that itch. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Flywrench review photo
Flying high
You may have heard of Flywrench before. A freeware prototype version of the game has been floating around since 2007, and many people were introduced to it due to the eponymous flywrench appearing as an unlockable character i...

Final Fantasy VII photo
Bring a controller
Final Fantasy VII hit iOS last week with a $15.99 price tag, which left a number of people skeptical as to how much work was put into it. After playing it however, I have to say that most of my fears were put to rest. By...

Review: Runbow

Aug 26 // Chris Carter
Runbow (Wii U)Developer: 13AM GamesPublisher: 13AM GamesRelease Date: August 27, 2015MSRP: $14.99 The concept is so simple, anyone could pick it up. Runbow is predictably all about running. It's not an auto-runner thankfully, as you'll have full control over your character by way of directional movement, jumping, punching, and if you wish, taunting. Since the latter ability isn't needed, it's essentially a two-button game. But there is depth here, as the punch button fractures off into multiple powers, granting players a horizontal dash if done in the air, an upward Street Fighter-esque punch, and a downward butt slam. All of these are functional when it comes to knocking around your foes (more on that later), but they're also great platforming tools as well. The uppercut in particular is excellently designed, and have saved me from pit deaths on more than one occasion. Every character in the game (of which there are a ton) has the exact same moveset, but it works that way -- there are a lot of nuances as it stands, and no one has to learn the ins and outs of different runners. Said nuance is found mostly in the way that platformers themselves are presented, in a number of different color schemes. A "wave" of color will periodically sweep over the screen, eliminating objects with that same hue. So for instance, there might be a combination of red, yellow, and blue blocks, and in three second intervals, said waves will eliminate each color in succession. So it's up to players to not only master the moveset, but pay attention and memorize patterns. [embed]307647:60143:0[/embed] The best part of Runbow is its variety. There's a staggering amount of modes available for players of all skill levels, and a few of the meatier ones are satisfying even if you're going at it solo. One such game type is "Adventure," which tasks you with defeating an evil monochrome boss who feels left out, amidst all the other colorful world inhabitants. You'll progress through over 100 levels to complete the story, taking on a number of different objectives within the campaign itself. The bright, vivid color scheme makes things more interesting, as well as appropriate sound effects, I don't normally talk about game soundtracks as they generally don't stick with me for very long, but Runbow's is one of the best I've heard all year. Just give it a listen. Levels can range from boss fights, to enemy skirmishes, to races, to even hunts. Even with no AI option, I had a great time playing through the story with friends and by myself -- it's never boring, and you have the option to go for the best clear times (which in turn can unlock new characters). It's delightfully old school and frankly, one of the best single player party games I've played in quite a while. Of course the party modes are core to the experience, which includes races, arena battles, and King of the Hill modes. The former is more of a traditional platforming experience, with levels that scroll like in Mario games, and plenty of enemies, pitfalls, and hazards to deal with. It's set at a rapid-fire pace, so if someone dies, they're out for that level, and they don't even have to wait long since most stages take 30-45 seconds to complete. It's fast, it's fun, and optional power-ups make things even more enjoyable if you have an array of skill levels playing. Arena and King of the Hill are more like a Smash Bros. experience, as all combatants will need to kill enemies by way of punching them into oblivion (or make them fall to their doom). This is where the butt stomp and uppercut shine, as you'll have a tool for every occasion in combat. All of the aforementioned modes are playable by up to eight people, with almost any combination of controllers (GamePad, Wii U Pro Controller, Wii Remotes, Wii Classic Controller, and Nunchuk). The "Colour Master" mode allows for a ninth player who uses the GamePad to add in hazards themselves, competing against the other team of runners. It's not as strong as the other modes, but it's a nice distraction. Finally, the Bowhemoth mode is the most challenging game type on offer, and will be an exciting prospect for even the most hardened platforming veterans. My first win took me 33 minutes and 73 deaths to complete, and it's also playable both solo and with friends. You can't save mid-session, so you'll have to make do with one full run with as few deaths as you can spare. Online play couldn't be tested at the time of this writing, but the fact that it's included in an indie game like this is a godsend. For the price, I'd still recommend Runbow for solo players, as long as you really love platforming. Even if you only enjoy the genre just a little though, it's still a fantastic party game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Runbow review photo
Run like the colors of the wind
There's been a renewed interest in party games this generation, and I'm loving it. While I'm all for any number of engrossing solo experiences that take a hundred or more hours to complete, on an equal level, I want to chill out and play with friends. Luckily, Runbow is a rare example of a title in the genre that stands on its own, no matter how many people you bring to the party.

The top five most British games you'll ever lay eyes on

Aug 26 // Joe Parlock
#5: Bloodborne Bloodborne was a sign of great change over at From Software. After its run of massively popular Souls games, it wanted to try something really different. It wanted to move away from the formula that made From the huge success it was, and show the world the average, day-to-day lives of people living in Birmingham. Audiences were cautious of the idea at first: bringing the Midlands to life seemed like an odd choice for a Japanese developer to tackle. Over the course of the development process, we learned just how seriously Miyazaki was taking the project: he’d binge-watched every episode of Crossroads, a task no human being should be able to survive. But it all paid off: when it finally launched, everyone instantly understood how important the game would be. From the Werewolves of Snow Hill Station to the Dog Vicar of the Bullring, Brum really does come to life in videogame form. Treading over the broken cobbles and forcing my way through the rusted gates, it was just like I was there. Some players complained about the difficulty of the game, but frankly if you haven’t been devoured by a giant spider when going to Birmingham’s Selfridges, you’ve not truly experienced the city. #4: Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture Shropshire was an absolutely inspired choice of a location for The Chinese Room’s newest storytelling game Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The county is very rarely a setting in games, and it has a rich history thanks to its influence and contribution to the industrial revolution. Shropshire is everything you could think about Britain neatly compressed into a nice, little place full. But that’s not the true reason why it’s such a great setting for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. The real reason is it’s the closest thing to a post-apocalypse you’ll find in the Western hemisphere! That’s right, after the AI incursion at Ironbridge in 1886, nobody has lived there! Every single human being you see in Shropshire is just a steam-powered Stepford-esque bio-machinations, who have left the county to go to ruin! Pubs and charity shops have combined into one weird amalgamation that’s not quite as good as either, and you can bet your entire family a new museum is popping up as you read this. Shropshire is an utterly bizarre, yet pretty, place. For the lens to be focused so intently on it in Rapture means we may soon finally find a way to reclaim our land from the androids. #3: Killing Floor Killing Floor might be a slightly controversial inclusion on this list, because it doesn’t paint our glorious isles in quite the best light. However, I think something us Brits have always been good at is introspection. From a National Trust café to a beach in Benidorm, we always act with the utmost class and decorum, but Killing Floor shows a darker side to our nation: British football. Killing Floor is about a world overrun by, and I quote, “bloody Millwall fans”. Set in the streets of London, you must survive against the hordes of football fans being kicked out of the pub. Killing Floor’s recreation of modern day football is so realistic, the attention to detail is simply amazing. I can smell the cheese and onion Walkers crisps and stale beer just thinking about it. In a positive light though, Killing Floor manages to be incredibly inclusive of its image of football fans. The world likes to paint the sport as a load of rowdy old geezers who can’t keep their drinks down in their moth-eaten Aston Villa t-shirts, but it simply isn’t like that in 2015. Men with chainsaws for arms and invisible women have become way more accepted in recent years! Even Spider-hybrids have found their place! Unfortunately, scary fire-shooting people have still been fighting for their place for a while now… but there’s certainly progress. Also, we have a lot of guns. That is some Britain is absolutely known for: how many great big, piss-off guns we all carry around at all times. Sometimes it’s a hassle trying to carry my shopping from Morrison’s with an AK-47 in the way, but that’s Britain for you. Killing Floor’s unblinking view of how many fully-automatic shotguns and flamethrowers even your common Londoner has is something we need to really understand about our culture. Thanks, Tripwire. #2: The Beatles: Rock Band It was twenty years ago today that Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. They’ve been going in and out of style, but none the less they’ve been marching through the streets of Liverpool, ensuring all of Britain’s children are behaving as they should. If they are not learning the songs of their grandparents, or worshiping the great Lucy in the Sky with their Diamonds, Pepper’s mighty Walrus will take them away to a place nobody knows. This is how it has been for the past fifty years, and it is the way it shall always be. Of course, there have been attempts to destroy the great influence our Lord and Master Ringo Starr has had on us. The Oasis Movement of the '90s was the biggest threat, but problems among management meant it stood no chance against the Lonely Hearts Club Band. And this is why The Beatles: Rock Band is on our list. No one changed the face of Britain as much as Lord Starr did, and the great idea of incorporating the children’s mandatory daily reverence into a video game meant for those wealthy enough to afford the little plastic instruments, life is good. Well not good, but it’s getting better. #1: Sir, You Are Being Hunted You thought Everybody’s Gone to Rapture was our only way of fighting back against the robots? Oh heavens no, we also have Sir, You Are Being Hunted. Not only does Sir helpfully remind the British public to respect the god damn class institution that has been in place for centuries, it also provides handy-dandy training on how to survive should you find yourself in somewhere like Shropshire! Sir is a program to help remind those crawling in the shattered darkness that Britain still exists: with tweed shops, and union jacks plopped onto absolutely every item inconceivable. Digestive biscuits, far too many churches, parish halls, smokestacks, tea, tea, tea. If this doesn’t remind you of home, I don’t know what will. There’s even fox hunting! You remember fox hunting, right? That thing only rich people do because getting away with shooting poor people would be more hassle than it’s worth?  Of course, in this case you’re the fox… but never mind that, developer Big Robot is still working out the kinks. Sir, You Are Being Hunted is more than a game. It’s our message unto the world that no matter what they do to us, we will survive. A nice strawberry trifle here, an 8 out of 10 Cats Does Countdown there, and we will all keep calm and carry on. What is left of us must carry on. Oh god we must.
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God save Ringo and his Robot Army
Britain, Britain, Britain! Over the years we’ve been known for a lot: tea, monocles, the Queen, imperialism, and at one point… video games. We had it all, from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum to Rockstar Games, Britain ...

So, how's Gears of War's multiplayer at launch?

Aug 25 // Brett Makedonski
Between last night and this afternoon, I have a fair sample size of matches under my belt. I'm maybe one percent of the way toward the "Seriously..." Achievement, which doesn't sound like much, but it is. The only issue I've encountered was about five seconds of lag at the beginning of one match. Otherwise, everything's been silky smooth. There's one non-performance issue that I have a problem with, however. The War Journal offers multiplayer statistics, but not on how close you are to earning the different Achievements. (If I'm not mistaken, this is a feature that Gears of War 3 implemented quite nicely.) Likewise, Xbox One's "snap an app" feature doesn't track that progress either. The sole indicator is a counter that pops up after a match in which you've hit a milestone toward that Achievement. Hopefully a fix is coming for that. That one insignificant complaint aside, this game holds up its end of the bargain with regard to multiplayer. After the Halo: The Master Chief Collection snafu (that may still be on-going to some degree), it was important for Microsoft to emphatically stick the landing on this one. Fortunately, it lives up to the excellent standard set by the rest of Gears of War Ultimate Edition.
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Silky smooth so far
I have a novel concept for you: What if a major video game releases and its multiplayer component just works? Like, there isn't a bunch of drama and patches and updates and apologies; instead, you get to play the game immedia...

Review: Party Hard

Aug 25 // Stephen Turner
Party Hard (PC [Reviewed], iOS) Developer: Pinokl Games Publisher: tinyBuild Games Released: August 25, 2015MSRP: $12.99  Party Hard tells the tongue-in-cheek story of the Party Hard Killer, a man who just wanted to get some sleep at 3AM and eventually went on a murder spree around the US in the early '00s. It’s all played for macabre laughs, though there are flashes of genuine subversion throughout. In the narration, one random victim's identity turns out to be a slap to the face when you're in mid-chuckle, but other twists and turns rarely pay off. Though, in its favour, Party Hard is completely self-aware of its own weaknesses. It’s not trying to be the next Hotline Miami in that regard. Despite the pulsing and rather solid electro soundtrack, Party Hard is actually a slow and methodical game. As the Party Hard Killer (and other unlockable characters), the main aim is to divide and conquer a crowd of people by any means necessary. Of course, stabbing someone in plain sight means someone’s going to call the cops, so it's up to you to manipulate and set off environmental accidents. Dotted around the map are things you can use to flatten, poison, or blow up unsuspecting victims in order to achieve your goal. It's a sandbox game to a point, with a bit of improvisation thrown in for good measure, and watching several timed accidents go off at once is a dark joy to behold. But once all the environmental tricks run out, the game suddenly turns into a fiendish stalk-and-slash. Hiding bodies and killing in secrecy become a must, since the police are relentless in their pursuit of you. You can bump off the cops, but that means the next witness will bring in the more efficient Feds, and the escape routes are eventually boarded up. Finishing off the last 10-15 victims does become a drag, especially after the initial outburst of comical violence. Party Hard lacks the kind of distractions needed to splinter off the remaining survivors, so the last half of every level degrades into a waiting game. Along with the knife, you can bust-a-move that will either get people to dance in place, spurn them away, or give you a good kicking. It’s a little random and mostly useless, considering how everyone wanders around when left to their own devices. To speed things along, there are randomised power-ups to collect; smoke/stun grenades, bottles of poison, and new disguises. Bombs can cause a massive amount of damage, but on the negative side, a fascist SWAT team show up and start attacking everyone, including you. In one particular level, calling in a fumigation crew ends with them gassing out a good third of the party. Party Hard is a genuinely humorous game, crammed as it is with an assortment of “Where’s Wally [Waldo]?” pop culture references. A lot of it is anachronistic for the period, along with the excellent soundtrack, as it self consciously distances itself from the current '80s/'90s aesthetic trend, but it’s still amusing to watch the party unfold, as potential victims get drunk, pass out, or dance with bears that wear gold chains and shades. What Party Hard lacks in complexity, it makes up for with personality. And while it does run out of steam about two thirds of the way in, Party Hard doesn’t outstay its welcome. At only 12 levels long - one being a bonus round and another being a remix - it can be finished in a single evening. Despite owing a lot to Hotline Miami in terms of sight and sound, Party Hard is almost the antithesis of its most obvious influence. On a personal note, it's actually more reminiscent of How to be a Complete Bastard, a similar (and ancient) game involving house parties and a destructive protagonist. It’s not quite a lost weekend, and it’s barely an all-nighter, but Party Hard manages to do its thing before the parents get home. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
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Scene is dead, but I'm still restless...
“I get wet when I know that you're dying,” sang Andrew W.K. on his debut album closer, I Get Wet. It’s actually a fine anthem for the terrible things you get away with in Party Hard, far more than the p...

Very Quick Tips: Mega Man Legacy Collection's Challenge Mode

Aug 25 // Chris Carter
General Challenge Mode tips: When you're playing Challenge Mode, pause the game with the select button instead of start -- the latter will still run the timer. In Mega Man 1, never forget the Magnet Beam -- it can severely cut down on your times, and instantly skip most platforming pit sections. Try to look at what games are featured in a specific playlist, and remember that any entry from 3 on has the slide ability, and 4 on has the charged shot. If you need help remembering what game you're playing, turn on screen borders -- the artwork will clue you in. Memorize the locations of items within the menu. Selecting a subweapon takes time, and you can shave off seconds on a constant basis if you remember where everything is. Make flash cards if you're serious about going for the top spot! Did you die early on in a challenge? Press select and restart -- the timer doesn't reset on its own. In megamixes featuring multiple areas, memorize the last section after completing it once, so you know when you can rush and not worry about losing health that you may need for the next area. Additionally, remember that subweapon energy replenishes after each zone. Sometimes getting hit is okay, and it may even allow for a quicker clear time. If you're looking to not die, getting hit by a bullet is generally less damaging than a collision -- so get hit by a projectile, then use the subsequent invincibility frames to run through enemies. The best times will be posted by players who don't die once. The Mega Man 1 pause glitch still works, you just need to use a different button (L1, LB) to initiate the in-game pause rather than the Mega Man Legacy-specific menu.
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Mega Bustin' makes me feel good
People often cite the Mega Man series as an example of "difficult" retro games, but there's an astounding amount of rhyme and reason to the level design therein. With a few tips you'll be breaking down time trial record walls like it was nothing.

Review: Capsule Force

Aug 25 // Jed Whitaker
Capsule Force (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: KlobitPublisher: Iron Galaxy StudiosRelease Date: August 25, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Two-on-two multiplayer matches make up the meat of Capsule Force across eight stages that each have an unlockable alternate variation. The matches consist of pink and blue teams working against each other to ride a tram to the other team's galaxy, which is trapped inside a -- you guessed it -- capsule. The first team to touch the other team's capsule wins. Capsule Force is easy to pick up and play. Grasping the controls fully takes maybe a match or two at most; you've got double jumps, an air dodge, normal shots, charged laser shots, a shield, and what I'd call blast jumping. Blast jumping can be performed by shooting the ground and then instantly jumping in the opposite direction for a faster and higher jump, which is vital for perfecting the game's single-player missions. Using the shield requires precise timing, but puts a bubble around your character preventing them from being harmed. Eventually you'll find out that air dodging allows you to double jump right away again, essentially allowing entire battles to take place mid-air. When attempting to kill other players, you've got two choices: normal shots or charging your shot to shoot a laser all the way across the screen, killing anyone it its path if they don't put up their shield. When using the laser, your character freezes in the air, allowing you to focus on aiming your shot. It is really satisfying to get a perfectly aimed mid-air laser shot killing both of your opponents and taking over the tram they were just riding.  [embed]306824:60087:0[/embed] Matches in Capsule Force are intense and hectic the whole time. Even if teams are pretty evenly matched, eventually the tram speed increases a great deal, allowing a quick turnaround for one side or the other. There were times when myself or my friends got a bit lost as to where we were on the screen due to this hectic nature, but it is all part of the fun. I will note, however, that some stages are similarly colored to the characters which can make it easier to get confused in than others. When not laughing your ass off in multiplayer, you'll tackle over thirty single-player missions. These consist of either rushing through stages as quickly as possible, or rushing through stages as quickly as possible while shooting targets. The target-shooting missions are reminiscent of the "Break the Targets" mode from the Super Smash Bros. series, and are just as fun. While it is a multiplayer-focused game, the single-player missions do add a nice distraction and practice, and those who complete them all will unlock stage variations, alternate costumes, and concept art. Giving single-player a purpose other than practice was a good choice, but locking multiplayer content behind it wasn't considering the limited amount of stages to begin with. The eight variations you unlock are essentially all new stages that just use the same backgrounds as the starter arenas, so they are certainly worth unlocking. Unlocking all the multiplayer content won't take more than an hour maximum for most players, so it isn't such a drawback.  If you're the kind of person who has friends over for couch competitive games, Capsule Force is easily recommendable as the multiplayer is a colorful, frantic, hell of a good time, but if you're a loner, give this one a pass. The limited single-player content won't hold your attention for long. I know I'll be playing Capsule Force at many of my shindigs in the future. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review: Capsule Force photo
Blasting off again!
It is the far future, the year is 1999, and everything looks like a 1980s space anime; no, you're not tripping on mushrooms and having a flashback to your childhood, you're playing Capsule Force.   Capsule Force&nbs...

The Binding of Isaac photo
More structure, risk/reward
The Binding of Isaac is one of the kings of procedural generation, but Greed Mode in the upcoming DLC Afterbirth is set to give it a little more structure. Instead of a random layout, each floor has the same plan, with a stor...

Competition photo
Live music, geeks and gaming
Hey, you like video game music right? Let's hope you live in or near the UK, because Video Games Live is going to be coming back to our merry old isles early next year. The video game music concert spectacular will be running...

Review: The Consuming Shadow

Aug 24 // Stephen Turner
The Consuming Shadow (PC) Developer: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw Publisher: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw Released: July 30, 2015MSRP: $9.99 As a lone investigator, you must travel across the UK in a hatchback full of infinite fuel, searching for clues about an invading Elder God and the ritual that will banish them from our world. Starting from the edge of Scotland, you move from town to town (some deadly, some friendly) before arriving in Stonehenge to finish the job. You only have 60 hours before the world ends, so do make those miles count. The Consuming Shadow can best be described as part dungeon crawler, part roguelike travelogue; FTL by way of Call of Cthulhu. It’s a lazy comparison to make, but one quite deserving of a game so transparently stitched together. If you’re expecting anything more than a reskin and a compartmentalization of cannibalized ideas, then The Consuming Shadow will disappoint. To quote Croshaw in the press release: “The graphics aren't the game's strong point: my goal with the game was to create a kind of horror game more akin to literature.” It’s an honest, if somewhat cowardly cop, considering the lack of sympathy that butters his bread. Graphically, it’s supposed to evoke the Commodore and DOS titles of yore, only it looks like Newgrounds Flash game from 2009. [embed]307557:60109:0[/embed] And with that in mind, The Consuming Shadow has to live and die by its own prose. It actually does an excellent job of selling the severity and doubt of each encounter, but it’s also undermined by a lack of procedurally-generated content. The line-by-line variations of the same paragraph quickly turn stale, despite being a solid read. But then, on the flip-side to that, The Consuming Shadow is a purposefully short game. It starts out with a first-person view of your car, which is suitably atmospheric; nothing but motorway signs and a passenger seat full of hastily gathered items. Using a GPS, you have to choose a nearby destination, always being wary of time and distance. Random encounters on the road are a case of risk and reward, but if you don’t have the right equipment, they usually end up being detrimental to your cause. Compared to other roguelikes that offer a fair gamble without the specialist items, The Consuming Shadow’s encounters are almost always stacked against you. Every destination is either a safe haven or a dungeon crawl. The former provides supplies and medical treatment and the latter forms the main crux of the game. Dungeon crawls are where you’ll find clues about each possible invading God and the runic chants needed to banish them; which would be an easy task if not for the scuttling creatures and end-level objectives in your way. Oh, and the fact this where most of The Consuming Shadow’s problems lie. From a third-person landscape perspective, you move through a maze of rooms – be it a house, hospital, warehouse, derelict estate, or park – collecting notes and battling silhouetted enemies. The exploration of an urban environment is a fine horror staple, and it’s a wonderful change from the current crop of first-person jump fests, but all the goodwill is undone by the almost unavoidable attacks and cumbersome controls on a keyboard/mouse setup. Combat is appalling. No witty metaphor or breathless soliloquy, here. It’s appalling. A handgun is always by your side, with three types of limited ammunition, and randomized spells. But between the flaky auto-aim, the minimal field of view and the enemies’ erratic speeds and ranged attacks, combat is a draining experience. Pistol whipping and an exploitation of blind spots turn out to be the key to success, as spells rarely help the cause. While the monsters are varied and left to the imagination, the tactics against them aren’t. I’m pretty sure you're not meant to stand side-by-side with a writhing mass, following it around like a conjoined twin, before pimp-slapping it to death. Since this is a love letter to H.P. Lovecraft, there’s a sanity meter involved. Running away from a problem or encountering a bad decision drains your sanity points, which results in some unnerving hallucinations on the motorway and in the urban mazes. Unfortunately, low sanity also induces an awful QTE event within the decision making. One mistimed click and you’ll blow your head off in a silhouetted suicide. It’s a novelty at first, then a time waster. Every session of The Consuming Shadow is clearly designed for repetition and tailored towards streaming (Croshaw is banking on it for exposure’s sake). Failure is never the end – every game over awards EXP for stat boosts and there are unlockable characters, too – though by the time the needed advantages arrive, it’s far too late in terms of interest. The major problem with The Consuming Shadow is that it’s a bubble-gum experience, especially compared to its peers. When it works, it’s only because of a new discovery. There’s something genuinely thrilling about finding a connection and jotting it down in your table of suspects, before setting off to the next hotspot. But when you enter another procedurally-generated dungeon, it’s a wearisome slog again. The Consuming Shadow is more Frankenstein’s Monster than Eldritch Abomination, shambling along as it does with once fresh parts, dug up from here and there. I can only hope Yahtzee sees the irony the next time he attacks a new game for being old hat or a cut-and-paste job. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Review photo
Had more fun in an 8-hour traffic jam
I wasn’t going to mention Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, not initially. But between the infamous handle splashed across the title screen and his pre-emptive comments against certain criticisms in the accompanying pr...

Review: Snakebird

Aug 24 // Ben Davis
Snakebird (PC)Developer: Noumenon GamesPublisher: Noumenon GamesReleased: May 4, 2015MSRP: $6.99 At first glance, Snakebird isn't all that intimidating. It's made to look cute and appealing, with bright colors, simple cartoon graphics, and adorable bird/snake hybrid characters which easily bring to mind more casual games like Angry Birds. But be warned: this is far from a casual experience. On one hand, the cute art style helps by drawing people in and keeping them calm and relaxed while they fail again and again at the puzzles, impaling their adorable snakebirds on spikes and throwing them off of cliffs. But I do worry that the simple graphics might turn some players off to the game too soon. It's definitely not the type of game that it appears to be, but I kind of like that it subverts expectations like that. [embed]307530:60107:0[/embed] The goal of every level is simple: eat all the fruit and get each snakebird into the portal. No snakebird can be left behind, so if one makes it into the portal but the other one can't reach, you might have to start over from the beginning (or at least backtrack a few moves). Eating a piece of fruit increases the snakebird's size by one segment, usually making it easier to navigate certain puzzles. But be careful! Just because a piece of fruit can be reached doesn't mean the puzzle has been solved yet. Most puzzles involve finding the correct path to the fruit, which is not always the most direct path. In fact, the most direct path more often than not will lead to a snakebird getting stuck or dying, but keep in mind that you can easily backtrack in case mistakes are made. If a snakebird dies, the game immediately resets to the last move before death, and you can keep backtracking from there if need be. Once all fruit has been eaten, the portal will open, creating an exit from the level. One of the largest sources of difficulty comes from simply figuring out the physics and abilities of the snakebirds. While there is a tutorial level, it really only covers basic movement and how to open the portal. Everything else is up to the player to figure out, and it's not always obvious. Here are a few mild hints for new players who find themselves getting stuck really early on (possibly even on the second or third levels). Normal physics don't really apply to snakebirds. They always hold their current shape while falling. They can sit on top of floating fruit without eating it. They can push other snakebirds and certain obstacles (or multiple things at once), sometimes even in ways that might not make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. Snakebirds that are pushed will always maintain their current shape. Also, it's usually a good idea to try and figure out what position they will need to end up in to reach the portal, in order to plan out your moves accordingly. Eventually, through trial and error, you'll develop skills and moves that you wouldn't have even dreamed of at the beginning of the game, and you'll start flying through the puzzles, only to get stuck again a little while later on a puzzle which requires a new skill to be discovered. This might leave some players overly frustrated, but options for each level are not endless, so players are bound to figure out a solution as long as they keep trying new things. Snakebird does a good job of keeping things interesting by introducing new mechanics every so often, including the addition of multiple snakebirds in a single level, spikes, movable platforms, and teleportation portals. Each themed area introduces something new, and then there are the special star levels which will test your abilities to the fullest. There are a total of 53 levels, and the difficulty of each level will probably vary from player to player. The map is also non-linear, so beating one level might open up several more to choose from. It took me about 13 hours to beat every level, although I had a particularly tough time figuring out a few of them (a couple that come to mind include level 20 and level 44, both of which took me WAY too long to figure out). Usually, I would have to sit and stare at a difficult level for a while, or even stop playing entirely and just take some time to ponder the level and all of the possibilities, and then come back later with fresh ideas. But the feeling of finally completing a seemingly impossible puzzle after so much failure is just so wonderfully satisfying! Personally, I think Snakebird could have benefited from a few extra features. Including statistics such as the amount of time it took to finish a level or the number of moves used would have added a bit to the replayability. As it is now, once a puzzle is solved, there's really no incentive to go back and try it again. Leaderboards would also be a welcome addition, since I'm sure many players out there figured out way more efficient methods of solving certain puzzles than I did. Snakebird is not for everyone. But for those puzzle-lovers out there seeking the ultimate challenge, definitely give Snakebird a shot. You might be surprised by how often this game will leave you stumped, but that just makes the feeling of overcoming challenges so much sweeter! [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Snakebird review photo
Delightfully challenging
Well-designed, challenging puzzle games can be hard to come by these days, but they are out there. Games like Antichamber, English Country Tune, and Splice are a few Steam titles that come to mind for providing particularly h...

Boston police arrest two armed men at Pokemon World Championships

Aug 23 // Kyle MacGregor
Norton and Stumbo were subsequently arrested at a hotel in Saugus, Massachusetts for Unlawful Possession of a Firearm, Unlawful Possession of Ammunition, and other firearm-related charges.  Both men are listed as invitees in the Pokémon Trading Card Game's masters division competition. Kotaku dredged up the following post made by Stumbo on a Facebook group: The Pokémon Company International has made the following statement regarding the matter: "Prior to the event this weekend, our community of players made us aware of a security issue. We gathered information and gave it as soon as possible to the authorities at the John B. Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center who acted swiftly and spearheaded communication with the Boston Police Department. "Due to quick action, the potential threat was resolved. The Pokémon Company International takes the safety of our fans seriously and will continue to ensure proper security measures are a priority." Keeping Boston Safe: Officers Arrest Two Suspects, Recover Two Firearms after BPD Notified of Online Threats to Pokemon World Championship [Boston Police Department via Kotaku]
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Firearms recovered after alleged threats
At this weekend's Pokémon World Championships in Boston, local police arrested two armed men who allegedly threatened to harm tournament attendees over social media. After catching wind of the threats on Thursday, priv...

Podtoid 303: A Good Amount of Cocaine

Aug 23 // Kyle MacGregor
[embed]307560:60110:0[/embed] What We Discussed Darren sings "Rapper's Delight" Bad SyFy movies Should you drink your own urine? What's a good amount of cocaine for a 15 year old? Resident Evil 2 Remake What N64 era games would you like to see remade? Rare Replay Everybody's Gone to the Rapture Volume The Goonies Tales from the Borderlands What animal has the weirdest dick? Gears of War: Ultimate Edition Is lore bad? The future of Metal Gear Pokémon Burmese hacky sack Recent Episodes Podtoid 302: Virtual Reality is the Future Podtoid 301: The Least Interesting Man in the World Podtoid 300: Randy Pitchford's Little Asshole Podtoid 299: Blast Ball Podtoid 298: Tales of E3 and Batman: Arkham Knight  Send any and all questions, tips, and Darren Nakamura fan art to [email protected]
PODTOID photo
The Steve Hansen Show with Steve Hansen
Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or download it here. The Podtoid boys return to discuss the latest video games and sexy turtle-on-roller skate action.


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