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Cosmochoria is a perfect blend of serenity and chaos photo
Cosmochoria is a perfect blend of serenity and chaos
by Patrick Hancock

Cosmochoria is a Kickstarter success story that is now about to see the light of day. It's a mix of exploration and tower defense all wrapped up in a warming, yet occasionally stressful package. There's a strong sense of wonderment to the randomly generated universe, and the art style is totally cute.

My time with Cosmochoria at PAX East brought a huge smile to my face, and if it wasn't for an upcoming appointment, I would have played for probably an entire hour or so!

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Tumblestone is the most intelligent 'match three' game I've ever played photo
Tumblestone is the most intelligent 'match three' game I've ever played
by Patrick Hancock

The first impression of a game matters a lot at PAX. If people aren't intrigued almost immediately, they may never play the game at all. My first impression of Tumblestone was "oh cool another match-three game." I don't play many of them, so I barely had any interest.

However, knowing that Tumblestone and The Bridge, a brilliant indie puzzle game, share the same developer, I just had to give it a chance. Thank goodness I did, too, because it was easily the most intelligent game on the show floor.

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Harebrained Schemes nails it once again with Necropolis photo
Harebrained Schemes nails it once again with Necropolis
by Rob Morrow

As I explored the opening area of Harebrained Schemes' third-person action roguelike Necropolis at PAX East 2015, I discovered an inviting treasure chest. Upon opening it, I realized too late that I wasn’t alone in that first room. While my back was turned, a shadowy, crystalline figure called the Grine had seized the opportunity to launch a flurry of attacks at my unprotected rear; all the while, my character stood there helplessly locked in place throughout the chest’s opening animation.

It was at this point in the Necropolis demo that the game made complete sense to me. In that singular moment I felt as though I’d been here many times before. Not here in the literal sense of playing the demo beforehand, of course, but here in that the game’s unspoken rules were so familiar to me that it felt like coming home. And what a treacherous home it is.

It’s become passé to compare titles to the Souls games, but in this particular instance, I feel the comparison is completely justified. Anyone familiar with From Software's work will know, almost instinctively, what will be expected of them when they pick up the controller. The control scheme (light and heavy attack buttons, shield, jump, and evasion) and stamina system are very much in line with what we're used to in those titles, with a couple of notable deviations.

Necropolis doesn't feature a parrying system, for starters. Instead, your character can use their equipped shield to perform a bash maneuver as well as block incoming attacks. However, stamina is drained when doing so and should be used sparingly in battle. For example, if you try to hold off enemy attacks with the shield indefinitely, you'll soon wear yourself out as your enemy lands each attack, thereby leaving your character susceptible to taking damage.

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3D Realms: Bombshell is the only one who could kick Duke Nukem's ass photo
3D Realms: Bombshell is the only one who could kick Duke Nukem's ass
by Brett Makedonski

3D Realms is keenly aware of what players know it for. Sure, there are plenty of titles in the publisher's history that should stand out, but for all intents and purposes, the company might as well re-name itself The Duke Nukem Guys.

In the case of its next project, Bombshell, 3D Realms is absolutely looking to distance itself from the Duke tropes -- at least as far as this game is concerned. Despite a lot of thematic similarities (oh hey, aliens took over again), Interceptor and 3D Realms have created a hero in Bombshell (Shelly Harrison is her proper name) who is a polar opposite from Duke in a lot of ways. Interceptor CEO and 3D Realms vice president Frederik Schreiber said that the two probably wouldn't get along too well. Then, Schreiber went so far as to say "Bombshell is the only one who could kick Duke's ass."

She's come a long way since our introduction to her last year. 3D Realms fully fesses up that the first take was premature. There was pressure to reveal Bombshell before it was ready. 3D Realms was trying to do something -- anything -- to take eyes off the lawsuit with Gearbox and to prove it was more than just The Duke Nukem Guys. The result was a trailer that was almost universally poorly received. That was more than enough of a cue to go back to the drawing board.

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Windows 10 makes it even easier for gameplay videos to go viral photo
Windows 10 makes it even easier for gameplay videos to go viral
by Brett Makedonski

The latest generation in gaming has brought with it an emphasis on sharing. Screenshots and gameplay videos can be relatively easily captured and uploaded for anyone's audience to see. It's a smart way to drive interaction -- whether it's to share an unbelievable kill streak in Halo, or something as irreverent as a lunatic stabbing goats in the butt.

With the announcement that Windows 10 will, in part, contribute to the "Xbox ecosystem," it really opens the door to the accessibility and possibility of sharing content. In what was called a "platform demo" at GDC in San Francisco last week, we got a first-hand look at how simple Windows 10 will make this process.

Available for any game played on Windows 10 (even non-native Xbox titles) is a Game DVR that operates similarly to the "Xbox, record that" function of the Xbox One. Mapped to the Windows + G command, the DVR captures the past 30 seconds of gameplay, regardless of what's playing.

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Firewatch has topless teens, meaty hands, and mystery photo
Firewatch has topless teens, meaty hands, and mystery
by Steven Hansen

I've been firewatching out for Campo Santo's new 'exploration mystery' since hearing about the talent behind it. Artist Olly Moss, Mark of the Ninja designer Nels Anderson, and season one The Walking Dead writers and designers Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin. It's an exciting crew.

And then I saw the dang thing in its trailer and had to wonder why more games don't make use of a distinct tonal color palette, instead defaulting to an obfuscating attempt at photorealism that just drowns everything out. Compare BioShock to a "realistic" shooter; the Arkham series to Shadow of Mordor. It's just nice to see someone use color, and purposefully.

Because while Firewatch is gorgeous, it is also grounded. It is a story about people -- Henry and his supervisor Delilah -- and I felt that the moment I started controlling Henry. Not a blank player analogue or a camera on wheels. I saw Henry's inelegant, meaty paws stretched out in front of the screen still wearing his wedding ring despite divorce. Telling details are important.

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Hands-on with Cuphead: Equal parts charming and challenging photo
Hands-on with Cuphead: Equal parts charming and challenging
by Steven Hansen

Cuphead has existed in a state of unreality to me since its E3 reveal. Despite seeing footage of the game, it remained in my mind a concept. One that I was in love with, mind. 1930s style animation. A character whose head is a cup. I love it.

But because I've never played a game that was completely hand-drawn on a lightbox to look like a 1930s anime, there was always some weird disconnect between what I saw in the trailer, on-screen, and connecting it to inputting commands on a controller.

This disconnect was mended when I saw a giant corner dedicated to Cuphead at Microsoft's ID@Xbox event last week at GDC. I press a button, Cuphead jumps.

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Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a brilliant asymmetrical game photo
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a brilliant asymmetrical game
by Patrick Hancock

In Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a game originally developed at a game jam, one player wears the Oculus Rift and sees a bomb that needs to be defused but doesn't know how to defuse it. Their partner only has a binder. Like, a real binder -- no Oculus Rift involved. The binder has all the steps needed to defuse the bomb, but the reader can't actually see the bomb.

It's a game about communication, and it is wonderful not only to spectate, but of course to play. It's really the only game on the PAX East show floor that keeps me coming back for more.

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I nuked the God of Lightning in Mayan Death Robots photo
I nuked the God of Lightning in Mayan Death Robots
by Patrick Hancock

There's been a lot of games that try to copy the success of titles like Worms or Tanks, but often come off feeling too derivative. "Yeah, it's like Worms, but not quite as good" has definitely left my lips a handful of times. Needless to say, I was a little cautious heading in to Mayan Death Robots after hearing such comparisons.

Thankfully, Mayan Death Robots is a unique twist on something that definitely owes its roots to Worms but truly feels like its own experience with innovations. It's exciting to play and exciting to watch, plus you can be a giant robo-monkey and throw banana bombs.

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Planet of the Eyes is a treacherous place for Polaroid robots photo
Planet of the Eyes is a treacherous place for Polaroid robots
by Darren Nakamura

Crash landing on an alien planet is the worst. There's hazardous flora, deadly fauna, and even rock formations that seem to have some sort of blood lust. That just piles on top of the existential crisis of being a robot with an unknown purpose. Such is the existence on Planet of the Eyes.

I played through a couple of demo sections at PAX East. One showed off puzzles while the other demonstrated more action platforming. Both were rife with opportunities for robot death and dismemberment. At the very least, the planet is beautiful as it is repeatedly and mercilessly trying to kill me.

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Downwell has a simple premise but it's damn fun photo
Downwell has a simple premise but it's damn fun
by Darren Nakamura

A glance at Downwell's tricolor palette in still shots doesn't really do it justice. Watching it in motion gives a better idea what it does, but not until actually playing it does it all click. It is built around a simple mechanic: press the button to jump; press it again in the air to fire gun boots downward.

The recoil doesn't act as a double jump exactly. No extra height can be gained from the shots, but the little protagonist's descent can be slowed. The catch is that the boots have limited ammunition in a magazine and reloading requires a stop on solid ground. Those simple mechanics produce a surprising depth in the trip down the well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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