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Review: Hatred

May 28 // Chris Carter
Hatred (PC)Developer: Destructive CreationsPublisher: Destructive CreationsReleased: June 1, 2015MSRP: $19.99 To be clear, I don't have an inherent problem with Hatred. We've seen far, far worse in terms of the video game medium -- in this very generation with Grand Theft Auto V's playable in-game torture scene. Or even Ninja Gaiden III's new "cutting" system, where enemies scream in agony as they're sliced into multiple pieces of flesh. The obvious difference here is that a lot of the targets in Hatred are civilians, which put people on edge. But really, plenty of mainstream action titles have more nuanced takes, killing servicemen and women, officers of the law, and yes, plenty of civilians. Where Hatred partly fails is that it doesn't really make any meaningful statements in regards to its violence. That that it needs to, mind, it kind of just "is." The main character (who is not named) hates the world, so he's going to take down as many people as he can before he dies. That's basically it. He starts in his neighborhood, then branches out across the surrounding area, using various forms of transportation to do it. I suspect there are going to be thinkpieces spouting up across the 'net after release, but don't expect anything as interesting as the ones that were spurred by Hotline Miami playthroughs -- another ultraviolent romp. All the while, he's ranting pseudo-philosophical nonsense. The developers have noted that he isn't trying to quote or channel anyone in particular, and boy can you tell when he says repeats tired phrases like "dust to dust" and "the death is waiting." Half the time you can't even hear what he's saying over the sound of gunfire and explosions. Nothing about the presentation is memorable outside of the distinct visual style. [embed]292912:58710:0[/embed] As a shooter, Hatred is fairly impressive (outside of the sparing terrible vehicular controls). Destructive Creations clearly has a knack for the genre, which makes the fact that it decided to create this lifeless world more disappointing. Shooting feels responsive, and the control scheme is easy to pick up and play, especially on a controller. I don't like that there isn't a toggle option for sprinting (you have to hold it down, which hurts your thumb after a while), but aiming, including the precision-aim system that provides an imaginary laser sight while holding the trigger, is spot-on. Visually, Hatred is somewhere in-between unique and messy. The grey sheen generally looks great, but it does get old after a few levels. Plus, you'll want to jack up the gamma considerably, as the playable character tends to get lost in the fray. Individual objects are all rendered with care though, and the destruction system allows you to do things like craft new exits by blowing through walls. There isn't a whole lot to do in those worlds though. It's level-based, and most missions boil down to "kill [x] number of civilians, then kill [x] number of police, then escape." There's a few unique levels like a sewer chase with the SWAT team or a linear stage taking place on a moving train, but most of them follow this same principle. The train scenario in particular presents some interesting possibilities, in that random civilians on-board are armed. It's often hard to pick them out of a crowd, and if a gun drops, they'll run to pick it up. That mission only lasts a few minutes though, then it's onto the next generic hub. Seriously, that's about all the game has to offer.  I also encountered a few bugs while playing, including disappearing bodies, wonky physics that caused some deaths, and a few fatal game crashes. Several levels were also mislabeled in the level select screen and sometimes, mission objectives wouldn't calculate correctly. The crashes in particular really hindered my playthrough, as they were all at the very end of a level, which forced me to replay them from the start. If it weren't for these issues, it would be a decent twin-stick shooter. Developer tools are evidently going to happen which may allow more interesting levels, but haven't been provided at launch. If you're curious, here's a full video rundown of the options menu. There's nothing really special about Hatred. It's a twin-stick shooter. It has guns in it. It has objectives. Most of the time those objectives involve acting like a menace to society or blowing stuff up. It doesn't have anything new to bring to the table, or anything interesting to say about the genre. You can go back to yelling at it now if you want.
Hatred review photo
Do you hate it?
When Hatred debuted, I pretty much kept quiet. No one can really win in that situation, when the explosion of opposing viewpoints was at its loudest. I decided to wait until the finished product was out and play it for m...

WildStar F2P photo
Here's all the details
For years, WildStar was touted as the next great subscription-based MMO. It was unveiled all the way back in 2011at Gamescom, and the hype kind of built from there. I had a chance to play multiple builds, and I liked wha...

Review: Magicka 2

May 27 // Steven Hansen
Magicka 2 (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: Pieces InteractivePublisher: Paradox InteractiveReleased: May 26, 2015MSRP: $14.99 If you haven't played the first Magicka, the set-up is still familiar enough: up-to-four-player overhead adventuring and monster killing. The trade tools are the big difference. You're granted immediate access -- there's no progression system, really -- to eight different magics, just about all of which can be combined, in different strings and quantities. There's a balance between stronger spells, which are more complex to cast, and dealing with basic elemental affinities. On a controller, spells are mapped to four face buttons, while L1 swaps to a second set of four spells, a system I much prefer over the first's fighter-like quarter circles. Once queued, they can be cast forth offensively, as area of attack, or unto oneself. And Magicka 2 is more than willing to let you drop a rock on your own noggin as easily as you might heal yourself. Or let you set an unfortunate friend on fire. Magicka 2 gets most of its good will for its co-op, which is why controllers for couch play are sort of preferred, though you can play online, and in parties of any make up (two local, one online, and so on). While playing co-op can make the worst game fun, Magicka 2 is definitely improved with and seems designed around having friends to revive you and to separate enemies whose AI encourages them to clump in writhing, obscuring masses. It is no fun to play solo, constantly drowned in a sea of goblins. [embed]292791:58693:0[/embed] The clean interface and easy drop in, drop out are about the only significant improvements over the original. That and the lack of bugs. Enemy AI mildly trips out sometimes and, especially in co-op, being anywhere near the edge of the screen feels like you're constantly stuck on screen restrictions mixed with level geometry, but mostly it's a clean running -- and lean running -- game. Collision detection also comes into play with the physics heavy final boss fight, which was equally the most creative and frustrating encounter.  The story is told over 10 or so brief chapters with replays encouraged by challenge instances and modifiers (collectable artifacts) that allow for Mortal Kombat Test Your Luck-style additions. Madly increased movement speed (please), extra unsafe damage boosts. There's a fair amount to tinker with. That's if you want to tinker, though. Again, Magicka 2 just feels like more Magicka levels and I felt fairly sated not even having finished the first. There's a giant enemy crab as a sort of sub-boss, and then you fight another giant enemy crab, and then you fight two giant enemy crabs. It gets redundant. Enemies are fodder, relentlessly marching toward you en masse, hardly flinching in the face of your supposedly powerful magics. The crowds get messy and you die, or you do a lot of running backwards while spraying spells at your angry entourage like metal filings chasing a Wooly Willy pen. It often feels like the equivalent to a shooter with lengthy mounted turret sections, the discovery of powerful spell combinations evoking sighs of, "Thank god, I can kill the next wave of 20 goblins more easily." And while I appreciate Magicka 2's lighthearted take on fantasy tropes, I don't like the bulk of its humor, which confuses making references with making jokes. It's like a non-hipster version of Life is Strange, allowing you to be self-satisfied for having seen Game of Thrones rather than Battle Royale. Thwacking a wooden cow -- or your friend -- and it exploding into chunks of meat is always funnier, but Magicka 2's actual jokes at least fare better than the winks and nudges. Repeated insistence that Dracula-accented, narrative-driving Vlad is not a vampire? Even a deadpan loading slide regularly reserved for game tips that just says "Vlad is not a vampire." Funny. Oregon Trail jokes? Belongs on Epic Threadz next to the "I [picture of cartoon bacon] BACON" shirts. If you want to pat yourself on the back for getting in-jokes and you can drum up enough play pals for co-op, you might find Magicka 2 [Borat voice] very nice! Like its references, though, Magicka 2 is just a retread.
Magicka 2 review photo
Spelling inside the lines
Magicka 2's tagline is "learn to spell...again," and that sums up the sequel to the Paradox-published, surprise-millions-selling first Magicka. The second fantasy trope stuffed outing comes from Pieces Interactive, makers of ...

Review: Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series: Sons of Winter

May 26 // Darren Nakamura
Game of Thrones - A Telltale Game Series: Sons of Winter (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed], PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Telltale GamesPublisher: Telltale GamesReleased: May 26, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (episode), $29.99 (season)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit [Editor's note: there will be no major spoilers present for the episode reviewed here, but events in previous episodes may be discussed.] Those following along with the series shouldn't expect any major changes in how events play out. There is lots of dialogue, lots of split-second decisions, a handful of quick-time events, a little bit of exploration, and not much else. The split between the four living playable characters stays about the same as well: Mira's sections are almost entirely dialogue-based and Asher's are generally more action-focused. Despite being the Forrester known better for stabbing first and asking questions later, Asher's story in Meereen comes with some of the more interesting this-or-that decisions this episode. Where Rodrik has to choose between murder and mercy, Asher has the more nuanced quandary of loyalty to the family that exiled him and loyalty to his sellsword partner Beskha. Parts of Beskha's past come to light in Sons of Winter that give the situation more gravity. Of all the decisions in this episode, Asher's handling of the mission in Meereen is "the big one" for me, and I'm most anxious about the potential fallout from my choice, which won't show up until next episode at least. [embed]292557:58611:0[/embed] Mira's tribulations in King's Landing continue to be a high point for the series. Though this episode lacks the big names -- neither Cersei, Tyrion, nor Margaery makes a significant appearance -- the way Telltale handles Mira shows genuine understanding of what makes the source material so great. Any game could have quick-time swordfights, but a Game of Thrones game ought to be more than that. Her best scene is at Tommen's coronation feast. It comes closest to being like a classic adventure game. She must navigate the celebration cautiously, eavesdrop on conversations to gain information, and use that information at the right time. Even if it turns out not to be the case in the end (as Telltale games often do), the feast scene felt like it could have ended with a much different outcome. As it stood for me, I came out of it laughing, pleased with how clever I felt to have achieved what I wanted and particularly smug about the last line I had Mira say to close out the scene. It reinforced the idea that in King's Landing, shrewd manipulation of information is just as powerful as a sword, if not more so. Rodrik has his own share of politicking to deal with on the home front. A new opportunity lands in his lap that could help return control of Ironrath to House Forrester, and he has his own decisions to make, though they seemed a bit more obvious. Satisfy a desire for petty revenge near the beginning and he loses some leverage for later on in the episode. I'm curious to know how things shake out with other choices; in contrast to the first few episodes I feel like I made the best decisions for Rodrik this time around. There is a tense scene as Rodrik at Highpoint, the Whitehill stronghold. Not only are the stakes high, but it also rewards an attention to detail. Prior to the meeting with Lord Whitehill, some light exploration can help to reveal information that can be used in the encounter. It's another instance where proper intel beats physical force that feels right in place in the A Song of Ice and Fire universe. Gared's scenes were the least interesting this time around. Where prior episodes set him up to be part of the party that goes to Craster's Keep, he ends up with a blander story. It still has room to get better once the importance of the North Grove is revealed, but in this episode it felt a bit like he was stagnating. The oil paint aesthetic that turns people off remains, though it does feel like Telltale has tuned down the baffling polygon edge blur effect that plagued the first two episodes. It's still present, but not nearly as distracting as it used to be. There aren't any heart-stopping moments or dramatic twists like there were in the early episodes, but Sons of Winter sets a good pace and keeps it up throughout the episode. It's great to see the continued focus on shrewdness over brute strength for most of the characters, especially considering House Forrester's situation in Westeros. What the family lacks in soldiers, it must make up for in cleverness. Being party to the events makes me feel clever, whether I truly have much of an effect or not. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Game of Thrones review photo
Son of a...
At the end of Episode 3: The Sword in the Darkness, Game of Thrones: A Telltale Game Series was in an interesting place. Nearly all of the playable characters were in tough spots, but all of them ended the episode with some h...

Review: Life is Strange: Chaos Theory

May 26 // Brett Makedonski
Life is Strange: Chaos Theory (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One[reviewed])Developer: Dontnod EntertainmentPublisher: Square EnixRelease date: May 19, 2015MSRP: $4.99 (Each Episode) As Life is Strange plays out chapter by chapter, it's increasingly difficult to talk about with any degree with specificity. Doing so not only runs the risk of spoiling the many significant plot points that continually punctuate this game, but it also feels like a disservice to discuss Life is Strange's events in black and white when much of its brilliance lies somewhere else. It's not a linear story progression that makes this title worthwhile, rather it's the character building and continually changing relationships that constantly shine. While episode two felt like it meandered too much, it laid the framework for an effective third part. Just spending that extra time inside the head of Max, getting to know Chloe, and seeing the incessant vitriol at Blackwell made for characters who are easier to empathize with. It all pays off in a big way in Chaos Theory as the cast is finally at a place where the audience feels like it knows them and cares for them. At the forefront of this trend is Max's relationship with Chloe, as the duo is ditching the re-introduction stage and have hit a groove of sorts with their interactions. There are plenty of moments when Chloe's rebellious carpe diem spirit rubs off on Max in a charming way; likewise, Max's level-headed and rational demeanor affects Chloe, probably for the better. [embed]292750:58673:0[/embed] These conflicting personalities may have been most at equilibrium during a serene midnight dip in the academy's swimming pool. It's here that the two are at their most introspective and humble. It's here that they express that they lean on one another. There's an understated emotionality about it all that makes it one of Life is Strange's best scenes yet. Really, the swimming pool scene best exemplifies the quality that Dontnod's employed masterfully throughout the three-fifths of Life is Strange that we've seen: restraint. It would've been easy to highlight the moment with some sort of memorable event. But, the developer didn't. Instead, it let the two simply talk, which wonderfully lends humanity to them both individually and as a team. However, it's not just Chloe and Max that are further humanized. Almost all characters have some sort of sympathetic progression, as Life is Strange continues to prove that it excels at dealing in shades of grey. We get a glimpse at how scumbag drug dealer Frank has loved and lost. We see how "step-prick" David password protects his computer not with a nod to his army service or himself, but with a receipt that holds the date he met his wife. The latter of those revelations is discovered through a fetch quest-style puzzle. As painful as it is to admit, this element of gameplay is still where Life is Strange is at its very worst. The reason that's sort of tough to swallow is because it always encourages exploration and will often reward the curious. However, when it forces that wandering upon the player, the pacing drops from a self-imposed standstill to a mandatory one. It's enough to deaden the mood rather quickly. It's a rare instance of Dontnod eschewing that aforesaid restraint to somewhat negative results. Thus far, the developer has done a great job keeping everything in check so as to not go off the rails. The time-rewinding mechanic still doesn't feel as if it's taken over the game nor does it serve as a permanent crutch. Instead, it's mostly sparingly used, usually to glean more information from a tight-lipped witness. Similarly, Life is Strange hasn't yet gone full-out on the paranormal aspect that clearly hangs over the entire story. This reserved approach is appreciated, as it lends weight to the characters and their personal circumstances rather than spotlighting the supernatural. There may be an imminent deviation from that pattern in the very near future, though. In the waning minutes of Chaos Theory, Max discovers a new ability that could easily shift the narrative focus. Chaos Theory is effective in that it's the first time Life is Strange asks the player to evaluate the net benefit of Max's ability to alter time. Until now, it's mostly dealt in small affairs where the results are immediately noticeable. Episode three finds a way to work on a longer timeline and with more at stake. In all honesty, it's the first time I've felt that exact heart-wrenching emotion that I experienced eleven years ago when watching The Butterfly Effect. The cliffhanger that Chaos Theory ends on is so perfect for this portrayal of the fictional Arcadia Bay, Oregon where nothing's ever perfect. However, it's also scarily dangerous in that it very well might render most of the world-building a moot point. It'd be such an absolute shame if that were to happen. We have to wait to see if that's the case. But, Life is Strange now has me in its grips, and if I'm worried, it's only because I care. I finally really, truly care. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Life is Strange review photo
Tornadoes in Texas
I'm worried about Life is Strange. But, it's not the same concern usually expressed when a game's teetering dangerously close to mediocrity or worse. It's the type of uneasiness reserved for a title that's taken three install...

Weekend Deals: Witcher 3, Blizzard & WB Games titles on tap

May 23 // Dealzon
Top Deals Spintires (Steam) — $7.20  (list price $30) <- In Russia, mud plays in you Project Cars (Steam) — $33.99  (list price $50) The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (DRM-Free) — $39  <- use code DEALZO-N35OFF-WITCHE Humble Store Encore Sale <- over 300 titles to throw your $$$ at Bundle Star May Sale <- just added, better SoM value here Blizzard Games (US Only) StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm — $9.99  (list price $20) Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty — $9.99  (list price $20) Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls — $19.99  (list price $40) WoW: Warlords of Draenor (PC DVD) — $29.99  <- raise your hand if you still play WoW WB Games Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (Steam) — $20  (list price $50) Gauntlet (Steam) — $6.40  (list price $20) The Lord of the Rings: War in the North (Steam) — $4  (list price $20) Injustice: Gods Among Us - Ultimate (Steam) — $4  (list price $20) Mortal Kombat Komplete (Steam) — $4  (list price $20) Bastion (Steam) — $3  (list price $15) <- muy excelente Recent Releases 05/21: Xbox One White Special Edition Halo Bundle — $349  (list price $399) 05/19: Farming Simulator 15 + $10 Gift Card (PS4, XOne) — $49.99   05/14: Galactic Civilizations III (Steam) — $40  (list price $50) 05/14: Not A Hero (Steam) — $9.09  (list price $13) <- not to be confused with the excellent Japanese manga 05/12: Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (Steam) — $12.80  (list price $16) 05/08: Euro Truck Simulator 2: Scandinavia (Steam) — $14.40  (list price $18) 04/30: Solarix (Steam) — $12.99  (list price $20) 04/30: Block N Load (Steam) — $8.40  (list price $15) 04/28: Shadowrun Chronicles: Boston Lockdown (Steam) — $24.79  (list price $40) PC Game Deals Battlefield: Hardline (Origin) — $30  (list price $60) Need for Speed Rivals: Complete(Origin) — $19.99  (list price $40) Prototype Franchise Pack (Steam) — $16.83  (list price $60) World of Diving (Steam) — $13.29  (list price $20) Life is Strange: Complete Season (Steam) — $12.48  (list price $20) I am Bread (Steam) — $9.74  (list price $13) <- play as a bread. duh. Rugby 15 (Steam) — $7.98  (list price $40) Command and Conquer The Ultimate (Origin) — $4.99  (list price $20) Console Deals Wii U + Super Mario 3D World + Nintendo Land — $274.99 Evolve (PS4, Steam) — $39.99  (list price $60) Monster Hunter 4: Ultimate (Nintendo 3DS) — $29.99  (list price $40) Xbox Live Gold 3 Month + $10 Xbox Gift Card — $24.99  (list price $25) Turtle Beach CoD: Adv. Warfare Headset (PS4) — $19.99  (list price $80) Power A Mini Series Wired Controller (Xbox One) — $19.99  (list price $40) LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (PS Vita, 3DS) — $7.99  (list price $20) Laptop Deals 17.3" MAINGEAR Pulse, i7-4700HQ, GTX 870M, 16GB — $1,799  (list $2,399) 17.3" Alienware, i7-4710HQ, GTX 980M, 16GB — $1,699  (list $1,999) 15.6" Alienware, i7-4710HQ, 4K Touch, GTX 970M, 16GB — $1,599 <- actually decent specs 17.3" Lenovo Y70 i7-4710HQ, GTX 860M, 16GB — $949  (list $1,500) 14" Lenovo Y40-80, i7-5500U, Radeon R9 M275, 8GB — $629  (list $1,150) HDTV Deals 55" Vizio 4K Smart TV — $899.99  (list $1,000) 65" Sharp 1080p Smart TV + Wireless Speakers — $799.99  (list $1,000) 49" LG 4K Smart TV — $649.99  (list $1,600) - perfect for seeing Geralt's hair down sampled to 900p Game deals from Dealzon. FYI: sales from certain retailers help support Destructoid.
Weekend deals photo
All digital products must go
Got nada in plans for this Memorial Day weekend? For $7, you can enjoy getting stuck in mud while trucking around in Russia via Spintires. Currently historic lowest price that we've spotted. Rare discounts on Blizzard titles ...

PC Port Report: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

May 22 // Patrick Hancock
[Note: Screenshots and video used in this post are taken from my experience with the game.] Tested on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 7. Framerate measured with FRAPS. I'd be remiss if I didn't address the now-infamous trailer of the game that incorrectly showed what it would look like back in 2013. The developers have since downgraded what the game can do, and have addressed the issue. There are lots of elements to this and it isn't as simple as "downgraded because consoles" or "they couldn't afford it," but the end result is still the same. Regardless of that trailer, The Witcher 3 still looks phenomenal. In order to achieve 60 frames per second with my setup at 1080p, I needed to play with the settings a bit. Most things were kept at the Ultra settings, except for the foliage and shadows, which were turned down to High. The game stays consistently above 60 FPS for me now, even during combat and most in-game cutscenes. Some cutscenes are evidently capped at 30 FPS, which is offputting and incredibly noticeable. The biggest setting to turn off in order to achieve a good framerate is HairWorks. With HairWorks on, hair does looks absolutely stunning and is perhaps the best rendering of hair I've ever come across, though up close it's still a bit funky looking. There are three options for HairWorks: on, Geralt-only, and off. If fully on, even the monsters and Geralt's horse will have HairWorks-quality hair. However, even when I had this on "Geralt only," the framerate would fluctuate between 30 and 50 at any given moment. Yes, the hair looks great, but it is not worth the huge dip in framerate. Another option to be aware of is the "Hardware Mouse." It's located under Options in the Video section for some reason, and anyone playing with a keyboard and mouse is likely going to want to turn this option on. Doing so disables mouse acceleration, essentially making the mouse "feel" like it is supposed to. Many of the .ini files located in the installation folder can also be edited to further customize many of the options. [embed]292553:58627:0[/embed] There's some strange odds and ends in the options to take note of. To turn on unlimited FPS, the FPS slider needs to be all the way to the left. The middle option is 30 FPS, and the right option is 60. For those playing on a big television screen via Big Picture Mode or something similar, be aware that the font size is rather small, and the HUD size does not get any bigger, only smaller. In fact, there's only two sizes for HUD size: Large and Small. Controlling Geralt with a keyboard and mouse is somewhat clunky. Turning is awkward and slow, and managing to interact with a specific object or NPC can be a struggle. Combat on a mouse and keyboard feels fluid, at least. Controlling Geralt with a controller simply feels better, all things considered. It's not that controlling him with a keyboard and mouse is awful, but there's an unfortunate feeling of "this just isn't right." Switching to a controller input is as simple as hitting any button on a connected controller. As soon as the game detects a controller input, everything is switched to controller prompts and the game immediately recognizes it. The same goes with switching back to the keyboard. The responsiveness of switching is fantastic, and future PC game designers better take note. The keyboard keys can be remapped, except for movement. The WASD keys are set in stone. When using a controller, all of the buttons are locked in at the default assignments; there is no remapping of any of the buttons. Since the PC release, there has already been a couple of large patches to help improve performance and fix bugs. CD Projekt RED has always put a lot of focus on the PC community, and that certainly still seems to be the case with The Witcher 3. More patches are on the way, and despite the console-esque nature of the third iteration, I would not expect the game to be neglected on PC going forward. It's also important to note that, apparently, it is coming to SteamOS/Linux. There was a banner on Steam saying as much, but CD Projekt RED has not commented on the Linux situation. Currently, the game is only available for Windows. Some users have been reporting crashes on their systems, but I have yet to encounter a single one. Mods are still in their infancy, but they are there. Mostly small game tweaks at the moment, but the toolkit is evidently on its way. It took a couple of years to get the official modding toolkit out for The Witcher 2, but it has been promised to come out sooner for the latest installment. Plain and simple, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a great PC port. Whether or not it should have ever been a "port" in the first place is a separate discussion, but what's presented here to the consumer is thoroughly enjoyable. Oh. and you can skip all the splash screens when booting up. 10/10, would port again.
Witcher 3 on PC photo
Gwent Simulator 2015
The Witcher is an interesting series on PC. The first game was a PC experience through and through: you could pause the action at any time and movement was mapped to mouse clicks. The second was way more action-oriented ...

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition brings the gang back together

May 18 // Alessandro Fillari
Now this isn't the first time that the original DMC series has received the Special Edition treatment. A year following the release of 2005's Devil May Cry 3, Capcom released an enhanced version that made a number additions and tweaks -- most notably the inclusion of a playable Vergil with his own moves and levels to play through. Now with the release Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition coming, nearly eight years after the original, the creative minds at Capcom sought to rekindle the same enthusiasm found in Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition for this supped up re-release. And much like the recent Definitive Edition for DmC, they looked their well-received PC release as the base."There was content in the PC version of the original DMC4 that was not possible for consoles at the time due to hardware limitations. We have always wanted to provide these features to more DMC fans, most notably Legendary Dark Knight Mode," said DMC producer Takashi Fujii. "We wanted to provide a good action game that really gives the player a lot to sink their teeth into. With the features I’ve mentioned previously, and the addition of three new playable characters we’ve designed, I think fans will be very happy with all the content we’re offering in DMC4 Special Edition. With the hardware capabilities introduced in the new console generation, it proved this was the right time to revisit DMC4 and provide all of these features that we had been thinking about."Back when Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition was revealed last year, we all got a nice tease showing that Vergil was going to be making a return. But who would've thought that DMC's leading ladies, Trish and Lady, were going to get in on the action as well? While the ladies were already present in the core DMC4 story, Vergil's campaign in the Special Edition features his own unique story taking place many years before the events of DMC3 and 4. In addition to these new characters are several tweaks and upgrades made to the core game. Such as higher texture and graphical quality, auto-saves, rebalanced orb and proud soul economy, official trophy support across all platforms (take that early generation seven architecture!), and also some tweaks to puzzles -- such as the infamous dice game. It's a pretty meaty package. You might as well call it "Super Devil May Cry 4." The larger cast was a way for Capcom to offer variety in a convincing and fun way that stayed true to its combat heritage."Everyone plays Devil May Cry games a bit differently, and so with Devil May Cry 4 Special Edition in particular, it was important to us to give players more ways to enjoy the gameplay experience," explained the producer. "It was important that these characters each had distinctive combat styles, so fighting a boss you may have fought as Nero, for example, will feel very different from doing so with Lady or Vergil." In the two hours I spent with the game last month, it was quite clear that a lot of work went into the new characters. Though of course they're still going through the same areas and fighting the same bosses from the original game, that didn't really bother me all that much after getting settled with the new characters. Any fan will tell you that the combat is the crux of the series, and the new characters offered a lot depth and complexity that are totally unique to them -- which really set themselves apart from both Dante and Nero. And yes, for those who've gotten really comfortable with Dante and Nero over the last seven and half years, you'll be please to know that they're largely untouched (aside from general gameplay tweaks). "No changes have been made to Nero or Dante," said the producer rather bluntly and with the utmost clarity. So please, use high-level tricks such as guard flying and intertia to your heart's content. And with the sharing functionality on PS4 and Xbox One, showing off your high-flying antics and finger acrobatics will be much easier than before.For those who read my long preview last month, you could tell that I was quite smitten with this title. Devil May Cry is easily my favorite Capcom IP, and seeing it return this year with two really cool titles was a total joy for me. Checking out the new characters in DMC4SE was a complete blast, and I can't wait to dive back in from the beginning. I'm telling you guys, Trish and Lady are not to be messed with. Vergil's got some serious moves, and his concentration mechanic is a total game-changer, but these ladies are total bad-asses. I cannot wait to see some high-level exhibitionist videos later once people get them in their hands.With the release next month just after E3, you'll have the opportunity to get some quality time with the gang again. We all remember that tease at the end of DMC4 with Dante, Lady, and Trish teaming up to battle more demons, so it's definitely exciting to see that it's finally coming to fruition. So don't let this slip past you. If you've been screaming for a chance to return to these wonderfully goofy characters in this over the top world, you finally got it.And by the way, be sure to check out Capcom's weekly twitch livestream on Wednesdays for sessions with DMC4: Special Edition  by Capcom staff.
Devil May Cry photo
Capcom Producer talks revitalizing DMC4
In case you missed it, Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition is now a thing. Following up on their release of the excellent DmC Devil May Cry: Definitive Edition (seriously, it's great), Capcom are readying their second hit o...

Review: Schrodinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark

May 18 // Darren Nakamura
Schrödinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark (PC, PlayStation 4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Italic PigPublisher: Team17Released: May 12, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Raiders of the Lost Quark takes place in the quantum world, zoomed in so far the elementary particles of matter are visible. Previous knowledge about quantum physics is not required to play, though it does enhance the experience a bit. For instance, there are six flavors of quarks: up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange. Schrödinger's Cat uses the first four flavors of quark in his platforming adventure (charm and strange are much rarer), and just like in real life, the quarks combine in groups of three. This central mechanic is smart. It allows Schrödinger's Cat to employ a lot of different abilities, using only the four shoulder buttons. It starts off with basic combos: three up quarks form a propeller that will carry the cat upward, three down quarks form a drill that will destroy terrain downward, three top quarks form a protective bubble to safely pass through hazards, and three bottom quarks form a platform to stand on. From there, quarks of different flavors can be mixed and matched. Two ups and a down (or two downs and an up) will form a missile that can be fired in any of the four cardinal directions. It ends up being one of the most useful abilities. With all of the combinations, there are 14 different abilities. Though it sounds confusing, it all comes fairly naturally, and there is a helpful quick reference on the pause screen detailing all of the different constructs. [embed]292295:58563:0[/embed] At its best, Quark takes the quark combination mechanic and applies it to a puzzle platformer. Half of the levels are designed, giving the player a specific set of quarks to overcome a specific task. Though several quark groupings can achieve similar outcomes (the copter, base, and bounce constructs will all help Schrödinger's Cat move upward), a limited supply of quarks means having to choose wisely, considering what will be left for other tasks. If it were just the puzzle platformer levels, Schrödinger's Cat would a tight little game that does its thing well. It's unfortunate that between the puzzle levels are procedurally generated filler areas. Though they still make use of the quark combination mechanic, the abundance of quarks takes away any sort of interesting decision making or a need for much forethought. Though there are 14 different abilities, I found myself mostly using the same 4 in these sections. There's no need for creative problem solving when the copter, missile, bubble, and net can do everything that needs to be done. It highlights the drawbacks of procedural generation. It can be a powerful tool for two types of games: enormous sandboxes that would be unreasonable to hand-design (Minecraft) and short, replayable experiences that reward experience over memorization (Spelunky). Raiders of the Lost Quark is neither of these. The procedural levels aren't interesting enough to merit a huge open world and aside from some new dialogue there isn't a whole lot of reason to replay it after going through once. Another downfall that stems from the procedural generation is in the environmental art. The destructible terrain and the chunky grid look outdated in the best cases. At worst, the environments are almost nauseating in their color choices and design. This come in stark contrast with the character artwork. Cutscenes have a sharp cartoon look, and the animations are smooth and visually interesting. Schrödinger's Cat's movement and combat animations are particularly good. The supporting cast members have really inventive designs, bizarre enough to fit well in the weird and wonderful subatomic universe. The art for the quark combinations is noteworthy as well. Looking closely at each construct, players can pick out which quark is performing which function, as they all stretch, bend, and combine together. It even helps from a gameplay perspective, where each design is memorable enough on its own that it helped me recall which quarks to summon for a particular ability. Even with the ones I used less frequently like the parachute, I can picture which colors go into it and use that to activate one without having to pause for the reference. Though the overall story is silly, the writing is good. Comedy in games is difficult, but Raiders of the Lost Quark had me laughing out loud a few times. That said, I'm a science geek, so your mileage may vary when it comes to the physics jokes. On a more disappointing note, I did run into a handful of notable bugs during my play through. On multiple occasions I got stuck in the level geometry. Sometimes there would be a creature listed for capture but that creature wasn't actually present, leading to unnecessary time wasted scouring the area. The Bosons were especially hard to work with; they are supposed to attack one another when brought too close, but I had several that wouldn't budge. None of these issues were gamebreaking; a reset to the last checkpoint or leaving and returning to an area fixed all of them. They still hurt the experience through wasted time. None of those waste as much time as the procedurally generated levels, which are easily the biggest flaw in Schrödinger's Cat and the Raiders of the Lost Quark. They take up about half of the play time, present very little worthwhile gameplay, and feel like a drudge by the end. If it cut all the fat and featured only the smart puzzle-platforming found in the hand-designed levels, Raiders of the Lost Quark would be a leaner, more engaging, and ultimately much better game. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Schrödinger's Cat review photo
A superposition of good and bad
"Schrödinger's Cat" refers to an old physics thought experiment that highlights the weirdness of the quantum theory. Though it generally applies to very small particles, a device could be designed that leverages the prob...

Review: Not a Hero

May 14 // Steven Hansen
Not a Hero (PC [reviewed], PlayStation 4, PS Vita)Developers: Roll7Publisher: Devolver DigitalReleased: May 14, 2015Price: $12.99 BunnyLord, a rabbit from the future, is running for mayor to prevent humanity from some sort of possibly bee-related extinction on a campaign of hunting down and murdering various crime bosses. His mayoral bid starts with his campaign manager, Steve, and gunman join the cause with rising poll numbers. The health bar shared by Not a Hero's nine playable characters is only a few ticks. It regenerates rather quickly when you're not being shot, but you're often being shot, and one bad volley of enemy fire can kill you immediately. This frailty, which feels more "retro" than the pixel art in and of itself, is mitigated with a cover system, the crutch of the contemporary third-person shooter. Movement here is just as key as shooting, so there is a slide button that you can contextually release before pieces of cover to snap to safety. Shooting while in cover automatically exposes you and enemies can still come head-on and give you a thwack lest you think you can reload in absolute peace. You can play sheepishly -- and cover is helpful when you're down to the last tick of the health bar -- but are not encouraged to. Shots at close range do critical damage while sliding into enemies will knock them out and allow you to perform executions. The result is a cover-supported game rather than a cover-based game. It's there to be used when you're not slide tackling and brutally stabbing folks to death room to room. Your tactics are as brazen as the boss' campaign, which includes perpetuating the war on drugs, rescuing pandas, giving bees to the children, and shooting a not-insignificant amount of police officers. Established trends voters are for. [embed]292134:58536:0[/embed] There are power ups and limited secondary weapon pickups to go along with the nine characters, all of which except the last two feel distinct from one another. There were some power ups I tended to avoid, especially after unlocking an assassin with a devastating, but slow to reload, double barrel shotgun. Coupled with the quick reload power up, the only one not limited to one magazine worth of ammo, it's hard to beat. That same character is quick with a rapid slide which did end in some undue-feeling fall deaths. When I had to jet down a descending series of rooftops, it felt about as precarious as playing a 3D platformer. You can change direction midair which is great for busting out of a window and then busting into one on the floor below, but occasionally I found myself careening forwards to death despite feeling like I'd moved the stick the other way. Having multiple buildings to flit between and different points of entry keeps every multi-floored stage from feeling like a Donkey Kong zigzag to the top, but running or sliding in between any open spaces that weren't perfectly in line with each other just feels a bit off. Additionally, there's just the three visually distinct areas -- the first two of which are even more similar outside of the color swap -- that fall in line with Not a Hero's general flattened action tropes and references. First, it's the Eastern European shipping underbelly. Then it's off to the "urban" (read: dark skinned enemies) area, in an apparent reversal of the first two seasons of The Wire. One of the player characters is Spanish, named Jesus. He wears bright pink, is in a permanent hip thrust animation, and sounds more like Al Pacino doing a Cuban accent in Scarface. Meanwhile the black guy pulls extra magazines out of his afro. On the other hand, the rest of the cast are regional UK in-jokes. The most visually distinct area is the Yakuza-boss-run, an Asian-themed one (much of it related to a sushi restaurant run by bossman Unagi) that also introduces one-hit-kill samurai and ninja, as well as triad folks doing combat barks sometimes not in English, sometimes with thick accents. It also introduces timed door locks which are antithetical to momentum and are often situated at hall ends, meaning you've already done all the murdering on the way there and are waiting for nothing to move on to the next level. And while BunnyLord makes for a unique employer, the extreme irreverence is sometimes amusing and sometimes feels like a forced @dril imitation. There's a bit too much, "Look, it's so random!" at times, like a deadpan presentation of Borderlands 2. More importantly, BunnyLord gives post-mission and pre-mission monologues back to back and to keep the comedic timing you can't just read the text boxes more quickly. It's either wait for the slow text crawl hoping for payoff or just skip it entirely and go shooting. I often went with the latter. Each stage has three optional objectives, too, that go towards determining BunnyLord's political station. Apparently mayor doesn't cut it. But while I completed most everything in the first two areas on my way up from mayor to prime minister to King of England to Global Megalord, I'm stuck as mayor overall. The third act ratchets up the difficulty a lot. I almost spent as much time in the last and third from last stages as I have everywhere else. And I still haven't been able to complete any of the side-goals in the last level, which is basically a boss fight followed by a level, with no checkpoint. It's a bit of a pain, but given how quickly I breezed through a majority of the game, perhaps those more challenging, borderline frustrating bits add to the longevity of what is a pretty lean little game. Translating cover shooters into 2D makes for a good  mix of contemporary and classic sensibilities. It's nice to play a shooter where avoiding enemy bullets is a bit more necessary and I like the tools Not a Hero provides with its slick cover system, mechanically varied cast, and constant chain of slide kicks and executions. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Not a Hero review photo
I can be your hero, baby
Roll7 has received much adulation distilling skateboarding into pixel-based 2D fun with OlliOlli so it's not surprising that the team has been able to do the same with cover-based shooting. But OlliOlli's pixels belie the pol...

Review: Knights of Pen & Paper 2

May 13 // Zack Furniss
Knights of Pen & Paper 2 (Android, iPhone [reviewed], PC)Developer: Kyy GamesPublisher: Paradox InteractiveReleased: May 14, 2015Price: $4.99 (Android, iPhone) Knights of Pen & Paper 2 takes the concept of tabletop gaming and squashes it into something that fits comfortably in your pocket. Miniatures, character sheets, and multiple reference books aren't required to enjoy the world of Paperos. Instead, you'll play as both the dungeon master and up to five adventurers. As dungeon master, you will set up encounters, choosing where your quest will lead and how many/what type of enemies the adventurers will fight. Adventurers must be created by making choices in three different categories: the player's high-school archetype, their character's race, and their character's class. Each choice factors into the adventurer's combat prowess. That's a picture of my cheerleader dwarf barbarian up there for reference. The core stats are now based on the three 20-sided die you see above: red is body, green is senses, and blue is mind. Body determines damage, threat, and how quickly you shake off status effects. Senses is in charge of critical hits, initiative, and attribute rolls. Mind rolls affect health, energy, and your success when you try to investigate an area to find secret items. It's always satisfying to watch these little dice roll, and I'm glad to see they made the stats a bit more clear this time around. After assembling your party, you begin your quest to stop the Paper Knight, a player who is using the 2nd edition of the role-playing game against the wishes of the dungeon master. The residents of Paperos are suffering from the clashing of the 1st and 2nd editions and it is up to you to restore the balance. Having any familiarity with how drastically different editions can be between actual tabletop games goes a long way towards how much you'll get out of Knights' plot. To reach the Paper Knight, you're going to be fighting all manner of beasts ranging from lowly snakes to sky pirates. The turn-based combat has been beefed up since the first game, where the tactics mostly boiled down to finding your favorite ability and putting all of your skill points into it. Character classes still feature four abilities each, but it no longer feels like there's only one obvious choice. The sequel is more focused on status effects such as wound, weakness, stun, and poison. I was happy to find that the RPG sin of useless status effects wasn't implemented here -- the majority of enemies can be targeted by these abilities, and they even begin to feel necessary as the plot progresses.  Spamming one high-level spell isn't the only way to win anymore. My fights frequently went something like this: my Ninja would throw a smoke bomb to stun a crowd, my Thief would throw a barrage of knives to do double damage to the stunned enemies, and then my Warrior would cleave through a row of enemies. My Paladin would hold the threat from remaining monsters and my Mage would finish them off with chain lightning. The variety of character classes helps to reduce repetition, though I eventually got tired of the random encounters sparked by traveling on the world map (there's a roll for that too, of course). Like any good RPG, there is equipment to find and buy, though the crafting system is somewhat odd. While the first Knights had you waiting for real-time hours to pass before you could upgrade a weapon, you can now combine certain items to make better weapons and armor. What's strange is that by the time I had finished the campaign, there were still only a few recipes and I hadn't even seen a couple of the items that could be used. You are able to combine a weapon with an enchantment scroll and a charm to improve its stats, but I never found any charms, at least to my knowledge. It feels as if there are going to be more items to find later on when more content is added. Knights 2 isn't heavy on microtransactions like the first. Though you can buy gold to create more adventurers first or to buy better gear, it never feels required. Kyy Games has found a fun way to provide more content along the way that doesn't force you to pay real money. At any time you can press a magazine button in the top-left corner to see this month's edition of Modern Dungeon, an in-game tome that allows you to buy new character classes, archetypes, and trinkets while also providing silly lore. You can grind for in-game currency to buy these, and there's supposed to be an issue every month. I'll be checking in June to see what's been added. Paperos looks clean and crisp in the new 16-bit style. I played most of it in portrait mode because the interface is larger, but it does cut off most of the environments and I ended up missing some details. Landscape mode is better on the eyes but the buttons become so small that they are difficult to consistently and accurately press. The music is simple and catchy but much too repetitive. I hope you like hearing the same five songs over and over.  I can't help but wish that the jokes were kept to being about the intricacies of editions in Dungeons & Dragons instead of trying to be "sooo random." I realize humor is subjective, but hearing players accuse the dungeon master of making things up on the spot is more entertaining than finding a pixelated Bill Murray who wants your help to "bust" a "geese" because he's a geesebuster. Between Game of Thrones puns and trolls engaging in Internet-speak, I found myself rolling my eyes more than chuckling. If you're a Family Guy fan you'll probably find a lot to love here, but I'm judging you right now. Knights of Pen & Paper 2 is by no means a serious game, and this lightness can be as refreshing as it can be annoying. The refinement of the combat has gone a long way to mitigate the tedium of the first game, but the humor and plot won't do much to keep you engaged. I had enough fun with it that I'm looking forward to next month's Modern Dungeon. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] http://www.destructoid.com//ul/292095-/barbarian-noscale.jpg
Knights of Pen & Paper 2 photo
Fun, but it ain't funny
I played the majority of the original Knights of Pen & Paper on various toilets within the boundaries of Southern California. It was an enjoyable if shallow take on pen-and-paper RPGs with some cringe-worthy, referen...

Review: Action Henk

May 13 // Jordan Devore
Action Henk (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: RageSquidPublisher: RageSquidReleased: May 11, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Action Henk, who I desperately want to call Action Hank, is past his prime. He's a toy, and a middle-aged, beer-bellied one at that. If you played this game back when it was on Steam Early Access, you can dress him up as a certain ring-carrying blue hedgehog. More than just a fun nod, it fits. There are hints of Sonic the Hedgehog in how Henk builds up his speed, how he roars through loops, and also in the chipper, infectious music. But for as fast as Henk moves, and he is always moving (or you're messing up), it's not hard to follow him, and he doesn't get lost in the chaos. Ghosts are a big help in that regard. Even on your first time through a level, you can race alongside an AI ghost, allowing you to see precisely what it takes to achieve a bronze, silver, or gold medal before executing the winning strategy yourself. This cuts out a fair amount of guesswork and, as a result, unnecessary (see: cheap-feeling) failures. [embed]292039:58519:0[/embed] It's not just running across wooden blocks and vaulting over the (lava) floor of a messy kid's bedroom. Crucially, our aging action hero can slide down ramps to pick up extra speed. Knowing precisely when to start and stop sliding makes all the difference on the leaderboards, as those fractions of a second add up rapidly. It's hard to put into words how enjoyable the movement system is, so I'll just say this: some 70 levels later, it doesn't let up. I'm still digging it. Eventually, Henk comes across a Hookshot, though it's only usable in select levels. Which makes sense, given that the device demands bigger, more open-ended environments to accommodate its huge range. It fits in so well with the existing physics and feel of Action Henk. Flying off a ramp and firing the shot at the exact right moment to fling Henk directly forward is a never-ending joy. The way the device is introduced partway through the game led me to believe there might be more abilities or items later on but, sadly, there aren't. There are more characters to unlock, though. Stages are capped off with a head-to-head race against another toy -- beat them, and they'll join your side. By earning every gold medal for a stage, you'll unlock a coin collection level. These are more compact than the standard fare but they're also less linear. The challenge is primarily in figuring out the best possible route to grab every coin within the time limit. Clear these levels, and you'll earn a new character skin (including one reminiscent of Michael Jackson from "Thriller"). Even if I didn't have the goofy Sonic outfit for Henk, I probably would've stuck with him anyway. I found most of the other characters grotesque. Besides racing against AI and player ghosts, there's also a separate multiplayer mode complete with a chat room. Here, you're competing against other people in real time. You can redo the course as often as you'd like until you're satisfied with your score or the clock runs out. While it's the same old levels from single-player, there's a greater sense of urgency and competition. Finally, there's a level builder with Steam Workshop support. The editor is quick and intuitive to use thanks in large part to the simplicity of the user interface and building blocks. Just drag, drop, copy, and paste pieces onto the screen until you've cobbled together an obstacle course. It's that straightforward. Making something worth sharing will take more time, of course. Barring the final, post-credits set of levels -- which is absolutely brutal -- it shouldn't take more than a few hours to get through Action Henk with decent rankings. Although the game doesn't outstay its welcome, that can be difficult to appreciate. I was left wanting more, particularly in terms of level variety, but the essence of the game is great. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Action Henk review photo
Toy story
Going into Action Henk, a time-trial platforming game starring action figures, I expected to grow frustrated. I figured that once the training wheels came off, the challenge would rise to a point where perfection, or somethin...

Review: TowerFall: Dark World

May 13 // Chris Carter
TowerFall: Dark World (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Matt ThorsonPublisher: MattMakesGames Release Date: May 12, 2015MSRP: $9.99 The main draw for the this $10 add-on is the full four-player "Co-op" mode. It aims to improve upon the existing "Quest Mode," which previously was limited to two people at a time. While the original Quest is still alive and well, co-op actually feels like a legitimate campaign (albeit without a story), with a clearer view of progression for each level set, culminating in a boss battle. Oh, and just like before, you can play it by yourself if you want. Here, you can resurrect teammates by standing near their corpse for a few seconds, and the enemy waves feel more relentless and unique. It helps that there are more variations out there to deal with, from baddies that explode after their death, to doppelgangers, to these projectile-heavy...floating things that will annoy the hell out of you. On Normal mode all four sets of levels will probably take you an hour or so to clear. There are only four bosses on offer, but they're all fun to fight in their own way -- especially the final encounter, which strips you of your ability to fire arrows for most of the fight. These big bads are particularly tantalizing with multiple team members fluttering about the map, resurrecting each other en masse. With three difficulty levels to choose from (Normal, Hardcore, or Legendary, with the latter two limiting your continues), I can see myself coming back for the challenge every so often, especially with friends. [embed]292091:58527:0[/embed] Of course, the real draw here is the core deathmatch mode, which has been improved as a result of the expansion. Two new arrow types have been added, my favorite of which is the remote arrow -- a Bomberman-like attack that can be detonated at will. It even has an alt-fire (Circle instead of Square) that lets you lay down more than one. This one mechanic would be enough to deal with on its own, but when you add in the fact that other players can dash into the arrow before it's triggered to steal it, things get a bit more complicated. The Prism Arrow is also pretty fun, as it traps someone in a box if they try to snatch it out of the air. There's just so much more to learn, and the game is all the better for it. TowerFall's option toggles are also insanely detailed, allowing you to switch out every weapon a la Smash Bros., as well as change-up pretty much everything else, including the implementation of automatic handicaps, slow-mo, "there's always lava," and forcing the arena to always appear dark. My personal favorite is the "scrolling" option, which makes every level look like it's a traditional platforming level -- it works very well with the new DLC stages. It doesn't actually change the arena into a full-on adventure, as the level stays the same since players will simply warp to the other side if they "fall off," but it constantly keeps you on your toes -- particularly on vertically designed stages, where you can theoretically fall forever, fighting it out in the air. Other extras including 10 more characters and new time trials. While the actual archers themselves don't have any unique powers and are more like skins, and the trials feel like par for the course, they're nice additions all the same. For the record, the game still doesn't have online play. If you haven't picked up TowerFall yet, go get it. If you like it, then buy Dark World. It's that simple. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
TowerFall DLC review photo
How high does this tower ascend?
TowerFall quickly became the go-to arena game in my household, especially after it hit the PlayStation 4. While there has been a resurgence of the genre lately with new classics like Samurai Gunn and heavy-hitters l...

Review: NERO

May 13 // Brett Makedonski
NERO (Xbox One [reviewed], PC, Wii U, 3DS)Developers: Storm in a TeacupPublisher: ID@XboxReleased: May 15, 2015 (Xbox One), TBA (PC, Wii U, 3DS)Price: $19.99 But to spend a little more time in NERO's world is a wondrous thing. The omnipresent phosphorescent set-dressing strikes a dissonant chord against the subject material, but works in an odd mutuality. When hope seems like it's sure to slip away forever, the aesthetic inspires in an underlying way. Hey, maybe things will turn out all right after all. As this is a foray through a child's mind who's going through uncertain realities, nothing about NERO is metaphorically black and white. The journey is paced however you see fit. Meandering about is enticing, as everything about it begs for exploration. Backtracking is likely to occur often, as you realize you've been staring at the lustrous sky for too long and forgot to pay attention to your surroundings. Every time this happens, you'll fall a little more in love with NERO. Wandering off the beaten path has its benefits beyond taking in more scenery. NERO is a first-person puzzle-solving game, but it can be very light on the latter if you so choose. The majority of the puzzles are tucked away in areas that aren't even necessary to venture to. Those who opt to complete these brain-teasers will be awarded with an extra slice of narrative. [embed]292028:58522:0[/embed] Honestly, those who take the quick and narrow path through NERO are robbing themselves -- not just of a few puzzles, but of the core experience. It's a game where you slowly figure out that aimless wandering is the aim. It's something that requires some marinating, soaking in the world to fully appreciate it. Approaching NERO with a destination in mind is a mindset that will result in disappointment. Likewise, those who appreciate clearly drawn lines will similarly feel frustration. NERO is intentionally ambiguous at all times about its narrative, but its tone is always striking. Different thematic accents constantly punctuate different scenes; the ones that don't happen to arch over the course of the entire journey. For all the discussion it's sure to raise regarding plot, it's undoubtedly a story of love and loss, grief and guilt, companionship and family, and coping when the world is so goddamn unfair. All that being said, NERO isn't perfect. Detractors will knock it for a short run-time, flat textures, frame rate stutters, and lack of puzzle variety. However, isolating those issues is akin to missing the forest for the trees. There's something greater at play here, and letting yourself become immersed in NERO will likely render those shortcomings moot. Even after finishing, it's difficult to pin NERO down to a concept or feeling that's easy to explain. It's a game that prioritizes emotion above all else, and it does so wonderfully. But as the boy at the heart of this tale learns, emotions are tough to understand, and thus NERO is tough to understand. You'll just know that you felt something, and that sensation alone is worth the journey.
NERO review photo
A strange and distant land
I don't know why I kept playing NERO. That's not a statement meant to express disdain. I literally don't know what -- but something -- drew me to keep trekking through this sad, enamoring world. Its gravitas has a gravity abo...

Review: Invisible, Inc.

May 12 // Steven Hansen
Invisible, Inc. (PC [reviewed], Mac)Developers: Klei EntertainmentPublisher: Klei EntertainmentReleased: May 12, 2015Price: $19.99 Stealth games often offer two tonal paths. You are ill-equipped, powerless and possibly stay that way (horror), or you are preternaturally talented, improving stats and skills further until you are Batman-like (most "detective mode" games). Invisible, Inc. gives you all the information needed to succeed. Sight lines are obvious and clear. Enemy routes can be precisely observed (for 1 AP). You can peek around corners or behind doors (again, 1 AP). And you have the Incognita system which can hack devices -- cameras, turrets, item machines -- to help you complete your infiltrations. Screw ups aren't twitch-based dissonance, like frantically steering Snake into a wall when spotted. What you butt up against, then, is a series of balanced checks that gives you tools to succeed and becomes about execution. Hacking requires power, which can be stolen from consoles or generated once per turn (with the default Incognita setup). Agent movement is limited by action points. Hastily enter a door and you may be exposed, without enough AP to set up behind cover. Peek and observe the patrol route of the guard next door and you may find that he is coming right to where you are, your melee stun device is still recharging, and you no longer have the AP needed to get back into cover. And if you think the answer is to take things slow, creeping along a few squares at a time, know that each procedurally generated stage has an alarm that raises by one tick each turn. Every time the alarm goes up a full level, you'll be facing additional cameras or extra, better outfitted guards, or higher power costs when hacking.  [embed]291971:58506:0[/embed] All the systems are at odds with each other and it is exhilarating. You want to find the exit quickly, before things get too difficult to handle, yet the whole point of your infiltration to to quickly prepare for a big standoff, which means it's better to steal all the credits and gear that you can, to explore every room. You have to spend power to open safes, but also to rewire cameras or turrets, things that can more presently do you in. But not doing enough, not filching everything, feels like it will do you in in the long run, too. Credits buy you new gear, which becomes necessary for dealing with tougher enemies, but it's also what you spend to upgrade your agents' movement distance, ability to gain more power from consoles, and so on. It's elegant as hell. A commensurate arms race. You fly around the world, eating hours off the countdown clock. If you take a harder ranked mission, you're more likely to lose, but if you don't, will you be able to win in the long run? For every "2x armor piercing stun baton" you pick up, the next stage could have 3 times armored enemies. There are killing weapons, too. They're good because the enemies won't wake up a couple turns later (they stay incapacitated if an agent is physically pinning them down), but have limited ammo, raise the alarm level more quickly, and leave you paying a bit of "cleaner costs." Decisions, decisions. I love the constant duress and how many options you have. While all the stages are procedurally generated, you do have some idea of what you're getting into, depending on the type of infiltration (going for a vault? a terminal with locations of more points of interest? an executive's suite?) and the particular company (one is particularly robot heavy, rendering your knock out sticks useless) whose site you're breaking into. There's wiggle room. You decide what you're going for. Money takes precedence for me, mostly for agent upgrades, followed by labs that allow me to add cybernetic upgrades to my agents. Of course, a detention center could be housing a third or fourth agent as well, and numbers can be useful if you have the means to outfit them all, or ruthlessly treat new additions as expendable. And while you start off with two default agents and two default power-gaining and hacking programs, you can unlock more mid-game (buy new programs, rescue captive agents), as well as unlock them for use at the start of a campaign. They have different latent skills or default items. And each agent has an alternate with a different load out yet and a new backstory. The programs, too, offer anxiety-inducing risk-reward choices. One power per turn, or two power per turn with the chance of spawning a harmful daemon? Maybe couple that with a lockable character who gains power on enemy daemon installs in an attempt to even out the risks. Klei has also created a robust set of options that allows you to tune the experience to your liking. There are three "standard" modes: beginner, experienced, and expert. Mind you I've played Invisible, Inc. 40 plus hours prior to this, but I found beginner to be too non-threatening of a cakewalk, so maybe start with experienced? Note that expert is the "base difficulty and tuning." Within these options, you can toggle one-turn rewinds (and how many) as well as whole level retries. You can even go deeper than that to adjust settings to your liking. You can extend the campaign from 72 hours, dictate starting power level, turn off danger zone warnings, and more. And on top of all that, there is an extra difficult "expert plus," an endless mode, and an extra difficult endless mode. You can fine tune 20 or so settings in all of them. The turn-based stealth gameplay is empowering, but fraught and fleeting each time you dive deeper into one of the world's least architecturally sensible corporate buildings, rooms budding off rooms, some empty, some dangerous, all necessary. It's a fight to stay equally matched with your enemies and make it to the end. Things can and will go wrong. Sometimes life-saving maneuvering just delays an impending, inevitable loss as you bring the full weight of the guard down on your head. And it's almost always your own damn fault, which is why you'll try again.
Invisible, Inc. photo
Invisible, man
It feels weird to be finally reviewing a game I played more than anything else last year despite it being in Early Access. I mean, I already gave it a Game of the Year award. Klei (Don't Starve, Mark of the Ninja) has perfect...

Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

May 12 // Chris Carter
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: CD Projekt REDPublisher: Bandai Namco (Europe), WB Games (NA), Spike Chunsoft (Japan)Released: May 19, 2015MSRP: $59.99 From the very start, The Witcher 3 is a return to form in terms of presenting the core Witcher lore from the first game. Unlike the second iteration, where many elements important to the overarching story were teased or merely mentioned in passing, you get to see more events up close. You'll have the chance to experience The Wild Hunt itself even more-so than the original title, which is going to be a huge bonus for fans of the series. You get to delve deeper into the world as a whole, and the more personal take on Geralt makes it even better. Over the course of The Wild Hunt, players will experience Geralt as a teacher, lover, and hero. There are far more opportunities to actually be a Witcher, haggling for goods and demanding gold for your service. These elements were always communicated in past games to some degree, but given the vast scope of this title, you'll actually get to live it on a constant basis here. The script as a whole is also much sharper, with stronger dialog and a funnier general feel. It helps that it hosts the most interesting cast yet, like a funny young creature that loves to poop, a terrifying trio of witches, a dumb goat named Princess, and one very angry ghost baby. The setup this time around involves Ciri, a young woman that Geralt has essentially raised as his own daughter. She's trained with Witchers, but she also hosts a power no one quite understands that has sparked the interest of The Wild Hunt -- a mysterious and powerful group that roams the land and terrifies everyone who comes in contact with them. Geralt kicks off the adventure in search of Ciri, attempting to find her in various locations, learning of her whereabouts through story missions. Occasionally you'll get to control Ciri herself in short standalone sequences, which serve as a window into her point of view and are a welcome brief departure from the Geralt show. [embed]291344:58447:0[/embed] In general, choices feel like they carry more weight in The Wild Hunt, and the characters are more fleshed out as a whole. I felt like the second game had way too many "Would you like to do option A or option B?" black and white choices, but the third iteration brings back some of the ambiguity from the original. There is immediacy to your decisions, but there are lasting consequences in some cases, with individuals that I actually cared about. I like Ciri in particular, and was inspired to press on to find out what happened to her. More importantly, the game is designed as a large collective of little choices compared to a few sweeping options in The Witcher 2. Having a bit of control over nearly every aspect of your personal story is a much more desirable design. A lot of you out there will probably be disappointed to learn that combat is now essentially Assassin's Creed, as most of the nuances like stances from the first game and the slower flow of the second game are now gone. Instead, you'll attack with light and heavy attacks, spicing things up with a few magic abilities, and separate dodge and roll buttons. Geralt still carries his trademark steel sword for humanoid opponents and silver for creatures, but since he automatically takes the appropriate one out most of the time, that bit of strategy is quashed too. It's not enough to make the game "easy" (especially on higher settings) but normal is significantly more hack and slash oriented than The Witcher 2. For all of the streamlined changes though, I actually enjoy this take on combat the most. Your magic abilities run the gamut of everything you'd need, from traps to projectiles to a defensive shield, and the dodge mechanic works better than it ever has, which makes battles feel more action-oriented and less like an outdated pen-and-paper scheme. When you add in the ability to parry and counter, combat gets even more interesting. Ciri's bits are even less expansive, as she can't access an equipment or inventory screen at all, and only has a few unique spells at her disposal. When you're exploring about, the way fast travel is handled is just about perfect. You can technically use it, but players will need to have explored the target area first, and access an actual dedicated fast-travel signpost. It encourages you to see the world without pulling your hair out and losing tons of time manually getting to places you've already been. Roach, your horse, will assist in finding those new locations, and the controls are fairly versatile with walking, running, and galloping options. Sailing is probably my favorite means of travel, and in one instance I was even left stranded on an island after enemies capsized my ship! Questing is also much more satisfying now because The Wild Hunt is less "tunnel" oriented. Thanks to the advancements of newer tech, the open world can be fully explored by climbing, sailing, and horseback riding. The climbing mechanics are a welcome addition, but like a lot of other sandbox titles (I'm looking at you, Bethesda), it comes with its own set of glitches and rough animations. Specifically, ridges and edges are problem areas, and I had Geralt get stuck a few times in the game world or die to very questionable amounts of fall damage. It doesn't help the situation when a few main story quests have bugs in them as well. It should be noted though that there is a very forgiving checkpoint save system, and you can manually save at any time. I suggest doing so often. Once you get your first look at the world and see the new engine up-close, you'll likely forget about those stiff movements and occasional rough patches. The draw distance is wonderful, and the map in general is insanely detailed. While there are three particular areas that are instanced (cut off from the rest of the world), the core area is huge, and would take you hours to fully traverse and explore, even if you didn't stop to actually do anything. For the purposes of this review, I played The Witcher 3 on PS4, which features 1080p visuals, with a 30 frames-per-second cap. Unfortunately that latter figure is noticeable all too often, especially when you're outside, moving the camera about, and fighting multiple enemies. I have to give it to CD Projekt RED for creating a beautiful, vast universe with very little in the way of load times, but the console edition does feel like a compromise. If you have the rig, I highly recommend taking a look at the PC version, though I haven't had a chance to test out its stability just yet. There is something to be aware of in addition to the technical issues. While the combat and overall story have been improved, a lot of quests (particularly the transitions between story missions) involve "Witcher Vision." Yep, Arkham's Detective Vision mechanic is now a part of the Witcher world, and you're going to be spending a lot of time holding down a button, looking at footprints, and following them blindly to the next sequence. At first it's a really cool mechanic, and appropriately represents a Witcher's advanced sensory and tracking capabilities. But once you do it roughly 100 times, it gets a tad old. If you're looking for a lengthy adventure, you'll find pretty much everything you need here. With four difficulty levels (including a super easy mode) there's something for everyone. Alchemy mechanics shine in The Wild Hunt, as there are lots of ingredient nodes all across the world, easily visible on the game's mini-map -- almost like the developers took a page from the newer Far Cry games. There's literally hundreds of quests to complete, secret locations to find, and buried treasure to search for. The core story will last you a good while. It took me roughly 50 hours to complete the game. Hilariously enough, there is one point that feels like it's the end, to the point where the game even warns you that you should save and that you cannot turn back after entering the area. After I finished that sequence, it turned out that I had at least another 10 hours to go. Once the story is said and done, a few select sidequests can't be completed, but you're plopped back into the world, ready to explore. I suspect I'll be at it for over 100 hours by the time I'm ready to put the game back on the shelf. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a huge step up from its predecessor, mostly because it manages to tell a more compelling and personal tale. At the same time, that intimate feel is juxtaposed against a gigantic, sprawling open-world adventure that may hit some snags along the way but still comes out on top. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
The Witcher 3 review photo
100% more Witchay Woman
I have an odd history with The Witcher series. I absolutely fell in love with the first game near launch, at the behest of a friend, and adored the way it approached morality. Typically, games of that era would offer up black...

Review: Toren

May 12 // Chris Carter
Toren (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: SwordtalesPublisher: Versus EvilReleased: May 12, 2015MSRP: $9.99 Toren is a surreal game. You'll start off as an infant, quickly growing into a young girl who is seemingly trapped in a giant tower without any real context. The story is primarily told through clever poems, which are never on the nose or in your face. It's a good idea, as there are some awesome moments, like one specific event near the start where prose will shoot across the screen while looking into a telescope. Most of the narrative relates to the heroine and her direct conflict with a dragon, but a lot of it is also internal, and deals with the hero's journey trope in a unique way. It's just a beautiful game inside and out, but it's a bit rough around the edges. It's not optimized very well on the PC, and even using a decent rig (NVIDIA GeForce GTX 880M 8GB, 8GB RAM, i7-4810), Toren was consistently sluggish on the two highest (and even on medium) graphical settings, among a host of glitches like falling through floors and the camera getting stuck occasionally. There also isn't a whole lot in terms of menu customization, with a scant few resolution options, a fullscreen toggle, and a few checkboxes for motion blur and SSAO (screen space ambient occlusion). Additionally, I had a lot of problems with controller support. Despite trying multiple times with both Xbox One and PS4 gamepads, the functionality would often break mid-game, or wouldn't work in the first place. I can only assume it's handled better natively on the PS4, but the PC port, which is the only build I currently have access to, has been a source of contention for me. Gameplay-wise, Toren works on a three-button system -- one for actions (attacking or grabbing, usually), one to jump, and another to "look." Most puzzles involve rather simplistic platforming, but it must be said that the entire experience is just as soothing as the art style. In particular, I really like how the look button gives you vague hints without telling you directly where to go, and the solutions will usually have you saying "I can't believe I missed that" out loud (in a good way). It plays out much like your standard action-adventure game, with elements of free-roaming, puzzle-solving, platforming, and even stealth. In other words, it has a little bit of everything. Toren's jumping mechanics are a tad rough as they're very floaty, but the development team keeps things simple, so you won't be ripping your hair out too often outside of the aforementioned issues. Puzzles include things like dropping sand into specifically marked shapes, snapping statues into place (like Resident Evil), and so on. Said stealth sequences are equally simplistic, mostly involving quick movements to avoid an omega-attack from the dragon. You're not going to find a whole lot of cocnepts that aren't already present in other adventure games, but they're done well here. Thankfully, every aspect simply feels connected and in its proper place. For instance, early in the game you'll acquire a sword and turn into a young woman. Most gear acquisitions feel like an accomplishment with an emotional reward attached, rather than an item that raises your stats by a few points. These RPG-like mechanics are few and far between in favor of the more standard action-adventure elements, but welcome. Toren is a very cool concept that's held back by its rough presentation, especially on the PC platform. Truth be told though, I think developer Swordtales should keep making games and simply refine its touch, as the studio clearly has the knack for it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Toren PC review photo
No, not the Warcraft race
When I first saw Toren, I was intrigued. It has a killer art style, and the concept of seeing a young girl grow up into a woman before our eyes to fulfill a mysterious destiny is an interesting premise indeed. Sadly, not everything goes as smoothly as you'd expect, at least when it comes to the PC version.

Review: Project CARS

May 11 // Brett Makedonski
Project CARS (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developers: Slightly Mad StudiosPublisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: May 6, 2015 (PC), May 12 (PS4, Xbox One)Price: $59.99 Even though Project CARS is difficult, it's all rather appropriate. I've never raced cars before, but I imagine it to be an unrelentingly tough gig. There are a dozen or so drivers that are all after the same checkered flag. Slightly Mad has done a fantastic job crafting a racing experience that reflects real-life competition. Whereas other games often feel like races take place around the player, Project CARS feels like the player is one small part of the race. However, in the heat of the moment, one could be forgiven if they don't agree with that. Project CARS' AI can be so aggressive at times that it seems as if the game is trying to pound the player into submission. Opponents will veer across the track to block progress, and they'll occasionally send you skidding into the gravel trap. Sure, it's an accurate portrayal of racing, but, man, that comes as no consolation at all when it dooms the entire race. The AI isn't the only opponent in Project CARS; you're a constant threat to cause your own downfall. In the rare event that you break free from the pack, the most minute of miscalculated turns will send you straight to the back. One tire overstepping the bounds of the track will often send the car skidding off into a pile of tires, relegating you to an unimpressive finish. Also, this title doesn't play the rubberbanding game, so once the leaders have created separation, you're likely to stay off the podium. Again, frustrating, but that's what you signed up for when you booted up Project CARS. [embed]291507:58427:0[/embed] All that annoyance isn't aided by the fact that Project CARS starts the career with the lowest levels of kart racing, which just so happen to be the most uncontrollable vehicles in the game. It's almost like a trial by fire of sorts, a challenge from Slightly Mad that if you can command these unwieldy beasts, you're good enough to play this game. I was handily defeated so consistently during these races that I wondered if tweaking vehicle settings was an absolute necessity to success. That's where Project CARS' commitment to being for hardcore simulation fans became actively detrimental. Before each race, the menu will implore the player to make alterations, but offers little in the way of guidance as to what anything does. Those who know the ins and outs of cars may take great pleasure in adjusting camber angles and changing suspension heights, but the layman will be left wondering if they're actively at a disadvantage. Honestly, they probably are. Regardless of where all those sliders end up, Slightly Mad has some great driving to offer. The cars all have an appropriate weight about them, only seeming floaty when they're the lightest of vehicles. Project CARS also mandates a nice degree of subtlety with the throttle and brake, often requiring barely touching the gas to optimally weave through a set of turns. The most appreciated facet of driving is that most of the 70-some vehicles feel legitimately unique from one another, meaning that each takes some time behind the wheel before you can control it efficiently. That learning curve won't be welcomed by everyone, however. A lot of nuance is needed, and it's difficult to master. This is especially true with a standard gamepad, which is how the majority of people will play Project CARS. These controllers are often too finicky, and will send the car careening further and more slapdash than the player intended. Those with proper racing wheels will surely have an easier time. One aspect of Project CARS that never fails to impress is its aesthetic. Everything is stunningly gorgeous at all times, even when the sun blinds you as you're trying to corner. The scenery might be at its best during the rainfall, which looks fantastic, but adds another degree of difficulty as the slick roads definitely impact driving performance. Unfortunately, it also impacts game performance, as rainy weather acts as a kind of stress test, and it's where the frame rate dipped the most noticeably in the Xbox One version of the game. For a title that touts itself as offering a staggering amount of control, Project CARS is ironically rather shallow. While all cars are unlocked right from the get-go, the player has no say in what they drive throughout the career. Once signed up for a new league in which to compete, the game decides what vehicle the races take place in. Likewise, outside of the standard career progression, there just isn't much more to do in Project CARS. It basically boils down to the obligatory multiplayer, some community events, and some one-player quickmatches. The game doesn't give the player much incentive to keep playing, so that drive has to be internal. If it isn't, you might find yourself putting down Project CARS sooner than you'd think. Actually, Project CARS' career is paced in such a way that it directly conflicts with the desire to keep playing. Every race is preceded by a practice and qualifying round. Each of those lasts a minimum of ten minutes. You can probably afford to skip practice (easy, Allen Iverson), but qualifying is borderline mandatory. Bypassing it, or simulating to the end after a solid lap, means you run the very real risk of starting the race in last place. If that happens, it's unlikely that you'll finish first. The AI is just too good to let you overcome those odds. You were probably damned before you even began. Admittedly, Project CARS isn't for everyone. In fact, it isn't for most people. It's niche, and it's for those who take their racing games seriously. It does most of what it sets out to do, and it does that very well. However, the broad appeal is lacking, as the long learning curve likely outweighs what most are willing to put up with. But, for those who put in the time and manage to take the checkered flag, this title has a supremely rewarding experience that most anyone can feel proud of, regardless of familiarity with cars.
Project CARS review photo
Hard charger
Project CARS is a game that revels in its inaccessibility. It was made specifically for people who have come to expect more from their realistic racing simulators. Developer Slightly Mad took that desire and ran with it....

Castlevania's IGA back with 'dream game' Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

May 11 // Steven Hansen
Bloodstained stars Miriam, an orphan stuck in the middle of "a classic tale of magic, or rather faith and belief, versus science," Igarashi told me through a translator. A group of alchemists, fearing its waning relevancy as science captures the 18th century setting, try to warn against the world losing faith. Start fucking loving science, they warn, and a bunch demons will take over. When that doesn't happen, egg on face, the alchemists start fusing demonic crystals into orphans to call the demons to earth, attempting to instigate a global annihilating "told ya so." The demon crystals have a, "natural inclination to expand, eat away at hosts' bodies," not unlike bad videogame companies, perhaps. "Stained glass" acts as an artistic motif reflected in the art style, but those pretty shades in characters' skin are also the basis of gameplay. Enemies drop materials, which are forged into gems, which can be formed into weapons. Rare materials can be forged into ability crystals that can be stuck in Miriam's body. They can also be combined in a number of ways, like adding a strength+ attribute crystal to a double jump for a double jump attack move. Igarashi explained the new system would be a little less repetitive than old Castlevania's, naming Aria of Sorrow specifically, where "you're just grinding on the same enemy to create the same thing." Why stained glass? "Stained glass is already cool-looking as it is, but stained glass weapons is badass." A recent walk through Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has me in agreement. Igarashi, "wanted to have a more colorful palette," and so on top of the stained glass, you have a blue-heavy protagonist, purple tinted key items (candles, keys), and an active blood orange sky in the background (thanks to parallax scrolling) inspired by an 18th century Icelandic volcano eruption that killed 23,000 Brits and bore a "bloody sun rising." All of this is framed by classic Gothic gray. If the mock up is any indication, it could look lovely. That's a "could," of course, because the game has not been made yet. Igarashi is someone you can likely depend on to make a Castlevania-style game. Inti Creates has been delivering for a long time. And Bloodstained isn't even held hostage by its Kickstarter, though it's meant to fund the last "20%" of development (and make for physical, pressed Xbox One and PS4 discs). Still, it's a way's out. Igarashi hasn't been gone from Konami much more than a year and shopping this proved difficult, hence last year's "hold." Igarashi "scoured the globe" and "pitched every major -- even minor -- publisher on this concept." "There was a ton of interest, but for various reasons, from, 'we do distribution for Konami and...don't want to anger them,' to 'Oh, this looks like a Japanese game.' But they didn't realize Igavania games sold better in America than any other territory." Incidentally, despite the widening popularity of the term "metroidvania," the team is eschewing the "castle" and "metroid," opting for the term "Igavania," explaining, "We want to make sure we don't anger Nintendo, and Igavania is a more accurate name." This project will likely irk someone at Konami regardless -- "Konami doesn't know about it," Igarashi said last month -- perhaps even more if it proves successful, like Mighty No. 9 or the recent not-Banjo-Kazooie platformer from ex-Rare folks, Yooka-Laylee. Given those examples (or Double Fine Adventure Game, or a number of others), it feels like a sure thing, but Igarashi does seem a bit more unsure after constant publisher rejection. "A lot of them were more interested in AAA stuff," he said. "There's a big disconnect between what the publishers are giving people and what the fans want." Inafune's success, specifically, "proved that the Western audience would put its money where its mouth is and support the creators that it loves." Igarashi doesn't expect he'll generate "anything close" to Mighty No. 9. He remains modest about the whole thing. "I spent the last year trying to make this work because I believe that's what the fans are telling me. And if the Kickstarter campaign shows that's not the case, then in the end the publishers were right and I was wrong." "From Iga-san's perspective," the translator, explains, "the most frustrating, saddening part is that he did his due diligence. He tried to work within the standard publisher model." It does seem surprising that Mr. Castlevania shops around a Castlevania and no one bites. Then again, why did Igarashi have to leave Konami in the first place to make this sort of game? "In the good old days, it used to be, as a producer you'd put your neck out on the line to make a game and if it's didn't work out, then you'd be done," Igarashi explained. Speaking specifically of Konami, at least as far as he left it a year ago (and somehow it was in a better state then), "Recently, there's more of a delicacy at [Konami] towards how they handle IP to the point where rather than maybe making new games, 'let's just not touch it'" becomes the mantra. "Or, 'we have to do it a bigger way." The 3D Castlevania, perhaps. Igarashi thinks it's "more risk averse" because someone used to, "pledge it would be okay, and it was their responsibility," but given that he would've have pledged on a new Castlevania, or Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima's likely ending relationship with the company, I'm not sure that's all of it. But Konami is in the past now. Inti Creates is making Bloodstained under Igarashi's direction. "We had several developers that were interested," he explained. "We needed a team that was both capable, but more importantly passionate. "They said, 'Listen, ever since becoming an independent studio, we've wanted to do three games.' One was a Mega Man type game, which they're now doing. The second was an Igavania game. And the third is a Zelda-type game, which they will probably never get a chance to do," Igarashi chuckled. Nintendo seems more open these days, though. Igarashi did dredge up some past, scoring the composer of Symphony of the Night, Michiru Yamane. "I basically tricked her into joining the campaign by getting her really drunk and making her promise she would help," Igarashi said. "You think that's a joke, but it's the truth." I believe it. And I believe Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night's campaign shouldn't have a problem, "proving that this is a concept that the fans really want." I mean, all you have to do is ask "Sword or whip?" and they flip.
IGA's metroidvania photo
Publishers wouldn't touch it
Last year, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night assistant director and subsequent series producer Koji "IGA" Igarashi left Konami after nearly 25 years with the company. At GDC that year, Igarashi ended his interesting Symphony...

Early Access Review: Black Mesa

May 10 // Nic Rowen
Black Mesa (PC)Developer: Crowbar CollectivePublisher: Crowbar CollectiveReleased: May 5, 2015MSRP: $19.99 Now that I've had a chance to replay the original (selectively edited) Half-Life through the incredible reproduction effort of Black Mesa (which had its first part released roughly three years ago), I'm not sure that choice was so wrong. In the end I think I broke even. Half-Life was a monumental game that will always be rightfully remembered as a masterpiece for its time, but its probably not as fun as you remember it (headshots on the other hand are, and forever will be, a timeless source of joy). First thing's first, the Crowbar Collective has done an astounding job of dragging Half-Life into the modern age. This is not a mere port like Half-Life Source which used all the same assets as the original with a bit of spit and polish added in the form of a higher resolution and some dynamic lighting. Black Mesa is a remake, built from the ground up to fully realize the vision of what Half-Life could be on modern machines. More than a straight remake, the Crowbar Collective has played with the nuts and bolts of the game. Black Mesa rebuilds, trims, and expands different parts of the original for a smoother experience, while still staying true to what fundamentally made Half-Life what it was. There are new puzzles to work through, new and expanded areas to explore, and the availability of ammo and supplies has been bumped and nudged by a team that has spent ages agonizing over the pacing of the game. Action scenes are frantic and aggressive, with plenty of ammo doled out to deal with the additional enemies and larger set-pieces provided by Black Mesa. But when the action slows down and Gordon is guided towards evasion and caution, supplies dip to an almost survival horror level of scarcity. The push and pull of tension and action, going from a rat in the walls to a one-man army was one of the most intriguing things about Half-Life, and Black Mesa nails it better than the original. Some areas like the On A Rail sequence that infamously overstayed its welcome in the original, benefit from editing. Sometimes more isn't always better and Black Mesa makes some smart cuts getting rid of the fluffier and more frustrating aspects of the original. All of the edits are an improvement to the game. In fact, I'd say they could have probably brandished the razor around a bit more. Maybe we were just more tolerant of rampant amounts of bullshit back in 1998. Or, I suspect our memories of Half-Life benefit from a healthy helping of nostalgia and a lofty appreciation for everything that game did for modern game design. Half-Life basically wrote the book on immersive storytelling, first person exploration and strategically minded A.I for enemies, it had to be fun, right? Kind of? There are great times to be had in Black Mesa. When the game works, you can easily tell why Half-Life is so highly regarded as a classic. But then there is a looming dark side; a great number of hours when the game stubbornly refuses to be fun. The overly long underwater sequences that have you searching about in the darkness for some nook or cranny you missed as the last of your oxygen bubbles out of your lungs. The obnoxious clunkiness of trying to just MOVE around on physics enabled debris, let alone when the game demands you try to make a specific jump or escape from a screen rattling auto-turret under those conditions. The arbitrary insta-kill traps and monsters that force you back into loading screens and more than a couple “gotcha” moments that you couldn't hope to avoid without active precognitive abilities. Even with careful editing and a mind towards evening out the pace of the original, Black Mesa still traffics in an almost unconscionable amount of backtracking and finagling. There were several sequences where the solution to the predicament I was in was so awkward and stilted that I was sure I was doing it wrong. Of particular disdain was a protracted sequence set in a waste disposal facility that merged all the “joys” of water exploration, insta-death traps, pinpoint jumping between moving conveyor belts and confusing map design into a single ultra dense black-hole of anti-fun so terribly dark and spirit crushing that I'm still not sure I fully escaped from it. Maybe I'm being tough on it, but I remember Half-Life being smarter. I remember liking its world and characters better. Maybe it's age or maybe games have just moved on, but this time around I was more exasperated than amused by the shenanigans of the Lambda research team. The game has one joke -- you wander up to some poindexter in a lab coat, he says something silly/smug/abrasive, then immediately runs headlong into bullets/fire/devouring jaws (whatever option would make what he said seem more ironic). I like to imagine Freeman giving the leftover blood smear a knowing smirk each time. Granted, it's a funny goof the first two or three times it comes up, but when you're nine hours deep into the game and Professor Egghead is still predictably blundering into the crossfire, the dismemberment gets a little rote. I think its interesting that almost all of my criticism for Black Mesa is directly related to content from the original Half-Life. Every other effort is fantastic. This game looks great, especially considering its roots as a community driven mod. The soundtrack of original compositions is fucking banging. Every edit and change they made to the game was for the better. It almost makes me wish Black Mesa wasn't a remake-with-cuts of Half-Life. I wonder if the team would have been better served making their own thing, or maybe a “inspired by the events of Half-Life” complete re-imagining of the original game. The way I see it, there are two potential audiences for Black Mesa. There are the players who missed the original in its heyday because they were too young, or didn't have a PC, or thought Freeman's goatee on the box art made him look like a barista stooge, but love Valve's other games and want to check out the legendary classic that started it all. Then, you also have the true-blue fans of the original, the generation that cut their teeth on Half-Life and remember it as a wonderful and mind expanding experience who would love to recapture the joy of those heady days. I'm in the slightly uncomfortable position of telling both of those camps that they can probably take a pass on Black Mesa, even though I truly respect the work that the Crowbar Collective team has done with it. If you want to play a great Half-Life game that has aged fairly well, Half-Life 2 and its accompanying chapters are fantastic and Valve practically gives them out every Steam sale. Those games have all the best parts of the original Half-Life, while cutting out most of the chaff that bogs it down. If you didn't play Half-Life back in the day, I can't really imagine someone enjoying it as a game. Maybe as an academic curiosity, but not as a play experience. If you absolutely loved the original, you may very well find something worthwhile in Black Mesa. It really is the singular best way to play Half-Life. That said, you could also find something you don't like. A terrible truth, an awful secret, the knowledge that one of your favorite games is actually kind of a pain in the ass to play. It might be best to leave those pleasant memories as they are. There is still more Black Mesa to come; the game is in early access and right now the story concludes on a cliffhanger right before the Xen levels, where Freeman is thrust into an alien world of annoying platform jumping and floating alien bastards. The Crowbar Collective is actively working on that final chapter and plans to include it in the full release. Considering that even the most stalwart fans of the original generally concede that “the game was perfect (except for the Xen levels)” I don't think those last levels will really swing my personal opinion on the game. I will say this though, I can't wait for whatever the Crowbar Collective does next.
Black Mesa photo
Half as good as you remember
Half-Life was like a magic trick. It was a game you could show to people who weren't gamers and they'd get into it, a gateway drug. A real game (not some glorified puzzle book like Myst) that had the cinematic flair and prese...

Review: Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character

May 08 // Chris Carter
Touhou 14: Double Dealing Character (PC)Developer: Team Shanghai AlicePublisher: Team Shanghai Alice (JP) / Playism (US)Released: August 12, 2013 (JP) / May 7, 2015 (US)MSRP: $14.99 There's no Texas two-steppin' around it -- the "Western" release is not a good port. There's very little effort put forth at all, mostly due to the fact that it's relatively untouched from the Japanese version, and it's not translated -- at all. Double Dealing Character's menus were already in English, but extra details and bits of the story are all in Japanese, so you'll have to manually update it with an outside fan patch. When Playism announced that it was "bringing Touhou to the West," I assumed it would be a little more than "we made it slightly easier to buy the original Japanese game." Whether this is Playism's doing or Team Shanghai Alice's request, the result is the same.   The actual game, thankfully, is very good, and I must stress though that with the English menus, it is entirely playable. If you haven't experienced a danmaku (also known as bullet hell or curtain fire) game before, the concept is pretty easy to grasp. Tons of bullets will litter the screen at all times (like a curtain), and it's your job to maneuver around various patterns while firing back at your opponents. As is the case with most Touhou games, Double Dealing Character features a standard shot button in addition to one for specials, and a "slow" ability, which I'll explain in a moment. Where the Touhou team excels is in the presentation of it all. The bullet patterns are varied and constantly keep you on your toes, but they're also coupled with a charming art style and catchy music. Double Dealing Character is no exception. It would be fun to read the various story bits that pop up during boss fights and between levels, but again, you'll need a fan patch for that. Not being able to understand it all doesn't fundamentally ruin the game, but Touhou fans are big on their lore for a reason -- it gives context to the proceedings, and elevates the experience significantly. [embed]291754:58465:0[/embed] You'll have access to three characters, all of which have two different variations in tow. Each "ship" (in this case, a magical girl) has a different rate of fire or type of shot, such as a straight bullet or a spread. Specials add even more variety, like one character who uses a giant broom melee attack, or another who fires a deadly void bomb that slowly creeps up the screen. This is where the lack of a translation comes into play again -- you'll have to experiment with each variant since you can't read what they do on the select screen. Now, about that "slow" function I mentioned earlier -- it's another Touhou staple that spices things up a bit. At any time you can hold a button to make your character's flight more precise, which not only shows your hitbox (a blinking light that displays where bullets can damage you), but changes up your shot type as well. Personally, I always map it to the left trigger, so I can comfortably switch in and out of it at will, and it works like a charm. Thankfully there is plug and play controller support, and it's easy to customize your buttons. Like most shoot-'em-ups, Double Dealing Character will last you roughly an hour your first time around, with six stages and an additional EX level. There's also a few extras like a practice mode, music player, and some secrets that you'll definitely need a guide or translation for. Playism may have made it easier to buy into Touhou, but the actual result isn't anything better than just purchasing the game anywhere else. It you're a shoot-'em-up fan and haven't touched the franchise yet, you owe it to yourself to play at least one game in the series -- so why not start here? [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Touhou review photo
Bad port, great shooter
As I've said in the past, I consider myself lucky when it comes to meeting fellow gamers over the years that have had a positive impact on my life. I was fortunate enough to discover the Touhou series back in 2002 at the...

D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die is better without Kinect on PC

May 07 // Chris Carter
The PC build I had access to only has a 10-minute exploration demo and three-minute action sequence, but it was enough to get a gist of the new control scheme. While the port of D4 will fully support controllers (just like the Xbox One version), you'll also have the addition of the mouse, which feels right at home given the old school adventure game feel. All the applicable buttons are mapped to the mouse, including interaction (left click), looking around (middle), and tapping objects (right click). Completing QTEs takes a little getting used to as you'll need to flail about fairly quickly to complete sliding actions, but it's all very doable. As a creature of habit I ended up plugging in my Xbox One controller for my second playthrough, and lo and behold, it feels like a 1:1 recreation of the console version, which is definitely a good thing. Everything looks very fluid and sharp on-screen, and even the early build is running smoothly at this time. D4 may not have the most impressive visuals in the industry, but it has a ton of character, which has been sufficiently represented in the port. [embed]291485:58450:0[/embed] Since D4 is an adventure romp it doesn't need a whole host of options that other PC games might boast (check out the work-in-progress menu screen here), but at the very least I was disturbed to find out that I could not customize the resolution. When asked whether or not the PC edition would have resolution settings, a rep for Playism stated, "I have raised that issue with them, and they are working on it." Hopefully we'll see it in the final build. For the thousands of Swery fans out there who don't own an Xbox One, the PC port of D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die is a great opportunity to see what the hubbub is all about -- plus, it will make a great Steam sale gift for people who are on the fence. Once it hits, let's just hope that this is enough for Access Games to fund the conclusion of the story. D4 for PC will launch on June 4 on Playism, GOG, the Humble Store, and Steam for $14.99.
D4 PC preview photo
Controller and mouse support are a go
This year, D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die is coming to PC, and as soon as I heard the news, I jumped up and down. This is an adventure that needs to be in the hands of as many people as possible, and confining it to just the ...

Swery: D4 on PC is '100 percent bona fide D4'

May 07 // Brett Makedonski
The reason that Swery doesn't feel that the Kinect-to-mouse transition is a concession of sorts is because control method isn't what's at the core of D4. Swery elaborated "D4 is a game that doesn't derive its entertainment value merely from the fact that you can control it. My design has always been focused around the 'sensory replication' element. All input devices have their own special characteristics, and I feel that I've created separate control schemes that are all designed specifically for the Kinect, controller, and now the mouse." This "sensory replication" Swery speaks of isn't some marketable-sounding term that he tacked on to describe control schemes; it's something he spends a lot of time thinking about and crafting experiences around. In fact, further hypothesizing by Swery is the reason the PC port is even happening. He explained how D4 on PC came to be by saying "I started working on the PC version at the end of last year, through to GDC this year. At that time, I had made no plans about releasing it. It was just an experiment to help prove the contents of my GDC speech. To sum up [my speech]: 'Even without Kinect, the theory of symbolization and sensory replication through minute observations is still possible, and pieces that replicate sensations in this manner can enhance the overall empathy that people experience.' In order to prove this, I started making a sample version of the game that could be played using only the mouse. I revealed it to people at GDC and PAX East, and since people responded more positively than I had expected, I decided to develop an official release." That official release won't come as easy as one might think. This is Access Games' first time working on a PC title. (The poorly-received PC port of Deadly Premonition was controlled by another studio, and Swery says that Access wasn't able to exert control over the process because it didn't own the rights to the game.) Because of Access' inexperience developing for PC, Swery describes the process as including "a lot of unexpected surprises and problems." He went into detail by saying "Like I talked about earlier, we had to figure out how to create sensory replication with the mouse. Since we couldn't use Kinect, we needed to figure out how to make the PC version a game that anyone could easily enjoy with the mouse. Our game designers, programmers, and UI designers really had to rack their brains about this. Next, we had to think about adding user options and confirming minimum system requirements and recommended specifications that didn't exist in the console version. Since we created an original shader for D4 using our own code, it was hard to make it backwards compatible simply through changing settings in Unreal Engine, so we had to adjust the code and add new parts to it. Since we've only worked on console games so far, this was a brand new experience for us." Above all else, Swery's says he's dedicated to not letting the PC version of D4 go the way of Deadly Premonition. "The team that worked on the Xbox One version of D4 is in charge, and I've also been taking part in the adjustments. We're really serious about this, and intend to treat the D4 IP with the utmost care." One thing that he wasn't too serious about was commenting on his feelings about Microsoft announcing one year ago that it'd release a version of Xbox One without Kinect. After all, Swery had likely undertook this project with the understanding that Kinect would be something that's in every living room that an Xbox One is in. All of a sudden, that wasn't the case. Swery took the high (and humorous) road by simply chiming in "#ThanksObama." Temporary comedic relief aside, Swery seems very serious about D4 and its future. When asked about reading fan theories (a pastime that's dominated the Destructoid office at times), Swery said that he refrains out of respect for the fans. He clarified by saying "D4 is of the mystery genre. With this genre, the fun comes from 'enjoying' all the mysteries up to the end. I think it's natural for people to closely watch the developments, hypothesize, and then think up their own opinions and theories. That's what's so great and important about the mystery genre. With that in mind, I think I have no right to take part in those sorts of discussions." For all the transparency and openness behind the whole process of getting D4 to PC, Swery turned mysterious again when the topic on everyone's mind came up: Is a second part to D4 ever getting made? "I still can't talk about what'll be coming next. All I can say is that I'm working my hardest!," he said. Figures. But, maybe with the help of a PC audience pushing for more D4, we'll get the resolution we need. Or, maybe we'll get more fights with a cat lady. Both are welcome with open arms.
Swery interview photo
Kinect didn't make the game
To say that developer Hidetaka Suehiro -- or, Swery65 as most everyone knows him -- has a knack for creating unique and strange videogame experiences would be an understatement. He has a loyal cult following, as anyone that l...

Review: Vertiginous Golf

May 06 // Brett Makedonski
Vertiginous Golf (PC)Developers: Kinelco, Lone Elk CreativePublisher: Surprise Attack GamesReleased: May 6, 2015Price: $14.99  It'd be short-sighted to say that the developers' intent for Vertiginous Golf isn't worthy of a modest golf clap. There's no question that it would have been perfectly appropriate for them to design some wacky obstacles, slap on some ground-based golf physics, and call it a day. Instead, they opted to invent sprawling, labyrinth-like holes, and take an earnest stab at crafting a story about oppressive industrial-era society. Heady stuff, to be sure. Unfortunately, neither works as well as one may hope. When Vertiginous Golf first transplants the player from dingy street-side shop to above-the-clouds links, it's a sight to behold. It's almost as if BioShock Infinite had a mini-game smack dab in the middle of it (the classist undertones parallel holds up, too). The holes look complex, almost with a Rube Goldberg-ian quality about them -- except different parts aren't dependent upon one another in any way; they just present several unique challenges all within one hole. In the early going -- when the game is teaching the player the ropes -- this works fantastically. Lengthy as the holes may be, they're never too excessive in scope. It's always apparent where the cup is, and what potential routes there are to get there. That doesn't last long. [embed]291071:58441:0[/embed] Once Vertiginous Golf  has the player comfortable with the mechanics, it quickly broadens everything so that nothing is digestible. From the tee box, the player is met with a mess of obstacles, all of it just as dense vertically as it is horizontally. Walls often obscure any long-range view, so it's nigh impossible to go into the hole with a game plan. Just hit the ball with some degree of power and pray for the best. The developers obviously foresaw this as a potential problem and added a feature to help mitigate it. Always accompanying the floating golf club is a metallic hummingbird which can be controlled to fly around the course and get the lay of the land. However, it's mostly rendered useless as so much movement can happen on any given shot that it's often still impossible to predict where the ball may go. That isn't the only concession that Vertiginous Golf's creators made. There's also a rewind function (effectively a mulligan) which can be used sparingly in the likely event of an ill-advised shot. Drawing from the same pool of resources is the ability to guide the ball ever-so-slightly in any given direction. If that weren't enough to frustrate mini-golf purists, there's also a pitching wedge that's available almost all the time. Often times, the best way to traverse Vertiginous Golf's unforgiving terrain is to simply bypass it all through the air. Aim for a spot, hope you picked an apt shot power, and don't worry about all the randomness that comes with the ground obstacles. While effective, implementing this strategy feels a bit like missing the point. However, the wedge can't be used to completely game Vertiginous Golf. The latter part of most holes are in a sort of walled-off container where using the club is banned. Not coincidentally, this is also where the game is at its very worst. Whenever near the walls of these areas (a frequent occurrence), the camera will line up outside the structure, forcing a putt toward the hole with an obscured view. It's barely manageable if there's a straight shot; in the event that there are moving obstacles or a raised cup, resign yourself to taking even more strokes. As the golf portion of Vertiginous Golf is lacking in execution, the story similarly comes up short. In fact, it's actually detrimental to the golfing experience. There's a narrative about a raging class war in a dystopian society, and -- well, it's all very difficult to follow. That's because the plot is only told through audio logs, which are mandatory checkpoints on the golf course. Once these are hit, the talking begins. This falters because each audio log consists of approximately 30 seconds of overwhelming dialogue. To fully take it in means to put down the controller and listen. Given that there are usually four on any given hole, that's a lot of listening and not a lot of playing. This is at direct odds with the action-oriented golf. The narrative and gameplay are so dissonant from one another that it's nearly impossible to enjoy both at the same time. Really, it's the developers' ambition that weighs down Vertiginous Golf. They took a simple, beloved concept and tried doing too much with it. As a result, the course design is rarely rewarding and the elaborate story is poorly presented. No matter how far above the clouds this game is, it landed in the rough.
Vertiginous Golf review photo
'Golf,' and other four-letter words
Golf has a centuries-old reputation as being a maddening game. It's simple in premise, but that simplicity is always lost in transition from theory to execution. "Put tiny white ball in tiny cup" sounds easy enough, but after...

Review: High Strangeness

May 06 // Chris Carter
High Strangeness (PC [reviewed], Wii U)Developer: Barnyard Intelligence GamesPublisher: Midnight CityReleased: May 6, 2015MSRP: $9.99 High Strangeness is a simple tale of a young man named Boyd. He has a cat, he lives a simple life -- until shadow people invade his hometown and set into motion a series of events that will change his world forever. Sound familiar? Strangeness is meant to evoke the feeling of an old school RPG, using elements of both 8-bit and 16-bit adventures, meshing it into what the developer calls "the 12-bit realm." It definitely has an EarthBound-like feel to it, with snappy jokes, real-life oriented weapons like a flashlight and firecrackers, and an otherworldly plot. The writing has the charm of a typical Pokémon game, with cute jokes that are often very meta in nature, but not to the point of just repeatedly spouting obnoxious memes. I never really felt any attachment to the cast or the setting, but the era-appropriate dialog definitely helps along the way. Boyd will fight said shadows mostly by way of his flashlight melee attack, but he'll also have a few other tricks up his sleeve, like the aforementioned firecracker bombs, a set of CDs that basically function like Zelda's arrows, and more far-out weaponry like the power to control a shadow clone. Combat mainly consists of old school hit and run gameplay, with a stamina meter in tow to prevent you from mashing the attack button. It's rudimentary, but it works, especially when  you start to experiment and realize that every weapon is viable. My favorite bit about High Strangeness is the fact that you earn upgrade tokens for every kill (even normal enemies). Since these item or skill enhancements are actually quite useful, it creates a nice incentive to get your hands dirty as often as possible. [embed]291545:58443:0[/embed] The main gimmick however is definitely the concept of plane switching, which you'll unlock roughly 30 minutes in. With the press of a button you can phase between the default 16-bit world and an 8-bit realm, fundamentally changing the way everything works. Some enemies will be easier or tougher depending on what world you're in, and mechanically, basic gameplay changes as well. Boyd can use combos and run in the 16-bit era, but only attacks with one thrust at at time and moves in a grid-like fashion in 8-bit, and so on. The switch isn't instantaneous (it takes a few seconds) so it's not worth it to constantly change, but it is fun to see enemies in a new light or try out new tactics at will. Plus, some puzzles can only be solved by toggling planes, so you'll need to do it every so often -- thank goodness it doesn't get annoying. Because the game is faster paced in the 16-bit visual style I vastly preferred it over 8-bit, and felt like the latter could have used a few extra touches in terms of a unique feel. While it does have a certain amount of charm, High Strangeness is a very linear adventure. Puzzles usually don't take more than a few minutes at a time to solve, and when all is said and done, you'll probably breeze through it in roughly five hours. There is a very cool final boss at the end, but sadly, there's no additional difficulty settings or a New Game+ option, so what you see is what you get. There are also a few wrinkles, like the health and stamina UI that doesn't stay locked in one place, and moves if you get too close to it on the screen. Since the game has some dead space due to the constrained aspect ratio, I wish there were an option to keep it static. Additionally, I wish there were a "quick item switch" button, since pausing the game to change secondary weapons isn't ideal. High Strangeness might be a brief adventure that feels a bit shallow at times, but it's very easy to digest. Because of the short nature of the game it doesn't waste your time, and it's very easy for anyone -- retro enthusiast or not -- to pick up and play. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. I did not back the Kickstarter campaign.]
High Strangeness review photo
Taming strange
[Disclosure: High Strangeness was developed in part by Destructoid community member Ben "AgentMOO" Shostak. As always, no relationships, personal or professional, were factored into the review.] Back in 2009, a smal...

Review: Kerbal Space Program

May 05 // Jordan Devore
Kerbal Space Program (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: SquadPublisher: SquadReleased: April 27, 2014 (version 1.0)MSRP: $39.99 This is a game built to last. There are people out there spending hundreds of hours playing, learning, and teaching Kerbal Space Program and I'm not talking about some miniscule group of superfans. It's the kind of game that, whether you like it or not, comes creeping into your mind when you're supposed to be off doing literally anything else. It's contagious. There are a lot of deep, dense systems at play, and getting a handle on even the basics (knowing apoapsis from periapsis, prograde from retrograde) necessitates a commitment to learning real-world science and game mechanics before it "gets fun." I mean, sure, cobbling together a rocket, to use that word loosely, is enjoyable. At first. But then I came to realize what was possible in this sandbox and grew restless, forever in search of the next self-set milestone. However much effort you put into Kerbal, you'll get exponentially more back. Early on, you're met with one humbling experience after another. I went into the tutorials all bright-eyed and cheerful before the overwhelming reality of physics (my most dreaded subject in high school) came crashing down on me. The game's cartoon alien astronauts, the Kerbals, are a welcome sight. Their oddball expressions and mannerisms help warm up what would otherwise be a cold, calculated simulation. Not long into a training mission, one of them told me the job at hand "should be pretty easy even if you're not a famous rocket scientist like myself." Not a moment later, there I was, licking my wounds and wondering why that Kerbal had turned my home office into a house of lies. I'm not sure I've ever failed a videogame tutorial multiple times before. This is confidence-shattering stuff. My first hour or so is a blur by now, but I took notes along the way. "Intimidating homework," I summarized. Reading instructions, re-reading them, trying to do what they describe, failing, then repeating the process and inching slightly closer to success -- this is how it goes. Until, suddenly, it clicks. Bliss. [embed]291550:58433:0[/embed] The first time my rocket lifted off correctly, I cracked a smile and laughed with astonishment. It was joyous. Incredible. Then the thing started spinning out of control and the Kerbals trapped inside were doomed. I knew it, but did they? Those poor, brave, totally naive little green men. Upon failing the lesson, my instructor said he wasn't expecting disaster to strike. Personally, I had been counting the seconds. It gets better, though. You, the player, get better. On Twitter, I was told to seek out community-made guides and I'll echo that advice. The in-game tutorials aren't nearly as clear or hands-on as I would've liked, and a lack of grammatical polish didn't make using them any easier. Walkthroughs and wikis might as well be mandatory. There are folks out there like Scott Manley who are producing exceptional videos, and I'd be so lost without them. The simple act of watching someone else solve a problem -- escaping the atmosphere without burning an obscene amount of fuel, matching a distant vessel's orbit, saving a Kerbal lost in space (sorry!) -- can be enough to give you that edge. Thankfully, constructing rockets is simple. You drag individual components onto a 3D stage and snap them together. It's not quite building with LEGO bricks, but given the game's complicated subject matter, it is surprisingly close. Which parts you select for your ship and in what order, however, can be overwhelming. That's more of a problem in Sandbox mode, where you're given total freedom with a vast list of similar-looking pieces, than in Career mode, where new technology trickles in as you grow your space program from the ground up. Another surprise: the controls are, relative to learning astrodynamics, not too tough to figure out. The user interface is initially confusing, what with all of the gauges and that intimidating navigation ball to monitor, but Kerbal Space Program makes smart use of the keyboard. Cobbling together a bunch of ships and finally getting one of them to orbit the Earth-esque planet Kerbin for the first time is an awesome feeling. As in, awe-inspiring. It's a big milestone -- one I won't soon forget -- but there are countless more to tackle. You can switch to a map of space to track your vessel's trajectory and set up maneuvers to reach, say, the Mun (moon), or an asteroid, or make the journey back home. Actually, you can do whatever you want -- this is an open-ended game, after all -- but maybe don't sprint before you can crawl. For me, there is such a thing as too little structure in games, and for that reason I found myself switching back and forth between Kerbal's Sandbox and Career modes. The latter has a tech tree and jobs for you to take on. Newcomers will find its scope far more comfortable. As you gain science points by conducting research in the field and transmitting the data to your base (or physically bringing it and your spacecraft back safely to Kerbin's surface), you'll unlock access to more advanced gear. As you complete jobs -- testing specific parts at certain speeds and altitudes, or taking tourists on a ride without killing them, for example -- you'll get funds to upgrade your space program. A third mode, Science, rests in between Sandbox and Career. You'll still have to earn new parts by collecting science points, but, unlike Career mode, you won't need to worry about your space program's money or reputation woes. There are also several standalone scenarios, some of which were created in collaboration with NASA (get this game into schools!), that bypass the whole planning and building process and put you straight into an active mission. They're a great worry-free practice environment. Outside of those core modes, there are numerous mods to tinker with. The game has attracted a passionate, talented, dedicated community of players and creators. Even if the developers at Squad stop supporting Kerbal Space Program with new content and polish updates, I'm convinced this game will still be relevant a decade from now. My main fear of simulation titles is that I'll get bored. But, come to think of it, not once was I bored with Kerbal Space Program. I may have felt confused, and irritated, and hopeless at times, but those setbacks were fleeting. My desire to improve remains steadfast. Even the smallest accomplishments feel like massive victories, and once you experience that euphoria, you won't want to quit. Watch your ambition soar. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Kerbal Space Program photo
Science doesn't screw around
I might have never touched Kerbal Space Program had it not been offered as a review assignment. What a tremendous shame that would've been. From a comfortable distance, I had seen enough of this hardcore rocket-building and ...

Review: Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

May 05 // Chris Carter
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: MachineGamesPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksReleased: May 5, 2015 (Digital), May 14, 2015 (Physical - AUS, EU, NZ)MSRP: $19.99 The Old Blood is a genius idea on paper. Set as a prequel to The New Order, anyone can pick it up and find themselves on equal footing. When coupled with the budget price of $20, that prospect is made even more appealing. The team was also able to provide some slight enhancements to the engine due to the core focus on the PS4 and Xbox One editions -- it's nothing that noticeable, but it is smoother overall if you really look at things up close. So what is it, exactly? You're basically getting more New Order set the tune of two "episodes," once again starring the heroic B.J. Blazkowicz. The whole bloody affair is roughly eight hours long, filled with secrets and the return of the perk system, which are both implemented to encourage multiple playthroughs. Just like its predecessor, The Old Blood runs at 1080p and 60 frames-per-second on both consoles. In the first episode, "Rudi Jäger and the Den of Wolves," you'll quite literally return to Castle Wolfenstein, as you attempt to obtain a document that sets up the events of the previous game. It doesn't go quite as planned of course, and you'll encounter a few new enemy variants like a sniper, as well as some puzzle-like encounters, and a good mix of stealth and action scenes. It's not mind-blowingly different and it's a tad slow at the start, but it does feel like a proper expansion, and the labyrinthine tunnels of the castle work well when juxtaposed to the mostly open areas from New Order. [embed]291497:58425:0[/embed] The second half, "The Dark Secrets of Helga Von Schabbs," is a little less traditional. Well, okay, it has zombies in it, so it's a lot less traditional, but perfectly fitting for the gaiden "B-movie" feel Old Blood is going for. While the first episode is good in its on right, the town of Wulfburg in the follow-up episode is something completely different from what you're normally used to with MachineGames' reboot. There are a few really tense scenes, and the mystery of Helga and her adventures to uncover occult objects kept me engaged throughout. All of the classic FPS mechanics return, like the glorious multi-weapon wheel that outshines the two-gun limitations usually found on consoles. There's also a few new weapons like the melee-centric pipe and the explosive Kampfpistol, and existing guns have been refined, to the point where everything feels more viable. The perk system is still attached to challenges like stealth takedowns or weapon-specific kills, and is just as inspirational when it comes to driving players to experiment with new playstyles. The old adage "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" works here. Where Old Blood truly shines is its brevity. Both episodes are laser-focused, and don't waste as much time as some missions in the original. Both Castle Wolfenstein and Wulfburg are expansive enough to justify an entire game, and the development team does a good job of managing the pacing between stealth and action. I will say though that both core villains are a little less compelling than Deathshead, the experience is a tad more linear, and there's less character development here in general. Wolfenstein: The Old Blood operates just like an old school PC expansion should, and if you liked New Order, this is a no-brainer. In fact, due to the pulp feel of the second half I even slightly prefer it to the original, and the two interconnected plots are incredibly easy to swallow in an afternoon. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Wolfenstein review photo
Remember when PC expansions felt expansive?
Wolfenstein: The New Order was a refreshing reboot for a series that has a history of having many different development teams at the helm. After a five year hiatus, MachineGames came in and made the franchise its own, pu...

Review: Chroma Squad

May 04 // Josh Tolentino
Chroma Squad (PC) Developer: Behold StudiosPublisher: Behold StudiosReleased: April 30, 2015MSRP: $14.99 Not that they really needed to, of course. Such a "feature" would interfere with play, and there's plenty of service in the game as it is for fans. The play, in this case, is of the turn-based tactical variety, as if Behold took XCOM and ran it through the parodic, pixelated filters of Knights of Pen and Paper.  Like the former, players will manage a small squad of combatants, with unique classes and abilities, running them up against groups of goons and the occasional boss, one turn at a time. Like the latter, every mechanic serves as a distillation of tokusatsu's essence through heavy referencing and a clear, almost palpable appreciation of the source material. The premise alone is ripe enough with potential that it's baffling more games haven't taken advantage: Players manage a fledgling production studio, with each mission treated as an "episode" of an upstart spandex superhero show. Names, casting, and even catchphrases are up for customization, as well as the requisite selection of bright primary colors to outfit the roster with. If players want to commit sentai sacrilege and name a non-red-colored character the "Lead," no one can stop them but their inevitable guilt (guilt, I say!). Cast members can also be selected from a pool of actor candidates, each with their own special qualities.  [embed]291251:58411:0[/embed] When the cameras start rolling and the minions exit wardrobe, the fight is on. The goal of any given mission is to amass as much "audience" as possible, by performing flashy attacks, fancy stunts, and of course, winning the fight. Additionally, optional "Director's Instructions" add extra conditions, such as finishing off boss monsters with a screen-filling finishing move, or not killing off the boss before dispatching the cannon-fodder minions. Such extra goals help introduce variety to the combat, which is more simplistic than one might find in XCOM or other dedicated tactical titles. Enemies follow simple patterns and lack much in the way of extra abilities, so most of the tactics devolve to crowd and ability cooldown management rather than more elegant stratagems. Chroma Squad's main mechanical wrinkle comes in the form of "Teamwork," which allows squad members to leapfrog over each other to boost their movement range, or carry out simultaneous attacks with adjacent teammates. This, alongside somewhat simplistic giant-mecha boss battles, give the game enough of a unique flavor to override its otherwise thin tactical substance.  Following the mission, gained audience is converted into "fans," and also into increased studio funding, the better to buy one's way out of Papier-mâché costumes and into some real spandex duds. Behind the scenes, the studio itself can be outfitted with various upgrades that improve performance in each episode. Buying health care for the actors improves their health in combat, and improving the lighting on set reduces enemies' chance to dodge or counter blows. Materials dropped in combat can also be used to craft customized gear with semi-random statistics, a useful (and cheap) alternative to costly store-bought costumes and weapons. Fan mail can be answered for flavor and smaller benefits, and players can even choose marketing agencies to confer more benefits. Going with a niche-market enthusiast firm might increase the amount of fans gained after an episode, but will likely lack the mass-audience-gathering benefits of a more mainstream advertising push. Tradeoffs like that characterize much of Chroma Squad's meta-game. Speaking of meta-things, the game's narrative and missions regularly break the fourth wall, and form one of the game's potentially divisive aspects. While the self-aware script and obvious understanding of tokusatsu's many conventions and tropes lend it an endearing level of charm, some players might be turned off by references to dated Internet memes and other metahumor. Personally, I found the story hit quite a bit more than it missed, but I will admit that at times the dialog read more like a forum chat log than a script, and wasn't always helped by rough spots in the localization and editing. Then again, it's not like tokusatsu attracts its fans for complex plotting and characterization, so it may balance out in the end for players in the right mindset. What isn't as easy to let by are some unfortunate, if minor, technical and design blemishes on Chroma Squad's pristine pixelation. Mission scripts would occasionally freeze in "cutscene" mode, forcing me to start the mission over. A nasty little bug accidentally equipped low-level equipment on my giant robot, making some late-game boss battles much more tense than I'd have liked them to be. One bug even gave me control of an enemy unit rather than my own squad members for a few turns! Thankfully, dev posts on the forums appear to indicate that Behold is aware of most of the bugs I encountered, and a patch is in the works at the time of this writing. Beyond that, the lack of a mid-mission checkpoint or save, or a mission-select option is inconvenient for players wanting to explore the game's branching story paths (especially for those curious to see what Behold has to say about Kamen Rider). That said, the team has stated a New Game+ option may yet be in the cards for a future update, so repeated playthroughs may become more appealing in the future. Zordon may have wanted "teens with attitude," but Chroma Squad and its unabashed, utterly geeky love-in for all things tokusatsu shows something even harder to find: A game with heart and soul. That heart shines through the rough edges, and in some ways even turns them to its advantage. It might have taken quite a while in getting here, but fans of spandex-clad superheroic finally have the videogame to help them fill that little fantasy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Chroma Squad review photo
Lights, Camera, Henshin!
Ever since a badly-dubbed lady popped out of a dumpster on the moon, sending a weird computer-man to seek "teenagers with attitude," geeks of a certain age have been on the lookout for a game that can capture the essence of w...

Review: Hearthstone: Blackrock Mountain

May 01 // Chris Carter
Hearthstone: Blackrock Mountain (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentReleased: April 2, 2014 to April 30, 2015MSRP: Free-to-play (with microtransactions) For the entire month of April, Blizzard slowly unlocked each of the four wings of Blackrock Mountain expansion. The entire experience is finally available for $24.99 (or 700 in-game gold per wing), and I'm happy to report that it was worth the cash, as it's a step up from Naxxramas in most respects. The key to success with Blackrock is the commitment to the lore and having it fit within the confines of Hearthstone. That classic nostalgic rush you got as a raider in vanilla World of Warcraft is still there when you fight Ragnaros, Nefarian, and their crew, but with all of the goofy quips and dialog you'd expect from a card game that takes place within the same universe. In fact, it's still there even if you're meeting these characters for the first time. What really surprised me is how well Blizzard adapted these boss fights into engaging encounters. There were some bright spots in Naxx as well, but a few Blackrock battles really blew me away. Take Garr, who constantly destroys his own minions in an effort to take you out by way of Deathrattle damage. The catch is that each minion that dies on the same turn does an exponential amount of damage, forcing you to either whittle each enemy down individually, or just go for the all-out kill in four turns. Majordomo Exectus is another amazing confrontation, as he has a specific 8/8 card that he can summon for free if he drops below a certain amount of health. You have to strategically keep him alive until you have enough cards to take him out in one swift blow, or risk fighting an army of super-powered cards. The latter situation is doable with the right deck, which highlights how versatile Hearthstone is in general. There are plenty more unique levels too, like one that only lets you and your opponent play one card per turn of any value -- with concepts like these, the Heroic mode (unlocked after beating each wing) presents the biggest challenge yet. Class challenges are also back, and reward you with two class-specific cards after conquering an enemy with a pre-set deck. Mechanically this is probably the best part of Blizzard's Hearthstone expansions, as they allow you to step out of your comfort zone and experience new styles of play while rewarding you appropriately. It's a tradition that I'd love to see continued. The main aspect that I felt was a step down from Naxxramas however is the general theme of the expansion itself. Naxx felt like a completely different game, with bright hues of green, purple, and red. The cards were utterly unique and unlike anything you had seen before from a design perspective, and I still use many of them today solely based on their aesthetics. With Blackrock there are a lot of great cards as rewards, but a lot of them share the same artwork as the rest of the core set. While it may not look as dazzling as Naxxramas, Blackrock Mountain expansion is still the best add-on yet, edging out the card-only Goblins vs Gnomes. I'm still chipping away at the Heroic fights, and with how many card options are available at this point, I'll probably be messing around with custom decks for weeks. [This review is based on a retail build of the expansion provided by the publisher.]
Hearthstone DLC review photo
The best expansion yet
As I've described in the past, my history with Hearthstone is pretty much inline with how Blizzard wants most of its customer base to enjoy it. I'm loving it in spurts, as it's perfect for quick pick up sessions with fri...

Paid Skyrim mods are over photo
'...it's clear we didn't understand exactly what we were doing'
Earlier today, Bethesda tried to justify its decision to let people charge money for The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim mods on Steam, but it was just the latest in a string of failed attempts at damage control. Now there's word fro...







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