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Review: LA Cops photo
Review: LA Cops
by Conrad Zimmerman

At first glance, the potential for LA Cops to be an interesting title is great. A top-down shooter in the style of a retro cop squad drama, its main appeal lies in the combination of real-time action with teamwork management, one player using two characters to systematically take down a criminal enterprise.

It's just too bad that one of those cops always has to be Barney Fife.

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We Happy Few's bright exterior hides a dark secret photo
We Happy Few's bright exterior hides a dark secret
by Darren Nakamura

For a while, the general aesthetic in games was dark and grimy, with muted colors to convey dismal feelings. The more recent counterculture of color was welcomed, bringing happiness back to the medium. But a funny thing happens when colorful palettes are taken a step too far. Add too many big smiles, bright eyes, and soothing pastels, and the mood turns from joyful to creepy.

We Happy Few cashes in on this uncanny area past whimsy. Its world is so bright that it feels alien. Indeed, behind the vivid color of Compulsion's newest creation is a dark place. It may be pretty, but it is eerier than any run-down mansion on a stormy night.

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SMITE's Xbox One alpha is off to a great start photo
SMITE's Xbox One alpha is off to a great start
by Chris Carter

There aren't a whole lot of fully featured MOBA games on consoles. While a handful of them exist, some faring better than others, there's going to be a bigger push this year with games like SMITE and Gigantic heading to the Xbox One.

Although I heartily enjoyed my time with SMITE on PC, I didn't stick around for an extended period of time, instead opting to head back to League of Legends and Heroes of the Storm.

That may change when SMITE hits Xbox One later this year, based on what I've played of the alpha build.

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Xbox to indie devs: There's a place for your game on Windows 10, no matter the size photo
Xbox to indie devs: There's a place for your game on Windows 10, no matter the size
by Brett Makedonski

Microsoft announced last week at GDC in San Francisco that it was introducing cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10 devices. That opens a world of possibility in ways for developers to deliver games to their audience. Some will likely take full advantage; others will be more reserved. But, the option's there, nevertheless.

Following Xbox boss Phil Spencer's talk, I sat down with ID@Xbox program director Chris Charla to discuss what this new ecosystem meant for independent developers. There was a lot of ebb and flow to the conversation, but the main takeaway was "There's a place for [indie devs] -- no matter what size or scale the game is -- on Windows 10."

Charla was the man that was brought aboard by Microsoft almost two years ago to try to keep Xbox in the never-ending arms race to court independent developers. The Xbox 360 generation saw Microsoft use up a lot of goodwill in that department, and it needed to re-establish its name. That's what ID@Xbox was built for: to recruit developers that bring a different flair to the Xbox stable of games.

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Review: White Night photo
Review: White Night
by Conrad Zimmerman

When people look back upon the great horror games of this year, they're probably going to forget about White Night, and that's understandable. It doesn't break any ground, it isn't littered with jump scares to draw in the YouTube crowd, and its gameplay lacks depth.

It's also one of the better composed horror stories in games over the last few years, assuming you don't mind that being the only real reason to show up.

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Review: Cities: Skylines photo
Review: Cities: Skylines
by Jason Faulkner

The connection between the design and implementation of the sidewalks and streets we use on a daily basis requires a huge mental leap for me. Walking down the cobblestone in my city and looking up to see the sky framed with highrises inspires my sense of awe. It’s as if they represent humanity’s dominion over the natural world, and seem to stand as a testament to our species’ tenacity. It’s as if their monolithic forms are a raised fist against all the devastation and hardship we’ve experienced as a whole since we left the fertile crescent over 60,000 years ago.

To make a city of our own, to imitate and create the spaces in which we live our lives is quite alluring. The nurturing and planning that goes into creating your own little virtual metropolis is naturally stimulating to the desire to solve problems that most of us find so innate. For more than a decade, Maxis’ SimCity series was the go-to for a city-building fix. However, the changes in the latest iteration of the series were very unpopular, and begged the question, “Is the city-building simulation genre dead?” Cities: Skylines answers with an emphatic, “No,” and goes beyond what even the venerable SimCity series had to offer.

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Review: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number photo
Review: Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
by Chris Carter

For some, Hotline Miami was an existential look at the current macro-state of videogames. You were told to commit random acts of murder seemingly without remorse, and at the end, you get a bit of interesting commentary on the culture of violence. Many argued that the only way you can truly win is to not play, and it started some insightful conversations.

For me, it was a really bitchin' action puzzle game that made me constantly reinvent my strategy for each and every level. It was an experience that didn't hold my hand at every turn, and let me be as creative as I wanted while a kickass soundtrack blared in the background.

Hotline Miami 2 may not be as "profound" as its predecessor, but it's still a bloody good time.

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Review: Resident Evil: Revelations 2: Episode 3 photo
Review: Resident Evil: Revelations 2: Episode 3
by Chris Carter

When I first approached Resident Evil: Revelations 2, I was fairly cautious. I had been burned many times by Resident Evil games in the past, but having played through Episode 1 and 2, most of my concerns were alleviated.

At this point, I think I can heartily recommend Revelations 2 as a whole, even if Episode 3 drags momentarily.

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Review: Ori and the Blind Forest photo
Review: Ori and the Blind Forest
by Chris Carter

Every so often I come across a game that just makes me smile. I mean, I play videogames almost daily because I have fun doing it, but certain titles have me grinning from ear to ear the entire journey for a myriad of different reasons.

Ori and the Blind Forest is one of those games. It's just plain enjoyable from start to finish, and doesn't waste your time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Shelter 2 photo
Review: Shelter 2
by Jason Faulkner

Underneath the vision of all but the most observant of people lay the secret lives of the animal kingdom. From the meekest field mouse to the mighty lion, each is born into a world of hardship and violence, where merely surviving is the ultimate goal. Humans, with our obsession over the minutiae of modern society, can't fathom the sheer terror and panic that many animals face multiple times per day.

Few forms of media attempt to strip away the ties that bind us to the sentient, and force us into the role of a wild animal. The Shelter series has attempted with minimalistic graphics and gameplay to translate what it would feel like to be a scared and lonely new mother defending and providing for her litter. This iteration focuses on a family of lynx, and although you are a predator, the vulnerability of your position is poignantly felt. But even though Shelter 2 evokes a certain amount of emotion, the package leaves something to be desired.

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Review: Five Nights at Freddy's 3 photo
Review: Five Nights at Freddy's 3
by Nic Rowen

While it has been a mere four months since the last sequel was released, Five Nights at Freddy's 3 is set years after the events of the first game. Crafty businessmen keen to exploit the gory legacy of the infamous Freddy Fazbear's Pizza restaurant have assembled a slapdash haunted house attraction, Fazbear's Fright, using real props and recovered animatronics from the infamous murder restaurant. What could possibly go wrong?

I can't help but wonder if one-man-band developer Scott Cawthon is being a bit cheeky with this setup, commenting on the popular accusation that he's cranking out sequels of his surprise cult hit to cash in. I suppose you can't blame a guy for striking while the iron is hot.

Much like the attraction itself, Five Nights 3 is a grab-bag of recycled parts with some new gimmicks tossed in to liven up the experience. How much fun that is will depend on your tolerance for the now expected (but still embarrassingly terrifying) jump scares, and if you come to the series for its gameplay, or for its world.

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

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

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

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

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ArenaNet: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns 'is like Metroid and Zelda slammed together' photo
ArenaNet: Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns 'is like Metroid and Zelda slammed together'
by Chris Carter

Guild Wars 2 is one of the most accessible MMOs ever made. Eschewing the Holy Trinity of class builds, you can basically pick any character you want and still fulfill a role in any group. Everyone can heal, and everyone can contribute in some way.

As a result of that design however, a lot of opportunities for advanced tactics fell by the wayside, and the endgame was too simplistic to keep everyone interested. Can the upcoming Heart of Thorns expansion rectify that problem?

I had some time to talk to lead designer Colin Johanson and figure out just that.

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