hot  /  reviews  /  video  /  blogs  /  forum

PC

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...

Review: Westerado: Double Barreled

Apr 27 // Jed Whitaker
Westerado: Double Barreled (PC)Developer: Ostrich Banditos Publisher: Adult Swim Games Released: April 16, 2015MSRP: $14.99 It starts like any normal day, waking up to help your family take care of the ranch, rounding up some buffalo back to their pen. The night sky glows orange in the distance while returning home, a strange sight for the west. The glow soon becomes embers as you realize your family ranch is ablaze, blood is strewn about the ground, your mother is slaughtered and your brother is fatally wounded. Your brother doesn't have much information about who did this, but he does give you one single clue, information about the killers clothing. He gurgles blood as he asks for you to end his suffering, you cock your gun, as tears stream down your face you pull the trigger.  The beginning of Westerado is one of the strongest openings of a game I've ever played, and gives the player a real sense of purpose, revenge.  The universe Westerado takes place in is easily recognizable: A western with cowboys, a quest for vengeance, a bank, an oil man, a saloon with strong female characters in tow; this is a spaghetti western. Dialog for characters is written in a south western dialect that makes anyone feel like a real life cowboy when reading it aloud. A film strip overlay is shown behind characters as they converse, just one of many indications found throughout Westerado that indicate it takes place on a film set. All this overlayed with a wonderful soundtrack that would feel at home in any western flick. Searching for the murderer entails wandering from town to town, through deserts and mines while talking to characters along the way. Conversations with characters often times lead to jobs. Jobs range from defending a ranch from bandits, to forcing a drunkard husband to leave the saloon at gunpoint, to sexing up "Miss Tress" a local promiscuous female. The variety of quests is refreshing, as each one is unique from the others. Upon completing these jobs characters reveal more information about the murderer, specifically what they are wearing. Clues are collected for you in a handy dandy notebook, which includes a wanted poster showing the murderer as described by clues.  Jobs aren't completed with just walking and talking as you'll be using your six shooter to leave a trail of bodies on your quest for vengeance. Equipped with infinite ammo, the six shooter is drawn by pressing a bumper button, the hammer is cocked with one press of the right trigger and then fired with a second press. Reloading is done manually one bullet at a time with the left trigger. The controls feel like you're holding an actual six shooter. Aiming, on the other hand, takes some getting used to. Your gun fires in a straight line from the barrel, which works mechanically but seems odd when the game is presented in three dimensional space, but after a few gunfights it will be second nature. Westerado can be played with a co-op partner, with any of the four characters that can be unlocked through multiple playthroughs. Every time you play you'll have a different murderer to gather clues on and locate, though the only things that change are clothing or gender, and the map stays the same. While having a randomly generated map could have been a better choice, it is a minor gripe for an otherwise near flawless game. Rarely do I sit down to play a game, finish it and instantly start a new playthrough; this is one of those games. Westerado is a great package with lots of replayability and can easily be recommended for fans of westerns or revenge flicks. No other experience that I've played has done revenge so well. If you've been hankerin' for a trip to the wild west saddle up and hang onto your hat, Westerado: Double Barreled is a dern tootin' good time. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Westerado Review photo
Yee-haw! Giddy up! Yip! Yip!
Do you like spaghetti westerns with charm, humor, hammy accents and over the top violence? How about revenge flicks, video games with retro style graphics? Do you like fun? Are you breathing oxygen?  Well then partner ya...

Review: Shadowrun Chronicles - Boston Lockdown

Apr 27 // Chris Carter
Shadowrun Chronicles - Boston Lockdown (PC) Developer: Cliffhanger ProductionsPublisher: Nordic GamesReleased: April 28, 2015MSRP: $39.99 As a quick crash course on the story, "Shadowrun" literally refers to the act of carrying out plans which are "illegal or quasi-legal." You'll have plenty of chances to engage in said debauchery, as the world has gone through an "Awakening" 65 years before Lockdown, which takes place in 2076. Magic has returned to the world, dwarves, elves, orcs, and trolls are a thing -- oh, and dragons too. Returns took place in Seattle, Dragonfall was in Germany, and this is in Boston. Got it? Action will take place in an isometric strategic format very similar to the XCOM series. Using a classic mouse and keyboard setup, you'll have two maximum movement grids, the second layer of which will allow you to "sprint," and immediately end your turn. The first threshold will still allow you to attack, use a skill, or interact with the environment accordingly. Gameplay is all about positioning and outflanking your opponent, as well as placing emphasis on a risk-reward melee mechanic. For the most part you'll want to conservatively duck into various bits of cover, but since hand-to-hand attacks always result in a higher damage output, there's the chance to get up close and personal. It's all very functional, but to be frank, that's about as technical as the game gets. [embed]290948:58338:0[/embed] As you progress and earn more skills, you'll have the opportunity to delve into various trees and specialize in something that's more your style. Beyond your typical passive bonuses (Mind, Body) there's weapon-centric trees (blades, blunt, pistols, shotguns, automatics), summoning, spellcasting, hacking, and rigging -- the latter of which is more like a "gearhead" conceit. You don't need to hole-up into just one role (although you likely will at first), as you're free to distribute your skills as you see fit. Personally, I went with the automatic rifle route combined with a touch of summoning. Your basic summon includes a spirit bear, which can maul or stun enemies as its own autonomous unit -- it's really cool, but later skills are often less memorable or endearing as more progress is made. With 11 trees that feature anywhere from 13 to 20 skills each, there's a decent amount of options available, but since a lot of those double-up as "advanced" versions, there's not as much variation as I would have hoped. This is by design, as Cliffhanger Productions has stated that it wanted a more streamlined approach with Lockdown. I'd say that with some sacrifices the studio has achieved that goal (for instance, actual statistical changes for different backgrounds and races are marginal at best), but missions often lack that spark often found in other genre staples. Most runs are predicated on simplistic kill orders, which often result in a simple flank with a series of firefights. There's very little room for nuance when most of the weaponry effectively feels the same. The script also doesn't feel as poignant as Hairbrained Schemes' titles, and although there aren't a lot of glaring problems with it, it's tough to truly resonate with Lockdown's world beyond the occasional Red Sox reference. Your gameplay loop precedes as follows: a hub world visit to grab a mission, running said mission, returning to the hub to upgrade, and so on. There's no looming open overworld, no MMO-like exploration -- the hub is one small Boston neighborhood, with a taxi that takes you to each stage, an instance across the city. Along the way you'll earn cash to buy new weapons, armor, and augmentations, and karma nets you more skills -- that's all you need to know. It's a rather confining means of play, but it works, as the almighty call of upgrades and loot is just as powerful as it is anywhere else. So about that former "Online" moniker -- the first thing I noticed as soon as I booted up Boston Lockdown was the chat function. Nearly every avatar looks different due to the heavy amount of cosmetic options, which range from tattoos to visors that would make Geordi La Forge jealous. Even in the tutorial you're privy to a gathering of players, some of which are looking to help out new players, and others advertising their HP and gear to find a more professional-oriented group. The entire interface has been vastly improved from its former Early Access state, as players can simply click on someone's name or their avatar in the hub world to form a group. Friending people is also as easy as sending a request, and the UI itself is very clean, completely devoid of clutter. Players who enjoy a breadth of options are likely going to be disappointed, as Boston Lockdown only allows you to tweak your resolution (up to 1920x1080), fullscreen (with no full-windowed option), a few mouse scrolling variations, and volume control. That's about it. Dedicated Shadowrun fans will likely be disappointed at the lack of depth, and your mileage may vary in terms of the appeal of the multiplayer function, which seemingly took over some of the other more endearing aspects of the series. If you haven't played a game in the series since the SNES however, Boston Lockdown is a decent starting point, and a perfect way to re-acclimate yourself to the genre with friends. If you prefer to fly solo, just go with Shadowrun Returns instead. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Shadowrun Boston review photo
Not featuring Boston's Favorite Son
In case you haven't noticed, Shadowrun has been making a comeback lately. With Harebrained Schemes' Shadowrun Returns in 2013 and the subsequent Dragonfall follow-up, the series has enjoyed triumphant return to...

Review: Broken Age: Act 2

Apr 27 // Caitlin Cooke
Broken Age (PC)Developers: Double Fine ProductionsPublisher: Double Fine ProductionsReleased: April 28, 2015 MSRP: PS4, PS Vita, PC, Mac, Linux, Ouya: $25 / iOS and Android: $15 Broken Age is very much designed and intended to be played as one game, not chopped up into two parts. If you've managed to hold out this long to play both acts together, rest assured that you've done yourself a favor. The second act gets straight to business, dumping the player into some heavy plot points right off the bat. The game’s challenging puzzle logic also comes through in full force with no time to ramp -- progressing in the game relies heavily on prior knowledge of the landscape and characters. I asked for more puzzle complexion in my review of Broken Age: Act 1, and boy did I get it. The puzzles are of the same kindred as the first act -- difficult to piece together at first, with a dash of trial and error mixed in. However, this time around the obstacles are far more difficult and obtuse, requiring deep creative thinking, but more often than not bordering on the “impossible to solve without help” realm. I found myself pondering puzzles for long periods of time until eventually giving up, clicking through every possible option as a last resort. Where the first part of Broken Age had more environmental exploration and shorter, more gratifying puzzles, the second act tends to lean on more long-term challenging puzzles. Puzzle solutions from the first portion of the second act were used throughout almost the entirety of the game -- much of my time was spent drawing out diagrams on post-its and endlessly referencing them. The ability to switch between stories is still present, which comes in handy when stuck on a puzzle or in need of a change of scenery. However, during certain parts of the game some puzzles require information from the other side of the story. This caught me off guard at first but was less annoying once it became obvious that this would be a theme throughout the latter half of the game. The bar from Broken Age: Act 1 is definitely met if not exceeded in Act 2 in terms of the visuals, nostalgia, and clever dialogue. However, the setting in the second act is practically the same as the first half of the game, with the exception of a few minor changes. Although I adore the characters in Broken Age and was happy to see them again throughout the second act, I had hoped to experience new scenery and perhaps new characters. The story in Act 2 goes in a strange direction, and feels rushed -- especially compared to the first act, which has an even progression and was much more cohesive. Conversations are had between characters that lay plot points out on the table very quickly, and in an uninventive way. It seems a tad thrown together, and I would have preferred to discover the plot through means of gameplay instead of having it explained via single lines of conversation. Unfortunately, by the end of the game I was also left with with a lot of unanswered questions. Since it had taken a year for this second installment to make it to us, I had expected a little more on that front. Broken Age: Act 1 was so perfect that perhaps my expectations were inflated when playing through the second half. However, despite the challenges Broken Age is still very much a beautiful game with a heartwarming story. The puzzles, as frustrating as they are, come from a place of creative invention that defines the point-and-click genre. I choose to treasure its high points-- the charming characters, ingenious dialogue, and silly childlike whimsy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher. This reviewer also backed the game's Kickstarter campaign.]
Broken Age 2 review photo
Mostly worth the wait
[Disclosure: I backed the Kickstarter. A review copy was used for this verdict.] Three years since the launch of the infamous Double Fine Adventure campaign and a year after Act 1’s much-anticipated release, Broken Ag...

What we know about Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Apr 26 // Robert Summa
Single player is no longer for singles As Call of Duty continues to march into the modern era of gaming, Black Ops III will introduce the option of online co-op in its single player campaign. The main campaign will now support up to four players working together. Jason Blundell, campaign director and senior executive producer, said it will redefine how Call of Duty is played. Set in the near-future, Black Ops III is all about bio augmentation and robotics. Something that will not only affect your single-player experience, but also multiplayer (but we'll get more into that later). Giving players the choice between male and female characters, the campaign will put you in the role of an enhanced cybernetic Black Ops soldier.  The intensity and theme of the game were on full display as Treyarch showed us one of the levels of the campaign, called Cairo. At first, it seemed like one of your standard Call of Duty experiences. But as the level progressed, the world awoke and the retooled battlefield was on full display. [embed]290987:58342:0[/embed] With the main fighting occurring in an open space, the ambition of Black Ops III was immediately apparent. There was an amazing scope to the level and the action within it. The world felt very alive and tangible with action happening in just about every space within the player's view. Planes flying overhead, bullets whizzing by, robots. It was hectic. New devastating weapons, such as a spike launcher, were unveiled. Rolling balls of spikes looking to impale unsuspecting victims littered the battlefield. The reliance and added value of your co-op partners certainly played a part in a level where a new emergent AI was able to make intelligent decisions based on what your team was doing. According to Treyarch, the AI was a focus during development. The team added a new animation set and claim that the goal-oriented AI can now communicate and organize itself -- which is key with the variety of options that the campaign now offers with the availability of co-op. Blundell stressed some key points Treyarch is trying to drive home with Black Ops III's campaign. Buzzwords such as cinematic intensity, epic action, a gritty narrative, and replayability are what the single-player experience is trying to be. Customization is key Allowing players to express themselves in a unique way has been a staple of the franchise for a number of years now. Treyarch is looking to build upon this by allowing players not only more set-up options, but a player experience system within the single-player that will allow extensive upgrades not only to your character and his or her abilities, but also to the weapons themselves. Cyber Cores and Cyber Rigs are cybernetic modifications that will allow added layers of player customization. Cyber Cores will let players do things from remote hacking to controlling drones to chaining melee strikes, while Cyber Rigs are passive upgrades that allow advanced movement and defensive capabilities. With the addition of the Safe House, customization and socialization options will be available. This is the area players will go between levels. The Safe House will have your own customizable bunk and provide access to a wiki with information related to the game. There will be collectibles and opportunities to purchase tokens, which can be used in your upgrades. PC will not be ignored Treyarch studio head and president Mark Lamia said a greater emphasis was placed on the PC version of Black Ops III. While not getting into a great amount of detail (such as anything server-related), Lamia said Treyarch worked closely with hardware companies to bring a high-end experience for those who have upper-tier machines and have adopted 4K.  While catering to the high-end crowd, Lamia also said the team put a great deal of effort into optimization. The current recommended specs are as follows (but they are subject to change): Operating System: Windows 7 64-Bit / Windows 8 64-Bit / Windows 8.1 64-Bit Processor: Intel® Core™ i3-530 @ 2.93 GHz / AMD Phenom™ II X4 810 @ 2.60 GHz Memory: 6 GB RAM Graphics: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 470 @ 1GB / ATI® Radeon™ HD 6970 @ 1GB DirectX: Version 11 Network: Broadband Internet connection Sound Card: DirectX Compatible But what about Zombies? Treyarch remained silent on what exactly Black Ops III will offer for its fan-favorite zombie mode. What we were told, however, is that it will have its own player progression system, distinct storyline, more depth and will include all kinds of "mind-fuckery," as Lamia put it. As with the main game and multiplayer, the social aspects of Black Ops III are set to play a key role in zombies as well. Who cares about single player, tell me about multiplayer Even with the inclusion of online four-player co-op, there still will be a faction of Call of Duty fans who only care about one thing: multiplayer. I got my hands on multiplayer, which is covered in-depth in a separate article, but I want to tell you what you should expect. As mentioned, Black Ops III has its focus on risk versus reward. Nowhere is this more apparent than with multiplayer and the complete reworking of not only gun-play, but movement as well. To do this, the team changed some of the rules. For instance, players will now be able to shoot while doing all movements in the game -- this includes everything from jumping to wall running (yes, wall running) to climbing over ledges and, for the first time, swimming. While still remaining true to three-lane map design philosophy with no buildings above two stories, the team has also added new movement abilities such as thrust jumping and power sliding, and as mentioned, wall running and swimming. Oh, and did I mention you can sprint for as long as you want? Treyarch said it wants to allow players to have full combat control with no pause in the action.  While players won't be limited with their sprint, there will be limitations to the power slide and wall run. They aren't significant limitations, but they are present. These changes are immediately noticeable with the varied results that thrust jump, wall running, and the power slide provide. There is a fluidity now to the action. While it seems overwhelming at first glance, the general simplicity and ease of use associated with Call of Duty is still in place. Dan Bunting, game director, said the philosophy is guns up, not down. They want omni-directional movement options in what he says will, "feel like a BLOPS II evolution." In all, it's about endless momentum and making the gameplay faster and more engaging. This is my rifle Through the Gunsmith menu, players will be presented with what is being billed as a whole new level of weapon customization. Here, players will be able to name their weapons, preview attachments on actual in-game models and of course, access a paint job option that will allow for near-limitless personalization. You will be able to equip up to five attachments and an optic. The emblem creator is back in a new way, this time called Paintshop. Not only will the images that players create be more visible on their weapon of choice, but they will now have access to 64 layers for three paintable sides. There are also material options such as carbon fiber and the ability to design gun camo. Looking for someone special Another significant shift within Black Ops III's multiplayer is the usage of what are being called Specialists. There will be nine total, but we were only shown four.  Each Specialist is essentially an archetype the player will choose from and develop over time. They have their own unique abilities and power weapons to choose from -- and of course their own look, personality and voice. The goal, Treyarch said, is to give every player the opportunity to become powerful within the game.  If you were one of those people who have come to despise Call of Duty because of excessive and overpowered killstreaks or scorestreaks, Treyarch is attempting to balance the playing field with the inclusion of Specialists and their unique weapons and abilities. While the best players will still have advantages, the goal is to now let everyone get involved, not just the top tier. The first Specialist we were shown goes by the name Ruin (real name Donnie Walsh). This is a rusher/bruiser character that uses Gravity Spikes as his power weapon. He's pretty much the Titan from Destiny. Once the Gravity Spikes are used, an area-of-effect blast deals damage and eliminates all enemies within the vicinity. It's devastating, but must be timed and used smartly for best results. Players will have to choose between Specialists' unique power weapon or ability. Ruin's ability, Overdrive, provides a burst of speed, making for a character that will thrive in Capture the Flag. The second specialist presented was Seraph (real name Zhen Zhen). She sports a hand cannon called the Annihilator that deals a single shot capable of taking out multiple enemies if lined up perfectly. Her ability, Combat Focus, will trigger a bonus multiplier to your score that will go toward your scorestreak for a short period of time. The third specialist, and probably my favorite so far, is Outrider (real name Alessandra Castillo). She comes with the Sparrow, a compound bow that will explode enemies after sticking to them. But this isn't why I liked her. I always suck with bows in games, so the real draw of Outrider for me was her ability, Vision Pulse. The ability will ping the surrounding area and tag the location of all enemies within range. With it, you will essentially be able to see enemies through walls for a short amount of time. Perfect for campers, such as myself. The fourth, Reaper (real name Experimental War Robot), is a combat robot with an arm that can transform into a minigun, called the Scythe. While it does take time to spin up, the results of it in action can be devastating. Reaper's ability is called Glitch. With it, Reaper can relocate about three seconds into the past to a previous position. The Specialist power weapons and abilities are only available after a certain time or score threshold has been met. Charging over time, the refill rate is directly affected by your participation within the game. However, even if you sit and do nothing, you still will have at least one opportunity to use either option.  As with everything else in Black Ops III, the power weapon and ability are a choice. You can't have both. Depending on your play style, you will quickly find which is more effective for you. Just like your load outs, all of these options will be available pre-match. To wrap it all up The goal for Treyarch is to make the "deepest and richest Call of Duty ever," Lamia said.  He said the intention is to make it easier for players to find each other, not just in multiplayer, but single player and zombies as well. While he wasn't willing to go into specifics, he said he wants players to be aware of what others are playing and allow them to do whatever they want to do at any time. Lamia asserted that the social aspect of Black Ops III is what will distinguish it from others. Near the end of the presentation, Lamia revealed a couple of special opportunities for players to get their hands on the game and see for themselves how it plays. At this year's E3, Lamia said fans will have the chance to actually play multiplayer. But even if you aren't able to attend E3, those who pre-order the game will have access to the game's beta. Black Ops III will be available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Overall, the promise for Black Ops III is there. This is a series that has extremely high expectations. It's obviously too early to say whether or not Black Ops III will come close to meeting those, but the foundation is there. The blueprint and makings of a great and varied experience that breaks the mold is evident.  For now, all we can do is wait. 
Black Ops III photo
Multiplayer campaign and more
Whatever you think you know about the Call of Duty franchise is about to change. As a series that is often criticized for offering more of the same, Black Ops developer Treyarch has made every attempt to alter that mindset wi...

PC Port Report: Grand Theft Auto V

Apr 25 // Patrick Hancock
Grand Theft Auto V (PC, [tested], PS3, Xbox 360)Developer: Rockstar GamesPublisher: Take TwoReleased: September 17, 2013 / April 14, 2015MSRP: $59.99Rig: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 560 Ti GPU  First of all, know this: Grand Theft Auto V on PC is a whopping 60 gigabytes. Let me spell it out for you -- sixty! Be careful if your Internet plan has a data cap, because this is guaranteed to push it to the limit. You also may need to clear some space on your harddrive, so be aware of that before you begin the download! The next step is setting up your Rockstar Social Club account. The account name system bans certain  words, so if your last name happens to contain a "bad word," you can't include it in your account name (sigh). The system has been more or less unobtrusive, though it is annoying that the game can't simply use everyone's Steam ID since they get linked anyway. However, this does allow players to transfer their characters from the consoles to the PC. Grand Theft Auto V has a metric butt-ton of options for the users to play with and optimize. Because of this, many players will be able to find a group of settings that allows GTA V to run very smoothly on their rig. Perhaps the best thing the game does is show the amount of video memory for the installed graphics card. As the user changes the settings, the amount of video memory the game is using will fluctuate. This helps players, especially those not in tune to optimization, fine-tune the numbers to get a smooth experience. After some tinkering, I was able to run the game at my native 1920x1080 resolution and consistently get 60 frames per second. I wasn't able to turn the textures to High, but the game still looks great. In order to run it at this resolution, however, I had to turn off the option that limits players to their graphics card memory usage. The number it was showing was barely higher than the total for my graphics card, and it doesn't seem to have any real trouble running the game smoothly. The framerate does occasionally dip to around 30 when traveling around mountainous or heavily wooded areas. After running at a constant 60 for the rest of the time, this dip in framerate is very noticeable and is very consistent in the aforementioned areas. YouTube user "wiliextreme" did a great job showing different graphics settings in this video. [embed]290676:58331:0[/embed] The biggest issue with the PC version of GTA V is the long and frequent loading times when playing online. When cruising around and enjoying the city of Los Santos, the game is great. However, when players want to do missions, the main way to advance online, they get thrown into frequent long load times. Getting into a mission forces the game to load, and this loading time feels like forever. In reality it's around two minutes, usually. Then there's the potential of waiting for players to join in, which can also take some time, but at least this wait is understandable. I've even loaded into a game that was full, forcing me to load back into Los Santos, back at square one. Once the mission is completed, players vote to either retry (if failed) or for what the next mission should be (if succeeded). Then, when loading whatever is next in store, another long load time rears its ugly head. I have the game installed on a traditional HDD, since the game is HUGE, but I've seen other players who have installed it on an SSD having the same issue with load times. The initial load into the online portion of the game is much longer than loading into missions, but to be fair it is quite a large city to be loaded. Just like any online game, GTAV Online's lag comes from being paired up with players who are far away or with poor connections. Most of my time was rather lag-free, however being in a car with someone who is lagging is not an entertaining experience. "Woah we're just about to crash into that-- oh, nevermind we're on the highway now." Doing missions like this makes certain players virtually useless as they teleport all over the place and neither player knows what's really happening. Playing with friends can be an absolute blast, but also frustrating to get going. Loading into the same instance of Los Santos is easy enough, but joining the same mission, especially on the same team, is not. Since there's no "party" system in GTA V Online, one player needs to join a mission and then invite others to that mission. Then, if there are teams, chances are they will not be on the same team. Heck, the mission might even be started by the host before a friend can join the mission. Part of this can be alleviated by someone becoming the host and having the "Remain Host after Next Job Vote Screen" option enabled, though this is disabled by default. There's also the first-person perspective mode, which is certainly interesting. There is a field-of-view (FOV) slider, but the highest it goes is incredibly low for most people. However, there is a mod to increase the FOV in first-person. In fact, the whole idea of mods being implemented at all is what skyrockets the PC version of the game into the realm of infinite possibilities!  I've seen some users mention that, depending on graphics cards, the framerate can inexplicably go down at times. Some 970 users have seen their framerate drop to the 30s when inside vehicles, for example. The game has gotten a few patches already in order to fix some bugs and performance, so the team seems to be paying attention and can hopefully iron things out in a timely manner. Using a controller (tested with a wireless Xbox 360 controller) is a seamless experience. Players can easily swap between the keyboard and mouse control style to a controller by simply pressing a button on a controller. When playing missions online, the game will even let others know who is using a controller and who is on a mouse and keyboard setup. That way, when one person dominates an online deathmatch mission, everyone understand why. The game also works well using Steam's Big Picture mode. I was initially worried because of the Rockstar Social Club integration, but the game automatically maps the mouse to the left analog stick when using a controller. So when the Social Club overlay is used, players using a controller can still respond to friend requests or look at game invites. Another big draw in the PC version of the game is the video capturing and editing program that's built in to the game, the Rockstar Editor. Capturing footage is as easy as hitting a button, so long as you have the amount of space needed to actually capture the footage. Editing is rather simple, but convoluted in many ways. First of all, it is only possible to access the editor while playing offline, which took me forever to figure out. Adding things like camera angles and filters is incredibly easy, but adding text is a bit annoying. Adding text to a specific location to the video is easy, but the game doesn't give a preview of the video at that time, so players need to go in and out of the actual video to see what it looks like. It's an extra step that's totally unnecessary, but the editor is still crazy good for being in-game. The GTA V port has one of the most important aspects to any PC game: malleability. The amount of options help ensure that players with at least semi-decent rigs should be able to run it well. The online portion of the game isn't as cohesive as it should be, but GTA V can easily be one of the PC ports that players point to in the future and say "why isn't it more like that?" [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
GTA V on PC photo
Wonky tennis at 60 frames per second
After many delays and what feels like forever, Grand Theft Auto V is finally on PC. It's incredibly exciting to just think of all the hilarious and unique mods that people will inevitably come up with to change the ...

Review: Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure

Apr 24 // Chris Carter
Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure (PC [reviewed], PSP) Developer: Nihon FalcomPublisher: Nihon Falcom (JP), Mastiff (US), 505 Game Street (EU)Released: December 25, 2004 (JP) / March 30, 2015 (US)MSRP: $9.99 From the very moment I booted up Gurumin I fell in love. It's so damn cheery and bright, and that old school retro spirit of adventure is alive and well. With its Dreamcast-style visuals, It brings me back to that whimsical era of gaming where gameplay and fun factor took precedent over all else. You'll play as a young girl named Parin, who sports a giant drill to fight off evil phantoms and help cute "monsters" (yep, monsters are good in Gurumin) who can only been seen by children. Parin is adorable, as she's not only a formidable heroine, but spouts hilarious dialogue at every turn, voiced by an enthusiastic Amber Hood. The entire game including the hub town gives me a big Brave Fencer Musashi vibe, which is a huge bonus for me. At the start of the narrative you'll meet a group of monsters as well as the core phantom group, led by a powerful prince. As the cast starts to fill up you'll find faces voiced by greats like Quinton Flynn, Dee Bradley Baker, and Tara Strong. Every character, good or evil, is memorable, and the campaign plays out in that wonderful storybook kind of way. [embed]290701:58290:0[/embed] Despite its cutesy veneer, Gurumin has a fairly deep combat system. It boasts charge attacks, timed combos, dashes, launchers and aerial raves, and a few more powers as you unlock them. One of the best mechanics is the air dash system, where you can constantly jump off enemies as long as you can lock-on. It's satisfying as hell, and the game gives you an ample amount of open and varied environments in which to test them out. It does have controller support on PC, but I have multiple issues with both the 360 and Xbox One controllers in terms of input lag on the game's menus. It's not a dealbreaker as the emphasis is on action, but it was annoying every so often when I wanted to save my game. It's a good thing Gurumin has a "save anywhere" scheme. It has a lot of the key elements you'd expect from an older JRPG like a world map and equipment system, but it doesn't go overboard. Getting to where you need to be is relatively easy, there's no grinding, and gear nuances begin and end with the head slot. But with these elements in place, it manages to elevate the game above your standard action title, especially when you start getting into some of the gear bonuses that compliment individual styles, like extra defense or leeching health. Gurumin hosts a lengthy 15-to-30-hour campaign, which has plenty of extras predicated on replay value, like multiple difficulty modes, extra sidequests, a new ending, and a hunt for every item. Thankfully, the additional difficulties alter enemy placements and tactics to incentivize multiple playthroughs. I wish there were something a little more out there beyond a few minigames, but it's more than enough to keep you interested for quite a while. I can recommend Gurumin: A Monstrous Adventure to just about every action enthusiast out there. Outside of some antiquated elements dating back to the fact that it is an older game at heart, it dares to be positive at nearly every turn, and you won't be able to play it without a smile on your face. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Gurumin review photo
Monstrously fun
Luckily, growing up I had a lot of friends who were either from Japan or were heavily into eastern games -- so the opportunity to play imports, including the coveted Radiant Silver Gun, was always an option.  Gurumi...

Review: SWR JST DX Selective Memory Erase Effect

Apr 24 // Jed Whitaker
SWR JST DX Selective Memory Erase Effect (PC)Developers: Nekomura Games Publisher: Nekomura Games Released: April 20, 2015 MSRP: $4.99 SWR centers around Etta -- a blue haired android girl with a low battery -- controlling her robotic toy cat M1MI in an attempt to logout of an operating system gone rogue. M1MI can double jump, as well as do a close attack with his sword and throw knives to take out enemies from afar. Throwing knives are limited in number, but are strewn throughout levels and never run scarce. SWR is old school hard, one hit from any enemy or projectile ends the life of M1MI, luckily continues are infinite, no quarters required. Rendered at the same resolution as arcade games of old, and intact with a high score counter on the top of the screen, Selective Memory Erase Effect would feel at home in a nice standing cabinet. Upon launching the game, text is displayed just like an arcade game would show upon being turned on and from then on the screen is persistently filled with beautiful pixel based art with a nice scanline filter. Etta wonders aloud in cutscenes between stages where she sometimes has conversations with boss characters. Bosses plead with Etta to not log out of the system, as they have been enjoying their freedom from doing OS functions. Each baddie is designed around being a different part of the OS, such as a watchdog that would normally be an antivirus program, or a squid that would be the networking function. Upon their death, a colorful screen will be displayed showing the dead boss while music that would feel at home in a 1980's drama plays. These scenes made me feel bad for killing them, though that clearly may have been the point. The bosses do warn that logging out could have a dangerous outcome giving the narrative a slight mystery element. [embed]290780:58328:0[/embed] While SWR starts as a beautiful sidescroller, it changes up the formula a bit a few times: once for some underwater environments and again for a minecart level and even a boating stage. The minecart conceit, while fun, was easily the weakest part of the game. While automatically scrolling from left to right M1MI has to jump and duck to avoid randomly generated obstacles, all while boulders fall from the top of the screen. The randomness of the level caused multiple unavoidable deaths in an otherwise fantastic game.  SWR JST DX Selective Memory Erase Effect's artstyle is what initially drew me in, and luckily the rest of the game was up to par as well. I was especially impressed with the attention to minor details that made it feel like an arcade game down to some graphical glitches that I hope were included purposefully to give it that arcade feel. The characters are interesting, the story was very enjoyable and for $5 it was well worth my two hour playthrough. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
SWR JST DX review photo
1990's retro chic
SWR JST DX Selective Memory Erase Effect, or Sword Justice Deluxe Selective Memory Erase Effect, as it's also known, is one of those indie titles that tries to mimic games of old while still making a fresh new ...

Review: Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China

Apr 21 // Chris Carter
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed]) Developer: UbisoftPublisher: UbisoftReleased: April 21, 2015MSRP: $9.99 (China is part of the Assassin's Creed Unity Season Pass) Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China isn't a new concept, as Assassin's Creed II: Discovery basically built upon the older Prince of Persia games, which Ubisoft even took a crack at last generation with a remaster. Nonetheless it's a welcome one on paper if we get to see other parts of the world beyond western civilizations, even if it does feel rushed in many aspects. The story this time around follows Shao Jun, one of the lone assassins left in her order after Zhang Yong of the Tigers (Templars) wiped them out. It takes place after the events of Assassin's Creed: Embers, which ties her into the core storyline by way of a chance encounter with Ezio Auditore. Fans will enjoy the connection for sure, but most of you out there can completely ignore it as yet another wacky "Assassins versus Templars" adventure and just enjoy this as a 2D platformer. You might want to ignore the story anyway, because it's not very good. Framed as a standard revenge tale, Shao Jun will hobble across various landscapes killing whoever gets in her way to the top. The dialog is particularly terrible and not in a funny B-movie way, and no one that turns up is memorable. I know a lot of people didn't dig the meta-narrative fluff in the core series, but at least it was something worth talking about. In many ways it feels like a missed opportunity to flesh out the brotherhood in China, but hot damn if the setting itself isn't beautiful. [embed]290711:58237:0[/embed] In fact, the first thing I noticed about the game was the killer art style. The lazy slideshow cutscenes aren't that big of a deal when everything looks like a living painting, especially Shao's flowing red cape. In-game the art is still wonderful, but the environments themselves often lack detail, with washed-out backgrounds making a frequent appearance. That feeling of disappointment will pass quickly though once you reach another vibrant setpiece. Fans of the core series will find it easy to acclimate, as the controls are very similar. There's a button to hold down to run and initiate reckless mode, a button to go all stealthy, and your standard light and heavy attacks. While the narrative isn't all that slick, Shao Jun controls like a master assassin, and I had very few issues getting her to go anywhere I needed her to be. Grabbing ledges, crawling about, and avoiding guards was a breeze. All of this action will be navigated around awareness cones for enemies, which are visible front and center on-screen. Enemies are fairly observant of their surroundings, with clear "sound" circles and other nuances influencing their movements, but sadly they don't follow you to the ends of the earth like past games -- if you're in a tricky spot, they'll just sit there for about 10 seconds before returning to their patrol route. It reminds me of the camp of the original Tenchu, with mixed results. Non-lethal force is preferred, but Shao has access to a whistle ability for distractions, in addition to firecrackers, daggers, and a noisemaker tool. Every power feels roughly the same which makes for some dull variations early on, but every level will unlock newer, cooler abilities that mix things up much more than her basic skillset. I'm talking grappling hooks, more options for hiding places (like that "quick switch" leap Sam Fischer is so good at), and sliding assassinations. Melee combat is run-of-the-mill but it looks sexy, especially when coupled with Shao's unique animations. Backwards blocks and bullet dodges are fluid and responsive, which is key as you'll be doing both of those things a lot. You won't fight many interesting enemies, but even the meat grinder of foes the game throws at you is fun with this system. Once you're done with the five-to-six-hour adventure there's two New Game+ options to replay with slightly different mechanics, which do just enough to justify another playthrough or two. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: China has the makings of a good 2D Prince of Persia re-awakening, but it lacks a lot of character both aesthetically and mechanically. Still, there's very little actually wrong with it if you're looking for another platformer to add to your pile. Hopefully future iterations of the Chronicles subseries can build upon the foundation that China has provided. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Assassin's Creed review photo
Shao Jun gettin' it done
Just last week I asked readers if they were into the idea of 2D Assassin's Creed games. Roughly 41% were on board, 33% preferred the 3D iterations, and 26% have checked out of the series entirely. Ubisoft doesn't really care what you think, though. As long as they sell, those assassins will keep on stabbin'.

PC Port Report: Mortal Kombat X

Apr 20 // Nic Rowen
Mortal Kombat X (PC)Developer: NetherRealm Studios, High Voltage Software (PC)Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive EntertainmentMSRP: $59.99Release Date: April 14, 2015Rig: Intel i7-920 2.70 GHz, 12GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 770 GPU When I first installed Mortal Kombat X it was unplayable. I don't mean in some sort of prissy, PC elitist "anything less than 60 FPS burns my eyes" kind of way (although you could make a strong argument that if any genre of game has the right to demand a consistent and high frame rate, it's competitive fighting games). I mean in the "this game doesn't work" way. Things went south as soon as I hit the character select screen and the fighters started drawing themselves in one painful frame at a time. Actual fighting was impossible, with the action portrayed like a garish, bloody View-Master reel. I have a fairly decent gaming PC. My processor is admittedly old, but I have plenty of RAM and a muscular GTX 770 to help it power through. I run plenty of modern multi-platform games with nary a hitch. There is no reason for Mortal Kombat X to perform this badly. My situation is far from uncommon, with mobs of flustered would-be-warriors with top-end gaming rigs complaining they were in the same bind in the Steam discussion pages. After some rooting about in support forums, I altered my settings, manually installed some drivers, and fussed about until I got the game in working -- but far from ideal -- order.  I managed to get the game running smooth enough to fart around in the practice mode and work on some combos. Even still, certain stages caused noticeable stuttering and after a few minutes the game would start to hitch and falter no matter where I fought. Oddly, when the performance dipped like this I found that performing an X-Ray move (which automatically locks the action to 30 FPS) seemed to jar the game out of it, restoring a smooth 60 FPS after the move finished (for a short while anyway). I'm about as far from a programmer as you can get, but to me this suggests the problem is less to do with system specs and more with how the game is coded. Something just isn't working right. While being able to unclog the frame rate with an X-Ray was handy during my protracted training sessions, it's also vaguely frustrating to know that a functional game is trapped somewhere inside of this rickety port job, but only accessible by jumping through hoops. Of course, the reason I spent so much time in the training mode this weekend is related to the second major problem with the PC port. The entire online component of the game was up on cinder blocks for most of the time I've played.  Online Kombat was down for the majority of weekend. Either the game would entirely refuse to access the online component, saying it couldn't retrieve my stat card (and therefore refused me entry), or it would simply leave me perpetually waiting to "find a match." Even during the periods where I was able to find regular ranked and player matches (still with large five minute plus waiting times between opponents) other features wouldn't work. The room lobby system, useful for finding similarly skilled or geographically local opponents, was up and down all weekend. Mostly down. The Faction War nonsense has been offline since I installed. Not that I thought that aspect of the game was particularly meaningful, but it's still annoying to have to wait through one more loading screen as the game fails to find the faction server and informs you of such. More annoying still, trying to view the progress of the on-going war effort locked me in an inescapable loading screen. Fun times. Of the online matches I got to play, lag seemed to be a total crapshoot. Some fights were buttery smooth like me and my opponent were shoulder to shoulder in the arcade. Others started fine but eventually de-synced and broke down. Still others were like wading through molasses from start to finish, becoming a game of chicken to see who would blink first and have the dreaded black mark of a Quitality branded upon their house. When the room feature was active, I managed to find a neighboring Toronto player and stuck through a series of humiliating, but silky, matches against a terrifying Liu Kang who outclassed me in every possible way. I worried I wouldn't find another decent online match that night and would rather face his burning fists than chance it, a fear that came to pass when he left the room (no doubt in disgust of my pathetic Kotal Kahn). A succession of smaller quibbles nip at the heels of those catastrophes. Trying to re-configure a control pad or joystick crashes the game (to turn off negative edge I had to pull every USB device out of my computer and go into the menu with the keyboard). Timed features in the Krypt are reportedly not working right. I was mildly irked to notice that the post-character-select animations (Jax slamming his fists together, Cassie snapping her gum and flipping the bird, and so on) are absent in the PC version. I suppose you could say they thought the faster loading times on the PC version would make them obsolete, but the game still drops you to a loading screen before the fight. Why not chew up those few seconds with something to look at? (I realize this is the smallest complaint of all time but this port ripped my heart out of my chest so bear with me.) Maybe this shouldn't come as a surprise. Both Mortal Kombat 9 and Injustice had troubled ports with similar problems. Distressingly, many of those issues never got sorted out. With a simultaneous day and date PC release for Mortal Kombat X though, you would have hopped they would be ready to go this time. Motal Kombat X deserves better than this slipshod port. I want to believe that NetherRealm and High Voltage Software will do right by its fans and iron these problems out, that this rough first week is an unfortunate debacle. Given its track record though, part of me fears the worst. I'll be keeping an eye on this port and will post an update in a few weeks or so to see if the situation improves. As it stands now, I can't put it any plainer: do not buy this broken port of a great game. [This review is based on a retail code purchased by the reviewer, a PC review copy was not made available by the developer.]
PC Port Report: MK X photo
Never-ending Brutality
I have never played a game that I've wanted to love so badly that seems so set and determined to antagonize me than the PC port of Mortal Kombat X. In the abstract, Mortal Kombat X is a great game. The single player content i...

Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition is ridiculous and over the top in all the right ways

Apr 20 // Alessandro Fillari
Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition (PC, PlayStation 4 [previewed], Xbox One)Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomRelease date: Summer 2015 Set some time after the events of the original Devil May Cry, the devil-hunting half-demon Dante investigates the mysterious Order of the Sword, a religious sect that worships his demon father, Sparda, as a god. After an infestation of demons swarms the island of Fortuna, causing mass panic and bloodshed, the Order sends a young holy knight named Nero, who may have some demon lineage of his own, to find the source -- whom they believe is Dante. But along the way, Nero discovers that things are not what they appear, and that the Order of the Sword may have sinister motives in mind for him and the son of Sparda. Taking cues from Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition, the developers chose to include more supplementary features for DMC4:SE, while retaining the core structure of the original game. Using the excellent PC version of DMC4 as a base, the Special Edition now features Turbo Mode (20% increase to game-speed), Legendary Dark Knight mode (Hard mode with larger crowds of enemies), higher texture and visual fidelity, and tighter performance and framerate for both PC and console releases. But of course, the SE also brings additions that are brand new to DMC4, such as playable Vergil, Trish, and for the first time ever, Lady -- along with new cutscenes, new costumes for every character, some slight gameplay tweaks, new art to unlock, and some other surprises neat to find. However, it should be stressed that the core structure of DMC4 is almost exactly the same, and anyone expecting new bosses, monsters, and areas to travel to will likely be disappointed. It's still DMC4 through and through. I know many DMC enthusiasts were worried about what balancing tweaks were made to the game, particularly with Dante and Nero. With exception to general tweaks such as quicker Speed boost, faster Orb and Proud Soul acquisition, and some other minor tweaks and adjustments, the core gameplay for the original duo is largely untouched. So anyone who's mastered the intricacies of Guard Flying, Interia, and the incredibly tricky DRI (Distorted Real Impact) should rest easy knowing that they're intact and ready to take advantage of. Truth be told, though, I was a bit surprised by how much of the game was kept as is, even after eight years worth of feedback and cool PC mods that have surfaced. I'm bummed out that the new modes from DmC: Definitive Edition, such as Must Style, Hardcore, and Gods Must Die weren't included either. It seems like a missed opportunity, and DMC4:SE could have really taken advantage of them in a cool way.  With that said, I was impressed with the new content that awaits players in the Special Edition, and the folks at Capcom have put in the work to make it just as rad as ever. The focus of my session was checking out how all of the playable characters stacked up in DMC4:SE, and I was quite pleased to see how much diversity was offered here. Rest assured, these aren't some cheap additions to the game. The new characters feature their own unique playstyle and strategies that set them apart from the rest, which is a welcome change of pace for those who've clocked hundreds of hours into Bloody Palace. Moreover, they all have their own unique movesets to unlock, which is just as expansive as the original characters. I played with all five characters fully maxed out, so I got a pretty unique opportunity to see what they were like at their best. As you no doubt saw from the many teases we've seen over the last few months, Vergil is back, and this time he's more motivated than ever. Set many years before the events of DMC4, we find a young Vergil investigating the Order of the Sword. Not long after his arrival, demons invade the island and Vergil must put them in their place while uncovering the truth behind the mysterious group. Though his progression follows the Dante/Nero campaign beat for beat (sans original cutscenes), they feature all new opening and ending scenes to bookend his experiences. And we may even find some answers regarding his connection to series newcomer Nero. Many fans adored DMC3's incarnation of Vergil, and DMC4:SE continues his stoic and composed sense of combat, while upping his versatility to new heights. Wielding his standard Yamato -- along with the Beowulf gauntlets and Force Edge/Yamato combo from DMC3 -- Vergil dispenses his calm and uncompromising style of action that sets him apart from the others. Though fans will likely have reservations about Vergil possessing these weapons at this point in the timeline (before DMC3), the developers hope that the ambiguity of the plot and his expanded moveset will give them a pass in the eyes of fans. And after playing with Vergil, I'm certainly cool with the liberties they've taken.  Essentially the antithesis to Dante's bombastic and machismo combat style, Vergil feels more composed and cunning than his brother, which in essence lies the true genius of his style. This is reflected in the brand new Concentration meter, which rewards calm and precise combat. As you connect with strikes and dodge attacks, you build Vergil's Concentration level, which boosts his attack power and speed. Once you build it up to the max level, Vergil becomes a serious force in combat, and even unlocks special moves to use in his Devil Trigger phase -- such as the Judgement Cut End, an ultimate attack that slashes all foes at the cost of your DT gauge. I was supremely impressed with how much the developers had expanded Vergil's gameplay. The new Concentration meter makes combat feel more rewarding and satisfying, and keeping my meter full made fights more tense, as getting hit or missing an attack would decrease the meter. Thankfully, Vergil is still a beast even at the lowest concentration. In addition to incorporating DmC Vergil's sword teleportation move, which allows Vergil to teleport to enemies hit with his sword illusion skills, his weapon combos have also been fleshed out more. With Yamato using new ground and aerial combos, including aerial variants of Judgement Cut and also Vergil's take on Nero's Roulette, Force Edge also employs new combos paying homage to DMC3's Agni and Rudra moveset. Not to mention, his DT phase enhances his abilities and combos, giving him faster charge time and reduced cooldown, along with replacing his side-roll with the Table Hopper evade. I know I won't be alone in saying this, but I would've been plenty satisfied with just having Vergil as a new character. But of course, Capcom decided to take things a step further by including two more characters to the roster with Lady and Trish. Though Vergil has the campaign all to himself, Lady and Trish will share a campaign mode similar to Nero and Dante's story. With two new cutscenes, their story focuses on their exploits in the background as Nero and Dante are getting into trouble throughout the island. Lady's portion takes her through Nero's missions, using her grappling hook for traversal, while Trish cleans up in Dante's later levels. This is the first time Lady has been playable in the DMC series, and as the sole human character in the roster, the developers had to rethink how combat would work for her. Focusing more on her firearms, and employing a keep-away style, Lady is at her best while at a distance. With her only melee weapon being the massive and lumbering rocket launcher Kalina Ann, which feels fairly limited compared to other melee weapons, it's quite clear that players will have to adjust how they engage their foes with Lady. Thankfully, her arsenal of firearms and gadgets, including the Kalina Ann's grappling hook which pulls in enemies, offers more than enough stopping power to take down whatever comes her way. While it's easy to assume that her combat mechanics are a carbon copy of Dante's gunslinger style, there's definitely a lot of nuance to be found in the human devil hunter's fighting style. Using pistols, a shotgun, and the Kalina Ann as her primary weapons, Lady's focus on range gives her an edge that the other characters do not. Taking some inspiration from Nero's exceed gauge, Lady is able to charge her weapons up to three levels, which boosts her attack power significantly. When charged, the bullet icon on the HUD will show how much juice is left in the charge, giving players an idea of how much time they have for their attacks. Not only is Lady able to charge her weapons much faster than the other characters, her weapons react differently with a full charge. For instance, a max-level charge for the Kalina Ann sends out a super-charged rocket that pierces through multiple foes. And yes, she does have a double jump and also a neat spin on the Devil Trigger phase. Her take on double jump has her rocket launcher firing off a shot, propelling her upward and damaging foes underneath (which has damage jump cancelling potential), and her spin on the Devil Trigger is essentially a volley of grenades that clears out all nearby enemies. I adored the character in DMC3, and finally getting the chance to play as her was such a blast. Granted, it was an adjustment. I had to resist the urge to use melee attacks with Lady -- it was quite clear they weren't her strong suit -- which in itself was a bit of an oddity for DMC. While every character thrives on getting up close and personal, Lady is the polar opposite. Many of her moves even focus on getting her in and out of the action when the need arises. For instance, her take on the shotgun's gunstinger move has her charge in gun first for a deadly close-range blast, then follows up with another shot that her launches back out of the fray. Another example is her R1+ Back + Jump move, which replaces the typical backflip and causes Lady to jump backwards while tossing a number of grenades to the foes in front of her. Ultimately, I found Lady to be a very technical character, and she's arguably the most unique choice in the roster. I'm usually a player that uses firearms somewhat sparingly, but playing as Lady offered some inventive ways to use them. Which I certainly appreciate. Finally, the last new character to grace the Special Edition is long-time femme fatale Trish. She was last playable in Devil May Cry 2, and thankfully the developers sought to flesh her out. Using her fists, the sword Sparda (the Force Edge's transformed state), the pistols Ebony and Ivory, the super weapon Pandora, and her demonic lighting powers, Trish is essentially DMC4: Special Edition's wildcard character. On the surface, she seems to be there just for eye-candy -- but in truth, Trish is one of the deadliest characters in the roster. With her focus being primarily on crowd control and group combat, many of her moves attack multiple foes at once, due in part to her range and lightning imbued attacks. To be totally honest, I initially I felt that Trish seemed overpowered, given that she has pretty easy access to such powerful weapons. Moreover, she's an incredibly flashy character, which has her pulling off a number of elaborate combos with ease. While developing DMC4:SE, the creatives wanted to have a character that allowed newcomers to get in easily, which meant removing the weapon-switch options and keeping her arsenal present at all times. Now before you grab your pitchforks over the thought of accessibility tied to DMC, do know that selecting Trish does not mean you picked the "you win" character. As I got more comfortable with her, I found a lot of nuance that required knowledge of enemy placement, range, and sheer timing on my part. Her moveset is very robust, and features larger depth in crowd control and focused attacks than the others. Her primary weapons are her fists, called Bare Knuckle, and it's the most robust unarmed moveset the series has ever had. Bare Knuckle takes advantage of her lighting powers, and gives each of her attacks a serious boost. Along with Sparda, which is set to the Style button (Circle on PS4), Trish uses the legendary sword as is with strikes and launchers, but she can also treat it like a boomerang to keep enemies locked in place with Round Trip, or to scoop up a group of foes towards her from a distance. Her ultimate move, however, is truly a sight to behold. As one of the longest combos in the game, Trish uses almost all of Sparda's moves in an intensive flurry, finishing off with her calmly using the legendary weapon as a golf club against the unfortunate foe. Simply put, she's a badass and an utter joy to watch cut loose. Fans of her Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 appearance will be pleased to know they've incorporated her moveset into DMC4:SE. One of her Bare Knuckle moves called Inazuma is an aerial kick that leaves streaks of energy in the environment, which can trap enemies in their place. Add in Sparda's round-trip ability, along with Trish's glorious take on Chun-Li's Spinning Bird Kick, and you've got potential to dish out some gnarly damage. During a quick trip into Legendary Dark Knight mode, I went to Mission 17's street area, which is notorious for featuring the largest number of enemies in the game. While other members of the roster may take some time to clear out the mobs, Trish was in her element and laid waste to the masses in a way that would make the characters from Dynasty Warriors sit down and watch her at work. Seriously, using Sparda's round-trip, along with Inazuma and Pandora's beam cannon (which uses some DT meter) against the mobs was like witnessing Satan's weed wacker at work. It was brutal, incredibly satisfying, and it was clear they didn't send enough enemies to fight. I remember playing as Trish in DMC2, and I was really disappointed that she was a reskin of Dante. Thankfully, DMC4:SE does the character justice. With the entire roster in mind, I felt that they all complement each other, and bring levels of panache that feels special, especially if you're willing to invest the time to learn and grow with them. But what truly impressed me the most was that each character brings something unique to the table. None of them felt half-baked or intended as a diversion from the other more established members. I was quite blown away by how much we're getting here. I spent about two hours tooling around with all the characters, and while Nero and Dante feel just as sharp and versatile as ever, I anticipate the newcomers will get all the attention come release, and with good reason. Although I was initially worried that the new characters would compound the tedium of the recycled environments, I was pleased to find that the new playstyles help to offer a refreshing take on the old encounters. That will certainly take the sting out of backtracking. Hopefully, anyway. But I still have to express my disappoint in that no new modes were added. However, this is one of the great aspects of the remaster trend. Much like its companion title DmC: Definitive Edition, it's allowing games from the previous gen that may have missed the mark to reach a greater potential and be the game fans want it to be. It's been such a long time since Capcom came out with a follow-up to the original DMC series, and Devil May Cry 4: Special Edition shows that it hasn't lost its touch one bit. It's looking to be an incredibly enticing package that revels in gloriously stupid action, and ain't that the best kind? As the Street Fighter of the action genre, this franchise has a large legacy to uphold. And if you were among those who weren't too keen on DmC Devil May Cry and yearned for a return to the classic series, you've now got your shot to do so. So take it. And don't forget to turn on Turbo Mode in the options menu. 
Devil May Cry photo
The time has come, and so have I
The Devil May Cry franchise has experienced some strange happenings in recent years. After the release of Ninja Theory's reboot and many debates among fans about what direction it should go next, the future of the franchise f...

Valkyria Chronicles PC port drops to $5 for weekend

Apr 18 // Dealzon
Top Deals Valkyria Chronicles (Steam) — $5.37  (list price $20) <- just get it already PlayStation Plus 12-Month Card — $39.99  (list price $50) <- its dead, Jim Grand Theft Auto Online Shark Cards — 21% Off <- for ppl with $$ but not time Mortal Kombat X (Steam) — $44.99  (list price $60) Humble Origin Bundle 2 — PWYW for 5 games <- great bundle Added Sunday: Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4, PS3, 360, XOne) — $19.99  (list price $40) South Park: The Stick of Truth (PS3, 360) — $14.99  (list price $30) Battlefield: Hardline (Xbox One, 360, PS4, PS3, PC) — $39.99  (list price $60) Recent Releases 04/14: Mortal Kombat X - Kombat Pack (Steam) — $23.70  (list price $30) 04/10: StarDrive 2 (Steam) — $23.70  (list price $30) 04/01: Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin (Steam) — $30.49  (list price $50) 03/26: Pillars of Eternity Hero Edition (Steam) — $32.84  (list price $45) Upcoming Releases 05/08: Project Cars (Steam) — $39.50  (list price $50) 06/23: Final Fantasy XIV: Heavensward - Collectors Edition — $44.99  (list $60) 07/14: God of War III Remastered (PS4) — $34.99  (list price $40) 09/27: Lego Dimensions Starter Pack (PS4, Xbox One, Wii U) — $89.99  (list $100) 11/17: Star Wars: Battlefront (Origin) — $59.99  PC Game Deals For SEGA & Telltale sales, use code: DEALSP-AWN21O-FFGMGE SEGA Sale The Typing of the Dead: Overkill (Steam) — $3.95  (list price $20) Binary Domain Collection (Steam) — $3.16  (list price $16) Virtua Tennis 4 (Steam) — $2.96  (list price $15) Alpha Protocol (Steam) — $2.96  (list price $15) <- worth a look at this price Binary Domain (Steam) — $2.96  (list price $15) <- ditto this Viking: Battle for Asgard (Steam) — $2.96  (list price $15) Telltale Games Telltale Games Collection (Steam) — $71.10  (list price $180) Game of Thrones - A Telltale Games Series — $22.49  (list price $30) Tales from the Borderlands — $14.81  (list price $25) Tales of Monkey Island Complete Season — $6.91  (list price $35) The Wolf Among Us — $6.71  (list price $25) The Walking Dead: Season 2 (Telltale DRM) — $6.71  (list price $25) Jurassic Park: The Game — $5.92  (list price $30) The Walking Dead: Season 1 (Steam) — $4.93  (list price $25) Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People (Steam) — $3.95  (list price $20) More PC Deals Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor Bundle (Steam) — $29.99  (list price $75) Total War: Attila (Steam) — $28.49  (list price $45) Cities: Skylines (Steam) — $22.49  (list price $30) <- selling point: not SimCity Metro Redux (Steam) — $19.75  (list price $50) The Banner Saga (Steam) — $9.99  (list price $20) Medal of Honor: Warfighter (PC DVD) — $7.99  (list price $20) Killer is Dead - Nightmare Edition (Steam) — $3.95  (list price $20) Eador: Masters of the Broken World (Steam) — $2.99  (list price $20) Console Game Deals Mortal Kombat X (PS4, Xbox One) — $49.99  (list price $60) Watch Dogs (PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, Uplay) — $19.99  (list $30) The Wolf Among Us (PS4, Xbox One) — $14.99  (list $30) Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel (Xbox 360 - Pre-owned, PS3) — $12.99  (list $40) PS4 Skylanders Trap Team Starter Kit (PS4) — $24.99  (list price $50) inFAMOUS Second Son (PS4) — $19.99  (list price $40) Bound by Flame (PS4) — $17.99  (list price $30) Xbox One Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor (Xbox One) — $24.99  (list price $60) Sleeping Dogs Definitive Edition (Xbox One) — $19.99  (list price $60) Titanfall (Xbox One) — $12.99  (list price $60) <- this thing is always on sale LEGO Movie Videogame (Xbox One) — $9.99  (list price $20) PS3 Game Deals Deception IV: Blood Ties (PS3) — $19.99  (list price $30) Drakengard 3 (PS3) — $16.99  (list price $30) <- goodie that shouldn't be so far down list Mugen Souls Z (PS3) — $14.99  (list price $30) LEGO: Marvel Super Heroes (PS3) — $9.99  (list price $20) Ni no Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch (PS3) — $6.99  (list price $20) Wii U Game Deals Wii Mini Console + Mario Kart +Max Steering Wheel (Refurb) — $79.99  (list $160) Super Smash Bros. (Wii U) — $44.96  (list price $60) Misc Console Deals Persona Q: Shadow Labyrinth: Wild Cards Premium (3DS) — $39.99  (list $80) <- cool Toukiden: The Age of Demons (PS Vita) — $19.99  (list price $30) Hot Shots Golf: World Invitational (PS Vita) — $7.49  (list price $20) Laptop Deals 15.6" Toshiba P55 4K, i7-4710HQ, R9 M265X, 12GB, Blu-ray — $949.99 15.6" Acer V15 i7-4720HQ, 8GB, GTX 960M, 1080p — $899.99 17.3" Lenovo Y70 Touch, i7-4710HQ, GTX 860M, 16GB — $879 15.6" Lenovo Y50 i7-4700HQ, GTX 860M, 1080p, 16GB, DVD Burner — $789.99 HDTV Deals 60" Samsung 1080p 240Hz 3D Smart LED HDTV — $1,099.99  (list price $2,199) 55" Samsung 240Hz 3D Smart LED HDTV — $949.99  (list price $2,299) 55" Changhong 4K 2160p Ultra HDTV — $589.99  (list price $1,400) <- el cheapo 4K 40" Samsung 4K Ultra HD Smart TV — $549.99  (list price $1,200) 55" RCA 1080p 120Hz LED HDTV — $459.99  (list price $700) Storage Deals XFX Double D Radeon R9 280X 3GB GDDR5 Video Card — $189.99  (list $270) OCZ Vertex 460A SSD 2.5" 480GB — $159.99  (list price $280) XFX Double D Radeon R9 280 3GB GDDR5 Video Card — $140.99  (list $220) Toshiba Canvio 5TB External HDD — $139.99  (list $210) WD My Passport 2TB External Hard Drive — $79.99  (list $130)
Weekend deals photo
Weekend romp
SEGA's successful PC port Valkyria Chronicles has hit a new low since its November 2014 release. Normally a $20 purchase, GMG has launched a SEGA Games sale this weekend where it drops 75% and with a stacking discount hi...

As the first current-gen Naruto, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is a huge visual leap

Apr 13 // Chris Carter
Naruto Shippūden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (PC, PS4 [tested], Xbox One) Developer: CyberConnect2Publisher: Bandai Namco EntertainmentRelease: TBA 2015 Sometimes when a developer is able to focus solely on the production of a current-generation build, it shows. That's the case with Ultimate Ninja Storm 4, which is easily one of the best-looking anime games I've ever seen. Despite the screen being constantly filled with blasts, everything runs very smoothly, which is crazy when you consider the amount of detail present in nearly every battleground. For instance, one encounter had a giant animated nine-tails monster looming about, and even though it wasn't directly involved in the fight, its presence was felt. Since this is supposed to be the last game in the Ninja Storm series (the manga just ended), it will feature many elements from the final stretch of episodes, as well as the last film. New Ultimate Jutsu techniques are in, as are new characters like Hanabi Hyuga. Players will have the opportunity to switch leaders while playing story mode in many sequences, which was one of the most requested features from fans. I was able to chat a bit about the new game with the CEO of CyberConnect2, Hiroshi Matsuyama, who arrived at the event donned in an appropriate costume. When asked why he enjoyed working on the franchise so much, he responded, "I want to create a game where I'm satisfied as a fan first, and then I can know that fans will be happy. I wanted to support the series by creating a masterpiece to close out this chapter of Naruto." I asked him about the advantages of having new systems as a lead platform, and the biggest change that he is excited for is the focus on "bigger battlefields, with more open air. We want to really give players a sense of scale and we can do that now on the PS4 and Xbox One. There will also be more animations that weren't possible before, like costume damage details, even things like water extinguishing fire damage." From what I could tell based on my demo playthrough, these claims were true, as Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is ridiculously cinematic, almost like the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie in anime form. By that same token, it can be repetitive to watch said cinematic play out in an actual battle, like one fight that had a CPU character using the same 30-second invincible move every minute or so. The good news is once you get through it, it's off to another fantastic setting that looks nothing like the others, chained together through QTE transition phases. Naruto Shippūden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is looking great so far, and I'm really happy with CyberConnect2's decision to focus on newer platforms. It'll be interesting to see where its involvement with the Naruto series will go from here, because it is too good of a developer to stop now.
Naruto preview photo
A more authentic look
There are more Naruto games than one sane person can possibly handle. Although Bandai Namco Entertainment owns the license, a number of different developers have worked with the gaming side, most notably CyberConne...

Review: Titan Souls

Apr 13 // Steven Hansen
Titan Souls (PC [reviewed], Mac, PS Vita, PS4)Developer: Acid NervePublisher: Devolver Digital  Release: April 14, 2015 MSRP: $14.99 Titan Souls is simple. Its art is in pixels and you wouldn't need much more than an NES controller to accommodate its two-button layout. One button serves as a run (hold) and roll (tap), the other shoots and retrieves a lone arrow. That's some pared down resource management: one. The land is in ruin with pleasantly varied color palettes. The goal is to kill all the monsters guarding fragments of the Titan Soul so you can put it back together. Groups of titans are sequestered around checkpoints in various themed areas and you'll have to walk around a bit to stumble on them. You might not even hit them all because you don't need to kill every titan to beat the game. I am sitting at 16 slain and a nice credit sequence, but no unlock of the conspicuous "TRUTH" achievement that seems to hint at more story resolution than is otherwise present. Mostly though it is a game about killing monsters -- yetis and brains and treasure chests and cursed predecessors -- with your one arrow, which you can retrieve by picking up or by holding down the shoot button and calling it back to you. Of course, you can't move while doing this, which makes it a dangerous tactic, but it is also a necessary way to use the arrow sometimes. [embed]290383:58146:0[/embed] Shadow of Colossus was about endurance, down to the grip gauge. Here, a fight can be over in two seconds, either in your favor or the AI's. This is not about endurance as much as it is relentlessness. About trying again and again and again. Because when enemies are killed in one hit (some take work in exposing weak points), they need to hit hard to compensate. I killed a few titans on my second try. Seconds of effort. Others took a couple dozen tries. The last two made up the bulk of my 306 deaths and it was a thoughtlessly loosed arrow that brought me to the credit sequence. Aside from the last two fights and maybe one other, I found it quickly obvious what to do -- shoot it in the brain, shoot it in the butt. Winning was dependent more on execution than puzzle solving, though there are some inventive uses of your bow's recall power. The one, two seconds of swelling music before somber death or quick success is almost farcical. The brief, but cumulative, walks back to the individual bosses, even from nearby checkpoints, kind of became a nuisance. What would've been nominal loading stacks in rapid succession (compared to the immediate "one more try" return of an Olli Olli or Super Meat Boy). Titan Souls, with its arcane aesthetic and sweeping music, plays at being a moody and thoughtful piece, but it is a punishing, reflex-oriented affair and I'm not sure why boss fights couldn't have just restarted in the boss lairs. It disincentives and punishes death, but in the most annoying way, and walking up the same seven seconds of path over and over after death lacks the tonal poignancy of, say, Shadow of the Colossus's treks between golems. Trying to realize boss patterns a couple seconds of life at a time takes patience. Completion unlocks Hard mode, which is still kicking me around (no more smooth second try victories thus far) as well as Iron (one life) and No Rolls (or run). You can toggle any or all three of these settings on for a more brutal time, but hamstringing myself, leading to more deaths, just exacerbates the problems of unnecessary loads and walks back to bosses.  My normal difficulty run through, save for some exasperation at the final two titans, did make for good pacing. Death or victory come quickly because, for the most part, the titans are designed to leave you few opportunities to win. Running around and staying alive isn't an impressive feat because you're no closer to winning. The moments of opportunity are designed to put you in harms way -- surely killing you should you miss the shot -- doubling down on an intense thrill. The quickness with which these things kill you leaves you always feeling unsafe. That you often have to stare down these charging killers, like drawing an arrow against an oncoming train with a baseball-sized weak point, is exhilarating. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Titan Souls review photo
In the shadow of Shadow of the Colossus
I've always clamored for the all-boss-fights game. Shadow of the Colossus, an inescapable inspiration here, did it right and others have done it wrong, like Prince of Persia (2008), but I love the idea of removing fluff encou...

Which low tier character will I waste my time on in Mortal Kombat X?

Apr 11 // Nic Rowen
When it comes to NetherRealm's fighters, I've been in top form. I took one look at Noob Saibot, the ninja-by-way-of-Darth-Vader, and decided to main him in Mortal Kombat 9. He was fiddly and awkward at close range, while being outclassed by more dynamic zoners at full screen where he was supposed (?) to dominate. Sure, his X-Ray move was undeniably dope, but when would you ever get a chance to use it when you were so busy eating Cyrax bombs and Kabal's aerial energy blasts? In Injustice, I mained Lex Luthor from day one and never looked back, even when facing ten game (and higher) losing streaks. Lex was a giant lug of a fighter with all the size and sluggishness of a grappler and none of the damage to back it up. He was a finesse character, based on set-ups and smart use of his hyper armor in a game where the most popular characters could evaporate half a health-bar with one combo and had moves specifically designed to ignore hyper armor. I doomed myself to living under Kryptonian tyranny and had only myself to blame. So which piece of deadweight will I pick up in Mortal Kombat X? Which character will I fall in love with early and stick by, despite it becoming increasingly apparent that they are absolute garbage? What kind of destructive co-dependent relationship will I get tangled up in this time? Quan Chi Quan Chi is a dark sorcerer shitbag that nobody likes, both in the fandom and in the series' narrative. He is a universally reviled toady, unsuccessfully scheming behind the back of whatever master he is currently serving like an incompetent, bald Starscream. The contrarian streak in me that identifies with underdogs finds these qualities strangely endearing (this is also why I'm doomed to fail). Quan has a couple of bizarre fighting styles that rely on the clever use of a summoned bat-demon or cheeky portals to force the opponent into mix-up situations and generally be an annoying jackass. He also has a variation that uses weird glyphs and symbols on the ground for a variety of effects, such as nullifying projectiles or pumping up his damage. Because that kind of gimmick couldn't possibly be a pain in the ass to try and use while Lui Kang pelts you with fireballs and bicycle-kicks right? Another trick-based finesse character that requires a lot of momentum to get going and can be shut down with a strong offense? Sounds like Lex all over again -- sign me up? I don't know, maybe I just have a thing for bald guys.   Jax MK 9's Jax had quite the character arc in the meta-game. He was one of the weakest members of the roster on release, but a few, possibly heavy handed, patches and buffs suddenly thrust him to the top of many tier lists. A real rags-to-riches story (or a great example of why fighting game players hate patches). Skilled Jax players could be a nightmare to deal with, hassling opponents from a distance with earthquakes and projectiles while utterly dominating up-close with powerful grabs and terrifying damage. Later patches toned him down a bit and in the end Jax retired as a respectable, but not spectacular kombatant. I'm not really interested in any of that. I honestly have no idea if Jax will be a ridiculously powerful demigod of command grabs in MK X, reduced back to his meek early MK 9 low tier hero status, or find some middle balance between the two extremes. I just think he looks awesome. Jax is a guy who pummels ninjas to death with a pair of robotic arms, which has been scientifically determined to be the coolest possible way to beat a ninja to death. He has a distinguished dash of salt and pepper in his beard, and the kind of preoccupation with cigars that I'm sure Freud would have something to say about. Or maybe not, considering he likes to alternatively snuff those cigars on his robotic fists, or the bloody neck-stump-turned-ashtray of his opponent. Jackson Briggs has it going on. If I can age half as gracefully (and cybernetically) as Jax, I'll die a happy man. I know it's an odd criteria, but if basing my fighting game character choices on aspirational life goals is wrong, I don't want to be right. Kotal Kahn Kotal Kahn is my wild card. He's a new character, so there's no telling if he'll be good or bad. On one hand, he was built with MK X's unique systems and play style in mind instead of being re-tooled to fit the mold. It's entirely possible he'll be an utter wrecking machine of sun-worshiping bad-assery. On the other, he hasn't had umpteen iterative appearances to figure out his place in the food chain, so maybe longtime favorites like Kung Lao will mop the floor with him using established fundamentals (such as -- hat throw, hat throw, hat throw, dive kick). This is all irrelevant. I've got my eye on Kotal because he looks like some kind of Aztec war-god, and that's pretty tough to beat aesthetically. Why would I want to throw a silly bladed hat at someone when I could fry them with divine sun beams, or cut their heart out with one of those cool wavy cult daggers? Kotal also as a variation where he carries around one of those crazy tribal swords that is basically a wooden board with a row of razor sharp sharks teeth inset along the edges, which seems like the worst thing mankind ever devised to cut another person in two with. It would be like being paddled by a frat brother and devoured by Jaws at the same time, two of my recurring nightmares condensed into one horrific device. I don't know how Quan, Jax, and Kotal will shake out. Going by my track record, the fact that I'm expressing any interest in them at all pretty much dooms them (so maybe you'll want to take this article as a cautionary tale and stay clear of them). Or maybe they'll turn out to be awesomely powerful specimens and I'll be retroactively accused of tier-whoring whenever I select them. It will be interesting to find out in a few months when people have had a chance to dig into MK X and test their might. Until then, I'd be interested to hear what characters you're excited about. Do you plan on sticking with the tried and true like Scorpion and Raiden? Will you embrace the next generation of fighters and take selfies with Cassie Cage and her crew? Or are you going to be that one freaky dude who mains Ferra/Torr from day one and beats everyone down Master Blaster style? At the end of the day, tier placement really doesn't mean much, what matters is your skill and enjoyment. As long as you're having fun and improving your game, any character is the right choice.
Low tier heroes photo
You do it to yourself, you do, and that's what really hurts
They say you should never marry for love, but I always do. Every single damn time. I guess you could call me a romantic. If you felt like being less charitable (and possibly more accurate), you could call me a scrub. I couldn...

Won't somebody think of the children?

Apr 09 // Nic Rowen
[embed]290207:58107:0[/embed] Thankfully, I had a secret weapon to get MK off the black list in my home. Aside from being a nightmarish murder simulator, I knew that MK was also fucking ridiculous; a fact all those self-serious senators stumping on the public decency ticket always seemed to forget to mention. Despite all the media hubbub, my mom was, thankfully, still inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt and listen to reason. We struck a deal, I'd be allowed to rent the neutered, bloodless SNES version under the condition that she would watch as my brother and I played it. If she felt it was too violent for our sensibilities or somehow mentally damaging, she would banish it straight back to the Netherrealm of Blockbuster Video and the veto would stand. In the end she didn't watch for more than an hour before realizing that MK was just too stupid to be considered harmful. When you break it down, MK is a game about karate men fighting each other one-on-one to save the world from a four-armed claymation monster and his boss who looks suspiciously like Lo Pan from Big Trouble in Little China. Even the famed gore of the series, when not breathlessly described by a dour parental advocacy spokesperson, was too dumb and cheap looking to take seriously. The production values on those original fatalities were a joke, character sprites awkwardly sticking into and through each other at angles and depths that don't line up quite right. The obvious cost-cutting steps of re-purposing animations and sprites stole a certain degree of gravitas from the executions. MK 1 has the same disarming flimsiness of a student film effort about zombies. It's hard to take stumbling freshmen in thrift store clothes splattered with red food coloring seriously -- the effect is more slapstick than sinister. My brother and I were left alone to throw fireballs and exchange uppercuts with the understanding that we weren't to tell anyone we were allowed to play MK (because who wants to have to explain that to the other moms) and that any attempt to actually rip a sibling's heart out would result in a summary grounding. I thought it was a pretty fair compromise. I felt mature. I was proud that I was able to hold my ground and defend a piece of media I thought was being unfairly vilified. But more than that, I was gratified that my mom believed in my ability to separate fantasy from reality. To know my own boundaries and limits and be able to compartmentalize what was totally rad in a game, but horrific in real life. Which is why I feel like the biggest, shittiest hypocrite in the world when I worry about kids playing MK X. It makes me feel like a crusty old man shaking his fist at those damn kids for doing the exact same thing he did when he was younger. I want to be able to extend the same charity, the same vigorous defense I gave MK 1 to MK X of the difference between fantasy and reality. But holy shit, have you seen this game? It is CRAZY. The way bones snap and break during x-ray moves, how skin will peel and tear to reveal musculature and ligaments, the fully detailed models of organs and intestines that are ripped apart and strewn about during fatalities, it's just so -- ewww. You can't say the game is too silly to take seriously anymore. If anything, if I were a kid now trying to convince my mom to let me play MK X, I think I'd probably focus on how it would be a great way to study up on human anatomy for biology class. Now don't get me wrong, this isn't the twist ending where I say it turns out all those senators and other finger wagglers from back in the day were right all along. They were wrong (and hysterically stupid) then, and they're wrong now. I still don't think MK X is intrinsically harmful. I don't think that the kids who weasel their way into playing it (and I absolutely guarantee they will) and watch Scorpion cut Sub-Zero's face off to let his brains slide out on the pavement will turn into a generation into of serial face-slicers. But I also know I'd hesitate to let a nine-year-old play MK X, especially a nine-year-old I was in charge of raising and ensuring didn't turn into a complete sociopath. I also know I'd probably feel a certain brand of ugly judgmental smugness, a lofty “tsk, tsk,” over any parent or guardian who didn't. There is a disconnect there that I can recognize but have trouble explaining, even to myself. Because at its core, I don't think MK X is really all that different from MK 1. Ed Boon is honestly just making the same game he has been making for 20 years. I don't think he is a different person now, that over the past two decades he really has taken the villain's part and is trying to corrupt young minds. The tone and intention of the MK series hasn't really changed at all, it's still all about silly ninja-men killing each other in completely ludicrous ways. But the technology behind that intention HAS changed. With two decades of graphical advancement and a production budget that dwarfs the cost of anything imaginable in 1992, MK X has reached a point where the fatalities and violence really ARE as gory and disturbing as the moral hand-wringers always claimed. This is the source of that disconnect for me. I've always defended the MK series as campy fun under the guise of gritty violence, and I still absolutely believe that is true. While the fatalities are not as outwardly silly as Johnny Cage uppercutting a guy so hard three heads pop off, they still rely on a completely over-the-top kind of violence that goes so far it loops back to comedy. When Kano cuts open his opponent's ribcage mid-match, only for his victim to promptly stand back up and continue fighting like nothing happened, I think there is still a sort of winking-at-the-camera comedy there. “Don't worry, none of this is too serious.” But the joke isn't as plain to see anymore, and it's even more difficult to articulate to others. There is a small shitty part of me that worries that kids won't “get it.” Ironically, part of the technological advancement that has made MK X slightly uncomfortable compared to its predecessors also ensures that there has never been an easier time for kids to circumnavigate any attempts to keep that material away from them. I mean, not that any of those efforts have ever worked. When I was a kid trying to play MK in 1992, my back-up plan if mom did ban the game was to just sneak off to the arcade or go over to a friend's house who had slightly less strict parents and play it there. Now, thanks to downloads, YouTube clip reels, and streaming Let's Play series, kids won't even have to leave the house to sneak a peek at a few fatalities. And overall, it's probably for the best. You can't stop culture or technology. Games will get gorier and crazier, and kids will find their way to them younger and younger. If little Johnny is going to eventually see a bisected brainpan or a perforated liver in full anatomical exactitude, he might as well see it in MK X; a game that is ultimately stupid and non-hateful (and I mean that in the most affectionate sense). So won't somebody think of the children? Well I have, and it's complicated and uneasy and difficult, but at the end of the day the old tricks are probably still the best tricks. Kids will play MK X, and it's going to be a little fucked up. But with proper parental oversight and a good explanation of boundaries and the divide between fantasy and reality, it shouldn't be anymore harmful than watching a 16-bit Johnny Cage awkwardly stick his foot kinda, sorta, into another digitized sprite. With that off my chest and out of my brain, I can get back to feeding Quan Chi to a buzzsaw-hat -- guilt free.
MK X Gore photo
Decapitations for the YouTube generation
When I was a little boy, Mortal Kombat was a tough sell around my home. Like most pre-adolescents of the era, I was darkly attracted to the idea of ninjas and movie stars decapitating each other in bouts of gladiatorial comba...







Back to Top


We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
What is the meaning of life, and do you have any more pizza rolls?
You may remix all content on this site under Creative Commons with Attribution
- Living the dream, Since 2006 -