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Telltale's Minecraft: Story Mode is an interesting change of pace for the series

Sep 10 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]310121:60304:0[/embed] Taking place in the world, or worlds, of Minecraft, we take on the role of Jessie, a local resident living in the wilderness along with his friends and pet pig. With the upcoming event known as Endercon approaching, sort of an in-game take on the popular Minecon, Jessie and his friends prepare for the festivities along with the rest of their community. Unfortunately, an ancient evil known as the Ender Dragon is unearthed from the nether, and wreaks havoc across the land. With Jessie and his friends being the only ones to escape, it's up to them to restore the legendary Order of the Stone, a group of powerful adventurers capable of stopping the dragon, and save the rest of the world. While it may seem unusual to try and create a specific story and narrative with predefined characters within Minecraft, which is inherently about the relative and varied user experiences, Telltale's take on Story Mode is surprisingly charming. Sure, many of the jokes focus on Minecraft-related humor and trivia, which may confuse or fall flat for those who aren't too into the adventure game, but it does a pretty admirable job of finding itself within a game world that's so varied and almost infinitely diverse. With a pretty solid voice-cast featuring Patton Oswalt, Corey Feldman, Paul Reubens, Dave Fennoy, Martha Plimpton, Ashley Johnson, and Brian Posehn, this is likely Telltale's most star-studded cast yet. During the short segment I played, we find Jessie searching through the forest for his pet pig. Gameplay will be instantly be familiar to those who've played other Telltale titles, such as The Walking Dead or Fables. You'll explore the environment looking for clues, interact with other characters, and occasionally participate in action sequences that call for well-timed responses. When Jessie was ambushed by zombies, he had to defend himself with a hastily put together wooden sword, which broke during the encounter. Eventually, his friend Petra (voiced by Ashley Johnson) saves the day and they make their way back to town. Of course, this is only the start of their troubles. Essentially, this is a very family friendly take on Telltale's past titles. Easy enough to get into, but deep enough to wonder what choices will be the best in the long run. However, one of the more interesting aspects of Story Mode is that it allows players to customize the central character Jessie. From their aesthetics to even their gender (voiced by Patton Oswalt and Catherine Taber, respectively), players will be able to build their own story and show off their character however they see fit. Given the numbers of choices and turns the story presents, it's refreshing to be able to have more of a choice in how your character looks. I'm curious to see how this title will shape up. With the first episode coming this year, Minecraft: Story Mode has some big shoes to fill. While there are many fans who may turn their nose up at such a departure from what they know from Minecraft, the developers are seeking to make a narrative that not only rewards long-time fans with a long and eventful journey through series lore, but also serves as a great opener for those who haven't taken the plunge into the quirky and incredibly popular adventure title. And it's a promising start from what I played. 
Minecraft: Story Mode photo
The Creepers will remember that
Since its announcement last year, many fans of both Mojang's Minecraft and Telltale Games were caught off guard by this union of adventure developers. With one focusing on open-ended and procedurally generated jaunts thr...

Burly Men at Sea is such a delightful adventure

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

Into the Stars is an intense Space Opera, hits early access July 9

Jul 02 // Alessandro Fillari
Into the Stars (PC, [previewed], Linux, Mac)Developer: Fugitive GamesPublisher: Iceberg InteractiveRelease date: July 9, 2015 on PC (Early Access)Set in the far future where mankind has populated the outer reaches of the known universe, you take on the role of a captain for the last human ship carrying a most precious cargo. After a war with an alien race destroys the last colony of humans, you must lead the remaining survivors and your crew on an exodus through uncharted territory in order to find a new home in Titus Nova, located in the far end of the galaxy. Along the way, you'll recruit new crew members, trade with neutral alien factions, and wage an on-going struggle with the aliens that destroyed your home planet. With the fate of many lives in your hands, you'll have to make many tough decisions in order to secure the future of humanity, while also keeping your one and only ship in working order. The developers weren't shy about sharing their influences for Into the Stars. From Battlestar Galactica, to Firefly, Star Trek, and even Guardians of the Galaxy -- the folks at Fugitive Games wanted a space adventure that emulated the same wonder and awe from classic Space Operas, while injecting a tense and hectic atmosphere that gave players the sense that one wrong move could lead to disaster. Storytelling was an important area of focus for the devs, and while there aren't really any cutscenes or dramatic set-piece moments, the players will be able to create their own captain, crew, and ship parameters (with adjustable stats and areas of focus) from scratch -- giving them freedom in how they play and choose to forge their way across the galaxy.With an entire galaxy map to explore, you'll have to choose wisely where you want to guide your ship, as many different resources are consumed during travel, and dangerous foes might rear their ugly heads. Taking place on over 90 tiles shown on the galactic map, each space represents a sector of the galaxy that can be explored. Players can freely steer their ship within the tile and explore at their own pace. Each tile possess their own unique points of interests, planets, culture, resources, and other sources of intrigue. While some randomness comes into play, the developers wanted to give the entire universe a hand-crafted look and not rely on procedural generation to fill in the blanks. And the results are quite stunning. The visuals within Into the Stars are a feast to behold, and the work from the Unreal Engine 4 shows great promise. From soaring past gas-giants, derelict spacecrafts, to massive floating artifacts from alien cultures, there's much to explore within the galaxy, and it'll take more than one playthrough to witness all the visuals. Though be warned, spending too much time in a certain section of the galaxy will attract the attention of hostile forces that wish to wipe you out.Taking cues from titles like XCOM and FTL, the developers at Fugitive Games wanted to have a strong focus on crew and resource management while gathering resources and keeping ahead of danger. Your ship will need resources and a strong crew to keep flying, and in order to keep both on the up, you'll have to take risks and even make some sacrifices. When you come across planets and installations throughout your travels, you can send probes or Away Teams (a capable team of explorers) down to the point of interest to search for resources and valuables. Though bare in mind, these places can often be dangerous and result in some deaths or harm to your ship if things go south. During one instance, we sent our away team to a remote planet and found many valuable resources with no incidents. Unfortunately, our luck wasn't so great when we went to a derelict human spaceship. An accident occurred which resulted in the deaths of some crew. [embed]295154:59311:0[/embed]As a whole, Into the Stars is a game about taking risks. While some cases may call for the occasional space heroics, most of the time you'll have to play it safe. During planetary examinations, sometimes its better to send probes, which result in a mini-game where you mine materials. Though keep in mind, the lives of your crew and your cargo of human survivors are a valuable resource as well. While traveling in space, you'll come across merchants that may sell goods at the cost of valuable materials vital to the function of your ship. While giving away minerals may be easy, in some cases merchants may request some humans for the trade. It's a pretty grim prospect, and though it may be easy to turn down a request when its first presented to you, you might be in a tight spot and have to entertain the offer. By any means necessary, your ship has to make to Titus Nova, and you may have to make some decisions that could compromise your own captain's humanity.But what would any space opera be without epic ship battles? When you encounter foes that seek to raid your ship, or just want to wipe out what's left of humanity, you'll have to defend the vessel and command your crew in a battle of wits and instinct. Unlike other space-sims, battles take place in quasi-term based format within the confines of the ship. Within the bridge, you have a clear view of the attackers, and you'll have to simultaneously adjust shields, make repairs, and strike against the enemy when the time comes. Initially, I found the battles to be a bit confusing and somewhat dense. It's all in menus, and you have to keep track of different crew attributes and ship parameters to stay one step ahead of your enemies. When making repairs, your view switches over to the engine room as you monitor hull breaches and causalities, all while the enemies are still attacking. While the smaller foes can be easily defeated, facing groups of enemy ships and some of the more massive cruisers can result in somewhat lengthy battles.I was largely impressed with Into the Stars. While we're definitely seeing an influx of space-sims as of late, this title subscribes more to the technical school of thought, rather than the focus on action and explosions. While I admit I got a bit lost during some moments, and had to consult some tutorials, I found Into the Stars to be an incredibly ambitious game that seeks to install a simultaneous sense of dread and awe from players. Not many games can get me feeling nervous while traveling through a lush and colorful galaxy filled with rich cultures and places to explore. If you're looking for something a bit more introspective and technical for your spacefaring needs, then you'll definitely want to keep an eye on Into the Stars.Into the Stars - Early Access [Steam]
Into The Stars photo
Find a crew, find a job, keep flying
The Space Sim genre has been one of the most ambitious and sought after titles from developers and fans alike. Ever since the early days of gaming, there's been a desire to craft a title that allows for exploration across a s...

Willy Chyr's Relativity is Escher art come to life

Jun 26 // Jordan Devore
I only got to play around in one world, but there are others, each with a different theme or pattern. One was straight out of House of Stairs. Their designs make a lot of sense once you know that Chyr does, among other things, installation art. It shows. Relativity is somehow his first game. He has something cool in mind for how those worlds connect, but wouldn't say any more about the transitions. I'm curious to see how everything ties together, assuming I don't get totally lost.
Relativity preview photo
Walk on walls
When you jump off a ledge in Willy Chyr's Relativity, you can keep falling. Forever. The abstract world, made up of floating platforms and puzzle rooms, loops. Why climb a huge flight of stairs when you can just "fall" to the...

Goliath eliminates the repetition found in survival games

Jun 25 // Zack Furniss
In a hands-off session with Whalebox, I got to see some of the mechanics setting Goliath apart from other survival games. Playing as a 1930s fighter pilot who finds himself in a bizarre coalescence of time periods and alternate worlds, you're as likely to find a pyramid as you are a spaceship. Or lizard people. Or spacecrafts. Oh, and you have a fancy robot arm. The arm's purpose isn't solely to make your anachronistic character look dorky; this limb serves as your axe, pick, or other resource gathering tool that you would have to create in another game. Since you start out with it, dying is less heartbreaking since you won't have to gather rocks and logs just to build tools to begin your process anew. You won't have to wait long until you can build one of the titular Goliaths. I was told that you can access the first one, the Wood Goliath, within ten minutes of starting. Whalebox wants you to get right into the fray, since you can't fight in human form. Since the denizens of the wild may find you to be a delectable treat, it's usually wise to stay in your Goliath. If it's ever destroyed, you get about 80% of your materials back so it isn't too much of a grind to get it back up and running. If you need to get out to craft or forage, you can set it on autopilot to let it fend for itself. There seem to be plenty of options as far as Goliaths go, too. You can choose from three on the fly, but there are fifteen variants of the wood, iron, stone, and crystal types. You earn these variants via achievements; for example, using long-ranged weapons often can earn you a sniper Goliath. You can also draw on them to create your own custom designs, provided you find the right berries to create paint.  The stone type was my favorite out of what was shown in the demo. There's a temperature gauge whenever you reach extreme climates, and the stone Goliath acclimates to these rapid shifts in heat. When in snow, it covers your rocky exterior and you gain a defensive bonus whereas fiery surroundings give you a magma form with flame damage. Combining all of this with head, torso, arm, and leg slots to customize means I'll be spending most of my time trying to look fashionable. We went through a few basic quests in the beginning that showed how strange this world could be. The first one that we saw was given to the player by a self-aware robot who wanted his pet robot bird back. After tracking down the bird, we learned that he had found a group of real birds and thought he belonged among their number. After that, we saw various factions, including the fantasy-esque Forest Folk (read: fox people), a group of religious robots who worship their creator, and some lizard people. You can build reputation with these groups by doing tasks for them that start simple but become complicated. Since everyone that you meet was also warped into this new world, no one trusts each other. By aligning yourself with a faction you can earn special Goliaths, but midway through the game the opposing groups find themselves in an all-out war. You had better be confident in your choice by then. Though the world is procedurally-generated, it's broken up into fifty levels called shards. They're not very large, which eliminates the need for fast travel. Since this is more structured than an average survival game, death isn't permanent. When I asked them how death would work, they had one of my favorite ideas I've heard re: video games in awhile. They're not sure if they can get this to work yet, but they want several years to pass if your character dies. When you come back, faction dynamics will change and the world will look different. Everything you knew before has been altered in some way. Cool! The story will have multiple endings and will be written by an Eisner-nominated comics writer. Though they only showed the fighter pilot, Whalebox plans on having more characters so that players can identify with what they see on-screen. They mentioned a female medieval knight who has been masquerading as male. The more options the better, as there is going to be both co-op and player versus player modes. Four-player co-op will function similarly to Borderlands, where you can drop in and out of a friend's game and get credit for completing your own quests. While the team is undecided as to how many players the versus mode will support, they are going to let you bring your own customized Goliath. A "Capture the Human" mode was also mentioned as a possibility. While Goliath sounds enormously ambitious, even the early state in which I saw it showed promise. A survival action-RPG with a focused story mode, limited repetition, and customizable giant robots is right up my alley. It'll be coming out Q1 2016 for PC, Mac, and Linux. Consoles are an eventual possibility.
Goliath preview photo
This time your arm is the tool
Survival games like Don't Starve can provide some of the best moments in gaming. The early hours of trying to fathom how this new world works, the slow strengthening of self until you gain confidence, and the s...

Super Dungeon Bros plays like garbage, with humor to match

Jun 25 // Mike Cosimano
Super Dungeon Bros takes place in Rökheim. There are four rock-themed brothers: Axl, the angry one; Freddie, the one who knows no fear; Lars, the one who keeps saying 'love' ad infinitum; and Ozzie AKA Michelangelo From TMNT, But A Rock This Time. I had to look up this information on the provided fact sheet, because the 'bros' are not characters. They have a "thing" and that "thing" is drilled into your skull like a well-placed icepick at an Italian dinner party gone wrong. Here's an example: when the party encounters some enemies, Lars can say "Careful, they've lost that lovin' feeling." This is the patent pending "Bro Banter" system, controlled by the player via the d-pad. Now, imagine hearing this line dozens of times over the course of a single dungeon run. It's a joke that would be right on the edge of amusing...if told once. And that's not even the worst of it! Ozzie's catchphrase is "That's what she said," a phrase I literally have not heard in years. When this was presented to me, I had to check my calendar to make sure I had not been trapped in some kind of 2011-centric time vortex. The Bro Banter system is supposedly reactive -- you can respond to banter from your compatriots with banter of your own, but I never got it to work organically during my play session. I did manage to get a confirmation that more recorded lines would be coming. Although I wouldn't get my hopes up for that, considering the fact that somebody told somebody else that recording a line from everyone's collective middle school experience and putting it in the game was a good idea. Playing the game is on the same level as the writing; it's bad. The characters are floaty and unresponsive, it feels like you're controlling an invisible character pushing the player character around. And the combat is somehow worse. The heavy attacks and the light attacks feel almost indistinguishable. I also found myself struggling with the controls more often than I'd care to admit in mixed company. It's not that the game is complex, it's just flat -- like a can of soda left out in the sun. The enemies feel same-y, both in terms of design and attacks. What separates an ice giant from a small goblin? Not much aside from their health bars. And when the weapons feel so inefficient, that larger health bar can be a real nuisance. Some of the loot in the full game could potentially mitigate this issue, but the game still has fundamental control issues. Maybe it was that 'last day of E3 funk', but the action made me want to take a nap. In order to complete 100% of the game, players will have to spend about 100 hours of their time with Super Dungeon Bros, which feels like a threat. The game plays terribly, and it's not amusing. Yes, it has couch co-op, but so does the excellent Diablo 3 console port. There are funnier games, there are better brawlers, there are more engaging couch multiplayer titles, there are more rewarding dungeon crawlers. Just because Super Dungeon Bros comprises all of those elements doesn't mean any of them work.
Super Dungeon Bros photo
Keep that dungeon locked
Unnecessary negativity is a blight, especially for writers. It can poison the mind and alienate the reader; a cancerous state of mind that serves nobody. Personally, I try and avoid it whenever possible. That mentality does m...

Donut County is a feel-good physics toy with flashes of Katamari Damacy

May 26 // Jordan Devore
Creator Ben Esposito describes his game as a "whimsical physics toy," and that's apt. A racoon chucks donuts from an airship and also rides a scooter, sometimes. Objects and animals topple when you trip them (and you will trip them). Puzzles feel organic, not forced. [embed]292754:58669:0[/embed] Early on, you'll discover that consuming fire and corn will cause popcorn to shoot back out of the hole (which you can then eat, obviously). Later, nabbing two rabbits results in lil babies spilling out of the pit. Another level involves interrupting an ant picnic with fireworks. The more I played, the more I didn't want to stop. The hungry hole is one of those mechanics that instantly makes sense but never seems to lose its energy or appeal. It just feels right. I wish I could've beaten the whole game in one sitting, right then and there, but this was only a preview. Donut County wont be ready for PC, Mac, and iOS until later this year. I'll be waiting. [embed]292754:58668:0[/embed]
Donut County photo
Unwinding: The Video Game
In Katamari Damacy, you roll up stuff. Small stuff, to start. Then cars, ships, buildings, mountains and, eventually, entire worlds. In Donut County, you slide an insatiable hole around to help it eat anything it can fit inside its maw. The more the hole consumes, the bigger it becomes. Where does it end up? How big can the hole grow? I'm not sure. But damn do I want to find out.

The original Kickstarter game, High Strangeness, is set for release on May 6

Apr 16 // Alessandro Fillari
High Strangeness (Linux, Mac, PC, Wii U [previewed])Developer: Barnyard Intelligence GamesPublisher: Midnight CityRelease: May 6, 2015 "As the original amount was for $1500, it's been a passion project for us," said lead developer Ben Shostak. "We've been working on it all that time since, but eventually along the way, we got picked up by Midnight City and they were able to help us get it finished up and with the art assets and other resources. We had a successful Steam Greenlight, and now we're ready for release next month." Initially taking place in middle America, a mild-mannered teenager finds that his home has been invaded by creatures resembling shadows. Soon after, he's transported to a mysterious world connected by two parallel dimensions, and after coming into contact with an ancient artifact, he's able to transition between the dimensions, which resemble 8-bit and 16-bit interpretations of the new world he inhabits. Using gadgets and several artifacts he uncovers, he begins his quest to unravel the mystery behind the shadow creatures, while trying to find his way back home. Understandably, I was a bit confused by their labeling of High Strangeness as a 12-bit adventure game, but after playing the game, it became quite clear. The main character is essentially trapped within a videogame that's having difficulties trying to reconcile its place between the between the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming. Hence, the 12-bit label. As the in-between, he's able to transition to different eras, while taking advantage of the unique visual styles, along with the physics and AI parameters of the respective eras. Similar to The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past or Secret of Mana, action takes place from an overhead view in real time. In addition to his graphical transition ability, the hero will have access to a wide range of abilities. Starting off with a flashlight, which doubles as a melee weapon, he'll gain new gadgets and abilities such as firecrackers, which can be thrown at enemies and used to destroy weak walls to find new areas. When our hero defeats foes, he'll acquire crystal eyes which can be used to spend on upgrades in the character menu. Similar to action-RPG titles, you'll be able to focus on particular traits and attributes, and build your hero out to your liking. While at first glance, it seems to be one of those titles trying a bit too hard to relive the classic era. But thankfully, the "meta-ness" of High Strangeness is much more than simple style. The transition between the bit worlds is totally by design, which will change up enemy A.I, puzzle solving, and exploration. Think Light and Dark worlds from A Link to the Past, but with videogames. For instance, 16-bit world features eight-way degree of movement, while the 8-bit world has only grid based movement. In some cases, enemies will appear more menacing and more difficult in 16-bit mode, but switching over to 8-bit mode will severely limit their attacks and movement. Moreover, certain clues and obstacles will only be present in the 8-bit areas. During the Easter Island level, I was able to see traps hidden in the ground in the 8-bit world, but for the 16-bit world, the extra graphical power allows the traps to be more well hidden. I know, it's so meta, right? And it totally works. I was kinda geeking out during my session, as it was a pretty neat nod to how self-aware it is the style and limitations of the era. It was cool seeing 16-bit versions of the common enemies, these clothed monsters with tentacles, turn into these somewhat harmless and neutered looking enemies in the 8-bit world. By the way, that friend that inspired the developers to put themselves out there on Kickstarter was Rich Vreeland, also known as Disasterpeace. Along with Dino Lionetti from Cheap Dinosaurs, Disasterpeace has also contributed some music to High Strangeness. The score is totally a love letter to the classic era, focusing heavy on chiptune arrangements that are pretty catchy, but also very exciting and ooze style. I spent a nice amount of time with High Strangeness, and I could tell I only scratched the surface of what it has in store for players. There are many dungeons and locations to explore, each with a 8-bit and 16-bit rendition, and there's even a section where you'll play as a talking cat for some reason. It sounds so ridiculous, I know it'll be really awesome to see unfold. I'm a bit of a sucker to have a game be so self-aware of its genre, and the medium itself, and High Strangeness is certainly shaping up to one of those titles that'll not be fun to play, but also to examine for the number of references and nods to the classic era. It's been a long time coming, and to finally see the original Kickstarter game project reach the finish line is pretty exciting. Granted, it's been about six years, but better now then never, right? They've made good on their commitment to the fans, and it's shaped up to be something quite special.
High Strangeness photo
A super-meta jaunt through through 12-bit gaming
Ever since the big Kickstarter boom of 2012, there's never been a short supply of developers looking to get their next title going through crowdfunding. From metroidvania action-RPG titles referencing the golden years of game...

Beyond Eyes abstracts the world as perceived by a blind girl

Mar 18 // Darren Nakamura
Representing blindness through a primarily visual medium is tricky. I can imagine a game that goes whole hog, only showing what a blind person skilled with echolocation can perceive, but then most players would shut down and quit. Beyond Eyes takes a more user-friendly approach; protagonist Rae can sense her immediate surroundings, which remain displayed for the player to see, leaving a painted landscape in Rae's wake. Some particularly noteworthy sounds and smells are displayed more prominently, or from further away. The PAX demo began with a church bell tolling in the distance, highlighting a sort of goal point to work toward. There were also notable aromas to follow, represented as visible gossamer wisps drawing Rae near. Even with the ability to paint her immediate surroundings, controlling Rae can be a bit jarring at times. Sometimes she'll be walking toward a brook, expecting the path to slope downward toward the water, when suddenly a huge stone bridge appears, giving an entirely new shape to the expected landscape. Other times she will be walking along a path with just empty space ahead, only to be stopped abruptly by a house that wasn't visible two steps before. More interesting is watching Rae's perceptions change as she gains new information. Early on in the demo, she interacted with some crows, and she did not like them. She curls up her arms over her body when she gets near things that frighten her, and the crows had that effect. Later on, she nears a chicken enclosure, but from far away she can only tell that there are birds inside of it. She imagines them as giant crows, and doesn't seem keen on investigating more closely. When she does near the chickens and she realizes what they are, they morph from the smooth black birds to fluffy white ones. Near the end of the playable section, there was an ominous black cloud. It clearly frightens Rae; it's loud and messy, but it isn't immediately obvious what it is. After she cautiously walks to it and interacts with a nearby object, players hear the screeching tires of a braking vehicle and the beeps of a modern crosswalk. The black cloud parts, allowing her safe passage across the street. Upon reflection, this scene was powerful in a sort of tragic way. We often take for granted something as mundane as crossing a busy street, but for Rae, all she really knew about it was that it was dangerous. She didn't even have a clear picture in her head of what the street was; all she could tell was that she could be seriously hurt if she came too close to it. The only real complaint I had with Beyond Eyes was with the controls, and even then I can't help but think that the issues are deliberate. Directing Rae is sluggish; starting to move from a standstill or changing direction take some time. Her normal walking speed is slow. Similarly, interacting with objects doesn't always seem to work, and when it does it still takes a bit of time to execute. Thematically, this could be another representation of Rae's blindness; she doesn't know exactly where she is with respect to the environment, so she needs a little bit of extra time to feel it out. Even so, as a player who wanted to paint as much of the world in color as possible, Rae's slow movement was frustrating, at least in the context of being at an appointment at PAX East and wanting to make sure I got the full experience. Perhaps at home it will be easier to play in a more relaxed state where the overall speed isn't as much of a bother. In all, the way Beyond Eyes handles its central conceit is commendable. Though representing blindness through colorful environments seems contradictory at first, it has some clever ideas in using the player's visual information as an abstraction for Rae's other senses. A few of these ideas showed up in the short PAX demo, and I am intrigued to see what else can be done with Rae and her painted world.
Beyond Eyes preview photo
Ironic beauty
I have been following Beyond Eyes since I first heard about it a year and a half ago. Videogames can be powerful tools for relating experiences that may otherwise be difficult to comprehend. Blindness both fascinates and terr...

Talk turns technical with Masquerada: Songs and Shadows' Ian Gregory

Mar 18 // Rob Morrow
[embed]289169:57825:0[/embed] While discussing these various systems, the word synergy came up many times during our brief chat. It became obvious that the team has put a lot of thought into how each classes' skills can and should complement the others, ensuring that no single character is ever considered the "best." As such, each character class has specific strengths and weaknesses, but if each are used effectively, players can manipulate the battlefield by splitting up and isolating creatures from large mobs, as well as maximize the group's damage output potential by layering the classes' complimentary spells and skills into the more lethal combined attacks. Gregory showed me several examples of how the different classes could work together to greater effect. For example, using a pull-like Void spell to gather enemies into a tight group could be combined with a well-timed use of the Sicario's Fissure ability -- a charge attack that damages all enemies in its path -- to maximize your damage output. Another method of combining the group's unique characteristics would be to leverage their elemental capabilities. An example of this would again make use of the water-based Void ability, but this time, instead of lining up enemies for an efficient physical attack, another character's lightning ability could come into play, electrocuting the drenched mob. Positioning on the battlefield also has additional importance in Masquerada. Gregory notes that "all player characters, NPCs, and enemies have armor (seen in the video above as color-coded circles surrounding each character) that must be dealt with before being able to damage them directly." For example, character's attempting to tangle with foes head-on will find themselves dealing damage only to that foe's armor until it can be destroyed. However, armor mitigates only half the damage dealt to a target when struck from the flank and attacks to the rear cause full damage to a target, rendering armor useless. A side note to armor is that the player character's armor has the capacity to regenerate unlike an enemy's, which is rendered useless after a certain number of attacks. Also, certain characters, such as the Sicario, can sacrifice armor altogether for an added boost to damage output at the risk of becoming injured in the act. Character skills are another important aspect that warrants explanation when discussing Masquerada's combat systems. As shown in the video, each character has a row of different abilities at their disposal in the action bar. Gregory notes that anyone familiar with Dota 2 or League of Legends will have a general idea of how to use them from the onset, e.g.,  after each use of a particular ability it won't be available again until its cool-down timer refreshes. One big difference in the way Masquerada handles skills is in how they evolve over time. Witching Hour Studios has chosen to eschew experience points altogether. Instead, at certain key points in the game's story each character will be issued a set amount of skill points to spend in their respective skill trees. This not only avoids tedious grinding, but it ensures that the developers have a good handle on all of the potential outcomes of character development and can tailor the game's encounter difficulty accordingly. Also, each skill can be modified as you progress further in the game, allowing you to tailor characters to your particular play style. Gregory gives a specific example of this when talking about upgrading Cicero's teleportation skill, Zephyr. In this instance, Zephyr can go two ways: offensively or defensively. The offense-oriented modification blasts out hot air when Cicero re-appears and the defensive modification blasts cold air to freeze enemies at Cicero’s original location, buying him valuable time to recover or cast other spells. As the "pause-for-tactics" descriptor indicates, all aspects of Masquerada's combat can play out in real time or the game can be paused to enter a tactical mode by hitting the spacebar for more contemplative and complex setups. You can of course use a mixture of the two if you wish. It's up to the player on how they decide to enjoy the game. However, as mentioned earlier in the article, the game's combat is designed around leveraging each of the character's special abilities in concert with the others to achieve the greatest effect, so the tactical mode will probably be necessary for the more dangerous encounters. A year seems like a long way out to be this intrigued about a game, but I must admit, after getting some quality hands-on experience coupled with Gregory's intricate and passionately detailed description of the mechanics, Masquerada: Songs and Shadows has turned out to be one of my first most-anticipated games coming out next year.
Masquerada preview photo
Character synergy, combat, and skill systems detailed
While at PAX East, I was fortunate enough to schedule a chat with the co-founder and creative director of Singapore-based Witching Hour Studios, Ian Gregory, to talk about the studio's beautiful upcoming "...

RIVE was my favorite twin-stick shooter at PAX East

Mar 17 // Rob Morrow
Once safely out of the asteroid belt and into the facility, RIVE began to look a lot more familiar. My spider-like vehicle scuttled across floors, tracking baddies with its 360-degree auto-cannon and laying waste to the swarms of fast-moving enemies that attempted to impede my progress. RIVE mixes up the intensely satisfying shooting elements with a healthy dose of action platforming as you make your way deeper into the facility. Jumping is controlled with the left trigger, which at first felt awkward but, according to Ginkel, was a necessary concession to accommodate the game's right stick-controlled aiming mechanics. After a few successful hops and double-jumps, the ground-based movement began to feel natural to me again, allowing me to track enemies mid-air and deliver a hail of bullets in full 360 degrees, creating a colorful light show of explosions intermixed with charred bits of enemy debris. As I blasted my way deeper into the facility I began to pick up consumable items. Only three were available in the preview build; two offensive and one pickup that would replenish health. EMP projectiles that could freeze enemies in place with an electromagnetic pulse and homing missiles were the two offensive types on offer. Out of the two, I would always go with the missiles -- stunning your enemies is nice, but turning them into scrap is nicer. Hacks also played a big role in the game, adding some interesting tactical opportunities if used inventively. You start off picking up one that will allow you to override security systems, unlocking doors that bar your path. The next one you find allows you to hack Lifebots, floating drones that will top off the health of whomever is in control of them at the time. One really handy use I found for the Lifebot was in one of the two boss battles in the preview. By taking control of it, I could stay below the boss pouring out the damage while my floating medic topped me off with health, mitigating any damage that I took in the process. Lastly, you'll discover a hack that will allow you to take control of the pesky Kamikaze bots encountered throughout the levels. Once in control of them, a zero-g field radiates out, creating a sphere you can hop into and use for a lift to reach previously inaccessible sections in the level. Wrapping up the demonstration, I joked with Ginkel about how radically different RIVE is from Two Tribes' previous games. He nodded in agreement and grinned proudly as we watched PAX attendees blast their way through the beautiful shooter displayed on the large monitor before us. It truly is a gorgeous title, but it's got the chops to back up the good looks in spades. If RIVE's any indication of the future direction of the development studio, I think we're all in for a treat. While the puzzle platformer Toki Tori 2 is a solid title in its own regard, I'm really happy that the studio went in this new action-oriented direction. RIVE just does so many things right you'd think its creators had been designing shooters all along. RIVE is tentatively scheduled for a Q1 2015 release on PC, PS4, Wii U, and Xbox One
RIVE preview photo
Family-friendly puzzle platformer this game is not
When I learned that Netherlands-based Two Tribes Studios (Toki Tori & Toki Tori 2) was bringing its snazzy metal-wrecking, robot-hacking, twin-stick shooter RIVE to PAX East this year, I jumped at the...

It's easy to zone out in the open ocean of Windward

Mar 16 // Darren Nakamura
It's easy to understand how Windward did this to me: it has a gameplay loop similar to Civilization's. Though it plays nothing like Sid Meier's strategy series, it sets the player up with an unending series of very small tasks to accomplish. Finish one, and the next seems like another quick jaunt. With few clear stopping points, this can go on ad infinitum. The most highlighted gameplay feature of Windward is its action-RPG ship combat. Ship cannons can only fire off the sides, always perpendicular to the ship's movement. It sets up a unique combat choreography where each ship vies for position to the bow or stern of its target. In the beginning, this means a lot of circle strafing until one ship sinks the other, but eventually some special abilities unlock and things get a bit more interesting. While the always-on cannon fire and the more powerful triggered volleys can only target enemies to the sides, most of the special abilities work with a full 360-degree range. These include bathing an area in burning alcohol, noxious gas, or obscuring fog. With these, hit-and-run tactics become more viable, chipping enemies down from afar before dropping anchor, taking a hard turn, and letting loose on any pursuers. [embed]289081:57795:0[/embed] Though the ship combat is the most advertised feature, it isn't what I spend most of my time doing. Underneath it are a handful of different systems that give players more to do. A campaign consists of a few dozen connected areas, each procedurally generated. Taking over all of the towns in an area will allow players to assert control, and the full campaign involves controlling as many areas as possible. Closer to the center of the world map, the the neutral pirate faction is a bigger threat, so players must grow on the way. This involves picking up new pieces of gear; there are improved hulls, sails, cannons, crews, and even captains to be found as random drops or through missions. The missions give players tasks after the pirate threat has been eliminated from an area (or before, for the daring). These often involve delivering an item between cities or neutralizing a recently spawned pirate ship. Completing a mission will level up the city where it was taken on, giving it new items to purchase. Additionally, there is an economy where cities will have surpluses and shortages of commodities, so a good chunk of cash can be earned by playing the market, buying low and selling high. This is what I spend a lot of time on. I will enter a new area, clear it of pirates as soon as I can, and then live the life of a seafaring merchant, mapping out the most efficient paths in order to maximize the return. In practice, it means I sail to a city, take on a mission or two, load up some cargo (with a destination that matches the mission), then sail to the next city. Each trip takes a minute or two, so the barrier to starting up one more trip is always low. Then before I know it, I have spent another hour and circumvented a map a few times just completing missions, leveling up cities, and collecting my rewards. It's a little strange, because I'm not entirely sure that it's fun in the classic sense. The combat is certainly the more exciting portion of Windward, and especially when resistance ramps up and it takes a fleet to drive the pirates out. Still, I more often find myself just sailing across the bright blue ocean, listening to the calm tropical music, and planning out the route to my next big score.
Windward preview photo
Avast ye salty dog
The PAX East expo floor is one of the least peaceful places to play a game. There are sweaty crowds, children who haven't learned to use their inside voices, and booths blasting dance music and/or eSports commentary. And yet,...

Harebrained Schemes nails it once again with Necropolis

Mar 10 // Rob Morrow
Another noteworthy difference between the games is the absence of a rolling mechanic in Necropolis. The analog in Harebrained's title is the dash ability -- once tapped, your character will hop back a short distance. By limiting the character's ability to quickly roll out of the way of danger, Necropolis' combat feels riskier to me. Obviously, you can use the dash to escape from danger, but the distance you travel is much shorter, so it may take a few stamina-draining hops to get far enough away from an enemy to avoid its attacks. Before I move on to discussing the game's environments, I wanted to add one last thing about the combat systems that I found intriguing, and that's what the team refers to as its "living ecology of threats." I'd read about it before but with scant details available at the time and wasn't sure what to make of it. In the demo, however, its use was made very clear -- the Gem Eater, or as we've described him, the Shark Man -- has an insatiable appetite for (you guessed it) gems. And, as it happens, the Grine creatures mentioned before are composed of a crystalline substance that the hulking monster finds irresistible. [embed]288700:57694:0[/embed] Mike McCain, art director for the project, tipped me off on this, suggested that instead of going toe to toe with the brute that perhaps I should use him to my advantage instead. McCain pointed out a nearby mob of Grine and advised me to kite the beast in, letting him do what came naturally. As soon as he spotted his prey, he forgot about me entirely and began battling my foes for me. This opened up a wonderful tactical opportunity as I could swiftly and safely move in for a few strikes, gradually chipping away at his health before inevitably having to face off with him by myself once he was through with the Grine. Where Necropolis really sets itself apart is outside of combat, however. As you can see in MMORPG's footage of the PAX demo above, the procedurally generated environments have a stylish and clean look to them, standing in stark contrast to the oppressively gritty-looking From titles that helped inspire it. Necropolis' gorgeous low-poly environments look almost dream-like in their abstract, geometric structure and layout. It's quite impressive, really. For a title that's going for such a minimalistic design, the effect is paradoxically lavish when taken in as a whole. The game also differentiates itself from typical roguelikes in its approach to level design. Harebrained Schemes manages to trick the eye in the way that it handles the procedural elements; the end effect looks more like preplanned environments than randomly assembled rooms tacked together. If you didn't know that the levels were being procedurally generated with each new game, it would be easy to come away thinking that the layouts you'd just played were static. I'm not sure if it's the utilization of wide-open spaces where you can look out into the distance or stare down into an abyss that makes it feel so, but in any case, the effect works very well. Out of all the titles that I saw at this year’s PAX East, it was a no-brainer to choose Harebrained Schemes' stunning new action-roguelike as one of the two games that I would select for my editor’s choice awards for the show. Its elegant and thoughtful combat, both familiar and new, was an absolute pleasure to experience firsthand. For fans of third-person action games, especially those who enjoy From Software’s titles, Necropolis is one to fix firmly on your radar.
Necropolis preview photo
Murderous beauty
As I explored the opening area of Harebrained Schemes' third-person action roguelike Necropolis at PAX East 2015, I discovered an inviting treasure chest. Upon opening it, I realized too late that I wasn’t alone in that...

Firewatch has topless teens, meaty hands, and mystery

Mar 09 // Steven Hansen
Henry clambers up rocks in the Wyoming wilderness with some effort. When I walked towards a little broken bridge, the distance between the side was so small that I felt, in other games, I might be able to walk right over it without jumping. For Henry, it required a little wind up, a jump, and a moment to steady himself on the other side. This mundane pace isn't a slog, it's an important part of Henry's characterization. And, so far, it is there without feeling "unfun," if that's a worry for you. It is restrained, but not patience taxing, and you're constantly engaged in radio dialogue while milling about (atypical in narrative/dialogue heavy games that have you focused on text or choices at the expense of movement). It is Henry's first day on the job as a park lookout. On the other end of his radio is his supervisor, Delilah. They are surprisingly glib for being recently acquainted, especially given their professional dynamic, but otherwise the dialogue felt natural. Except for Henry's bumbled, "p-p-p-p-p-p-panties." [embed]280443:55506:0[/embed] Tasked with investigating some fireworks, Henry finds an abandoned camp with fireworks and booze strewn about. I opted to hang onto the still full whisky bottle, which Henry assured me was a good brand. After kicking out the fire, you can follow a trail of undress all the way to the lake. Delilah is unfazed by reports of bras and underwear, and maybe even chastised Henry's bumbling use of the word "panties," which, c'mon, "underwear" is fine. Down at the lake the two nude swimmers in the distance are illegible against the sun and real creeped out by the weird old guy wandering around. You can yell at them (or ask nicely) to quit with the fireworks, or just throw their boombox into the lake and kill their tunes. They also issue Henry a sick burn in the form of a Sizzler buffet joke. I am pro Sizzler jokes forever. More intrigue abounds as day gives way to a brilliant blue night. A mysterious figure in the distance that Delilah assures you is just a hiker becomes more ominous when you find your lookout tower broken into. What Firewatch has done right in this piece of the game so far, removed from the overall narrative, is provide enough grounding detail to its gorgeous world. That and use the radio mechanic to weave "choose a response" style dialogue divergence a bit more neatly into walk-and-talk play.
Firewatch hands-on photo
Firewatch with me
I've been firewatching out for Campo Santo's new 'exploration mystery' since hearing about the talent behind it. Artist Olly Moss, Mark of the Ninja designer Nels Anderson, and season one The Walking Dead ...

Planet of the Eyes is a treacherous place for Polaroid robots

Mar 06 // Darren Nakamura
Indeed, the most striking element of Planet of the Eyes is its art direction. The vivid blues and purples and the sharp edges look amazing. In a conversation with Destructoid, writer Will O'Neill described the art design as retro futuristic, which is evident from the protagonist, a robot whose head resembles an old Polaroid camera. The planet itself is more organic, featuring the titular eyes on tendrils that just seem to want to watch the havoc. Early on in the demo, the robot finds an ominous audio log from a gravelly-voiced man. Addressed to the robot, it hints at the bot's function and at what the player might find on the adventure. It ends with an apology, perhaps in advance for all of the horrible deaths awaiting the robot. The environment is hostile, and survival requires the player to be alert. A lot has been put into making the traps feel ominous, where a pillar teeters for a few seconds before crushing the robot or the ground slowly sinks away. With enough wits, the player can react and push through, but the tension of an imminent death is special in its own way. [embed]288688:57638:0[/embed] The puzzle section featured fairly standard gameplay. I found myself pushing and pulling on objects to circumvent deadly obstacles, and sometimes setting in motion the very things that would crush or maim me. The more action-oriented half of the demo focused more on precision timing over bottomless pits or spikes that seem to take pleasure in skewering hapless passersby. It betrays slightly loose control, where the robot seems slow to respond at times. With constantly toppling platforms it got pretty dicey toward the end. Cococucumber has been quietly working on Planet of the Eyes for a couple years, and the studio is closing in on a final release. The puzzle platformer blazed through Steam Greenlight in just four days, and is set to come out in summer or fall of this year.
Planet of the Eyes photo
I always feel like somebody's watching me
Crash landing on an alien planet is the worst. There's hazardous flora, deadly fauna, and even rock formations that seem to have some sort of blood lust. That just piles on top of the existential crisis of being a robot with ...

Volume is a more thoughtful approach to Metal Gear Solid VR Mission-like stealth

Mar 05 // Steven Hansen
[embed]288637:57627:0[/embed] You do move around in real time, somersaulting over low walls and sticking to others for cover, but Volume isn't about hunting, human-like AI (especially not with the standard pawns). If you're spotted and cut enough corners to get away or duck into a locker, guards will simply reposition and you'll have another chance to get past them correctly. Thanks to plentiful checkpoints, each level -- there will be 100 -- acts as a series of connected stealth puzzles that tasks you with getting all the little blips and getting out.  Locksley will also be outfitted with gadgets picked up on the scene. You can hold one at a time and they add to the mind teasing. The Oddity will attract the undivided attention of any guard in sight, Figment sends a ghost clone running in a line, Mute will silence your footsteps so you can run, and so on. One other nice thing about the checkpoint system is that every time you die and get sent back, the stage timer reverts to whatever time it was at when you first activated the checkpoint. That way one screw up won't kill a leader board run or require you to replay the entire level from start. While I was enjoying sneaking about and feeling out how Volume plays, there is some story here as a, "near future retelling of the Robin Hood legend" starring the voice talents of Andy Serkis (Lords of the Rings, Enslaved) and Jim Sterling (Destructoid). There will also be hefty map-making and customization options to play with.
Volume preview photo
From the creator of Thomas Was Alone
Volume is a fitting name for a polygonal, Metal Gear Solid VR Missions-looking stealth game with enough rectangles to feed a geometry class for the entire year. In the case of Mike Bithell's Thomas Was Alone follow-up, howeve...

Y2K is a surrealist fantasy told through the lens of a Murakami-loving hipster

Feb 26 // Brittany Vincent
[embed]288166:57516:0[/embed] Instead, I found myself annoyed and impatient. And uncomfortable. The music played on, instilling a sense of "everything's going to be okay, but at the same time it's totally not." Like going home when you've got a terrible report card in the mailbox, or when you receive a text message stating that you and your significant other "need to talk" but there's no context as to what kind of talk you're going to have. And then, as if to make matters worse in every way, your cell signal goes out.  I couldn't shake that uneasy feeling as the game progressed. Alex eventually arrived at the bus station to an empty town, with clear streets as far as the eye could see save for a pair of girls on bicycles. I stood in front of them hoping I could stop them, and one did stop to look at me, but continued on her way. Unfortunately, before then Alex had already immediately begun flapping his gums as I followed the floating objective text on-screen to "go home." I didn't have subtitles to keep my interest (I assume due to the early nature of the build I was using) so his needlessly verbose narration fell on deaf ears most of the time, especially when he started describing how he never left the house. There's a time and place for self-indulgent reflective dialogue, but fresh off the bus wasn't it.  At that point I realized I wasn't sure how I felt about the game, having been irritated nonstop by a constant flow of "look at how unique we're being!" design decisions and Alex's narration. I was thankful for the eventual dialogue boxes that popped up later on during exploration to keep me engaged while my eyes darted around elsewhere, though Alex's insistence on making droll comments about the world around him nearly pushed me to exit the game several times over. It wasn't until I finally exited Alex's house later on and ventured further into the game world that I truly marveled at what lay before me. I knew it would be the killer aesthetic -- not the burgeoning narrative surrounding the so-called "Death Cab" or the offbeat protagonists -- that would take me in the end. The lush greenery of the forest I ended up in while chasing a wayward cat with a Salvador Dalí mustache blew me away. The faux-spritery of not-quite 3D and not completely anti-aliased character models struck me as charming and nostalgic, but the empty streets and uninspired layout of Alex's home didn't do much to convince me of Y2K's potential beauty. Neither did the amateurish anime-styled portraits of each speaking character, who seemed like they belonged in a Ren'py visual novel rather than an ambitious role-playing game with a unique art style. It looks as though this may have changed in newer builds of the game, but I've not yet gotten my hands on one.  Once I got into the overworld proper, however, I drank in the sights. I ran through a golden field during sundown to chase after the cat who got away from me. I made mental comparisons to games before Y2K who perfected this look (El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron and Killer7 came to mind) and I began to enjoy myself a whole lot more when faced with whimsical locations on the map that still gave the impression I was alone in the world, but in a beautiful, far-off place. This feeling, of course, persisted when I made my way outside the limits of Alex's sleepy hometown and into some decidedly otherworldly places simply by following a silly little cat a la Toru Okada in Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I won't spoil things here for those interested, but there's a weird world of surrealism waiting to open up to you in Y2K after the normality seems to wear off, and I know I want to see more.  A turn-based battle system steeped in combos and rhythmic button press blocks was a delightful surprise as well, calling forth visions of the better of the Japanese RPG pool. That's not a huge surprise as the team at Ackk Studios have stated time and time again that one of their goals with Y2K is to take from the best aspects of classic JRPG battle mechanics and leave the rest behind.  Predictably, Alex is an audiophile and throws LPs at enemies. Attacking and defending was a little more tiresome than your usual “press X to dodge” systems and takes some getting used to, but it was satisfying and suitably jarring when I took damage. There were hints that a deeper, more fulfilling system was at work, and one I’m interested to investigate further.  Now, as I write this I think back on the strange experience that was Ackk Studios' ambitious title and hope for the best when it's finally released. I must have sat through its opening non-sequitur about twenty times before I got into the game proper: "The needle of the record player has dropped...the sound that the world will hear will change the very nature of reality." Blah blah blah needle, record, blah blah pseudophilosophical musical analogy, fade to black. It's exactly what I hoped there wouldn't be any of in a game that bills itself as a "postmodern RPG," and right there it was as soon as I got started. It bled through every single pore of the game, from Alex's character design to the insistence on including LPs as weapons and the phrase "sick beats."  And yet, I'm intrigued. In many ways it may feel derivative and frustratingly devoted to keeping up appearances as wacky for the sake of being wacky, but I think there's something special at work here too. Something genuine. I'm sure I'll find it lurking beneath the panda gimmickry and silliness, and for that reason I want to see more...even if it's just to find out if the rest of the game plays like a love letter to Haruki Murakami. I'm hoping that it will. 
Y2K preview photo
Breaking records with every battle, literally
Y2K began with protagonist Alex Eggleston returning to his his hometown from college. I watched him gaze out of bus windows until the scene shifted to him sharing a seat with a man in a panda costume. This was jarring enough to give Alex reason to look completely shaken and offended, and as the jaunty soundtrack suggested, should have felt super quirky and weird. It didn't.

We've got to go to Mars in Offworld Trading Company

Feb 26 // Jason Faulkner
[embed]288239:57517:0[/embed] I'm no math genius, but the Martian market is simple enough that it only takes a few minutes to pick up the basics. There are 13 resources that make up your stockpiles. Some of them, like power, water, food, oxygen and fuel, are required for basic operations. If you don't produce these yourself, you'll face a constant drain of funds as you're forced to buy them for a steadily increasing rate off the market. Aluminum, iron, carbon, and silicon are your basic building blocks. These are collected straight from the source and into your coffers. Steel, chemicals, glass, and electronics, must be refined in their own facilities from simpler materials, and typically give the highest return. Each resource can be bought and sold on the market, and this is how you'll be making your fortune. So without massive armies, how do you beat your opponent? You buy them out. Each company on the playing field has both a total price value, and stocks available for purchase. The easiest way to victory is by purchasing a companies stocks until you're able to get 100% owned, at which point you'll take management of their operations. The tricky part is that your company is public as well, so you have to balance keeping control of your own company by purchasing your stock, as well as attempting to take control of others. Buying stock, as well as paying off debt raises a company's price, while selling it, or getting hit by black market attacks, lowers their value. Most of the time, it pays to buy some and then lower the opposition's value before buying another batch. If another company (or yourself) own 100% of their own stocks, it becomes rather expensive to take over as you'll have to pony up the total price, cash money. I found that to really effectively control the market, I had to specialize. When I first started playing, I just tried to rake in as much of every resource as I could, but I found that I never had enough of any of them to produce a steady supply of the big selling materals. I changed my approach to work with the type of business model my headquarters was aligned with. For the expansionist headquarters, I claimed as much carbon and iron as I could to turn into steel as their need for the resource is much lower than other models. With a robotic HQ, their lack of use for glass allowed for a surplus. Scavengers high output of carbon allowed me to focus on chemical production. Lastly, scientists' ability to build hydrolysis farms directly on water hexes, and electronics plants on silicon, carbon, or aluminum hexes had me harvesting and selling food and electronics at a tremendous rate. When everyone has the same rules, to get ahead you've gotta break them. That's where the black market comes in. If you need extra claims, you can buy them here for an increasing fee. There are EMP blasts to knock your opponents buildings off line in a six hex radius, and a power surge that does the same thing but chains from building to building in a line. You can sabotage resource hexes with an underground nuke, which when used lowers the deposit level of a targeted hex by one. Dynamite lets you blow up a single building. You can also pay opposition workers to mutiny for a time which diverts the targeted building's resources to your HQ for a little while. Alas, the only defensive option is the "goon squad" which protects a hex from any of the above effects. Not all buildings are for collecting and producing resources. There are five of them that allow you to get an edge on the competition. The patent office allows exclusive access to technologies that vastly improve your ability to produce energy and collect resources. Also helping with resource collection is the engineering lab that utilizes the chemical resoures to upgrade collection rate up to four times for each material. The hacker network allows you to spread disinformation that can raise or lower the price of a particular resource momentarily. To keep your workers relaxed and spending their hard earned cash, you can build the pleasure dome which generates a steady stream of resource independent revenue. The most important of these though, is the launch pad, that allows you to launch 100 units of a particular resource to Earth at a time for massive profits. I felt that all of the buildings added to the game's dynamic except for the hacker network. Its effects were too temporary to really waste the time fooling with it. There are limitations in place though. Each player only has a limited number of hexes they can claim, and to raise them, resources must be spent on upgrading your headquarters. This is one system of the game I felt lacking. Once your HQ is level 5 and you've built out all your squares, there are times where you're going to be just sitting and waiting to be able to take your next action. There are random claims auctions, both for an extra general claim that you can use on any square, and for high resource squares, but they can be few and far between. Sure you can buy claims on the black market, but this is one part of the game that felt stifling, like it was there just to slow you down. I would have liked to see a more complex real estate and land claims system integrated into the Martian stock market. I think an opportunity was missed by not adding land valuation to Offworld Trading Company and I hope that future updates will show us something a bit more interesting in those regards. Although the beginning of a round is a bit slow, as you gradually build up funds to get that next building or mine operational the action builds with a frantic crescendo. In the late game it requires all of your attention lest you fail to sell at the right point or trigger a black market buff before your competition buys more of your stock. The problem I had though, is that the end of each game feels so anti-climatic. There's no capital city taken, or fanfare, just a pink slip if you lose, or a victory message when you win. In fact, because of the feeling of disconnect between your operations and your rival's, sometimes the game ended so abruptly it took me by surprise. I believe the primary problem with the game as of right now is the lack of information displayed about your rival companies. For a game that is basically an animated spreadsheet, aside from building management and targeting for the black market, there is a stunning lack of graph or statistics integration with the main user interface. You can access information about historical stock prices, how many of each resource you and your rivals have bought and sold, building numbers, and so on, but the menu it is held in is completely separate from the game. This makes it to where if you want to use this info to say, use the hacker network to drop the price of the resource your rival is making their money off of, you have to enter a separate menu, analyze the information, exit the menu, and then execute your action. With all the real-estate on screen, I hope that Stardock ends up integrating the user interface and statistics readouts before the game's official release. I have to admit, although I was intrigued when I first saw Offworld Trading Company, I never thought I would have as much fun with it as I did. There's quite a bit of balancing left to be done, and the whole experience is still rough around the edges, but it's got a truly unique play style. For someone looking for the mid-ground between a action-packed RTS like Starcraft and the menu driven depth of Crusader Kings, this game might be for you. For now though, unless you're absolutely sure that you want to take the plunge, a drop from the $39.99 price tag for Early Access might be worth waiting for. It's a very different game, and it's a bit too much money to gamble on something that is so hard to quantify by comparison to another title. However, with the quality of this early of a release, this title bears watching.
Offworld Trading Company  photo
Start the reactor
In a future where corporate greed has depleted the Earth's resources, humanity has taken to space to acquire the goods needed for survival. The asteroid belt was supposed to be the great salvation, an almost limitless bastion...

The first three rounds of Sid Meier's Starships are not enough

Feb 24 // Darren Nakamura
Sid Meier's Starships (iPad, Mac, PC [previewed])Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: March 12, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit I don't mean to hate on Starships just yet. In fact, a lot of the design decisions make perfect sense from a gameplay perspective. It makes sense for a tactical combat game to begin with only a few units rather than an army. It makes sense to enclose arenas for the combatants to actually encounter one another. These elements make for a good game, but they run counter to the narrative of taking control of the Milky Way. Starships is broken up into two distinct sections that affect one another. Resource management and area control take place on the galaxy map, while combat occurs zoomed in to a piece of a solar system within that galaxy. By influencing planets on the galaxy map, players gather resources and eventually take control of sectors. The resources are similar to those found in Civilization: Beyond Earth, but with a few tweaks to their functions. Food is still used to increase population, which raises the overall resource output of a planet. Science is used to upgrade technologies to buff starship systems. Metal (formerly production) is used to construct buildings on planets, providing specific resource increases and other effects. Energy is used to add ships to the fleet or to install new or upgraded systems onto existing ships. Credits are a new piece of the puzzle, used to convert to any of the other resources, or to buy influence on a planet. [embed]286382:56944:0[/embed] By moving the fleet around the galaxy map, the player can initiate combat encounters. These take place on a two-dimensional hex grid centered around the planet of interest, sometimes featuring moons and filled with an inordinate amount of asteroids. On a turn, players can activate their ships in any order. For each ship activation, it gets some amount of movement depending on its component makeup, and one action that can be executed before, during, or after movement. A major selling point of Starships is the customization of the titular vessels. Energy can be spent to upgrade weapons systems, armor, stealth, sensors, and more. The more stuff a ship has piled onto it, the slower it will move, so engine upgrades are key for tactical maneuverability. One neat thing: as the ships are tweaked with new parts, their stated classes automatically update. The basic corvettes can eventually become cruisers, destroyers, or battleships with the right gear. There is no strictly correct setup for a fleet. In my first run through the preview build, I engaged in a few battles that emphasized sensors, and a few others that allowed only my flagship. For my second playthrough, I beefed up my flagship and neglected my others, but came across a different set of encounters. The variety in combat missions is an unexpected treat. The objectives range from simple (destroy all enemy ships) to complex (control three outposts at once) to just strange (navigate through an asteroid maze in a set number of turns). Each round on the galaxy map, players have a certain amount of fatigue to spend before being forced to take shore leave and end the turn. This usually amounts to about three combat missions per player per round. Combat missions can run quickly, with some taking as few as five minutes, though I can imagine that when larger fleets clash, it could draw battles out. Although there is a resource management aspect, it doesn't require nearly as much micromanagement as a typical Civilization game does. There are only a few types of upgrades for a planet, a handful of technologies to research, and marginal differences between the three Affinities introduced in Beyond Earth. Upgrades are purchased instantaneously rather than built up over time. It has a certain rhythm to it. The galaxy map is a strategy exercise, where influence over certain planets and adjacency to other players is important. These strategy considerations are punctuated by the tactical battles around each planet. The constant switching between the big picture and several small theaters is a little tough to get a hang of at first, but it helps to inject some variety into the experience. After the third round, just as I felt like I was getting the hang of it, the preview build ended. Three rounds played in less than an hour, and on my second playthrough I had covered about 20% of the galaxy. Though I can't say for sure how long an average game would run, a full Starships game is definitely meant to be less of an undertaking than a run through Civilization. Therein stems the one concern I have for Starships. From a pure gameplay perspective, the board game-like combat and area control work well together. As a followup to Beyond Earth, where the playground now includes the entire galaxy rather than a single planet, the simpler scope is counter to the conceit. Conquering the Milky Way should be an enormous endeavor, but everything here just feels small.
Sid Meier's Starships photo
A taste of what's to come
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth released to mixed reactions. I loved how it took the took the classic gameplay to alien worlds, and I especially appreciated its underlying narrative about the future of the human race. ...

Breach & Clear: Deadline is a surprisingly good action-RPG

Feb 05 // Jason Faulkner
[embed]287208:57182:0[/embed] Although there are some kinks to work out before release, the core gameplay feels solid. The game is played from an isometric perspective, and focuses on small-unit combat using the four soldiers who make up your squad. This game does something I absolutely love, and that is the ability to switch instantly from a turn-based command mode to real-time combat. I love turn-based games, but if this whole game was turn-based it would be a slog fest. Being able to real-time single zombies or small groups without having to slow-down makes a huge difference for pacing, and I found myself only switching to command mode for hordes or the more powerful mutations. The open world was a real startle. After the tutorial, the game opens up into an action RPG similar to Diablo III. There's tons of exploration and NPCs to meet, some of who will give you quests. The overworld is a constant, but the dungeons look to be randomly generated each playthrough, with different loot drops and enemy varieties. The items themselves need some work as far as interface, but I really liked that the firearms were modeled after real life counterparts, which is a huge attraction for gun buffs. I did run into some issues, the most frustrating being during the tutorial when I was asked to use one of the squad's abilities and the confirmation key didn't work. I had to re-plot the movement and action around 15 times before I was finally able to proceed. The menus still need work, not all the graphics options are there, and there are a few graphical glitches here and there. Whether it's unique or not, I had a lot of fun and with a little polish it could turn into something really great. Breach & Clear: Deadline is currently in alpha and is not a finished title. If you wish to try it out and support the developers, the game is available on Steam Early Access for $14.99.
New Breach and Clear photo
You got your Diablo in my Rainbow Six!
The original Breach & Clear was a tactical strategy title in the vein of the XCOM or Rainbow Six series. It was fairly surprising when its sequel Breach & Clear: Deadline turned out to be an open-world tactical action...

JumpJet Rex revels in old-school charm, hits Early Access January 14

Jan 13 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]286050:56864:0[/embed] JumpJet Rex (PC [Previewed], Linux, OSX)Developer: Tree FortressRelease Date: January 14, 2015 (Early Access)MSRP: $9.99 "I always refer to it as the 'golden age of gaming,'" said Tree Fortress CEO Grant Skinner while discussing the team's influences. There is a clear respect for the 8-bit and 16-bit era in JumpJet Rex, and the developers wanted their take on an old-school 2D platformer to keep with the style and design of the period. During Early Access, which will feature the first dozen stages, they plan to keep a close eye on the community's reactions, which they see as a key part of the title's success. Taking control of the titular space exploring dinosaur, players will travel through the galaxy visiting unique planets that feature their own challenges and scenarios to tackle. With his jet boots, Rex will be able to hover, dash, and boost through stages while collecting coins and dodging obstacles. Along the way, Rex will encounter baddies and other nefarious foes that'll task players to use quick thinking and clever use of the jets to get the best of them. And, depending on performance, stars are acquired which unlock new planets to explore. "I have a lot of respect for the early '90s," said lead designer Shawn Blais. "They really had a refined mastery of platforming in 2D games." Much like titles in the vein of Mega Man and classic Sonic, JumpJet Rex features a simple control scheme that is easy to get into, but difficult to master. While the early planets were rather elementary, the difficulty quickly ramped up as the environments and enemies became more devious. As the jet boots also work as a weapon which fire blasts of energy toward enemies and boost Rex at high-speed, platforming skills are the player's greatest asset. To further add to the challenge, some planets feature secret rooms that yield great rewards but will lock the player out upon death. Though its love of the period is evident, the developers were keen to show off features that are common place in modern games. Taking inspiration from the community's interaction and sharing of content on their previous game, the folks at Tree Fortress implemented an extensive level of customization and co-op features. Players can compete against the ghosts of others in stages for the best times or work together in co-op to conquer challenging planets that will put anyone's jumpjet skills to the test. With every coin collected, players can purchase new outfits for their character and decorate their home base with knick-knacks and other oddities. Many of the outfits and designs are clever nods to classic 2D titles, and with over three-million unique combinations, the devs hope that players will share their designs and outfits for others to see. In addition to customization options, there are also plans to offer challenges to the streaming community with the upcoming (and appropriately named) Ragequit Rex mode. In it, players are given only three lives and must complete the entire game (over 40 stages in the final release) without checkpoints. After its Early Access launch, the developers plan to gradually release more content and modes until its official release. After that, Treehouse anticipates a slew of post-launch updates. One feature the devs were excited to talk about is Arena mode, which pits players against each other a la Smash Bros. Moreover, holiday themed content packs are also in the cards as well. Even though titles that seek to relive the early period of gaming are increasingly more common, JumpJet Rex does an admirable job of blending the best of old and new. To see a throwback title implement online modes and other neat customization options is really special. I had a blast during my time with it, and if you're one that's missing the style and design of old-school platformers, then you might want to keep this one on your radar. JumpJet Rex - Early Access [Steam]
JumpJet Rex photo
Dino ride through outer space
There's just something about the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming. Even after decades, it's still a remarkable and enduring period that's managed to stand the test of time. With a slick focus on charming visuals and deeply ref...

The Talos Principle makes me feel smart and dumb

Nov 16 // Darren Nakamura
The Talos Principle (Linux, Mac, PC [previewed], PlayStation 4)Developer: CroteamPublisher: Devolver DigitalReleased: December 11, 2014MSRP: $39.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit As a pure puzzle title, The Talos Principle begins fairly simply. Each area is separated into small, discrete puzzle rooms (a la Portal's testing chambers) and there are only a few tools available. The robotic protagonist can walk around, jump short distances, and pick up objects. The first of these objects is the Jammer, which will shut down any one electronic device it is pointed at. This comes in handy, because in between the player and the Sigils that must be collected are electric barriers, automated turrets, and explosive proximity sentries. By solving puzzles and collecting Sigils, new objects come into play that open up new puzzles. Manipulating lasers to unlock doors is generally cool. Unlocking Hexahedra (large weighted cubes) seems a bit mundane in comparison, but one of the difficulties to overcome in solving puzzles is having to figure out firsthand everything that objects can do. For instance, cubes are naturally used to weigh down pressure plates, but can also be used to climb on, to block laser beams, to stack objects, or to redirect sentry bots. That flavor of puzzle-solving is a bit of a double-edged sword. Discovering a new function for an object through trial and error makes for some "eureka" moments that are satisfying, but sometimes the path to get there reaches "this is not fun any more" territory. For instance, one puzzle took me so long to complete that the disembodied voice in the sky encouraged me to move on. Once I learned the simple mechanic that allows the player to drop items while airborne, it became trivial. After solving that particular puzzle, I felt dumb instead of feeling smart. [embed]283929:56346:0[/embed] The other major aspect of The Talos Principle is its discussion of philosophy through narration from the voice of a god and text found on computer terminals scattered around the environment. One of Croteam's goals is to make that content available for those who want to engage with it, but to make it optional for those who only care about the puzzles. Personally, I could not imagine skipping over the conversations with the entity behind the computers. Through the use of extensive dialogue trees, the digital assistant asks some pretty heavy questions about consciousness, and it remembers the player's answers to follow up on later. Though it is not what most would consider the "meat" of the experience, it is what sets Talos apart from other physics-based first-person puzzle platformers. Only about one-third of the way in, I have already had moments where I had to sit at the keyboard and just think for a bit before choosing an answer. Is a tree conscious? No, obviously not. Can an electronics-based artificial intelligence be conscious? Hmm, I guess so. Could a sufficiently complex network of tin cans attached to strings that acts as a computer be conscious? I honestly don't know, but I took a lot of time to consider that. So The Talos Principle is made up of two distinct parts: puzzles and philosophy. Both make the player think. Both can make the player feel smart or stupid. Blazing through a puzzle by seeing what tools are available and figuring out the solution is intellectually rewarding while plodding through only to stumble on what should have been obvious stings a bit. Similarly, not being able to articulate how I know I am sapient makes me reconsider that sapience. The real test of merit is in whether The Talos Principle can marry the two pieces in a meaningful way. Where The Swapper's game mechanics were intrinsically tied to its philosophical discussion, that relationship is still unclear with Talos. Though the protagonist is presumably a robotic artificial intelligence, that seems to be the only link between the discussion of self-identity and consciousness and the weighted cubes and lasers found in the puzzles. If that picks up as the story continues, The Talos Principle could be incredible. If not, then it is still looking like a competent title worth a puzzle fan's time.
The Talos Principle photo
Back at E3 2014, I got a brief chance to get my hands on The Talos Principle while talking to one of its writers Tom Jubert (FTL: Faster Than Light, The Swapper). In the presentation, Jubert explained the intended approach to...

Dungeons II takes a humorous approach to being the bad guy

Nov 14 // Alessandro Fillari
Dungeons II (PC [Previewed], Mac, Linux)Developer: RealmForgePublisher: Kalypso MediaRelease Date: Q1 2015 Set in a Medieval-fantasy world full of humans and orcs on the brink of war, you play as the Dungeon Lord. Due to a magical spell, you are bound to your throne in a cave, and must rely on your minions to do your bidding. With the humans drawing closer to your realm, you must break the spell by expanding your resources and your army in order to fortify your dungeon, while retaking territory from the humans on the surface. While this may sound as generic as it gets, and it certainly does at first glance, Dungeons II takes great pride in defying expectations and subverting them. During my first hour, I found that Dungeons II felt very much like a parody of generic fantasy/adventure games. Many of the tropes and cliches are mocked and made light of, despite adhering to them in humorous fashion. Moreover, Kevan Brighting, the Narrator from The Stanley Parable, offers his talents here by breaking the fourth-wall to mock player's slow progress, and even going after the video games ratings system. I was always entertained throughout, and a lot of that had to do with the game's comedic tone.[embed]283823:56328:0[/embed]As the sequel to the original Dungeons, you're tasked with expanding the scope and scale of your dungeon, while keeping your minions happy. As you send your lesser underlings to create rooms for resources, and digging for gold, you have to monitor their happiness levels or else they'll revolt. By building breweries, you can keep them drunk and content, while paying for their services as well. As you build your base of operations, you'll eventually be visited by humans from the surface, looking to see what all the commotion is about. From here, you'll have to set traps and send out stronger minions to confront them and protect the Dungeon Lord.But here is where things get a little different. Once you've built the necessary resources and have a sizable force, you can send your minions up to the surface to retake territory. Switching over from Dungeon Keeper gameplay to RTS style mechanics similar to WarCraft or Dawn of War, the pacing changes up considerably. From here, you can battle your foes and sack their villages, turning the whimsical and lush environment, to barren and scorched wastelands.I was very impressed with how seamlessly Dungeons II transitions between the two different styles of gameplay. You can switch between the two on the fly with no loading whatsoever, which makes alternating between battles on the surface and making sure your minions in the dungeon are collecting resources very simple. Though be sure not to divide your forces so readily. If your send all your offensive minions outside, you can potentially leave yourself open to attack, as the lesser minions in the dungeon cannot defend themselves or the Dungeon Lord.Eventually, the Dungeon Lord and his forces will grow in power and come into conflict with other foes of the fantasy world, such as Dwarves and Elves, and they'll utilizes skills and tactics that will put abilities as the lord of evil to the test. During my session, I came into contact with a tribe of goblins hiding out from the Humans. Realizing that their resources would be put to better use elsewhere, the  Lord recruited them and used their tinkering skills to build devices to defend the dungeon.Even though my time with the game wasn't as long as I would've hoped, I came away pretty pleased with what I experienced. Though I'm generally not a fan of RTS titles, I did enjoy my time with Dungeons II. I was very much impressed with the sense of humor on display. It's always great to play a medieval-fantasy game that doesn't take itself seriously, and even makes some light-hearted jabs at the genre.With much more of the game in store, and including four-player online mode, Dungeons II looks to be a very solid and unique take on the classic Dungeon Keeper gameplay. If you're eager for a game where you play as the bad guy, then you'll want to keep this one on your radar.
Dungeons II photo
Make way for the villain
Being the bad guy has its perks. With an entire force of orcs, goblins, and other nasty creatures at your bidding, more gold you can count, and a near infinite supply of dark magic at your disposal -- it seems like you've got...

Crookz brings 1970s style and swagger to heist gameplay

Nov 14 // Alessandro Fillari
Crookz (PC [Previewed], Mac, SteamOS)Developer: SkillTree StudiosPublisher: Kalypso MediaRelease Date: Q2 2015 Set in the 1970s, Crookz places you in charge of a group of thieves, grifters, burglars, and other sneaky individuals in order to break into secure locations that house loot and other treasures. As the trailer suggests, the people you're robbing are sleazy and shady folk that certainly have whats coming to them, and it's your job to ensure the cash moves from their pockets to yours. With each successful score, you expand your arsenal of gadgets and crew members, while taking on increasingly more difficult jobs that will test your skills as a pro robber. While most games follows the more action oriented approach to heists, Crookz takes a very different stab at it by turning it into a quasi puzzle-strategy experience. Instead of getting into massive shootouts and high-speed chances, seeking to emulate the infamous bank heist scene from Heat, you'll have to plan each move step-by-step and utilize your crew's strengths and weaknesses to covertly break into secure locations and procure valuable items and intel. [embed]283824:56325:0[/embed] Similar to a real-time-strategy experience, you can move your characters to specific points on the map, while using their abilities on the fly as you evade guards and avoid alarms. During our demo, we were taking part in a score at a private mansion, and it was loaded with guards and other traps. While it looked daunting at first, it was readily apparent what was required for the score. For every heist, you'll need the right people for the job. Before each mission, you can outfit them with various gadgets and augment their skills to facilitate the needs of the heist. With several characters classes, such as Runner, Tough Guy, Locksmith, Hacker, and of course Robot -- you'll have to learn the lay of the land and get a read on things to succeed. For the mansion job, the runner, tough guy, and locksmith were able to break into the site with ease and take out guards while making it to the loot. If you're unsure of what you need to do, you can take your time and go through each step to figure out the best course of action. But if you're an especially clever planner, than you can meticulously analysis the layout of the environment, guard routes, and security systems to plan out your heist step by step. If done right, you can watch as your crew methodically and expertly tackles the score as if you were witnessing a Rube Goldberg Machine at work with the style and grace of Ocean's Eleven. I found the style and presentation to Crookz to be very refreshing for the heist genre. The music and atmosphere evokes the hip and energetic style of caper films from the 1970s. The music in particular is very much exciting and smooth, the themes throughout the heists pull from influential period films such as Shaft or Deep Throat. In any event, it works well. It has style and swagger in spades, and it feels exciting to play through a heist game that manages to not take itself too seriously, while still looking cool as you pull off the score. Set for release Q2 2015, Crookz is very interesting blend of puzzle and strategy elements sent across the backdrop of 1970s heist thrillers. I'm quite the fan of the era, and the style it evokes is very refreshing to see. With over 20 different mission and some online challenges to tackle, it's very rare to see heist game like this, and I'm very much looking forward to checking more.
Crookz photo
Cleopatra Jones and the Funky Bunch
What happened to the style and cleverness that came from heist thrillers? I remember watching films like Ocean's Eleven and Thief, that had little to no action or shooting. But now, these high-pressure and tense moments just ...

Mushroom 11 rocks photo
No puns this time, I swear
Everyone I know who's tried Mushroom 11 won't shut up about how good it is. After clearing the first two levels today in a preview build, I'm joining them. 25 minutes well spent. This is a puzzle-platformer unlike any I've s...

Metrocide is a thinking person's Hotline Miami

Oct 21 // Rob Morrow
[embed]282810:56025:0[/embed] This is just one of the many delightful nuances Flat Earth has built into the game. From the time I spent with it during the last week or so, I found that aspects of Metrocide's difficulty seem to align well with my experiences playing the pen-and-paper role-playing game Shadowrun. For every advantage you gain, there's a tradeoff. Some items may seem to give you the upper hand, but the game's rules still manage to balance things out, tasking you, the player, to be ever more thoughtful if you want to successfully leverage your new hardware. One of the biggest surprises I experienced while playing Metrocide was witnessing the emergent AI behavior -- the world reacts to itself depending on the current conditions in the game. I pulled my gun on a target and realized too late that he was also armed (and much faster on the draw than I was), when seemingly out of nowhere, he drops to the sidewalk in front of me in a pool of blood -- shot dead from behind by an armed vigilante when he drew his weapon. Mission complete. I'd managed to fire off no rounds during the hit, still collected my reward, and now the vigilante is the suspect of the crime rather than me. Brilliant. Metrocide is a thinking person's Hotline Miami. Yes, the game will still allow you to run in guns blazing, but you're going to need a hell of a lot of luck to pull off your hits. Not only do you stand a good chance of being shot dead in the streets by vigilantes if you're seen brandishing a gun, you'll also draw the unwanted attention of the police drones. Once they're investigating an area of the map, you're better off avoiding it completely. If you catch their attention, they shoot on sight and there's no way to outrun them. Patience and creativity are rewarded in this bleak dystopian cityscape, not recklessness. Taking your time and thinking about what you're doing allows this title to shine. Unlike other stealth-based games that I've played, I was never bored while preparing to make my move. The city is far too reactive to let that happen. The AI surrounding you makes every hit different in one way or another. You never know how things are going to play out, so you have to always be flexible in your tactics, which I'm sure will add tremendously to the game's replay value. Metrocide is not a perfect fit for everyone. It's a challenging little game that features the the love-it or hate-it permadeath gameplay mechanic. It also doesn't rely on realistic graphics or an interactive open world to be engaging; but, if you're willing to look past these aspects of the project, I think you'll find an intriguing game that rewards persistence, restraint, and creativity. If you're interested in trying it out for yourself or would just like to learn a bit more about it, you can do so by visiting the title's Steam Early Access page for more details.
Metrocide Early Access photo
Flat Earth's top-down murder sim impresses
Sydney-based independent studio Flat Earth Games has released its top-down cyberpunk-noir contract killing simulator Metrocide via Steam Early Access at the reduced price of $6.99. The final version of the game, which should ...

Chasm feels like a love letter to Super Metroid and Dark Souls

Oct 07 // Rob Morrow
When I make reference to Discord's homage to Dark Souls, I don't mean it as an indicator of the game's difficulty as one might assume; moreover, I'm saying that those familiar with From Software's action-RPG will most likely feel right at home playing Discord's title due to some familiar mechanics found within the game. From the very first time you sit down to rest at a bonfire that resets all the previously dispatched enemies of an area, to when you inevitably begin the nerve-racking trek back to recover the swirling mist of your hard-earned experience points left behind where you were last killed, you'll feel like you're putting on a favorite pair of jeans. As a fan of From's brooding RPGs as well as the other titles that Chasm draws inspiration from, I was immediately grounded in its world. I felt like I had a sense of what it was going to ask of me, and how to best approach it from the very start. [embed]282119:55858:0[/embed] For example, as Darren Nakamura mentioned in his earlier article, if you intend to go in mashing buttons and hoping to brute-force your way through, you'll quickly come to a nasty end. As in Dark Souls, swordplay is best approached with caution. Getting the feel for and learning the timing of each of your weapons is crucial if you want to avoid leaving yourself open to a counter attack. You'll also be putting to use the lessons you've learned from the precision platformers and the sprawling metroidvanias of yesteryear as you explore the beautiful, subterranean world of Chasm. Discord's take on platforming is immensely satisfying. Landing a jump never felt like luck was involved. The character's movements feel very precise, and are easy to get the hang of. Good examples of this can be seen when traversing the vanishing blocks and moving platform sections on the map. I never felt like the controls were at fault when I took a tumble. With a bit of practice and proper timing I was leaping over the dangerous terrain with ease. The maps, reminiscent of the aforementioned Super Metroid, are an absolute treat to explore. As you make your way across them, you'll periodically hit familiar-looking vertical shafts, which open up new paths to the east and west. And, staying true to its inspiration, Geemer-like creatures will attempt to spoil your fun by patrolling the blocks spaced throughout, forcing you to time your jumps carefully or plummet down the shaft only to begin your ascent all over again. I found myself searching out every inch of each new area, hunting for better pieces of gear, or new skills that would unlock even more areas that were previously inaccessible. What I took away from my time with the game this weekend is that Chasm is a beautifully-crafted love letter to all the games and genres that I've mentioned in this article while at the same time, stubbornly staying true its own unique identity. Even in this early state, the game feels extremely polished, and if it weren't for new areas being locked off it would be easy to forget that it's still an unfinished game. Chasm's alpha build currently contains two of the six areas that are planned for the complete game, with additional areas unlocking at a rate of one per month throughout the fall and winter. If you'd like to learn more, or if you're interested in getting in on it early make sure to pay a visit to the title's official page, or head on over to the Humble Store.
Chasm alpha impressions photo
After exploring the first two areas, I'm ready for more
Over the weekend, I was fortunate enough to check out the alpha build of Discord's enchanting procedurally generated action-RPG platformer Chasm. Now that I've finally had some hands-on with the game, I'd like to share my imp...

Civilization: Beyond Earth makes weekends disappear

Sep 26 // Darren Nakamura
Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth (Linux, Mac, PC [previewed])Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: October 24, 2014MSRP: $49.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Those who have played Civilization V will see a lot of similarities right off the bat. Cities need food to increase population, production to build new buildings and units, money (energy in Beyond Earth) to maintain improvements, culture to expand borders and progress virtues, and science to enhance capabilities. A colony's health rating replaces happiness, but functions similarly: Healthy civilizations produce science and culture at their full potentials while unhealthy civilization receive a penalty. All of these pieces interconnect, and building a successful civilization means balancing each well. Single-tile stations replace minor civilizations but function in the same way. Non-sapient alien lifeforms take the place of barbarian tribes. This is where differences start to emerge. Where players in Civilization V can take on barbarian tribes with relative ease, and the tribes disappear from the map over time, aliens in Beyond Earth are much more formidable, and they can be found from the beginning all the way until the 250-turn mark that signals the end of the game. One such alien is the Siege Worm, which Dale was able to take down but generally should be avoided because they can one-hit kill most units, and they take very little damage from any military units before upgrades kick in. Pictured above is the lovely instance in which three Siege Worms decided to burrow up right in between two of my cities, wrecking my road between them and generally ruining my plans for about a hundred in-game years. [embed]273190:53373:0[/embed] Another hazard that life on alien planets presents is miasma, a ubiquitous terrain feature that saps the hit points of human units but restores those of aliens. Depending on the terrain generated, some alien nests may be even more fortified than others, with miasma surrounding and protecting them. What is interesting is that there are three philosophical schools of thought in how humanity may deal with the threat of alien lifeforms and miasma. Those who subscribe to the Purity ideal want to remain human while transforming the environment to suit their needs. Those who follow the Harmony and Supremacy ideals instead believe that humans must be adapted to survive in the world, though Harmony dictates that the adaptation should be done through biology while Supremacy dictates that it be done through technological augmentation. A civilization on the Purity path will be more likely to clear out miasma from friendly territory to allow for better control of resources, while a civilization following either Supremacy or Harmony may develop research that allows them to benefit from its existence. The trichotomy brings to mind the Sir David Attenborough quote "Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it's time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment." Despite there being three fairly distinct philosophies, there are not hard limits on what any civilization can choose. In general, advancing steps in any one branch involves researching a related technology. Since scientific growth follows a radial web rather than a linear tree, it is easy to broaden one's scope and take on traits from any or all three of the ideas. That said, it is generally beneficial to specialize in one philosophy. Some buildings and units require certain levels in one of the three branches, and unit upgrades are governed by the highest level affinity, so maintaining balance affords a greater breadth of abilities, but focusing on one grants more powerful abilities. Another aspect of Beyond Earth that diverges significantly from previous entries in the series are the various victory conditions, which stem from the three affinities. While domination (control all capitals on the map) and time (have the most points after a set number of turns) are in play, there is no longer a strict technological victory, cultural victory, or economic victory. Instead, there are victories tied to each affinity. Purity followers want to try to contact Earth to bring the rest of humanity to the newly conquered planet; Supremacy followers want to contact Earth in order to wipe out the lesser beings left there; Harmony followers want to develop a neural connection with the living being that is the planet. Each of those conditions requires at least level 13 with its respective philosophy. What results is a game where just about every victory is a tech victory. As a game based in science fiction, it makes thematic sense that technology is important for winning, and as my preferred path, it works for me, but it could be off-putting to those who prefer other avenues or a more balanced approach to civilization-building. On that note, victory by any means other than having the most points when time runs out seems especially difficult (at least in the preview build). Even in a lush environment to maximize production and with my cities and trade routes set to crank science out at their maximum levels throughout the game, the closest I have come was completing the Wonder necessary for the Contact victory by turn 246, after which another 30 turns were necessary. Presumably the timer will be increased in the final product. Another new element emerges from Civilization: Beyond Earth due to its setting. Where previous titles in the series have been basic retellings of Earth's history, Beyond Earth is now telling a potential story of humanity's future, which allows for more freedom in that department. To help shape that, missions now pop up from time to time, which provide optional objectives to work toward and offer a glimpse into how humanity got to this point and what it learns from this new planet. There is a scientifically important narrative to be discovered here, but it requires some effort and is just as easily ignored. The terrain variety is impressive in some ways, but a little disappointing in others. While there are several options for generating the world layout (Protean is one large landmass, Terran has several Earth-like continents, Atlantean features many smaller islands, and other advanced options), the biomes from world to world do not seem very different from one another. The lush worlds have more plant life than the arid ones, the taiga has more unusable tundra, but the same terrain types can be found on most worlds; only their proportions change. The same aliens are present regardless of which world is chosen. From a gameplay perspective it makes sense, but from the perspective of wanting to explore vastly different alien worlds, it is a bit of a letdown. Graphically, Beyond Earth maintains the standard set by Civilization V, but it has the added benefit of extra color from being set on an alien planet. Seas are a vibrant green and mountains have an orange tinge. Individual civilization color schemes are futuristic, with a lot of teal, purple, and pink. A special note should be made about the soundtrack, which swells with intense string crescendos at the right moments, and otherwise sets the mood for interstellar exploration, which feels grand and important. All in all, Civilization is looking as good as ever with Beyond Earth. It scratches that itch for building a workable engine and outshining one's neighbors, while introducing a lot of new mechanics that change up the general strategy. The preview build seems pretty full-featured, but next month's full release should remove the hard turn limit. Perhaps then the other victory conditions may seem more attainable. In the mean time, starting up a new game cannot hurt, right? (Send help please; I cannot stop on my own.)
Civilization Beyond Earth photo
Yep, that is Civilization all right
The Civilization series is famous for playing out in unplanned marathon sessions, where "one more turn" quickly turns into five more turns, which turn into another hour, before the player finally looks away from the screen to...

Neverending Nightmares is eerily evocative, and set for release on September 26

Sep 09 // Alessandro Fillari
[embed]280897:55588:0[/embed] Neverending Nightmares is aims to make players feel vulnerable and anxious. You play as Adam, a young man who awakens from a disturbing dream and finds himself in a place that is not so familiar. Think Richard Linklater's Waking Life, except as a pure horror title. Every time Adam wakes from his dream, his environment gets progressively worse. Is it a dream? Or is he having extreme delusions in his waking life? Players will have to navigate the ever-changing environments to discover the truth, and ultimately find how this all ties into our disturbed central character. Much like other psychological titles that play with perspective, the horror seen in the game is a reflection of the main character's psyche and deteriorating mental state. And this was not only for the purposes of narrative and design, but also a form of therapy for Neverending Nightmares' creator Matt Gilgenbach, who suffered from mental illnesses. "The original idea was from Matt Gilgenbach, and he wanted to get the player of the game to feel the same kind of mental struggles that he is still dealing with today," said lead artist Joe Grabowski. "The anxiety that players go through, not knowing what's around the corner, or when you have the candle you're still encompassed by the darkness -- so that's definitely the kind of story want to push through. We want bring the subject of mental illnesses to the forefront." The sense of dread in Neverending Nightmares is palpable, and you never feel quite safe at all during the game. This feeling is made stronger by the fact that Adam has no weapons to fight back against enemies. In some cases, you'll have to run or hide in closets to avoid instant death. You're constantly vulnerable, and you'll have to use your wits and reflexes stay a step ahead of your foes. Gilgenbach wanted to make the visuals evoke classic 20th century horror fiction, while using color as a little as possible. "Our art style in general was inspired by Edward Gorey, so we looked at that early on for the game," said Grabowski. "We're able to have the black and white aesthetic, but also things in color for the purposes of gameplay." As you can see in the trailer and screenshots, color is used to emphasize horror while also highlighting special items that can be interacted with. In many ways, it felt like I was walking through one of those Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books -- you know, the ones with the disturbing illustrations that ended up being more frightening than the stories themselves. I felt that same kind of unease when playing through this game. It was unsettling. But of course, that's the point. It's pretty amazing to see that such a horror title would be a form of therapy for some, but also a means of shock for others. Neverending Nightmares channels dread and terror quite well, and if it can hit the same nerve that struck me as a child, they've certainly got something special in store for players come release on the 26th.
Neverending Nightmares photo
Survival horror has never felt so grim
It's certainly an exciting time to be an independent game developer. With the rise of Kickstarter allowing anyone with the knowledge, the skills, and an idea to find support, we're seeing a larger breadth of games come out th...

Co-published by Devolver, Breach & Clear: Deadline isn't just another zombie game

Sep 09 // Rob Morrow
The game can either be played in real time -- which the team calls Action Mode, where the AI controls your three squadmates and you control the fourth -- as well as in Command Mode, a turn-based twist on the formula. In Command Mode, you can pause the action and individually assign commands to each of your squad members, allowing you to take your time, setting up more advanced tactical maneuvers Although at first glance the title looks like your everyday top-down shooter, the team describes Deadline as an RPG at its core. You'll be able to create your own unique squad and over the course of the game earn experience from encounters which can then be used to purchase new abilities for your squad's respective skill trees, customizing characters as you see fit. There's gun porn, too: weapons are upgradable as well as modifiable. Your squad will use crafting benches that utilize the game's currency, Scrap, to increase your favorite weapons' stats as well as to add on reusable upgrades, such as sound suppressors and foregrips. The studio doesn't want its game to be pigeonholed as just another zombie game or seen as an arcade shooter, like Housemarque's Dead Nation. Yes, the Infested are zombie-like, but they aren't the only threat to face. You'll be squaring off against human foes as well, such as Raiders and Mercenaries, designed to test your tactical skills. Beyond the common Infested, mutated variants of the monsters were also discussed, but not shown. The team referred to the hulking Tank-like creature in the concept art as an example. After having this time to sit down and check out Deadline in person, Devolver's involvement with the title makes a lot more sense to me. The "play how you want to play" aspect of Command Mode vs. Active Mode coupled with the RPG elements they've included really make it look like it's going to be a lot of fun.  As things progress, I'll be sure to keep you updated. Shortly before launch, I plan to visit the studio again for a hands-on with the shippable Steam Early Access build of Deadline.
Deadline preview photo
Mighty Rabbit Studios gives us an on-site demo of Deadline
Something about the video I posted on Gun Media and Mighty Rabbit's title Breach & Clear: Deadline didn't sit well with me. I kept thinking about it the day we ran the story. After revisiting it that night, it still ...

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