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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
Alternating
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.
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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 ...

If you ever get to play Upsilon Circuit, the world will be watching

Sep 04 // Jordan Devore
You can't not l-l-l-love this guy.
Upsilon Circuit photo
Don't screw up!
At PAX Prime, I got my first and what could be only opportunity to try Upsilon Circuit. You see, once it goes live, eight people will be able to play at any given time. That's eight people, total. And the "permadeath" here is...

Costume Quest 2 is still cute, trying to be more engaging

Aug 29 // Steven Hansen
[embed]280362:55487:0[/embed] I was starting from the beginning of the game, so the fights may ramp up in intensity, but I was able to make it through the first area on auto-pilot, just using the attack of whichever costume I felt like wearing. Still, I didn't mind the basic JRPG battles, either, as I was taking in the colorful world. Down in the starting bayou, I smacked alligators to retrieve pieces for a clown costume. You can zip around on what I'm pretty sure are Heelys, which someone recently told me still exist. One of the starting enemies had a digital clock in its chest and they were all set to 4:20 (you know, the weed number), though that's going to be changed to 2:30. 2:30. Tooth hurty. The main antagonist is a dentist. At the start of the game, a rip in time brings you to the dentist-ruled, terrifying, authoritarian future. He's collaborating with some evil witch. You're then rocketed back in time to stop him after a cyborg ninja crow teaches you how to fight. Also, there's a Thomas Jefferson costume. Its special move is the Declaration of Destruction. He throws it dramatically at enemies, who will put on reading glasses and look at it closely before it explodes. And Jefferson's out of battle ability, Diplomacy, is great, even though I never used it properly. I was only chastised, "This doesn't seem like the time for diplomacy," which amused me endlessly. You also duel a little, fiddle-playing boy in a devil costume using your goofy clown horn. Costume Quest 2 is just precious.
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New costumes, from Thomas Jefferson to a pterodactyl
Costume Quest, like every Double Fine game, is charming. It's a fresh-feeling, low stakes take on the JRPG genre, more Earthbound than Final Fantasy. Though, as Chad put it in his review, it's "RPG Lite," accessible...

Crookz puts a '70s heist movie spin on tactical gaming

Aug 17 // Dale North
[embed]279728:55320:0[/embed] Crookz is a single-player tactical game has players guiding the movement of a crew of thieves through their missions as they infiltrate buildings, sneak around guards, and work through obstacles to lift their heist target. These thieves all have unique skill sets that forces players to think about how they'll work together achieve goals. For example, a technician might have to cut the security cameras off so that the specialist can enter a room to pick a lock.  The game is presented in an isometric view, with the ceiling removed from a missions buildings and obstacles, letting players guide crew members through. Each member is directed by clicking on interaction points, like doors or locks, where context-sensitive options will pop up. Some of these situations have timing attached. For example, the runner would want to wait until an armed guard passed by before sneaking down a hallway. Otherwise, the game's action stays paused, leaving the player to issue commands and develop strategies. Crookz's missions play out like a large, multi branched puzzles. While applying different crew members' specialities to is at the heart of the gameplay, there is some freedom for creativity with the game's single-use items and found treasures. With the right item, the runner could temporarily take on the role of a technician to hack surveillance gear, for example. I watched a mission where a crew of three had to break into a protected building, work their way through laser traps, pick locks, sneak past guards, find keys, hack junction boxes, and more, to make their way to a room where an erotic gold statue protected a huge diamond. It sounds complicated, but you don't take all of these challenges on at once. With the way the player is able to move about the map and thoughtfully apply skills and item use, Crookz has a pretty laid-back pace. The music I heard during this showing was quite good. We were told that they hired a band to track the funky soundtrack, which comes complete with wah-wah guitars and drums.  There are a lot of games with thieves in them, but not many where they sport afros and leisure suits. I dig how the heist vibe somehow really fits with its tactical gameplay. With its 20 missions to work through, Crookz looks like a game that could be really groovy to really dig into. Crookz is coming to PC, Mac, and Linux in 2015. 
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First look at gamescom
A tactical game with a '70s heist movie theme? Finding something like that at gamescom is about as unlikely as finding a videogame trailer with porn star Ron Jeremy in it. But here we are with both. 

The Talos Principle explores philosophy and lasers

Jun 18 // Darren Nakamura
The Talos Principle has three main parts to experience, though they run together throughout. Most of the core gameplay involves solving puzzles from a first-person perspective, using various gadgets scattered around the environment. The puzzles are self-contained, so the player knows when he is entering and exiting a particular puzzle, and that any given challenge can be completed without using outside items. There are several tools and traps that appear in the puzzles, though the ones shown during the vertical slice were a bit on the mundane side. There were impassable energy barriers, automated turrets, and tripod-mounted jammers that would shut either of the former down. There were lasers that needed to be shone into detectors, and beam splitters to redirect them. An early puzzle involved three barriers but only two jammers. Picking up a jammer deactivates it, so players cannot just walk through with one in hand. The solution involved pointing both at one barrier, allowing the player to sort of leapfrog them past one another. It was simple, but still satisfying to figure out and implement. The puzzles do get more difficult; one of the later puzzles required me to get a tip from the developer in order to solve it before the appointment was up. By solving puzzles, the player gains tetrominoes, and once a set is acquired, they can be arranged into blocks at specific terminals to unlock new sections to explore. That said, progress is not locked to any one specific puzzle. If a player is stumped, he can save it for later, explore elsewhere, and move on. Exploration is a key component, because a good portion of the philosophical questions are delivered through it. Jubert's goal in crafting the story was to make it a personal affair, with the idea that "whatever kind of philosophical baggage you carry around with you, you'll be able to express that in the game." Part of the time, a godlike voice in the sky will talk to the player, and part of the player's expression is that he can choose to listen or ignore the voice at will. More interesting are the data terminals scattered throughout, which allow the player to interact with an unknown entity on the other side. Upon walking up to one such terminal, the protagonist's hands are shown as fully metal, robotic facsimiles, hinting at a theme of artificial intelligence. The terminal is then interacted with in the form of dialogue trees, but one player's experience can vary from another's pretty substantially. Jubert explains, "Because everything is philosophically focused, we can actually go into a lot more depth and give you much more genuine agency within that. So, you can come to this as someone who believes in God and have a largely different conversation and relationship with this character than another player would." Jubert continues, "You can try and defend your ideas while he challenges them, you can give up on them and tell him he's right, you can do a bunch of things and he will do his best to remember. Philosophy isn't the sort of thing you can do very easily by just shouting at someone." Therein lies the hidden strength of The Talos Principle. By using dialogue trees in this way, the game intends to discuss philosophy through conversation with the player, rather than through a single rehearsed monologue. Though a lot of the player's attention will be spent in solving puzzles, Jubert and Croteam also want the player to think about issues centered around personhood and its relation to advancing technology. Jubert closes, "Most of us think that by being persons who are self-governing and make our own decisions, that makes us different from everything else. That makes us moral beings. As we look forward, we're going to have a lot of very difficult questions to solve as soon as we start with genetic manipulation and fucking around with people's brains. These are going to be really political hot topics in the next hundred years. It's pretty fucking shocking to me, having to discuss them in videogames." It sounds like it is aiming to be very thought-provoking. My one concern at this point stems from Jubert's previous work. One of the reasons The Swapper was so incredible was its marriage of gameplay and theme, in which each fed off the other in a very meaningful way. It is not clear yet how closely the puzzles will tie in to the narrative of The Talos Principle, but if Croteam and Jubert manage to pull it off, this could end up as a great example of videogames as a powerful form of philosophical expression.
The Talos Principle photo
'Whatever kind of baggage you carry around with you, you'll be able to express that in the game'
Nestled in a parking lot across the street from the convention center in Los Angeles was Devolver Digital's phalanx of air conditioned campers. The publisher had a good mixture of highly anticipated titles like Hotline Miami ...

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Yes! PC version of Hotline Miami 2 will have a level editor!


Share levels with others online
Jun 09
// Hamza CTZ Aziz
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number will have a level editor on the PC! Fans can create their own demented levels, decorate it however they want to. And yes, you'll be able to share these custom created levels with other players. ...

Platformer Narcissus aims to bring back the arcade experience

Jun 02 // Beccy Caine
The aptly-named platformer sees you playing as two characters simultaneously: inverted sprites taking different paths to the same goal. The controls are simple: the up and down keys control the black and white sprites respectively, resulting in a game that can be played either alone or locally with a friend. This, says Johansson, was a conscious design choice: "I decided I wanted to build a game that was easier to play with a friend than alone, but still possible either way. Arcade machines provide such fantastic physically social experiences, and I didn't feel that there was enough modern games that catered to this." The idea is beautiful in its simplicity. Being able to just sit down and play with a friend without the need for an internet connection or a spare controller was remarkably refreshing, even if the resulting banter (insults questioning each other's competence) was the same. A few days later, having completed all available levels with a partner, I sat down with the game again. It hadn’t even crossed my mind to play it alone, and while it lacked the camaraderie of the co-op experience, the new element added to the gameplay and the resulting challenge was just as satisfying. [embed]273781:54148:0[/embed] Make no mistake: though the controls may be simple, the level design ensures that this is not an easy game. If keeping track of both sprites wasn’t already enough of a challenge, later levels see the implementation of various mechanics designed to ruin your progress and/or friendship, such as ramps to boost your jump, bridges that you’ll phase through if the color doesn’t correspond to your own, switches that change your direction, and spikes that result in instant death. Just one mistake by either character sends you right back to the beginning of the level, which makes for a testing co-op experience. Even the most patient of players will begin to resent their partner for repeated mistakes, as I quickly learnt. (Thanks, "friends.") The build presented at EGX Rezzed comprised twenty-five levels, which are all available to play as a Flash game, but consequent builds have shown off the full fifty levels that will make up the final release. There are also three difficulty modes, determined by the pace of the sprites, for those in need of an extra challenge. It’s worth noting that the timer is cumulative across all levels rather than being reset each time, making each death a crucial error for those attempting a speedrun. (Johansson states that it will take two people an average of 150 minutes to complete the game.) No discussion of Narcissus would be complete without at least a brief mention of Afr0turf’s soundtrack (which is already available on Soundcloud), composed of five 8-bit tracks that had me leaving my poor sprites to jump to their doom in an endless cycle of failure just so I could listen to the music uninterrupted. The title track 'Uno,' for example, starts as an slow, ethereal tune that quickly transforms into an upbeat, almost frantic accompaniment that complements the gameplay perfectly, especially in later levels or on the harder difficulties. Any fans of chiptune music should definitely check this out. In short, I played many fantastic games at EGX Rezzed this year, but it was the game I only got five minutes with as the show was closing that stuck with me the most. Johansson has produced a unique, multi-faceted game offering two different but equally appealing experiences well worth your time. And maybe an upvote on Greenlight, too.
Narcissus preview photo
Or, how I learned to hate my friends again
Narcissus, or so the myth goes, was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope. Renowned for his beauty, but also for being somewhat of an ass, he was lured to a pool of water by goddess of divine retribution Ne...

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It's okay, the children want to be thrown
Max hung out with Dave and Daniel of Spry Fox Games to check out their upcoming title, The Road Not Taken. From the makers of Triple Town, this puzzle roguelike puts the player in an adorable world, with dark undercurrents. ...

Costume Quest 2 isn't for the hardcore, but it's for the hardcorn

Jun 02 // Brett Makedonski
This time around, the action's set to pick up almost immediately after the original's add-on Grubbins on Ice ended. While the timeline's a bit fuzzy at this point, one thing is evident, and it's that Reynold and Wren are eager to get back to what they love most - Trick or Treatin'. Beyond that, Rice was hesitant to reveal anything about the narrative, giving the frustratingly boilerplate "We're not talking about that yet." The demo took place in the game's first area, a bayou that segues into a French Quarter part of town. It was a sample size that was adequate to show off what it has to offer, and it was all so wonderfully Costume Quest. The bayou had a kid that wanted us to find pieces for a pterodactyl costume. The French Quarter was filled with bustling NPCs that were itching to assign sidequests as jazz music filled the air. Houses by the swamp had doorbells that were begging to be rang -- some occupied by adults that were dishing out candy, others by Grubbins looking to ambush our pint-sized protagonists. Upon being attacked, we got a look at how the combat system has been altered. While Double Fine's touting Costume Quest 2 as having a "deeper and juicier" battle system, don't expect that to translate to increased difficulty. One of the defining traits of Costume Quest that made it so beloved was its accessibility, and that hasn't changed -- it's just gotten tweaked a bit to make things more interesting. One of the biggest moves was lending itself toward making combat more action-oriented. Now, when attacked, a perfectly-timed button press will result in increased defense and a counter-attack. Likewise, when on the offensive, the original had prompts flash on-screen that needed to be executed. Costume Quest 2 utilizes a system reminiscent of Super Mario RPG where coordinating a button press to the exact moment a strike lands will result in extra damage. It's not the most revolutionary of upgrades, but it makes combat feel more involved than ever before. Of the many costumes that are sure to be on display in the full game (which is coming to PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, Wii U, Mac, and Linux), we were only shown three. Two of those were a clown that has some truly bizarre animations, and a superhero. The third was a humorous salute to the unplayable candy corn costume in the first game. This time, you can wear it into battle, but it does absolutely nothing, effectively reducing the team size from three to two. Rice commented that the nod is for players looking for an extra challenge, and those that complete the whole game with the corn costume in the party will unlock an Achievement called "Hardcorn Mode." Truth be told, that feat probably won't be all that difficult to achieve. Even though health doesn't automatically replenish after every fight in this installment, there are water fountains located around each map that fill your party's HP up. When I asked Rice if these would be a pain to get to between encounters, he didn't think so, but that he always wants to try to get one more fight in before retreating to a fountain. However, maybe the most welcomed modification of all has to do with the traversal of the locales. In the original, only the robot was able to zoom around thanks to the use of rollerblades, leading most to play with that costume equipped at all times. Now, rollerblades are always available by default, making getting around much more convenient. That's probably a good thing too, because according to Rice, the maps are going to be bigger and more involved than in Costume Quest. For all the changes that are going into Costume Quest 2, honestly, the biggest takeaway might be that it still feels so much like Costume Quest. That's a revelation that any fan of the original will be elated to hear. And, if you fall into that category, Costume Quest 2 has probably already won your heart and your sweet tooth.
Costume Quest 2 preview photo
Mo' candy, mo' problems
If there's one thing that the folks at Double Fine aren't known for, it's being pigeon-holed into making the same game. In fact, almost all of its titles are wildly different from one another. From the likes of Brüt...

Use an open world to fight for freedom in Homefront: The Revolution

Jun 02 // Brett Makedonski
Because the American citizens are at a serious disadvantage in this scenario, any hope of regaining their freedom must be done through guerrilla tactics. This aims to be Homefront: The Revolution's calling card. Rather than engage in constant over-the-top first-person shooting sequences, Crytek wants to push the battle to asymmetric warfare. One such example is equipping a remote-controlled car with explosive devices, driving it under a moving North Korean vehicle for cover, and then detonating it at a gate to both gain access and cause panicked mayhem. This is only a single example of the many possibilities for igniting an uprising. To keep things from becoming too scripted, Crytek's creating an open-world game that puts the players in charge of the revolution. As different areas of town are hit by the revolution, everything evolves accordingly. When actions like taking out guards and smashing security cameras are performed, uprising points are awarded, presumably bringing that particular section that much closer to liberation. It also means that the North Koreans will be on their toes, and more wary of your presence. No one will have to fend for themselves though, as resistance cells can be formed in online cooperative play. [embed]275756:54145:0[/embed] While the resistance may be sort of a ragtag lot, they're still equipped in their own special way to deal with opposing forces. The world is replete with resources that can be scavenged to create improvised weaponry. However, it may be cellular technology that proves the most useful. The phone seems as if it'll be a central device to Homefront: The Revolution, as it not only serves as a map, but also as a gadget for identifying and marking enemies. Crytek seems as if it has the right take on Homefront -- after all, do we really need another linear first-person shooter? But, it's the implementation of the studio's engine that strives to pull everything together. CryEngine 3 (which is already known for creating some of the most stunning visuals in videogames) is in use, and looks to add a sense of believability to the open-world through day/night cycles and changing weather effects. Whether that believability is achieved remains to be seen. Crytek has an ambitious project on its hands. One that could easily change the legacy of the Homefront name, or one that could just as easily succumb to overextending itself. When it hits PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Mac, and Linux in 2015, we'll know if this is a revolution worth fighting for.
Homefront: The Revolution photo
Developed by Crytek
As a result of THQ's fire sale at the beginning of 2013, several IPs were ushered off to new homes, just waiting for someone to advance their stories while being published under a new banner. One such example is Homefront, wh...

Chasm requires players approach it with a slow sword hand

Apr 24 // Darren Nakamura
Chasm (Linux, Mac, PC)Developer: Discord GamesReleased: Fall 2014 Despite working as a soldier, Daltyn is far from being a combat powerhouse. Immediately after fighting the first slimes and rats in the tutorial dungeon, it becomes clear that haste is detrimental when approaching enemy creatures. Sword swings take a long time to execute, and the animation must completely finish before new inputs are accepted. This means that during an attack, the player is stationary and vulnerable to counterattack if the first attack is mistimed. Since there is a bit of knockback when an attack does connect to an enemy, an immediate second attack from the same spot would often miss and cause the same consequences as before. The result is very deliberate combat, where each sword swing has heft and must be carefully considered, and mashing the attack button is the quickest way to get killed. On the subject, one of the developers did say that combos would be implemented depending on the weapon equipped. [embed]273749:53583:0[/embed] Jumping does provide a bit more freedom, where Daltyn can be moving while attacking if he is airborne, but he still must time his sword swings well. The reason I spend so much time on the pacing of the combat is that it is likely to turn off certain players who prefer faster action in their metroidvanias. After having most recently played Guacamelee!, Chasm's combat was jarring. The two are on opposite ends of the spectrum, where the former is fast and flowing while the latter is much more pensive and restrictive. That is not to say that the combat is bad. By the end of my second run, I got the hang of exploring the depths without too many missteps. Through the demo area, I witnessed the opening of the mystery surrounding the mountain town and its mine, and uncovered a few clues pointing toward some potential explanations. Not a lot of inventory management was shown in the demo, but the framework for it is there. What is present hints at a system similar to Symphony of the Night's, where the player can have items equipped in either hand, with each assigned to a different face button. Though none were shown in the demo, it seems reasonable to expect off-hand items more interesting than mere throwing knives or shields. All in all, though I was taken by surprise with the control, Chasm is still looking as good as ever. The demo featured some light puzzle solving and genre staple backtracking adding to game's requirement for a thoughtful approach. By the time I was descending down the newly fixed lift, my mind was in the right place and I felt ready to take on what would come next.
Chasm photo
Don't come and go in a heated rush
We have been keeping our eyes on Chasm for a long time now. Ever since it initially showed up, it looked like it checked off all the right boxes to be a retro dream game. It has procedurally generated dungeons, Castlevania-es...

Dyscourse really does take player choice into account

Apr 23 // Darren Nakamura
Dyscourse (Linux, Mac, PC)Developer: Owlchemy LabsReleased: September 2014  Dyscourse follows a barista named Rita who wakes up on an island after a plane crash. After meeting other survivors of the crash, the group does what it can in order to survive, and Rita's decisions take the story in different directions, depending on how certain scenes play out. Each in-game day sets up with the player deciding how to spend that day. There are too many tasks to complete and not enough time or manpower to do them all fully, so choosing one course of action necessarily postpones or cancels the other options. As stranded passengers, Rita needs to consider collecting clean water, finding food, protecting the camp, and signaling for help, among other activities. Each day takes about five to ten minutes to play through, and the final game is set to last about ten days. The demo at PAX showcased only the first three days, but even after that amount of time, a lot happened on the island. In my play through, on the first day, one of the other survivors took one of two weapons off to find food, while I kept Rita at camp to defend it. A wild boar attacked the camp, and in a very Walking Dead-esque scene, I was forced to choose to aid one of two other characters. The character attacked by the boar was not killed, but he was put out of commission for two days, and I suspect another misfortune would have ended him. On the second day, I chose to try to find water with the greasy gamer stereotype. We were successful in collecting water for the group to drink, but he got covered in leeches. He was incapacitated for a bit after that. On the last day of the demo, I finally took the eccentric Teddy's advice to try to send a message for help. We built an SOS into the sand using logs, and while scouting for materials I found some juicy information about some of the other passengers. I chose not to share the gossip. By the end, all of my characters were still alive, though some were more banged up than others. Things were looking up. As it turned out, Andrew never gave in to Teddy's pleas in his play through of Dyscourse. Frustrated and paranoid, Teddy murdered Rita for appearing to conspire against him and sabotaging the group's chances of rescue. From the sound of it, the story took a dark turn, and was not nearly as hopeful as mine. Where most games with a focus on player choice (The Walking Dead, Mass Effect) tend to tell a linear story with slight variations, Dyscourse appears to be on track with fulfilling its promise of a truly branching story. With ten days worth of choices, the number of possible combinations could be staggering. If it ends up with only a fraction of that number, it could still be quite a special adventure indeed.
Dyscourse photo
Choose your own misadventure
While scoping out titles in the Indie MEGABOOTH at PAX East, I ran into long time Destructoid community member Andrew Benton, and we continued to look at games together. Dyscourse was on my list to play, so we both started up...

Extrasolar does exoplanet exploration, but it is more than meets the eye

Apr 22 // Darren Nakamura
Extrasolar (Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, PC)Developer: Lazy 8 StudiosReleased: February 18, 2014 One of the draws of Extrasolar is its attention to scientific detail. It takes place on a world that could plausibly exist, orbiting Epsilon Eridani, the closest star with a known planet orbiting it. The development team consists of several science advisers in addition to traditional game designers. The world itself is fictional, but it behaves as a real planet would. It has a set day/night cycle that does not match our own. It has two moons, each with its own orbit and resulting phases. It has water and islands, and our rover's journey begins on one particular island called Artocos. On the surface, Extrasolar is as advertised. Most of the active playing involves scheduling a path for a rover, choosing its direction and basic lighting options, and taking a photo. The servers take in all of the variables (position, direction, time of day, et cetera) and produce a high resolution image. Indeed, every picture in this post is taken from my profile, and no photos taken by other players are identical. [embed]273615:53539:0[/embed] However, right from the beginning, Extrasolar makes it clear that it is not as cut and dried as it outwardly admits. Upon activating an account, the player is initially denied access, with the head of the fictional space exploration company XRI citing a large volume of volunteers and a shortage of available rovers. Shortly afterward, an email shows up from an unknown hacker who gets you into the program. This hacker's motivations are unclear at the outset, but it sets the stage for Extrasolar being something more than just a browser-based photo simulator. There is a narrative coursing through the entire experience, and it is divided into two threads: what they want you to know and what they do not want you to know. What is really special about the narrative is that it transcends the browser, presenting information via live action video, audio files, PDF, and email. The result is an experience that facilitates the suspension of disbelief. Rather than pretending to physically be on another planet, the player only has to pretend that he is sitting at his computer, directing a rover and uncovering secrets as the story unfolds. It feels more real than almost anything else out there. One thing that some players might not be able to get over is the pricing structure. Extrasolar is free to play, but it does not exploit that as severely as many other games in that space. For free, the player can schedule two photos ahead, has to wait four hours for each photo, and has limited uses for the panorama and infrared options. For a one-time purchase at ten dollars, the wait for each picture is reduced to one hour and the player is given unlimited uses of the options. Even more money can go toward a type of season pass, which covers future missions off Artocos Island. Outside of those payment options, there are no microtransactions or other sinister money-grubbing tactics. It makes sense to treat the free version as a sort of demo (though one could technically play through the story entirely without paying), and to buy it if the demo pleases. For me, it has been an immensely cool experience. Of all the games I got to see at PAX East, Extrasolar is one of the few that has invaded my psyche so completely. I make sure to schedule photos before I go to sleep, and I check them right when I wake up. Heck, I am playing the game right now, eagerly looking forward to what my next photo will turn up, and what revelations will arise from that within its hidden narrative.
Extrasolar photo
Come for the control of a rover on an alien planet, stay for the [REDACTED]
When I was talking to one of the developers of Extrasolar on the show floor at PAX East, I said something that I now regret. "This looks like something I would really like, but might not appeal to a ton of other people." He r...

I died an embarrassing amount in Hotline Miami 2

Apr 17 // Brett Makedonski
The first half of the demo took place in a level that was reminiscent of most of the first game. Tight corridors leading to room after room of roving henchmen, all waiting to be methodically and maniacally murdered. What made this section special is that we got to see some of the new masks that will be available. A representative from publisher Devolver Digital challenged me to select one that restricted me to only using my fists. After some hesitation, I chose one that equipped me with a chainsaw permanently mapped to one mouse button, and an ally whose only purpose was to pick up ammunition for the firearm assigned to my other mouse button. The second part of the demo is where things got a bit more unique. Rather than taking place within a confined and segmented area, it was largely open with very little cover. That means that guns were an extremely risky proposition, as it wouldn’t take much sound to bring another enemy running. Without anything to hide behind to bottleneck them through, it was necessary to rely heavily on melee attacks, making the whole affair quite challenging. [embed]273390:53447:0[/embed] The other aspect of the second level that was interesting is that there was no mask to choose from. This is because the playable character was a different one than in the first stage. While there are multiple characters to play as, we don’t know why yet, as Dennaton isn’t talking much about the story. In fact, they weren’t even at the show; the member of Devolver Digital that demoed the game with me said they stayed home to keep working on the game, so I had no chance to try to squeeze anything out of them. While there might be slight variations to Hotline Miami 2, my core experience from the original was intact in that I died a lot. I mean a lot. Like, an embarrassing amount considering that there were people in line behind me waiting to play. If anyone that was there is reading, I’m sorry, but I have a feeling that it was par for the course for the entire weekend. The sequel’s going to be just as frantic as the original, and let’s face it -- that’s what everyone wants from Hotline Miami.
Hotline Miami 2 photo
I bet everyone did
Anyone that has even the slightest bit of familiarity with Hotline Miami knows what defines it. The neon-swathed visuals, the gratuitous violence, the quick and unforgiving gameplay, and the blaring soundtrack all made the ga...

Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime puts two people in a neon spaceship built for eight

Apr 15 // Darren Nakamura
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (Mac, PC)Developer: Asteroid Base The lovers' circular spaceship has eight stations to be manned: four normal weapons (one for each cardinal direction), shields, piloting, map, and finally a super weapon that takes time to charge. Each station requires only a single button and/or directional control, so it is easy to switch tasks without having to retrain muscle memory. Each weapon defaults to a laser cannon with about a 180 degree range of motion. The shields and piloting allow full 360 degree rotation around the ship, where the shields block damage over a small arc and the rockets push the ship in the opposite direction. The map is generally used only outside combat in order to plan the ship's next moves. The super weapon is constantly rotating around the edge of the ship, and when it is charged up, pressing the button will launch a salvo of missiles that can get players out of tough spots. In practice, players are only dividing six of the stations between the two players during combat, where the map is generally neglected and the super weapon is activated and vacated fairly quickly. Still, taking care of about three stations at once can be quite hectic, and the situation changes often enough that both players will trade who is taking care of what over the course of the game. While Lovers is built for two-player cooperative play, it is possible to play alone with a cute AI-controlled astronaut dog to help out. [embed]273219:53386:0[/embed] What makes controlling the ship most unique is that the playable characters are physical entities on the ship, and switching stations requires the player to physically leave one, then run, jump, and climb to the other. It requires a constant shift of attention, where the player is analyzing the large scale situation while at a station, then must focus on the inner workings of the ship itself in order to travel to another station. Once there, the player can take in the big picture again. Each station can be upgraded with one of a few different types of gems, with different types of gems producing different effects. For instance, the weapons can be upgraded to feature more blasters, or completely converted into a powerful single-shot laser or a short-range ball and chain. Further, the piloting, shields, and super weapon can be upgraded similarly. By the end of our run, our ship had a huge metal shield, sported two flails, and it dropped mines out of the engines. After rescuing enough rabbits, we we able to fly to a wormhole, which took us to a boss fight. Each boss is based on a constellation, so we found ourselves up against a space bear styled after Ursa Major. With our powered up ship, we were able to hold our own pretty well, but it had a few tricks up its sleeve, like teleportation, which kept us running about the ship in order to get a bead on it. The structure for the remainder of the game will be similar to what was shown at PAX. Get to a new area, rescue bunnies, fight a constellation. There is room for exploration and perhaps some light puzzle solving, but at its core, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime seems to be built on the frenzied experience of having too many things to do and not enough people to do them. To be released "when it's done," it will be testing friendships in the hopefully near future.
Dangerous Spacetime photo
All the disaster you would expect from two lovers floating through the void
Navigating through the outer reaches of space is hard. There are multiple systems to account for, from piloting to shields to weapons control, each with its own specialized training necessary. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime ...

Unlike with most fungi, I enjoyed Mushroom 11 growing on me

Apr 14 // Darren Nakamura
Mushroom 11 (Android, iOS, Mac, PC)Developer: Untame Dropping into the game, the wordless tutorial shows basic handling of the amorphous blob. Moving it is not as simple as pressing in the intended direction. In order to move left, the player must destroy cells on the right. Since the cells regenerate along any open cell surface, some will sprout upward rather than opposite the cursor, so simply trying to "push" the blob will result in it cutting in the middle and not moving very far. Instead, players must sweep the cursor to keep its growth in check. It sounds complicated, but once the basic rules of cell destruction and regeneration are understood, simple movement becomes second nature. Soon, players are zooming through tunnels and climbing up walls. [embed]273179:53380:0[/embed] Once that happens, the blob finds itself in various sticky situations, ranging from puzzles to more action-focused endeavors. One sequence has the blob rushing to escape a series of buildings sinking into lava, and it can be pretty tense when it comes down to the wire. Puzzles appear to comprise a greater portion of the game, and the lead developer of Untame Itay Keren was paying close attention to how new players approached the problems he set out. His design philosophy is such that he wants to avoid puzzles that can be solved with brute force. He spoke with glee about most of his observations, while also noting the puzzles that need a bit of work. One clever puzzle requires the player to split the blob up and manipulate two separate entities before erasing one entirely. It teaches that capability elegantly, and sets the player up for more advanced maneuvers. Somewhat unexpectedly, a short while into the demo there is a boss fight, requiring the player to use his climbing and dodging abilities to absorb and defeat another nightmare organism. All of the different parts come together fairly well, and they are all tied to the central destruction/regeneration mechanic. Keren seems to be full of ideas to implement, and while they may not all work in the end, Mushroom 11 looks like it will have some truly new and interesting gameplay.
Mushroom 11 photo
Put away the Tinactin
Mushroom 11 caught our eyes about a month ago, with its unique puzzle gameplay hook: the globular green collection of fungal cells is not directly controlled by the player. Instead, players simply click or tap to "erase" cell...

Impressions: Broforce

Apr 10 // Alasdair Duncan
Broforce (Mac, PC [previewed], consoles)Developer: Free LivesPublisher: Devolver DigitalRelease: Summer 2014MRSP: $14.99 / £11.99  When Broforce first started up I thought I was playing Mercenary Kings for a minute, mainly due to the appearance of a bulky army chopper. Whilst the two games (and the upcoming Super Time Force) share a similar aesthetic and a clear influence from 2D side-scrolling shooters of the past, they couldn't be more dissimilar. Mercenary Kings has a measured pace and is focused on completing missions to level up, Broforce is just sheer mayhem. It's pure run-'n'-gun action but it's not just a Metal Slug clone -- the environments are almost totally destructible and there's explosive canisters and barrels all over the levels so there's plenty of opportunity to inflict massive damage with just a single shot. [embed]273123:53357:0[/embed] You'll need all the help you can get because no matter what member of Broforce you're controlling, a single shot will take you down. In all likelihood you'll be blown up or savagely attacked by a dog. So it pays to take a measured approach before jumping in and blasting everything that moves. Mind you, that can work just as well, and there's manic joy to seeing enemies and barrels explode in the most over-the-top way. Larger enemies will take more than one shot to take down and even some basic troopers will cause problems if you don't take them out fast.  The characters in Broforce are all renamed pastiches from various action movies of the 1980s and 1990s. There's the obvious Schwarzenegger and Stallone clones, along with some more surprising choices like a TNT-throwing MacGuyver clone and trenchcoated Neo character. New additions to the Broforce are unlocked by releasing prisoners from cells dotted around a level; release a prisoner and you'll immediately swap to another new member of the team. Once you release a certain number, you'll unlock a totally new recruit and they'll be added to the roster. Whilst changing to a new character can help out in a difficult situation, you're simply given a random pick from your existing roster. There were plenty of times I had a minigun-wielding T800 clone who I was very happy with only to release a prisoner and be lumped with poor Stallone-esque Judge Dredd, whose pistol didn't quite cut it. Whilst it would be great to be able to pick your replacement, I can see that route leading to players just picking the character with the most powerful weapon.  Whilst the keyboard isn't a bad choice, a controller is a much better option; each character moves and jumps at the same rate and has two attacks: a basic and limited special attack. Every character also has a knife to allow for a short-range melee attack and also a wall-climbing ability. Right now, the jumping feels quite awkward and imprecise. Sometimes I find I can jump higher than normal and other times jumping feels floaty. Hopefully it's something that get's fixed in a future patch -- there are minor updates planned in between large monthly patches -- as I'd love to see the controls made just a little bit tighter. Another nice addition would be slightly easier to understand controller options and a tutorial wouldn't go amiss, either. There's plenty of game modes available right now, from an online co-op mode and deathmatch available for up to four players to Explosion Run and a Race Mode for you to compete against your friends. Broforce also includes an editor with the ability to create and share your own custom levels. It all makes up for a cool package that might see a lot of changes and improvements before its full release in late summer. 
Broforce photo
This muscle-bound physics shooter needs some work but it's still fun
Whether it's the smartass name or the numerous references to action stars, there's nothing subtle about Broforce. Then there's the seemingly never-ending barrage of explosions and showers of pixelated blood that make the stag...

To Leave is one of the neatest games I played during GDC

Apr 03 // Steven Hansen
[embed]272809:53244:0[/embed] To Leave (PC [previewed], Mac, Linux, PS4, Vita)Developer: Freaky CreationsPublisher: Freaky CreationsRelease date: 2014 To Leave is artsy, forward in its metaphor. The main character, Harm, is attempting to get out of a rut, out of a harmful life. The way to do this is to take his flying door and get the heck out of his bog of despair. But escape is hard because the door is fragile and if you hit something, you get sent all the way back to the beginning of the game, the bottom of the city Harm lives in. The progression is glorious. This isn't Super Meat Boy sort of rapid repetition that encourages white knuckle runs as fun. These white knuckle runs can send you back to the beginning of the game. Now, there are checkpoints of sort in the world. You're not replaying the whole game after each death, but it's a tense set up and that sees you failing early and often. And then you keep on keeping on, getting better at wresting yourself from the slop. If you want to ignore the metaphor, the base game is exciting to play. If you run out of Drive (a gauge filled by collecting those blue spirit things), you enter an extra atmospheric Hopeless mode with weird music and sludgy controls. Otherwise, you're clinging to your door, avoiding obstacles with the sort of floaty controls. And enemy patterns don't just reset at respawns so you can't just muscle memory or power your way through levels. I jumped forward in the game to a harder level and just compulsively died and started over, trying to run before walking.  To Leave is also artistic. Just take a look at the screenshots. Nothing is tiled and art isn't reused. There are a number of different themed sections as well. "We want to show Ecuadorian craftsmanship," Palacios explains at my surprise. I couldn't quite put my finger on why the game looked so different, despite it's interesting art style, until I realized. And all those benevolent looking stone faces are cool as heck. Then there's the music, which is a huge focus. You can check out some of the samples right here. Even through a laptop's speakers in a semi-trafficked area, the score helped to immerse me in the world. I just wanted to keep listening to it. GDC is always refreshing and playing To Leave was a perfect example of why I love it. The mechanics are tight, the artistry is interesting, and the angle feels new.
Preview: To Leave photo
Ecuador's first indie game
GDC is full of neat games. There are sentai management sims. Body building cats. Hyper Light Drifter. But one of the neatest games I played during GDC is To Leave, which creative director Estefano Palacios says is the first i...

Krautscape is a racing game where you make your own path to victory

Mar 27 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]272508:53151:0[/embed] The juxtaposition of these two mechanics makes for some intriguing gameplay. Driving is the quicker of the two options, and there are boosters on the track. However, flying can result in major shortcuts, but it sometimes feels like it takes forever to get there. Regardless of your method, the gates need to be hit to score points and to continue the track. Someone will inevitably get there first. While it's interesting to note how flying and driving directly act against one another, they often lead to truly enthralling and memorable moments. During my demo with Krautscape, there were times when my (real life) opponent and I would be gunning for the same gate, but from opposite directions. As we both closed in on it, it couldn't have been more than a second's difference separating us, but that fraction of a second meant the difference of an entire point. That's the Krautscape experience in a nutshell. It might take just a few minutes to grasp how everything works, but once that's done, it's easy to get lost in the competitive spirit and the wonderful aesthetics of the world. Krautscape features three game modes: Ping Pong, which sends the players back and forth on a progressively longer track; Snake, which cuts the track off at the player in last place; and Collector, which tasks players with driving or flying to reach collectibles to keep the multiplayer aspect varied. Rickenbach is also toying with the idea of adding a singleplayer time trial mode. While this inclusion would be nice, it doesn't really capture the soul of Krautscape -- beating other players, and doing it differently every single time.
Krautscape preview photo
And soar above the competition
Practice makes perfect in racing games. "Sight reading" a new course (so to speak) might turn out okay, but any perfectionist will spend hours learning the every nuance of every track in order to shave precious seconds off th...


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