Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

pc

Review: Arslan: The Warriors of Legend

Feb 09 // Chris Carter
Arslan: The Warriors of Legend (PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Omega ForcePublisher: Koei TecmoReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $59.99 One of the chief problems with Arslan is that it assumes, to some extent, that you're familiar with the source material. This will likely be a problem for a lot of you out there as it's a relatively obscure anime. I'm pretty surprised to see that it's been localized, truth be told. It isn't that hard to follow though, as the gist is mostly set up for you in the first few chapters. The titular Arslan is the 14-year-old crown prince of a kingdom who is forced to step up after one of the worst wars his country has ever seen, and he'll have a little help from his friends. That's all a given. But the ins and outs of each character, their idiosyncrasies, and backstories -- much of those are lost in translation, literally. With a history spanning three decades across multiple manga volumes and anime adaptations, there's lots parse. The encyclopedia menu option helps but it's merely a band-aid. That's not to say a certain type of person can't get get drawn into the world -- far from it -- as that's exactly what happened to me. Arslan is more flashy than previous games from Koei Tecmo (with the obvious exception of Pirate Warriors), but it also touches on a few heavy-hitting subjects, albeit on a tertiary level, like slavery and freedom. The anime cutscenes are wonderfully integrated, and there's often a seamless transition to gameplay. Note that it's fully voiced in Japanese and subtitled, with no dub track. [embed]334572:62104:0[/embed] As expected, the same two-button combo system holds up. Combos flow effortlessly once you pick them up, and the efficacy of multiple abilities ensures that you're not just flailing about wildly mashing buttons. There's also the added bonus of blocking and evading, as well as the classic "musou" super attack and a special that's unique to each character. Once I started to unlock more of the cast, I was surprised at how little Omega Force resorted to cloning, accentuated by said special abilities. For instance, Narsus (an outspoken critic of the status quo) wields a paintbrush. Well, a magical paintbrush that can set traps, queue up earthquakes, and cause rainbow explosions. Daryun, Arslan's right hand, is a pole-arm-wielding fiend reminiscent of Warriors characters like Guan Yu, but he sports some of the most interesting animations yet in the series, specifically his prowess on horseback. Elam, an unassuming young kid, ended up being one of my favorite characters. His bow skills surpass most ranged characters in action games today. One dude uses a lute! And the list goes on.  Switching weapons by way of the d-pad also serves to mix up your tactics on the fly. The "Mardan Rush" mechanic is also a standout feature, rallying an entire battalion as a single unit, causing all sorts of mayhem and kill-counts in the thousands in just seconds. There are also several fun RPG elements to Arslan. You can equip up to three skills by way of "cards," which can be earned by completing specific objectives or just playing the game, or by synthesizing your collection. This is fun to do on higher difficulty levels, but it's not something you'll have to micro on normal or below, so don't get too worked up.  But all of that flash and panache comes with a tradeoff: the boss battles are more tedious than you're probably used to. A "shield" system is in place here, which requires players to whittle down a meter until they can do proper damage. The tactic is usually the same, in that hammering on them as much as possible is paramount, saving your musou to deliver the blow after cracking it, and repeating. It would be more of a crushing feeling if nearly every level weren't such a joy to play through. If you can stomach a few minor issues that add up over time, Arslan: The Warriors of Legend will be your huckleberry. True to Warriors form there's plenty of collectibles to find, new weapons to discover, online and offline co-op, and a free-play mode. Like nearly every Omega Force game before it, I'll be playing this one for quite some time. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Warriors review photo
Dynasty anime
Koei Tecmo is killing it in the beat-'em-up action space. While a lot of detractors erroneously claim that all Warriors games are "mindless button mashers," the studio has managed to keep the series interesting for nearl...

Review: Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia

Feb 08 // Chris Carter
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed]) Developer: Climax StudiosPublisher: UbisoftReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $9.99 I was never really a fan of the modern settings in Assassin's Creed -- at least, the action sequences, because the walking simulator IT department bits from Black Flag on were cool -- but that doesn't mean they can't be done. As such, I was keen on seeing what Climax Studios could do with a tale set in 1918, this time shadowing assassin Nikolai Oreov and the quest for a Bolshevik artifact. The pulp animation cinematics are stunning, but the showstopping elements end there. The cast is simply not memorable, including Nikolai, who is doing "one last job" before he abandons the Assassins and finds a new life for his family elsewhere. It's a good hook but Russia never fully sells it, particularly given the underplayed performances. I don't need a charismatic, wisecracking Nolan North per se, just something to connect with. Russia also desperately wants you to know that "he's old," which should be meaningful, but we got a better angle on that storyline with Ezio in later core games anyway. That feeling of familiarity permeates throughout some of the other elements of the game. The Schlinder's List-esque monochrome and red aesthetics looked dope at first, but started to wear after a few levels. Outside of the blazing red and orange sky, a lot of the areas look too similar, even if it serves to differentiate all of the interaction zones (all those hidden little hovels). Though it does have the added benefit of cordoning off secret areas by purposefully not brightening them, which is rad. [embed]339981:62172:0[/embed] Beyond that, you can expect more of the same compared to the past entries in the trilogy, which is to say great things. The 2D switch-off works wonderfully. The controls are so responsive, and the tools available are not only effective, but succeed in not overwhelming the player. I love that you can approach levels with either a gung-ho or pacifist style, or anything in between, and the running slide assassination ability is still just as satisfying. Unique to Russia, yanking off grates Arkham style with a winch and using phones to distract guards is silly, but it works when juxtaposed to the serious art style. I'm a bit torn on the gunplay however, because while the art of sniping does technically fit the quiet nature of the universe, it wasn't done in such a way that elevates it beyond an arcadey shooting gallery. There are a few sequences where distraction is key, like a mini-puzzle of sorts, but in most cases you're just blasting away at folks until no one is left standing. With six challenges to do (just like India) and a New Game+ option, Assassin's Creed Chronicles: Russia has plenty to offer for a bite-sized package, but it fails to live up to the bar set by its predecessors. The loud and powerful styles of China and India simply trump the final piece of the pie, which goes out with a muted rebel yell. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Assassin's Creed review photo
Once more, with guns
Assassin's Creed Chronicles had a nice thing going on with China and India, delivering some of the classic stealth action the series is known for with a striking new art style and a shift to 2D action. Now Ubisoft i...

Review: Firewatch

Feb 08 // Steven Hansen
Firewatch (PS4, PC [reviewed])Developer: Campo SantoPublisher: Panic Inc., Campo SantoReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Henry is sad. Why else retreat to the woods of Wyoming to become a fire lookout? It starts in Colorado when Henry, plastered, tries to hit on a woman at a bar. She feels so bad for him she gives him a pity date that turns into a relationship. These bits are done purely with text and music, interspersed by full three dimensional segments of Henry walking out of an elevator into a parking garage and getting into his beat up, fire-engine red pickup. Not unlike Kentucky Route Zero, a high mark in the adventure game genre, Firewatch opens with opportunities for the player to partially define Henry's character. When your girlfriend Julia wants a dog, do you accept the beagle she falls in love with, or insist you get a German shepherd (for protection)? When she asks about children, do you ask her to wait? These choices are not superficial; they are real-life important. More than affecting the outcome of that relationship (you already know he is escaping to the Wyoming woods by the mid-80s), they take on personal meaning in how you sharpen elements of Henry's character.  Mixing these text-adventure-style segments with Henry's dutiful trek into the woods makes them more poignant because you already know how it ends. Badly. Yes. But with a surprising complication. Julia, by then Henry's wife, comes down with early onset Alzheimer's. I didn't expect to be hit that hard by two white text options, but the decision to keep minding her around the house 24/7 or put her in a home was not easy -- and I don't even know what she looks like. While Julia and the relationship are defined in broad strokes, the choice doesn't feel as abstract as choosing to save a character and let another die in The Walking Dead, for example. These are familiar, real-world issues. As Henry settles into his role as lookout, ascending his tower after an eight mile hike, he is met by the voice of Delilah, his boss, who communicates with him via walkie-talkie. This makes up the bulk of the gameplay: walking around, chatting with Delilah via radio. It is a welcomed evolution of the stationary choice-based dialogue trees (you use the triggers so you can walk, talk, and probably even chew gum at the same time). Their conversations are natural thanks to strong dialogue matched by each character's voice performance. Delilah's constant cursing and groan-inducing puns are met by Henry stammering "p-p-p-panties" on the way to keep those aforementioned nude teens from setting off any more fireworks in light of the extreme fire warning. The chemistry is natural as they alternate jabbing back and forth and opening up with one another, though still I found it difficult to bring up my abandoned wife the first few times opportunity arose. Silence is a viable dialogue option. Henry, though, is not just defined through player-guided dialogue. Everything about the production furthers his character. He is not a camera on wheels. You see shorts-clad legs when you look down or his large, meaty hands as he exerts himself clambering up a one meter lip. He is human, average, and the animation work reinforces that. Firewatch is filthy with telling details like these. Some pieces just add flavor (in the confiscated bundle of bottle rockets, one is called the Screaming Wife, and all have original artwork), but it all works towards a cohesive tone. [embed]339920:62167:0[/embed] Art director Olly Moss' color palette is not just pretty to look at. The exaggerated hues work towards the overall tone, from the warm oranges to vivid, dark evenings, while the stylized look is readable, moving away from obfuscating photorealism. I rarely got lost in the unfamiliar woods (though there is a paper map Henry physically pulls up and scribbles notes on). The area is designed and the story paced with just enough backtracking to breed familiarity with the territory, while the relative isolation still leaves it frightening, especially as the story moves away from potential drama-cum-romcom into a thriller.  Most impressive is the thematic cohesion. Firewatch is broadly about guilt, which metastasizes here as isolation-induced paranoia when things turn frightening. After day one on the job Henry comes back to his tower to find the place smashed into. The teens, maybe? Or that silhouette of a hiker spotted on the way back home? While Henry has Delilah on the radio, isolation is what drove him into the woods, perpetuating a cycle of guilt leading to self-imposed loneliness shared by the major characters. The same nagging doubt, decision-questioning, and fear is externalized in the second act as outside forces appear to be stalking Henry and monitoring the conversations between him and Delilah. At which point, incidentally, their carefree, innocent flirting now seems lurid. Something to be ashamed of for the still-married Henry. Let's not forget guilt, internalized anger that can lead to isolation. Ambient sound design shines brightest here, as everything from the weirdly strong rattle of a chain link fence to scurrying in the distance invokes fear -- especially after Henry is sucker punched unconscious on the way to do some fishing. It was here for me Firewatch accessed fear on a Hitchcockian level. No monsters. Only one encounter with some kind of assailant. Still the surveillance, the mystery, the vulnerability and the isolation left me wandering around always checking my six rather than frolicking through gorgeous woods. Music, art, and dialogue quickly established the forest familiar, giving me nostalgia flashes of camping as a kid and first stepping out of the car, dwarfed by redwoods, twigs crunching underfoot. Then that comfort is stripped away. The analog inputs (pulling up the walkie-talkie or map, spinning the same "1234" tumblers to unlock every single park lock box with Henry's paws) combined with unique animation and believable voice work help ground Firewatch, which manages both restraint and maturity in its story without ever going full mumblecore "walking simulator." The warmth of the budding relationship between two voices with natural chemistry is undercut by harsher realities and the drawn out segments of feeling stalked and vulnerable are legitimately stressful. The result is a tight, taut human tale well worth the trek.
Firewatch, with me! photo
A watched fire never kills you
The drunk, nude teens bathing in the lake at sunset summed up Firewatch neatly: "you're just some sad man out in the woods." Kids always know just where to cut. If you could translate the insult quadrant of their brains you'd...

Review: Unravel

Feb 08 // Caitlin Cooke
Unravel (PC, Xbox One, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Coldwood InteractivePublisher: Electronic ArtsReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Unravel’s story begins with an elderly woman making her way up to bed as Yarny, the game’s darling protagonist made from red yarn, comes to life downstairs. His adventure begins just outside of the cottage, roaming through the garden and into the beyond in search of lost memories made by the family that once inhabited the house, unraveling himself along the way. Yarny is able to roam freely throughout the cottage, a landing area for the ten chapters in the game which are accessed through framed pictures. Each photo transports our hero to the area it was taken where he encounters fragments of lost family memories, pictures frozen in time. At the end of each chapter he places the memories into a photo album that starts to come to life, weaving pictures into a story. [embed]339641:62166:0[/embed] To capture all the memories you guide Yarny through various terrain and strategize on how to make it past obstacles without unraveling him too much, as he only has limited amounts of yarn before reaching another spool. At first the game throws a lot of yarn techniques and mechanics at you quickly, but with time they start to become second nature. Coming up with clever solutions using environmental props along with grappling, swinging, climbing, rappelling, and tying knots for points of resistance are key to making it through. The yarn puzzles are fairly easy to figure out without being too simple -- each task is fairly small and broken up, not requiring long chains of thought but at the same time being challenging enough to feel rewarded when making it through. There were a few areas I was stuck on for longer than I’d like, but for the most part I found them to be fun and clever. Surprisingly, the levels never felt repetitive and the game was kept fresh by experimenting with the yarn’s mechanics in new environments. Outside influences also give a bit of flavor, requiring additional thought behind the puzzles -- for example, landslides, animal chases, and active machinery all play additional parts to the game beyond the yarn. Because the yarn is finite and will stop unraveling if you use too much, being cautious with solutions is critical to making it past obstacles. Yarny will get visibly distressed and emaciated if you pull too far away -- but don’t worry, you won’t kill him, he just won’t stretch any farther. If you find yourself in a particular bind (literal or no) you are able to reset back to the last save point by holding the down button. This is an extremely useful and necessary feature as it is quite possible to accidentally get yourself in an unsolvable situation. Spools act as save points along with providing the additional thread, and are fairly regular throughout the levels, however there are some small stretches that can wear thin if you’re not careful and make too many mistakes. Unravel as a whole is a whimsical and endearing adventure, pulling you further into the atmosphere through the intricate textures and bright effects. In one of my favorite levels you make your way through a snowy farm, rolling pine cones to make snowballs. The environment was so realistically captured and joyful that I felt I was right there with Yarny rolling around in the snow. Textures and light within the environment are slightly exaggerated, but in that magical way that makes fond memories stand out brighter. Everything from a log to a puddle comes to life beyond what’s contained in reality, almost like watching the most beautiful sceneries replay in your head. There’s a certain sadness to the experience that I can’t quite explain, perhaps lost nostalgia and a lingering familial longing that tugs at the heartstrings. It’s not necessarily "sad" or depressing in the traditional sense, but a thoughtful tale that brings forth various emotions throughout that will vary depending on the player’s personal history and connection to the story. These emotions are certainly drawn out even further by the sepia tones and lovely violin accompaniment, along with the self-discovering nature of the game. Unravel cherishes the best moments in life while recognizing the hard battles we sometimes face as families, all wrapped up within delightful gameplay and stunning scenery. The atmosphere is so compelling that I couldn’t help but feel like a piece of my own story was wrapped up in the game with the rest of the photo album. It’s rare but a special thing when a game manages to impart a story that touches strings deep in the heart, and Unravel manages to meet and exceed this feat. Get ready to have all the feels. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Unravel review photo
Simply beautiful
At first glance Unravel feels akin to LittleBigPlanet with its adorably miniature yarn-clad mascot, but don’t let it fool you. It’s a heartfelt story with little communication beyond imprinted memories, woven with...


Review in Progress: XCOM 2

Feb 05 // Nic Rowen
XCOM 2 (PC [reviewed], Mac)Developer: Firaxis GamesPublisher: 2K GamesReleased: February 5, 2015MSRP: $59.99 I'm a sap. A total and complete sap. If a game has an option to individually customize characters, I will always engage with it to the exclusion of everything else until I'm happy with what I've done. Even more so in a game like XCOM where the stakes are high and characters run a high risk of dying a horrible, and permanent, death. What better way to make that loss feel real? When a squadie gets flayed by an alien soldier wielding a rail gun in my game, I'm not just out a decent Ranger, I've lost one of my friends. I'm guessing I'm not the only one who does this, because Firaxis leaned into the character creation element hard in XCOM 2. Before you even begin fighting the alien menace, you can hop into the character creator and start making your dream squad, filing them away to show up organically in your game as fresh recruits and VIP extraction targets. As I said, I know I'm a sap, but that didn't stop me from being positively giddy when I found a grizzled rifle-toting version of my brother in my first randomized squad. Unlike XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which had fairly limited customization options, there are tons of small, silly, character-establishing quirks to fiddle with in XCOM 2 when you should be plowing through missions and writing a review. Sunglasses, tattoos, cigarettes, scars, camo patterns, accents, all sorts of small ways to make your squad feel like yours. It does make me wonder why there are only a handful of possible faces to round out all these options, but that is a minor quibble. XCOM 2 seems harder than Enemy Unknown, but in a satisfying way. Whenever a game builds up a reputation as punishing, there is always a risk that the developers will take it too far in the sequel, ramp up the difficulty in ways that don't seem fair. So far, that doesn't seem to be the case. The challenge is stiffer, but it comes from a more varied and tactically interesting set of options and enemies than a brute force buff to enemy stats. While the aliens have always outnumbered the XCOM force, the imbalance is even greater here. Even in early missions you'll run into stacked odds. This is mitigated by the new concealment mechanic which allows your squad to move freely in stealth to setup a devastating ambush before the fight begins in earnest. Play your cards right, and you can trap the aliens in a crossfire straight out of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It's almost unhealthy how satisfying it feels to drop three aliens on your very first turn of combat. Not that you'll always have time to get that ambush in motion. Timed missions and pressure conditions are more common in XCOM 2, urging you and your squad to overextend and take stupid risks in an effort to beat the clock. In these situations, trying to set up that ideal ambush situation can hamstring you in the end when you run out of turns to complete the mission. You have to get a feel for when you need to rush and when you have time to get cheeky. I've already managed to lose a couple of squad members (including Jane Kelly, the named tutorial character with spoken dialog; hope she's not supposed to show up in more story stuff later on!) and I expect they are far from the last. Despite playing hundreds of hours of Enemy Unknown and Enemy Within, XCOM 2 has done enough to change up the formula to make fighting the aliens an unpredictable, surprising, and scary experience. I wouldn't have it any other way. I'm going to need more time to beat the game, test the other difficulty options, and try out multiplayer before I'll be able to issue a final verdict. (2K Games only provided us a copy on the day before launch for some reason so unfortunately we're playing catch-up. Sorry!) So far, though, XCOM 2 is an impressive feat. A total improvement to a game that I already thought was pretty damn close to perfect. I've yet to pull out its guts, but if the first few hours are any indication, this is going to be one hell of an alien autopsy. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
XCOM 2 review in prog photo
Welcome back, commander
I've only had a few hours with XCOM 2, Firaxis Games' follow-up to its 2012 XCOM: Enemy Unknown and I can already tell it's a different beast. At its core, it is still the same isometric turn-based strategy game it has always...

Review: Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4

Feb 04 // Laura Kate Dale
Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Cyber Connect 2Publisher: Bandai NamcoReleased: February 9, 2016MSRP: $49.99 Much like the previous Ninja Storm games, this is a combination of 3D multiplayer fighting with a truncated re-telling of the story of Shippuden. Starting in the midst of The Great Ninja War, Ultimate Ninja Storm 4's story mode tells the same tale as the manga and anime, cutting out any side action and pruning what’s left to the bare essentials. Where did Kakashi get his Sharingan? Who is the guy in the orange mask? Will Naruto ever convince people to “believe it”? As a reminder of the story’s progression and to round off my enjoyment of Naruto, Ninja Storm 4 was a solid, satisfying experience. Featuring full English and Japanese voice tracks from the cast of the anime, the story mode tends to switch between ten-minute chunks of anime cutscene and short fight sequences as appropriate. There's an awful lot of watching compared to playing, but as someone looking to get through the story, that suited me just fine. The combat, which remains unchanged between the single-player story and multiplayer modes, favours style over substance. Characters use the same combo button presses and control in much the same way as each other. The primary difference between the cast is in visual flourish, the speed at which they move, and the type of over-the-top special attack they employ. It's designed so that once you have wrapped your head around controlling one character, you can switch and play as another with very little additional practice needed. [embed]338210:62087:0[/embed] In versus mode, you pick three characters from which to build a team. While you can switch characters mid-battle, the most interesting aspect of team selection is that pairing together characters with pre-existing narrative ties can result in the ability to perform special combination moves unique to the game. Put Sasuke and Naruto together, for example, and you'll see a pretty cool-looking lightning Chidori Rasengan combination attack. This simplification of combat mechanics is, in many ways, a welcome blessing, as the roster in Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is enormous. There are multiple variants of the main cast with unique move-sets, everyone from end-of-the-story villains to minor characters. I spent hours with the game just trying to see every character's top-end skills pulled off, and am well aware there's a whole bunch of combination attacks I still have not seen. Naruto Shippuden: Ultimate Ninja Storm 4 is fairly simple as a fighting game, and has evolved little mechanically over past iterations. Thankfully for me, it really didn't need to do either of those things. It's an extravagant, over-the-top spectacle where you get to watch teenage ninjas blow up chunks of the planet using magic attacks, and that's pretty cool. If, like me, you fell off the Naruto bandwagon during the early parts of Ninja War, it's a great way to put a few hours in and still know how the whole narrative ended up playing out. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Naruto photo
Simple, flashy, over the top
Almost a decade ago, in my mid-teens, I was hugely into Naruto. As a socially awkward nerd who had just discovered that Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon were part of a larger media genre, I spent years avidly following the adven...

Review: Call of Duty: Black Ops III: Awakening

Feb 02 // Chris Carter
Call of Duty: Black Ops III (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: TreyarchPublisher: ActivisionReleased: February 2, 2016 (PS4) / TBA (PC, Xbox One)MSRP: $14.99 ($50 Season Pass for four packs) When it comes to map design, Treyarch is one of the best in the business. One of its go-to staples is the three-lane approach, which allows for all sorts of interesting firefights and strategies throughout every game type. It takes it to an extreme here with Gauntlet, as it hosts three unique themes in each lane -- tropical, arctic, and industrial. Each area evokes feelings of the past Black Ops maps, Jungle, Discovery, and Kowloon respectively, which is good company to be in. Gauntlet is instantly recognizable, and really feels like three maps in one. If anything it's a bit too tunnel-oriented as folks will no doubt have issues with a lack of elevation (especially in the arctic and jungle themes), but it gets the job done and I'm glad it's in the rotation. [embed]338194:62083:0[/embed] Splash (pictured up top) is typical Treyarch at its finest. It's an absurd water park map that wouldn't feel out of place at Disney World's Caribbean Beach Resort. It's bright, it's littered with shops and rides, and even has a Main Street area. Water slides dot the landscape, as do cute mascot signs that top the previous meta Burger Town franchise -- it would feel right at home in the wackier Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare games. It's crazy that you can consistently read the detail on individual signs now as well (a few of which made me laugh, like the "no selfie stick" one), instead of haphazardly trying to read blurry scrawls. It's one of my favorite maps in years, with a wide array of open areas and indoor close-quarters combat sections. Skyjacked, quite simply, is a remake of Hijacked from Black Ops II. This map was a bit divisive in the community due to its close-quarters focus and propensity to promote camping, so most of you have already made up your mind on it. Personally it was one of my favorites, so I'm glad to see Treyarch bringing it back here, and was happy to play it again. The new theme isn't a half-measure like some past remakes, as the entire affair now takes place in a floating fortress, set to the backdrop of an ongoing city battle. It's a remake of a good map that's made even better due to jumpjet and wallrunning capabilities. There's usually one map that I outright dislike in a pack, and this time it's Rise. It's far too gated and familiar for my tastes, and is nearly indistinguishable from a few industrial levels included in the base package (namely Exodus). There are times where you'd think a cool new area is just waiting around a corner, but then the game doesn't allow you to actually go there due to invisible walls. It's almost like they spent too much time building the other three to really put the proper amount of care in here. If it comes up in the rotation I usually cringe. Der Eisendrache (The Iron Dragon) caps off the DLC, which immediately adds more of an incentive to pick up Awakening. Peppering in one zombie (or alien) map is a strategy the other Call of Duty developers (Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer) have adopted for good reason -- the sheer amount of depth in these things keep people coming back for more. I really dig the whole castle theme, which basically goes full Wolfenstein from the start. I'm sad to see the Jeff Goldblum crew seemingly isn't returning for more, but the original cast is iconic enough to last, spearheaded by Steve Blum's Dempsey. The animated intro certainly helps give the level a different feel as well, and it's crazy that Treyarch is still building upon the lore it created so many years ago in World at War. Der Eisendrache surprised me as well with its open layout, with plenty of room to move, lots of teleporters, and tons of secrets that players will be tracking down weeks after launch. As Nikolai even remarks during Der Eisendrache, "will there ever be an end to this nightmare?" Not as long as Activision keeps selling DLC, there isn't! But one man's nightmare is another man's video game, and the good news is that each Call of Duty developer has been pushing itself harder in recent years to justify the price. If you still play Black Ops III, you can't really go wrong with Awakening -- especially since the new maps are now built into normal playlists from the get-go.
Call of Duty DLC review photo
Four maps and some zombies
It's still crazy to me that I'm loading up a Call of Duty DLC pack first on PlayStation 4. After years of Microsoft-dominated timed exclusivity Sony finally has its shot at heading it up, and it has perfect timing with Black Ops III. As one of the best Call of Duty games in years, it allows Awakening plenty of room to breathe, and lets Treyarch be its unconventional self.

Review: LEGO Marvel's Avengers

Jan 29 // Chris Carter
LEGO Marvel's Avengers (3DS, PC, PS3, PS4 [reviewed], Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: TT Fusion, TT GamesPublisher: WB Interactive EntertainmentReleased: January 16, 2016MSRP: $29.99 (3DS, Vita), $39.99 (PC) $49.99 ( PS3, Wii U, Xbox 360), $59.99 (PS4, Xbox One) Marvel's Avengers is the latest beat-'em-up in a long line of Traveller's Tales LEGO joints, a subseries that has hosted roughly 30 games since 2005. It follows the same rough format as past titles, with a few added bits of panache (like more cinematic attacks and sequences) for good measure. You probably know the drill by now -- multiple characters are on-screen at a time, all of which sport several attacks, but they have slightly different ways of going about it. For instance, Captain America and Hulk are both melee fighters, but Cap will be able to reflect beams, and Hulk can smash through giant machinery. Iron Man and Thor excel at range and can fly, but the former can melt metal with his beams. You get the idea. Playing with a partner will enhance your experience tenfold as you can operate in tandem with one another, as going at it solo puts a damper on things by forcing you to switch characters often. That's even more true for Avengers, where the two-person synergy attacks (like Thor slamming into Cap's shield for a shockwave) are that much more satisfying. The best part, the LEGO franchise's signature silly humor, is intact. Interactions and events play out in a similar manner, so there aren't a lot of surprises, but additional jokes and a general sense of lightheartedness actually elevate a few dud portions of the films. As such, every cutscene brings a smile to my face, and helps break up the repetition a bit. I never really minded the shift from the gibberish "LEGO speak" of the past into full voice acting, as Traveller's Tales has always maintained the same tone successfully. [embed]337320:62048:0[/embed] That cavalier, cartoony attitude can go a bit overboard, though. While including over 200 characters is a cool notion, especially for kids who are fans of some of the more obscure heroes, you end up with an overwhelming number of clones and a general sense of vanilla loadouts. They're also inherently limited by the plotlines put forth in the MCU so they can't deviate too much, compared to a wholly original game like Dimensions. So where does LEGO Marvel start to really falter? Its inability to stick to one script at at time. It jumps around so many films that it fails to tell a cohesive story, and assumes you've seen every movie. If you haven't, you'll probably be a mite bewildered as to what's going on. In fact, the game kind of just jumps into Age of Ultron's intro with no rhyme, reason, or setup, before moving onto scenes from both Captain America movies, Thor 2, Iron Man 3, and more. And don't think there's some overarching "Galactus is narrating the story" device -- it just happens as it comes. The open world hubs are a welcome respite from the constant bang bang action, in that sense. As for me, I've experienced every bit of the MCU outside of the comics, so it did mostly make sense. Some is good, some is bad (Agent Carter, which just returned to TV, is pretty good!), but the vast majority of it is easy to follow. It's not like you're going to be scratching you head trying to decipher poignant plotlines -- the game just mostly lacks context, and suffers from fanservice-itis. The latter especially comes into play when the game splices in direct quotes from the film, some of which feel forced, with an odd audio mix to boot. Does your kid constantly go on about Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Jr. while they run around the room in their Hawkeye outfit? Pick up LEGO Marvel's Avengers and add it to the massive pile of LEGO games you likely already have. It's a fun mindless romp through a couple of interesting setpieces, but not a whole lot more than that when it comes down to it. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
LEGO Marvel's Avengers photo
WB always finds out, bro
The MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) is intimidating, to say the least. In addition to all of the feature films there's also official tie-in comics, one-shot short films, multiple sequels that set up sequels, and now, eight separate television shows with multiple seasons across two networks. If you haven't been at least following the movies, LEGO Marvel's Avengers probably isn't for you.

Review: American Truck Simulator

Jan 29 // Patrick Hancock
American Truck Simulator (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: SCS SoftwarePublisher: SCS SoftwareRelease Date: February 3, 2016MSRP: $19.99  Euro Truck Simulator has quietly worked its way into the lives of many gamers over the years, myself included. I'm not sure why or when I thought I'd enjoy it, but I'm certainly glad the decision was made. These types of games are many things for many people; some enjoy the serenity, others enjoy the realism, and I'm sure there are those who turn their trucks into a replica of Darkside from Twisted Metal and ram into anything that crosses their path. For those veterans, American Truck Simulator is more of the same but in a new region. Calling it "American" seems a bit disingenuous at the moment, since players can only drive through California and Nevada. That's a lot of area to be sure, but hardly represents America. Many will envision a coast-to-coast trek from New York to Los Angeles, or traveling on Route 66 from state to state, but neither of these are possible at the moment. I say "at the moment" because, like Euro Truck Simulator before it, players should understand that they are buying into a platform. Nevada is technically free DLC at launch (and is included in this review), and the development team is working on Arizona as future free DLC as well. As of now there's no definitive DLC roadmap, but SCS Software has stated that "it will take us years to cover the continent," if it is financially viable. For newcomers to the series, or those simply curious as to how this is a real thing, here's the deal. Players assume the role of an American truck driver, making cargo deliveries in California and Nevada. Early on, taking jobs from various companies, using their trucks, is a steady income. As profit increases, players can afford their own trucks and even hire other drivers to carry out jobs. There are only two trucks available at the moment, which is a bit of a bummer. There are, of course, plans to add more, but as of now there are a Kentworth T 680 and a Peterbilt 579. There are variations of the two and plenty of  customization options, which help make them stand out more, but it's still only two models of truck at launch. Drivers will also gain experience and level up as deliveries are completed. Upon leveling, stat points can be distributed to categories like fuel economy, long-distance deliveries, and unlocking new types of cargo. As if making an expensive delivery wasn't nerve-wracking enough, think about delivering explosive or chemical cargo! Increasing these statistics will net the player higher rewards for completing assignments under those categories. The benefits are very detailed to the player, allowing them to make informed decisions when leveling up. While driving, it's important to remember the rules of the road. Running a red light will result in a fine (damn red light cameras), as will speeding. While Euro Truck Simulator utilized speed cameras, here in America things work a little differently. Cops are constantly on patrol, and if caught speeding near one, a fine will instantly be deducted. There's no car chase or even getting pulled over, just cop lights and sirens and $1,000 removed from your bank account. Along the way, players may need to stop for gas, rest, get weighed at weigh stations, or get repairs. These must be done at certain locations and have corresponding meters on the HUD. The biggest concern with these is the time invested, since each assignment has a window in which the recipient expects their items to be delivered in. Just a heads up: if you're driver starts yawning, stop at a rest station! The traffic AI seems to be vastly improved in American Truck Simulator. Cars will stop early at intersections, making those wide turns that much easier. They also rarely pull out in front of your giant truck barreling down on them, though I have had that happen once or twice. Hell, they'll even slow down if your blinker is on to let you move over! Well, sometimes. There are a few different control methods, ranging from very simple to complex. Steering can be done with the keyboard or mouse, and of course the game supports both console and steering wheel controllers. I found myself most  comfortable with the Steam Controller and gyro controls. The biggest gap between the simple and the complex is changing gears manually, though even at its most complex it's not exactly a "hardcore" simulator. There's definitely a lot to manage, especially for me, but people who were looking for more depth in this entry won't find it here. Is it difficult? Well, it's as difficult as you want it to be. Making the controls complex is an easy way to make the game more engaging. Personally, I think the most difficult aspect is parking. When delivering cargo there will be three options. The hardest option yields the most experience, and will ask players to pull some fancy backing up and maneuvering in order to place the trailer where it needs to go.  The second option is much more achievable, while the third option is to skip it entirely and earn no bonus experience. It's a great to be able to say "you know what? I really don't feel like parking this explosive gas tank right now." To help pass time, a good amount of radio stations are available to listen to while on the road, and it is also possible to input a personal music library by relocating some files on your computer. I enjoyed listening to some classic rock stations while "working." I must say, listening to Eric Clapton's "Wonderful Tonight" while driving a big rig at night into Las Vegas is something that will stick with me probably forever. That's in part due to the beautiful engine. The scenery is quite a change of pace compared to the European scenery, which helps make this feel like something fresh, despite the mechanical similarities. Cities are also fleshed out more and feel more "alive" than ever before. Google Maps has been used to help create a realistic recreation of the Golden State, so many areas will be immediately recognizable to those familiar with them. Yes, players will begin to see repeat storefronts over and over again, but it hardly detracts from the overall immersion. American Truck Simulator caters to a wide array of people. There's something to be said for the serenity of cruising down a highway at night and obeying all the traffic laws. It's also a great opportunity to enjoy some audiobooks or podcasts while somewhat-mindlessly growing a trucking enterprise.  Those looking for vast mechanical or design improvements in the series won't find them here. The map is relatively small, considering the size of America, but the tradeoff is worth it: the scenery is fresh, accurate, and varied, while cities feel much more realistic. With two trucks and two included states, and another one on its way, American Truck Simulator is an investment into the series' future, but it's not a steep one and easily earns its value with what is already presented. So, while it may not be possible to go from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma, it is possible to go from Oakland to Sactown, the Bay Area and back down. And that's just fine. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
American Truck Sim Review photo
California love
I live in New Jersey, so I think I know a thing or two about California. After all, I've listened to plenty of N.W.A. and Tupac, plus I've seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  Oh, and I've been to California a whole lot to visit my brother and for that one E3 I attended. Does this make me an expert? Yes. Yes it does.

PC Port Report: Rise of the Tomb Raider

Jan 27 // Joe Parlock
Rig: Intel i7-4790k 4GHz 4-core processor, 16GB of RAM (2x Corsair Vengeance 8GB DDR3), GTX 980. Windows 10 Pro 64-bit. Framerate measured with Steam. Game played at the “Very high” preset, with anti-aliasing and ambient occlusion slightly lowered. [Update: Due to playing a pre-release build, I did not have access to Nvidia's Game Ready Drivers while writing this. I can now confirm that installing the Game Ready Drivers that were released today (January 27) did not fix the problems I discuss below. In fact, I would say it's made things worse: the stuttering is more frequent and the loading times are now two or three times longer than what I saw pre-drivers.] The options menu is comprehensive, with menus both inside and outside of the game. Rise supports up to 4K resolutions for those with a PC strong enough to run it, which is a decent boost from Xbox One's native 1080p. The options include all of the usuals you’d expect in a decent PC port, such v-sync, anti-aliasing, and ambient occlusion. Full key rebinding is also available, with the ability to set both a primary and secondary key for every action. You’re not exactly spoiled for choice when it comes to anti-aliasing options, with only four options that might end up not being the most efficient for your graphics card. Being able to force your preferred style of anti-aliasing in the graphics card control panel means this isn’t a huge problem, but I would’ve liked more in-game settings. I also appreciate the existence of a few quality-of-life settings that I've I’ve never seen in other games before. They’re not huge additions: simple stuff like each character having their own subtitle colour and full support for Razer Chroma hardware, but I like that they’re there. Weirdly there aren’t any colour blind options, though, which would have been useful for some players considering how the game relies upon discerning different shades of the same colour for navigation. Visually, Rise is gorgeous. The textures are insanely crisp and detailed, and even when I rammed the camera right up against a wall I struggled to see much blurring. The lighting effects are also wonderful, and really add to the atmosphere of the many tombs and caves Lara has to jump through. I thought 2013's Tomb Raider was pretty, but when you pump Rise up to the maximum settings it really is a visual treat... if you can get it to run properly. [embed]336747:62000:0[/embed] As far as the port goes, that’s unfortunately where the positives end.  Playing it with keyboard and mouse is a mixed bag. While aiming and shooting feel nice and responsive, movement is slow, sluggish, and generally difficult to control. Climbing was the biggest challenge, as I’d often find Lara leaping to her death or in a direction I wasn’t even pressing. I heavily recommend you use a gamepad if you can, as standard PC controls can be quite a nightmare in the more fiddly portions. That's peanuts, though, compared to the biggest problem with Rise of the Tomb Raider’s port: the numerous, terrible, and sometimes even game-breaking performance issues. It’s worth noting that I have a new, beefy PC that is way above the already fairly high minimum requirements, and yet I still suffered from inconsistent framerates and memory usage problems that made playing Rise a chore. At some points, I was able to enjoy a solid, smooth, and stutter-free 60FPS, but then only a minute later my game would be dragged down to a low of 20FPS for seemingly no reason.  For example, a very chaotic set-piece with lots of explosions, snow, and flying debris had a totally stable 60FP, but then I was lucky to get 25 in the small, dark, undetailed cave that immediately followed it. I’ve even gone to an area running at 60FPS, briefly ducked into a cave, only to come back out in the exact same place and find the game was now running at 40FPS instead. Even putting the game on the lowest possible graphics quality settings didn't help, which makes me think this probably will affect everyone regardless of the strength of their rig. I’m not a programmer, and so I can't conclusively identify the cause, but I think it might have something to do with the game’s fairly significant memory usage problems. Sometimes it was using upwards of 6GB RAM, even in relatively quiet and simple areas. This is the only game I have ever had crash due to my PC running out of memory, and on 16GB of brand new RAM and a new video card with 4GB VRAM, that shouldn’t be happening. It especially shouldn’t be happening after only about an hour of play. I don't want to definitively say this is a memory leak, but it sure as hell feels like one. Overall, Rise of the Tomb Raider’s port is a strange one. It has all the hallmarks of a good job: lots of graphics options and it supports both a higher framerate and resolution than its console counterpart. It’s such a shame that those positives are then dragged down by numerous, unacceptable performance issues, even for PCs much higher than the minimum spec. If my brand new, high-end PC is having trouble running this game smoothly, I dread to think how it affects those who are closer to the minimum requirements. I have to admit, I wasn’t wowed by 2013’s Tomb Raider. On its own, it was a pretty good game. It had stunning visuals, exciting set-pieces, and great exploration, but it didn't feel like a Tomb Raider game. I felt that Square had pulled out the campy, trap-avoiding, dinosaur-shooting heart of the previous games, and replaced it with a generic, edgy, and sometimes borderline sadistic husk. Fortunately, Rise of the Tomb Raider feels like a great midpoint between the solid game design of 2013 and the campy, silly fun of the original games. It has a sinister organisation racing for a powerful ancient artifact, and it’s up to you, badass archaeologist Lara Croft, to beat them to the punch. If every animal in the area hasn’t become an endangered species by the time you’re done, you’ve been playing the game wrong. Mechanically there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between Rise and its predecessor. It’s still essentially Uncharted by way of Bear Grylls, but those mechanics are put to much better use in Rise, and you're given far more varied locations to play in. Whereas Tomb Raider 2013 rarely deviated from its green island setting, within the first hour of Rise you’ve been to a wintery cliff face, a vast network of desert ruins, and then eventually dropped into the forests of Siberia. And there are tombs! Actual, honest-to-God tombs that you can raid! In the previous game, tombs were rare as hell, and when they did finally show up they didn’t amount to much more than a single room with a simple puzzle. In Rise, not only are there are far more optional tombs to explore, they're well designed, lengthy, and actually worth doing. Exploring the world feels much more satisfying when you know the stuff you're going to find isn't unmitigated arse for a change. While I agree with Steven that Rise of the Tomb Raider is basically more of the same, it does feel a lot more confident in its execution. The story and dialogue aren’t afraid to ham things up, Lara is finally a decent character, and there’s a much greater variety of locales to explore.  Nice job, Crystal Dynamics. You've successfully got me back into a series that I've been turned off from since Legends. Here's hoping you're able to fix the port-specific problems soon. [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Tomb Raider PC Port photo
Rise of the Performance Issues
After being an Xbox One exclusive for all of five minutes, Rise of the Tomb Raider is finally making its way to PC. As the follow-up to the popular 2013 reboot, it certainly had a lot to live up to. Back when it originally la...

All the crazy Beautiful Mind shit I did to beat The Witness

Jan 26 // Brett Makedonski
That screenshot really drove home how I've committed myself to The Witness and only The Witness. It got me thinking about not only the amount of time I've spent in-game, but all the crazy out-of-game tasks I've resorted to. Here are some pictures. (Note that there are minor spoilers in this post. While there are no direct puzzle solutions, there are representations of possible solutions. You'll probably be fine if you don't dwell on any of them for too long or give them any serious thought. Heads-up, though.) This is some sketching I did early on. I thought that was a little extreme. It got so much worse. Coloring some boxes, all on the back of a fast food receipt. This was about the time that I realized my TV was kind of dusty because the sunlight shining on it illuminated all the lines I had been drawing with my fingers. More sketches, this time on the back of a letter my grandma sent me. This is just a random screenshot I took so that I could move position and reference how something looked from another angle. My recycle bin is absolutely packed with these. I could show another hundred, but that'd waste everyone's time. [embed]335778:61949:0[/embed] Here's a video that I captured very early in the game. It seemed complicated and I was proud of myself for figuring it out. My original idea was to slap together a video titled something like "Five of The Witness' toughest puzzles at the beginning of the game." I soon realized that's in no way how this game works. Idea mostly scrapped, but a memento salvaged for this piece. I wrote this in a Google Doc at 2am one night. If I died and this were the only thing I left behind, philosophers would study me for centuries to come. Here's a keyboard I lugged down to the living room and started playing. Keyboards just make sense to me. I get 'em, you know? A shoddy night vision app that I gladly downloaded on my phone. Jonathan Blow didn't send me on a top-secret reconnaissance mission. I just wanted to see what everything would look like at night. Also, that app is riddled with ad-ware. It's miserable. There's more, but this collection seems like it nicely encapsulates my experience with The Witness. Had it taken one more day, the neighbors probably would've seen me drawing on my windows with chalk. Somehow, it never came to that.
The Witness photo
Puzzled
I've put a lot of time into The Witness lately. Like, a lot a lot. Effort too. This might be the most draining review experience of my career. It's rewarding though, and that makes it less burdensome even if it...

Review: The Witness

Jan 25 // Brett Makedonski
The Witness (PC, PS4 [reviewed])Developer: Thekla, Inc.Publisher: Thekla, Inc.MSRP: $39.99Released: January 26, 2016  I have vivid memories of sitting in geometry class in ninth grade and listening to the teacher explain why geometry is a different beast than the other maths we had already learned. "Don't feel bad if you can't do this yet," he said. "The reason is because it's chemically impossible for you. We're doing theorems and proofs -- your brain hasn't ever been asked to think like that before. The synapses in your brain need to fire off in order to be able to understand this; when that happens, you'll get it and this will all be easy for you." That "A-HA!" moment my geometry teacher spoke of -- all those synapses firing to form a revelation -- is the greatest reward The Witness has to offer and it happens countless times. It never grows old. After a bit, it's no longer new, but it's always fresh. The fundamentals of The Witness are line puzzles. Grids, often in the shape of a rectangle, require navigating in a specific fashion to satisfy certain constraints and to reach the end-point. This is repeated hundreds of time over as the basic building block of the game. Through clever subversion, ever-evolving rule sets, and alternative methods, repetition never becomes cause for concern. Again, just like the many many moments of epiphany, the puzzles cease being new before long, but they are always fresh. [embed]335133:61964:0[/embed] Well, that comes with a caveat. They are fresh as long as you want them to be. The Witness is largely fueled by your desire to discover. Once that wanes, so will your interest. The game's island is drenched in mystery and detail, not all of which is able to be immediately appreciated. When that happens, it's just another revelation that hasn't formed yet. For what it's worth, I'm 40-some hours in, and my interest hasn't waned in the slightest; it has only grown considerably. The reason for this is because The Witness smartly preys on the curiosity of human nature. Every direction has an inviting setting just begging to be explored. It's a given that those settings will contain challenges -- challenges that are imperative to continue exploring. It's cyclical and gives way to a competitive mindset to not be bested even if we're not necessarily mentally equipped yet. It's all in the pursuit of just seeing more. We want to see more because seeing is learning, and that's in the fiber of our being. What truly makes The Witness everything that it is lies somewhere between the fundamentals of the puzzles and the deeply philosophical of everything else. These two work in tandem, complementing each other even when they seem worlds apart. There are so many layers of separation between the two that it's almost impossible to perceive or even conceive. But, they're there, working hand-in-hand and, on some level, one in the same. You'd be hard-pressed to declare that one of these components is closer to defining The Witness than the other. Truthfully, I wish I didn't have to score The Witness. I don't want to set people up for that expectation; I don't want a voice in the back of their head that says "Okay, when does this become a ten?" In a way, that's unfair and detrimental to how the game should be experienced, which is as open-minded and unassuming as possible. Don't go to The Witness. Let The Witness come to you. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] 
Witness review photo
Come see
I am worthless. I am garbage. I am a dolt. I am brilliant. I am special. I am a genius. Those are the two extremes of self-value that The Witness constantly inflicts. It's a continuous loop of not getting it until you totally get it. Then, you don't get it again.

The Division has unexpected accoutrements on PC

Jan 23 // Zack Furniss
If you wish, you can also switch back and forth between the controller and keyboard without any re-calibration. Text chat also allows for communication between players if you don't want to role-play like the actors in the game's initial announcement. All of these little things sound like basic features in an MMO, but they're usually forgotten in multi-platform titles, and it's great to see them incorporated here. Of course, you can make it look real purdy, too. The Division supports multiple video cards, 4K resolution, unlocked frame rate, HBAO+, and three monitors. I played it on two, and dealt with an amusing problem where my aiming reticle was between the two monitors whenever I used a scope, so I became the most useless sniper ever. Other than that, the PC version ran flawlessly, and the extra frame rate afforded by the more powerful hardware gave the game a punchier feel. The only downside is that there will be no mod support. The team told me "Since The Division is an online, open-world action-RPG, its genre makes modding support technically challenging." We'll see what crafty players can come up with. Tom Clancy's The Division is planned for release on March 8, 2016.
Tom Clancy's The Division photo
Thank goodness for a good inventory
A couple weeks back, I went to a Ubisoft event to play Tom Clancy's The Division. You can find my overall impressions here (Choice quote: "There are quite a few options that assist in your eradication of the homeless and dise...

Review: The Deadly Tower of Monsters

Jan 19 // Chris Carter
The Deadly Tower of Monsters (PC [reviewed], PS4)Developer: ACE TeamPublisher: AtlusReleased: January 19, 2016MSRP: $14.99 The silly audio "DVD" commentary right from the start helps cement that B-movie feel Deadly is going for. Permeating through the menus, the "director" of the "movie" you're playing will continue to comment on your actions throughout, much like the narrator from Bastion. This narration however is a bit wackier, and will make fun of everything from gamey elements like finding useful items instantly in unexpected places, why items disappear after you pick them up (the hero "beams" them back to his ship), and how the actors got into a particular costume. He even boasts in one early scene that having his female lead rescue his male lead is progressive, and how he was "ahead of his time" for it. It's amusing enough to keep one interested throughout. So how does it play? Well, it's basically an isometric action game, with twin-stick shooting and melee attacks. The latter can be charged for effect, and players can also roll, or hover with a jetpack in a double jump of sorts. It's a small thing, but intuitive health bars circle each enemy, so you know exactly how much of a beating they'll need. There's also three playable characters available -- Dick Starspeed, Scarlet Nova, and Robot. All of them have unique powers at their disposal, but for the most part, the choice is aesthetic. What I really like about Deadly Tower is how fresh the game constantly keeps things. At first I thought it was going to be a simple sci-fi spoof with aliens, but it's so much more than that. There's Planet of the Ape-esque monkey men, "Energy Imps," a Ghost Pirate ship, and so much more that I won't spoil here. The gimmick is really cool as well, in that the entire game takes place on a gigantic tower that extends from the ground level of an alien planet all the way to space. Players will slowly climb said tower with checkpoints, which you can instantly teleport to after obtaining them. [embed]334028:61857:0[/embed] Great camera work also helps show off these environments in a big way, and I love how you can alter the visuals and music from "DVD" quality to the worse "VHS" setting. Cutscenes can also be fast-forwarded even upon the initial viewing, and there's several funny effects such as a forced black and white section for "budgetary reasons. ACE Team also goes full hog when it comes to the theme -- I'm talking Ray Harryhausen-like stop-motion animation in some cases. If it sounds jarring it really isn't, as the player character is always on point, so the framerate doesn't necessarily drop when enemies like that appear. "For those who are curious, here are the PC visual options and the control scheme. The best part though is the freefalling system. From any point of the tower you can jump off, starting a falling animation that allows you to aim and shoot downwards, collecting helpful objects in the air as you descend. It's a rush to jump off really high points and just take in the scenery, and boss fights that incorporate this mechanic are even more fun. The fact that you can use an "air teleport" system at the touch of a button to return to the point where you fell and teleport to any checkpoint at any time is the icing on the cake, allowing a large degree of freedom when it comes to exploration. This is especially helpful on PC, where I encountered two crashes in my first playthrough. When I loaded the game again I picked up right back where I left off. Despite all my praise though, you should know what you're getting into. My first playthrough only took me roughly three hours to complete, and I managed to spend an extra hour looking for artifacts and completing additional objectives. There doesn't seem to be any option for a New Game+ or the ability to alter the difficulty, which definitely stings a bit despite its strong initial run. I can definitely see replaying it every so often however, and jumping off of the top of the tower is something I did many, many times. The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a fleeting experience, but one that no B-movie fan should go without. I have a few issues with the loot and upgrade systems (namely in that they feel superfluous), but as a straight action game, it mostly succeeds in what it sets out to do. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Deadly Tower review photo
Harryhausen would be proud
I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who had a penchant for classic films, and B-humor. Hell, their first date was Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and as a child, I was raised with an endearment to the craft,...

Review: Resident Evil 0 HD Remaster

Jan 18 // Chris Carter
Resident Evil Zero HD Remaster (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: CapcomPublisher: CapcomReleased: January 19, 2016MSRP: $19.99 Zero begins with a rather interesting setpiece: a moving train. Rebecca Chambers, a member of S.T.A.R.S., is sent to investigate crimes in the Arklay Mountains -- conveniently located (and thus, linked) near Raccoon City and the original game's mansion. Here she meets Billy Coen, an alleged murderer and ex-Marine, and starts an "unlikely" partnership. You can probably tell from the setup that the tale is a pastiche of cheesy horror not unlike past games, but it's done just as effectively as before. Sure, the story never really makes much sense, even after the final credits roll, but you'll have a good time while you're along for the ride. Rebecca and Billy have a fun dynamic that is extended throughout Zero. The former can combine herbs and story-related chemicals, and the latter can take more of a beating and move heavy objects. It's not an original concept even for the era it was released in, but it works. This is mostly because of the "zap" partner system that allows both characters to be on-screen at the same time. You can opt to have your AI partner attack or stay idle, which is great if you don't want them wasting ammo. Swapping is as easy as pressing a button to start a second-long heartbeat transition to the other character. You can also control the AI with the right analog stick, which comes in handy for moving them out of harm's way. This idea is used in many different ways that chop up the game's pacing for the better. In some zones, Rebecca and Billy are split, working separately to exchange key items with one another through special devices like service elevators. In other areas, they're working in tandem to solve those wonderful box puzzles, where Billy is moving cubes and Rebecca is operating a device of some sort. Given that so many of Resident Evil's puzzles feature solutions born out of just one avatar, I like that Capcom went with something different here. There's another huge difference when it comes to Zero and all of the games before it: item management. In the past, players would mostly store their items in a magical gamey storage box of sorts, where you could access your armory and inventory wherever a box was located. Now, you can place items on the ground and store them anywhere on the map, no questions asked (well, outside of the single room item limit, which is inexplicably still in this remake). For instance, if you want to split a few typewriter ribbons off a stack of 10 and place them in a save room, you can. The same goes for weapons and herbs, or any key items you may pick up. [embed]332496:61804:0[/embed] Items now show up on the map, so there's no guessing as to where you put them. It's a more challenging system, for sure -- you don't have the infinite box to rely on, and sometimes you'll have to run through gauntlets of enemies if you happen to stash a key item and are required to run back for it. Its use does start to grate mid-way through the game, as it can get rather tedious to juggle everything. The mechanic isn't really re-used, but it helps cement Zero's unique identity (for better and worse) along with zapping, and the level designs mostly accommodate it. This is an old-school Resident Evil game at heart, back when "survival" was still a key factor of the series. Zero features limited ammo, save ribbons, and a lot of decision making, mostly in regards to inventory management. This is especially true given the zapping, because at any moment one character may be forced to fight a boss without the help of another, so ensuring that both cast members are fully equipped is key to your success. In terms of the actual "Remaster" moniker, a lot of the technical details are the same as before. The visuals and framerate have been updated, there's a new non-tank modern control method available, and you can swap between 16:9 and 4:3 resolution (even on consoles) -- but the cheesy FMVs remain untouched. Capcom really could bring back every entry pre-Resident Evil 4 just like this and I'd be happy. Thankfully though, it's slightly more than just a straight touch-up due to the addition of Wesker mode. In this special gametype only found in the remake (that's acquired by beating the game once), Billy is shoved to the side in favor of Wesker, who operates as Rebecca's partner throughout the game. This mode is meant to be silly. Wesker can use his superhuman powers he's flaunted since Code Veronica, including the ability to quickly dash across the room, and use a special energy attack to pop zombie's heads off. He can also mix herbs and doesn't have many limitations. They didn't go the full mile -- Billy is still present in cutscenes, as is his voice -- but it's a meaty enough change.  All of the old unlocks are also present, including additional costumes, weapons, and the Mercenaries-like "Leech Hunter." The latter is a mini-game of sorts that tasks players with escaping a modified version of the Research Center, and gets tougher as you play it. It's not as memorable as some of the true Mercenary modes in other games, but it's worth clearing at least once and should adequately test the mettle of series veterans. As a whole, Resident Evil Zero isn't one of my favorite entries, but with the amount of care that went into this remake, like Resident Evil HD Remaster before it, I'm really coming around. In fact, just get both if you don't have them already. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Resident Evil 0 HD review photo
Welcome, Wesker
For whatever reason, I didn't end up completing Resident Evil Zero back when it was released in 2002 -- in fact, it took me 10 years to truly dive into it. I think it just flew under the radar, but thankfully Capcom has opted...

PC Port Report: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

Jan 15 // Patrick Hancock
Tested on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 10. Framerate measured with RivaTuner. First thing's first: the PC version has an option to turn off all Pawn banter completely. In case you think you might be missing something, just know that its gibberish like "IT'S WEAK TO FIRE" and probably also "A FORMIDABLE FOE!" As an aside, I kind of like how annoying the Pawns are. For whatever reason, I get a huge chuckle out of their loud, uncalled for shouts. The PC Port also supports 4k resolution, but as I do not have the capabilities to test this, I cannot comment on how it looks. My bet is that it looks very good. Most players who have played before will have one thing on their mind when it comes to the PC Port: the framerate. While I have not played the original, the framerate was evidently awful. There are three options for framerate in the options: 30, 60, and Variable. The PC port runs smooth as butter on my rig, easily going above 60 framer-per-second in towns and hovering around 60 FPS outside and in combat. The texture quality is, well, the game is from 2012 and it shows. They're a bit muddy, especially when viewed up close. Comparing screenshots and videos, I can't say they are much better than the original, but it's hard to tell without playing the other version myself. Regardless, I wouldn't say it looks bad. Just...not great. There's also some noticeable pop-in with objects. Generally they appear off in the distance, but occasionally when turning a corner, an NPC will magically appear right in front of your very eyes. Damn, this game does have some fancy magic! Key bindings can be remapped to your heart's content, but the same is not true when using a (non-Steam) controller. There are six different presets for controllers though, and you're bound to find something that fits your playstyle between them. The Steam controller works just fine, either using it as a traditional controller or rebinding the keys to your heart's content. I've found that binding "grab" to a back grip paddle makes fighting monsters as melee way more entertaining. It really feels like grabbing! Consumables can be assigned to hotkeys, but only numbers 1-5. It's incredibly simple to do: open up your inventory, select the consumable, then press the number key to assign it. Done! This makes things like pulling out a lantern or using flasks a breeze and is also an incentive to use a keyboard and mouse. The keyboard and mouse controls feel very tight, and aiming bows has never been easier. When switching between keyboard controls and a controller, the game automatically changes the on-screen prompts and recognizes the new input device. I've tested with with both the Steam Controller and a wired Xbox One controller. There are plenty of graphics options, including the ability to change the field-of-view, something not seen too often in PC ports, let alone ports of third-person action games! Regardless of FOV, the camera pans out while a weapon is active, so there's always plenty of room to see what is happening on screen; the FOV slider affects non-combat view more than it does combat view, from what I can tell. Other graphical options that PC players have come to expect are here and can be tuned to fits any player's setup. Remember, Dragon's Dogma is a few years old at this point and shouldn't really be taxing to most gaming PCs these days. One issue is that the graphics can only be changed from the main menu. Once you load a save, most graphics settings are locked in. As for the "double dippers" who are curious if this is worth a second investment, it depends. If you bought it and never spent much time with it because of technical issues, definitely pick it up again. The same goes if you never got a chance to play the Dark Arisen content for whatever reason. If you've had your fill of the game and its expansion originally, then I'm not sure there is much here, except the opportunity to play a smooth game and not a PowerPoint presentation. This is a wonderful port from Capcom. It could have just easily just plopped this on the new platform with little to no care and called it a day. The fact is though, there are many features that are exclusive to the PC version and it runs at a stable framerate. Plus, it's not being released at full price! No, it's not perfect, but for $30 it's hard to say no to such a great RPG. [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Dragon's Dogma PC photo
They hold the advantage!
Why didn't anyone tell me Dragon's Dogma was so amazing?! I missed out on the original back in 2012, and I hadn't really heard much about it in the first place. I knew, vaguely, what it was, and had even downloaded it vi...

Review: Oxenfree

Jan 15 // Nic Rowen
Oxenfree (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)Developer: Night School StudioPublisher: Night School StudioMSRP: $19.99Released: January 15, 2016 I say “horror” in quotes because the actual spook-factor of Oxenfree isn't that high. This isn't an Amnesia-style gorefest or a Freddy's jumpscare marathon. Oxenfree trades in unease and tension more than outright scares. Think of it more like It Follows than Sleep Away Camp. It's an effective technique. Since you're not wading through blood and viscera at all times, the few moments of hard-hitting violence and terror are that much more jarring. Oxenfree starts with a group of teenagers having a party on an island tourist trap (and one-time military base) near their hometown. Testing out an urban myth involving radio signals and a spooky cave, they accidentally unleash a mysterious entity that seems to have a strange relationship to normal space and time and nothing but malicious intentions on them. The island destination is rendered in a gorgeous dreamlike art style of watercolors and soft light. The normally smooth picture-book aesthetic of Oxenfree's world makes it all the more unnerving when the entity breaks its way into reality with Tron-like neon colors and sharp geometric shapes hanging unnaturally in the sky. It soaks it all in a phenomenal synth-heavy soundtrack from SCNTFC (Galax-Z, Sword & Sworcery) that perfectly alternates between wistful and unnerving. Let me say it plainly, Oxenfree is very light on gameplay. There are no real puzzles to solve, no panicky QTEs to click on, no last-minute boss fight to clumsily fumble through. This is a game about talking. The single most mechanically meaningful thing you do in the game is respond to dialogue options in Aaron Sorkin-style “walk-and-talk” conversations that alternate seamlessly between sarcastic teen bonding, stick-a-knife-in-it awkward stand-offs, and genuinely touching moments. Each conversation option is represented by word balloons you pick with a touch of a button. The tone of the response is hinted at by the phrase in the word balloon similar to the system used in Mass Effect (and done noticeably better than in Fallout 4, I might add). Unlike the galaxy-saving Shepard however, Alex's (the playable protagonist) dialogue isn't laced with heroic speeches or badass threats. She's a teenaged girl who had a lot on her shoulders before the whole spooky-possibly-haunted-island thing started happening and she carries herself like one. She jokes with her friends, gets freaked out, and argues over pointless trivia, like a real person who suddenly found themselves in an unreal situation would. There is no outwardly visible karma meter or “so-and-so will remember that” comments in the game, but your words have meaning. You dialogue choices will effect how the other kids see you and your relationship with them. Occasionally you come to linchpin decision moments that can take you down alternate paths in the game, but mostly the choices are subtlety baked into the experience. A nice change from the “pick blue for good, red for bad” dichotomy of many game's dialogue systems. These conversations are not done in cutscenes or discrete “talking moments,” they're the life blood flowing through the entire game. You chat while walking to the beach, cutting through the woods, while exploring an abandoned military base, and the conversation follows naturally. Jump across a chasm between two cliffs while idly chatting and your friends won't just keep talking about the weather, they'll stop to recognize how badass/insane what you did just was. Same goes for conversations interrupted by spooky transmissions, or sudden, jarring hallucinations. Its easy to picture this backfiring. If the characters were tiresome, boring, or two-dimensional, a game all about talking to them would be a painful experience. Thankfully, the teens of Oxenfree are refreshingly likable. With an excellent script behind some amazing voice-over performances, the teens never wear out their welcome. They're smart, funny, and surprisingly sensible (they mostly just want to get the hell away from the island rather than work out its mysterious history). While the setup is as off the shelf as it gets, the characters don't fit into the Breakfast Club-defined roles you might expect. Alex is a bright girl trying to redefine herself after a life-shattering loss. Her brand new half-brother Jonas (yeah, she's meeting him for the first time at a kegger, it's as awkward as it sounds) is from a bad neighborhood and is implied to have spent a little time in jail. But, he's deeper and more vulnerable than the smoldering bad boy you might be picturing. Best friend Ren is a weird little guy who deals with stress with (actually funny) humor, harbors at least one secret crush, and may or may not be seeing a therapist depending on how seriously you want to take a few throwaway lines. Clarissa is the group's mean girl, always ready with a sharp barb or cutting remark in what is a fairly blatant display of a maladjusted defense mechanism. And Nona, a shy and seemingly unassuming girl who nonetheless has spent most of the semester in suspension, is probably the least developed of the characters but reveals some hidden depth if you make an effort to engage her. In what may be the game's greatest accomplishment, these kids are actually fun to hang around (other than the possible exception of Clarissa). In most horror movies, I usually end up rooting for the machete-wielding maniac after being introduced to the typical gaggle of jerks and dummies of a horror movie cast. In Oxenfree, I couldn't help but be charmed by the gang. When the supernatural creeps of the island finally started getting rough with them, it put a crinkle in my brow and an uncomfortable bend in my spine. I was tense, unsettled. Oxenfree never had to spring a jump scare on me or splatter the screen with blood to wrap me around its finger. It just had to make me care about the kids. Once I did that, it owned me. Aside from talking, the other main thing you do in Oxenfree is tune through a radio. At any time, you can pop out your handy pocket radio and scroll through the channels, finding static, 1940s big band tunes, and the occasional Satanic murmuring from some hell dimension. How very Silent Hill. Scattered throughout the game are various opportunities to tune into tourist information stations that reveal background about the island (and hopefully clues as to what you're up against), as well as secret audio anomalies that function as the game's de facto collectable. These are broadcasts that seem to be coming from another time or an alternate reality. Call me a sap, but I thought the anomalies were genuinely disquieting. It brought to mind the same spooky quality as listening to a numbers station broadcast, or the Jonestown tapes. This is a laid-back game. The vast majority of the experience is just wandering around with your friends, dialing through the radio for the occasional audio anomaly while chatting about school, gossip, and how utterly screwed up the situation you're in is. It's short. You can probably play through it in a single evening if you didn't care about seeing alternate story paths or collecting anomalies. If you wanted to be dismissive and sneer at Oxenfree as another “walking simulator” there isn't much that could be said in its defense. But personally, I think it is an excellent walking simulator. Oxenfree is a walking simulator that is confident enough in its characters and dialogue to bet that you won't mind just hanging around with them. It believes in the sinister low-ebb horror of the island to worm its way into your mind without having to crutch on a jumpscare every few minutes. It knows that its atmosphere and style will be enough to make you want to wander through its forests and dilapidated military bases. It's a walking simulator you should play. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Oxenfree Review photo
Dark signals
Stop me if you've heard this one before: A group of teenagers head to a remote, nearly abandoned tourist trap for a night of wild partying. Not long after they get there though, odd things start to happen. Unsettling things. ...

Review: Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India

Jan 12 // Chris Carter
Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed]) Developer: Climax StudiosPublisher: UbisoftReleased: January 12, 2016MSRP: $9.99 In this tale players will assume the role of Arbaaz Mir -- a cocksure assassin who has just stolen the Koh-i-Noor diamond, a Piece of Eden. The year is 1841, and Arbaaz is caught up in your typical Assassin vs. Templar antics in the brand new setting of India. The narrative mostly takes a backseat, with various puzzles and combat (or rather, the option to avoid combat) challenges to face along the way, and little in the form of exposition or world building. It's...serviceable, much like China, in that the story doesn't really leap out of the screen, but it also doesn't get in the way. India keeps inline with China's unique visual style that looks like it could be housed in an art gallery, but with more vibrant hues and beautiful pastels than the last iteration. Often times I'd stop and ogle at the landscape, which is something I rarely do in recent 2D titles -- but then again, Ubisoft usually nails it in that department (Rayman, Child of Light). In case you're wondering, it's still following the same stealth platformer format from China, so don't expect a whole lot. Levels are very linear in nature, even if specific sections do have a number of different solutions (like whistling to distract guards, going around them entirely with the grappling hook, and so on). Once again the actual platforming mechanics are sound, and the "stealth button/run button" format translates unusually well to the 2D plane. That smoothness starts to grate though once you've made your way through similar looking labyrinthine halls, fighting the same types of enemies over and over. [embed]333470:61826:0[/embed] India still discourages combat and proclaims stealth king, which will probably polarize a few of you out there looking for constant fights. The game punishes you with a low health pool and a limited amount of combat tools, so if you are adverse to stealth you may want to sit out for this series. Personally I revel in the ability to not go in guns (or blades) blazing, so the style suit me quite well, especially with the increased emphasis on the grappling hook. Once the story is all said and done there's a New Game Plus, and a "New Game Plus Hard" option to storm through. Thankfully though Ubisoft added in another element to India in the form of challenge rooms, which are basically in the same surrealistic "VR" style as past entries, with time-based objectives to complete. Sure it's the same old song and dance for Assassin's Creed, but it's nice to have something extra to do, even if there's only six of them. Assassin's Creed Chronicles: India isn't a whole lot different compared to China, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your prior experience. It sports a slightly less interesting character and setting, but the core experience is replicated, and the addition of a few gameplay tweaks as well as the aforementioned challenge mode ensures that it's on the level. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Assassin's Creed review photo
Hide and Sikh
When the Chronicles series was announced, my response was mixed. I mean, it's cool that we're getting to see new settings outside of the usual suspect after all, but by that same token, I'd rather see those new areas in a fully-fledged 3D game. These Prince of Persia inspired 2.5D gaidens (including last year's China) are the next best thing though, albeit with some provisos.

Review: That Dragon, Cancer

Jan 11 // Laura Kate Dale
That Dragon, Cancer (Ouya, PC [Reviewed])Developer: Numinous GamesPublisher: Numinous GamesMSRP: $14.99Released: January 12, 2015Rig: Intel Core i5-4690K @ 3.5 GHz, with 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, Windows 7 64-bit  That Dragon, Cancer is a two hour long, autobiographical exploration of creator Ryan Green's experience of having a young child diagnosed with cancer. At around twelve months old Joel Green, Ryan's son, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given only a few months to live. In spite of his short prognosis Joel lived for several more years, with That Dragon, Cancer exploring the time between diagnosis and Joel's eventual passing away. [embed]332930:61798:0[/embed] That Dragon, Cancer is an odd game to really break apart. When I initially saw it in demo form a few years ago interactions were largely restricted to pacing around a single room, hearing sincere voice acting from a father with a distressed son he could not help. The frustration of being unable to do anything, the pain of pacing this single space and the strength of the writing made this single room experience incredibly moving to experience.  When Cancer focuses on these deeply personal moments, it truly shines as an experience. Be it spinning a simple children's toy in order to hear the thoughts of adults in a room to feeding ducks while Joel's siblings ask questions about his stagnant development, the times where Dragon focuses on very direct interactive representations of what their family went through are definitely not only moving, but meaningful. Where Dragon seems to stumble is when it tries to either abstract its representations of emotional themes, or introduce interactive elements that may not mesh with the tone of the surrounding narrative. With the exception of an incredibly well handled video game within the video game, most sections added to introduce additional video game elements ultimately detract from the experience, rather than adding to it. There's nothing to be gained by breaking up a somber scene with a poorly made, three lap cart race in a hospital with no other racers and no consequences for performance. That scene for example breaks the tone and impact of a much larger scene, feeling like it does so purely so the game is less likely to be labelled a walking simulator. While a few of these moments successfully convey themes, many of the successful scenes also drag on far longer than is sensible, damaging the pacing of the narrative considerably. I feel like this would be a much stronger experience if many of these moments of forced interaction were removed. That small video game inside the video game however? Really damn impressive. There's also a scene involving floating on balloons that, while overly long, did have some value. When Cancer is focusing on telling a direct narrative about a family's life with a son they knew was dying, it truly is an incredible experience. From the ways it conveys the highs and lows of life to the exploration of how Christianity fits into a family expecting bereavement, from the discussions of the future to the enjoyment of the present, it really is an awe inspiringly beautiful experience when it's focused. As a monument to a son, it's incredibly touching to see. The final scenes of the game were a beautiful bookend to a life cut short and without a doubt left me in tears for quite some time. That Dragon, Cancer is a beautiful experience, if one that would have benefited considerably from having content cut to improve the flow, pacing, and tone.
That Dragon, Cancer photo
Beautifully inconsistent
It's a very odd experience as a critic, reviewing something like That Dragon, Cancer. A product that is so clearly an incredibly personal work of art created from a place of sincerity, but also a consumer product being sold t...

Review: Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy

Dec 23 // Chris Carter
Batman: Arkham Knight: Season of Infamy (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: WB Games MontrealPublisher: Warner Bros.MSRP: $9.99Released: December 22, 2015 Infamy is a bit confusing. It's not an "Arkham Episode," that's detached from the story by way of a menu option. It's an actual extension of the narrative, taking place before Batman initiates the Knightfall Protocol (the ending), and it's integrated into the open-world campaign. In other words, if you've reached 100 percent completion in the game, just load up your file to start the DLC. Four new missions pop up as a result of booting up Infamy, which you can complete in any order, featuring Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, Ra's al Ghul, and Killer Croc. Each one is roughly 30-45 minutes long. Let's start with the Mad Hatter, the weakest link in the chain. His effectiveness as a Batman villain has always been questionable, and that goes double for his appearance in Arkham Knight. He was fine as a throwaway sidequest included in City, but the return of his presence does little to justify a premium price here. You'll be done with his bit in less than 30 minutes, running around Arkham with a minor series of fetch quests before confronting him at the Gotham City Police Department headquarters, and enduring another hallucination that amounts to nothing more than three easy combat challenges. It's a neat concept but it's so fleeting that I barely had time to digest it. Killer Croc is another of those one-dimensional foes that often functions as the muscle of an outfit -- a trope that leads you down a predictable storyline in the Infamy add-on. A prison ship has crash-landed compliments of an escape attempt by Croc, and you'll gallivant across the environment, chasing him down for a bit (with more fetch quests in tow of course). Consisting of a few platforming sequences and some combat, there's basically no thinking involved here in just about every facet of the short quest. It works better than Mad Hatter's portion though because most of it isn't comprised of re-used environments, and there is a nice brief reunion with Nightwing. [embed]328895:61630:0[/embed] Mr. Freeze on the other hand, is a villain that has always had a more interesting, nuanced characterization. He's not truly evil in the traditional sense -- rather, he sees his schemes as a means to an end, to save his wife Nora. The actual objectives for his quest aren't all that enthralling, but it's the only one that features Predator sequences, and the concept (and the exploration of his relationship with Nora) is compelling enough to see the tale through until the end. Plus, it has a Batmobile sequence that has more of a reason to exist than most of the ones in the campaign. Ra's al Ghul's quest is the other highlight of the pack, taking place mostly in Eliott General Hospital. Hush's part in Knight was extremely disappointing, especially after the buildup from City, so it's nice to see his family's legacy featured front and center to some degree. Along with some brand new zones you'll also work through a rather intriguing subplot featuring the League of Assassins (who are some of the only new enemies in the Infamy pack), and the Lazarus Pit -- one of the wackier bits of Batman lore. There's also a choice at the end that's actually pretty interesting that I won't spoil here. As a premium add-on, Season of Infamy really fails to produce much that feels like it's essential to the Arkham Knight experience outside of two tales. But on the other hand, it has a number of nice little touches, most notably a small expansion of the GCPD HQ, adding another wing (along with some easy WayneTech upgrade points), and the mission structure in the weaker two stories is competent at the very worst. If you really loved Knight and have been avoiding all the DLC thus far, Infamy is probably worth checking out at some point -- even if it's the only thing you buy piecemeal. [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Batman DLC review photo
Ice to see the end of the Season Pass
I've refrained from reviewing most of the DLC for Batman: Arkham Knight outside of the Batgirl add-on, because of the short nature of the mission-based tales. But Season of Infamy has four missions, so that means it's four times as good, right?!

Destructoid's award for Best PC Game of 2015 goes to...

Dec 22 // Steven Hansen
[Incomplete products like Steam Early Access titles and episodic games that are not fair to assess as stand alone experiences, without a full episode count, were not eligible for this year's awards. The cutoff for entry into Destructoid's 2015's Game of the Year awards is December 4, 2015.]
GOTY 2015 photo
Undertale
This quirky, JRPG-inspired lovefest has been the unexpected smash hit of 2015, resonating strongly with a legion of fans that helped propel it to victory in a large "Best. Game. Ever." poll against some of the indelible class...

Review: King's Quest: Rubble Without a Cause

Dec 17 // Chris Carter
King’s Quest: Rubble Without a Cause (PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: The Odd GentlemenPublisher: Sierra EntertainmentReleased: December 16, 2015MSRP: $9.99 per episode / $40 for the "Complete Collection" [No major spoilers are mentioned for the current episode, although events of previous episodes will inevitably be discussed.] Rubble picks up some time after the first tale, after Graham has become king. He's still the same lovable old rascal, but right from the get-go you can see the toll that his new responsibility has taken on him. Graham is chipper and the tone is still light starting out, but you can tell that the developers are slowly easing us into a more serious method of storytelling. Without spoiling too much, Graham and a few members of his kingdom have been taken hostage by goblins, who reside in an underground kingdom. Given his height, he's been tasked with a few daily chores, which allows him access to the tunnels, while the others are forced to rot in prison cells. As you can imagine, a few familiar faces return, but you'll get to meet a few new characters as well. What I love about this setup is that it feels connected to the first episode, but also maintains its own identity. You get to see Graham's relationship with other characters grow in a meaningful way -- even with many of his adversaries. While the goblins can't talk, the animations are incredibly expressive (just like Graham) and full of life. For example, upon entering the dungeon, Graham is exhausted, walking around in a hilariously lethargic manner. After gaining his strength back his state will alter, as will the captives over time. The animation team really deserves a shoutout here, as they deserve to have a long career ahead of them. [embed]326509:61517:0[/embed] In a stark contrast to the first episode, Rubble takes a decidedly more old school approach. You're basically given a giant playground to roam around in, which is gated off by Graham's own "strength meter." It's here that the aforementioned kingly choices will come in, as you'll need to juggle the needs of three prisoners in addition to your own. If you eat -- you can explore more of the cave -- but you'll risk having a member of your kingdom starve. It's such a small, almost gamey thing (it even has heart meters), but since I already had an emotional attachment with these characters, it worked. I was legitimately stressed out (in a good way) trying to keep everyone happy, while constantly divining solutions to secrets in my head. You'll need to keep your wits about you too, as a few puzzles even had me writing down a few in-game events on paper. Again, it's far more detailed than any Telltale game, without getting resorting to "pixel-hunting" and overly frustrating cryptic solutions. Also, if you didn't enjoy the action sequences in the last episode, they're basically non-existent here. The art style is still stunning, and that Don Bluth feel is intact. The goblin's caves also feel unique compared to the mostly above-ground setting of the first episode, and the scale is grand without being too overwhelming. Layout-wise, there's basically a few giant wheels with several spokes -- it's enough where it will be helpful to remember rooms off-hand. In terms of quality of life updates, the entire package gained a skip button in this latest update, which is incredibly useful for repeating dialogue or events. I haven't really noticed much carry-over from the previous tale, but choices made in Rubble that will impact future episodes are somewhat evident -- plus, there's a meta-narrative teased at the end. Second parts tend to be troublesome for episodic series, as they often feel like transitional stories that merely set the table for what's to come. But with King's Quest: Rubble Without a Cause, characters are growing right before our eyes with a subtle and effective tonal shift. The Odd Gentlemen also nailed the script, as it feels like a standalone episode that's also connected to the episodic format as a whole. We still have three tales to go, but for now, I'm feeling pretty good about King's Quest. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
King's Quest review photo
I really can wait to be king
The first episode of the newly minted King's Quest series really took me by surprise. While I had been loosely following it for years, I never expected it to be one of my favorite games of the year. The cast, the animati...

First hands-on with Crytek's newest game The Climb

Dec 15 // Steven Hansen
The Climb is simple. Once you strap into an Oculus virtual reality headset, two disembodied hands appear in front of you. Pulling the left or right triggers on the Xbox controller clenches the respective fist. "Aiming" the hand at a divot in the cliff, by way of moving your head towards where you're trying to grab, prompts the hand to appear as if it's reaching a bit more urgently, signalling to you it's ready to grab. And that's it, hand over hand, you're climbing rock. I played a course in south east Asia on easy difficulty, which only necessitates two types of grips. The most technical thing I had to do was let go with one hand and quickly grasp the same hold with the other. That and you'll want to occasionally hold the bumpers to chalk your hands so they don't start bleeding down your players' hip fitness wristband. I might be stereotyping, but I'm pretty sure it read, "YOLO" at some point. But that was it. There was some hand over hand lateral movement across a plank and a jump or two to otherwise out of reach handholds, but it's mostly about the physical intimacy of climbing up a giant rock and occasionally physically turning your head around to soak in the beautiful vista. Miles of CryEngine rendered landscape juxtaposed against surrogate fingertips. "The engine gives us that ability to do the distance, the scale, the largeness and intimacy," Crytek's Director of Production David Bowman said. Crytek came out hot in 2013 with three big releases: Crysis 3, Warface (hah!), and Ryse: Son of Rome. The first and third were sales letdowns. The second has a name that gave me immense pleasure for a year or so and might have made money in Asian and European markets where is launched sexy female soldiers. Its 2014 announcements -- a Johnny Come Lately MOBA Arena of Fate and Darksiders follow up from former Vigil employees Hunt -- have been radio silent in 2015. Its other known project is a VR game with dinosaurs. Bowman noted that Crytek is, "going to continue to make traditional great, fantastic games," but said that, "VR gives us a new toolset, a new platform, a new media that plays to our strengths. It plays right into what we do better than anybody. This is our chance to really shine." Virtual reality is an important part of Crytek's future. Where Ryse was basically an Xbox One tech demo, a piece of impressive "next gen" looks, The Climb is something like that for VR, albeit with a lot more substance than the QTE-heavy movie knockoff. Bowman calls it, "one of the premier Oculus content experiences," and says it will be released "early" in the Oculus' life cycle. "They love it," Bowman said. Oculus made a smart decision pairing its still-not-dated, still-not-priced Rift VR headset with a strong piece of software in EVE: Valkyrie. The Climb may not have that pack-in position, but Bowman says the simplicity is what will sell VR to a wider audience. "The approachability of this, we have really high hopes for it as far as bringing in people who might not consider themselves gamers. And if you are a gamer, there's a lot of sport here. It's free climb solo. That level of danger in real life means you're not going to go out and do it probably yourself, but here you have this extreme sport that's now accessible to you. "What every hardware platform needs is that application that you can say, 'Hey, I bought this, I have fun with it, and now I'm sharing it with my friends and family, and I feel good about it because they're able to appreciate it.' And now all of a sudden they're going, 'I had fun doing that, so I'm going to buy one,' and it tends to snowball. That's how hardware adoption happens." And while Bowman maintains Crytek will continue to make "traditional" games, the company has, "probably the largest VR team, the largest that I'm aware of anyway." "We're trying to position Cryengine to be the best toolchain to work in VR," Technical Director Rok Erjavec added. More people using the engine for good VR experiences increases the likelihood of VR somehow catching on where something like 3D has failed. "2016: Early adopters. 2017: Friends and family of those early adopters going, 'I want one too,'" Bowman said. "By 2019, I'm saying this is going to be one of those ways you access all sorts of experiences, not just games, but data in general. We want to be riding that curve, that wave." It starts with The Climb. "When we started doing climbing originally during our tech demos...we realized, 'Hey, this is fun. This a fun thing to do, just inherently." It took some time to get there, of course. The Climb started with a full pair of disembodied arms, but testers of different size felt out of sorts with the one-size-fits-all proportions, so the team lopped the arms off and reduce the interface to floating hands.  "We thought it'd be really fun to fall and hit the rocks and bounce and stuff. Man that makes you so sick. Don't do that." The sweet spot for falling -- to put that knot in players' stomachs without leaving them retching -- turned out to be 2.3 seconds of freefall and then a fade to black. "A lot of our developers and our QA team, god bless them, they have had to endure some really fun experimentation," Bowman said. He was cagey on how many staffers puked, but noted that during early prototyping, the team had to account for the fact that a developer might have to get out of the thing after about an hour of work due to nausea. Now, level designers work in the visor all day. "We had people run to the bathroom, though." Well, if anyone did puke during those early phases of prototyping, it's between them and their porcelain god. Bowman was cagey on just how much stuff would appear in The Climb, too. "We have a set amount of content and we're well under control as far as delivering that...and we're going to be expanding that content hopefully in the future as well," is all I got when I asked about different regions, or weather conditions. As for changes to the time of day, "absolutely." Beyond the physical interaction and varying locales, the team seems excited for the latent speed run and otherwise competitive angle to satiate the hardcore or give greener climbers something to keep them coming back.  To that end, VR does offer technically bombastic experiences pared down in a way that "non-gamers" might find appealing without being patronizing -- like I said, The Climb was simple, but plenty of fun. "When I put a strange controller in your hand and say, 'Okay, I need you to press this combination of buttons,' you've instantly alienated a lot of people," Bowman said. The Climb also supports touch controllers and features a, "solution set that works for a variety of different input devices," so hopefully we'll be bringing you Donkey Konga free climb speed run videos next year. As for other simple experiences that turned out to be "inherently fun" in VR that Crytek might want to explore? "Can't talk about them yet because we're going to use them."
Preview: The Climb photo
Crytek goes in with engaging VR
Is free solo climbing cool? I'm sure there's been some virality in its danger in the YouTube era, but we've had, what, Cliffhanger, which was more about guns and biceps than cliff hanging, and then the arbitrary opening Missi...

Very Quick Tips: MechWarrior Online

Dec 14 // Nic Rowen
Movement: Mechs are large, clumsy machines that move at a deliberate pace. There is no strafing side-to-side for these beasts and accelerating or coming to a stop takes a moment, so you really need to think about where you are going before you commit yourself to a course. If you’re piloting anything heavier than a light mech, always plan your actions out instead of moving willy nilly, or you might get caught in a crossfire with no way to retreat. Remember that you will always move in the direction your legs are pointed, not necessarily where you are looking. A mech's torso can swivel like a turret while its legs take it in a different direction. It may be helpful (and hilarious) to picture them as tanks on stilts. The C and F buttons will center your aim in the forward direction of your mech, or bring your legs to the same bearing as where you are aiming. Being able to center your view or movement after a disorienting fight can be a lifesaver. Try the tutorial and some of the newbie UI options if you have trouble getting the hang of it. Aiming and locking:  One of the odd things about MWO is that there are two different aiming reticles on the HUD representing weapons mounted on the arms and legs. The arm-lock feature will be enabled by default on new accounts, which means the arm and torso weapons will move and aim in sync. Turn that crap off right away. Learning to aim independently with the arms and torso is a crucial skill that you should start developing sooner rather than later. The torso crosshairs' range of motion is limited by a mech's ability to bend and pivot. Considering we're talking about robots the size of small apartment buildings, they're typically not very agile. Being able to independently aim with the arms allows you to strike at more angles. But it also means you need to be careful when firing weapons from both groups as once -- it can be easy to take your arms way off target while trying to make a slight adjustment with your torso. Coordinate your firing groups accordingly. Pressing R will lock on to the nearest enemy mech you can see, or indirectly if a teammate has a lock on someone. They cover this in the tutorial, but I want to stress it: PRESS R. The number one thing you can do to improve your play as a new player is to be constantly acquire locks. Locking onto a mech not only shows you where they are and the range they are from you (important since every weapon has a maximum range) but their status information and armor condition, absolutely essential for knowing what you are up against and where you should aim. Pressing R is love. Pressing R is life. People who don't press R are bad people. They don’t have souls. Don’t be one of those people. Heat:  Mechs build up heat as they fire weapons and shut down if you push it too far. If you're desperate to get off one more shot while riding the line, you can override the automatic shutdown by pressing the O key by default. This is some risky business though as every moment you spend past the heat threshold will cook the internals of your mech. Make sure that shot is worth gambling against an embarrassing suicide. When building a mech, you need to find a balance between firepower and the cooling required to use it. Having a huge arsenal of weapons won't do much good if you can only fire them every 30 seconds or so. At the same time, being able to repeatedly fire a single laser till the end of time is just going to tickle the enemy. Generally, it’s better to run a little hotter and practice good fire discipline than to run super cool, but keep it sane. There are some byzantine rules about linking too many of the same weapons together commonly referred to as “ghost heat.” In an effort to combat front-loaded boat builds that pack all their offensive punch into a single mech annihilating strike, a balance change was made a long time ago that punishes mechs with exponential amounts of heat for firing several of the same weapon in one salvo. For example, firing three PPCs at once builds a toasty four PPC blasts worth of heat while firing four at once is all but guaranteed to crash a mech into an insta-shutdown. You can get around this by staggering your fire, but it's still something to watch out for (the mechlab will warn you when building a mech that runs this risk). Combat:  Mechs are designed to take a beating, especially if you know how to roll with the punches. Instead of having a pool of HP that is depleted until death, damage in MWO is handled on a component-by-component basis. Mechs are made up of several parts with a layer of armor on each and an internal health value underneath. Knowing where to shoot (and where to take shots) is essential. You can shamble around like some horrible 90-foot-tall Frankenstein's monster after losing your arms, side-torsos, and even a leg. But if the internals of your center core are destroyed, the cockpit in the head gets melted, or both legs are disabled, you're done. Knowing how to tank damage by intentionally exposing expendable parts of your mech to cover vulnerable ones is probably the single biggest dividing line between ace pilots and average players. Twisting your torso to spread damage evenly between components when under fire will sustain you where others fall. It's better to lose half your armor over all your arms and torso pieces than to have an exposed chunk where your internals are vulnerable and full armor everywhere else. Don't get tunnel vision while fighting. Mechs are slow and move in predictable directions. You can afford to take your eyes off an enemy for a second to twist and take a shot in the shoulder instead of the chest. The dark side to this knowledge is that it can also be exploited. Weapons that do all of their damage in one front-loaded burst (PPCs, IS auto-cannons, etc.) can do full damage on a single component and there is little an opponent can do about it. Some mechs are intentionally built with an asymmetric design that puts most of the firepower on one side of the mech. This is a blessing and a curse. When riding these, you can use the entire other side to soak up damage, making your mech's arm a ghetto shield and that entire side torso a wall of meat for enemies to chew through. When a side torso is destroyed, damage done to it will bleed over into the center core, but only at a 50% rate, so it's better to take shots to a damaged side than straight on. The downside is that it puts all your eggs in one basket. Lose the side of your mech with all the guns and you might as well call it “GG.” Along with the different limbs and sections of a mech, individual pieces of equipment like weapons can also be destroyed once a mech loses its armor. Occasionally, it can be a good idea to try and disarm an opponent before going for the kill (the Hunchback with its huge shoulder cannon is the classic example). Gauss rifles explode when destroyed and often rip an entire side of a mech apart when they go, so pay attention to what your enemy is packing and where. Contrary to what some people may tell you, there is no way to specifically target a weapon (shooting the barrel of a gun is no better than shooting the area right beside it, and no, heating up the area with lasers before shooting it with ballistics does nothing. I can't believe some of these rumors are still around). The game rolls an RNG when an exposed area is hit to see what, if any, piece of equipment in a component is damaged. Machine guns and the shotgun like LBX cannons have an increased chance to damage equipment and Clan targeting computers can improve those odds as well. When building a mech, it's a good idea to pad a sensitive piece of equipment if possible by stacking expendable things like heat sinks and electronics to better your odds. Oh yeah, there is a chance that ammo can explode if hit by enemy fire, so keep that extra ammo in the knees where it will do the least harm. Building your mech:  Despite several redesigns over the years, customizing a mech in the mechlab is still a Kafka-esque nightmare of menus, drop-down lists, and microscopic fine print. I guess building robots is going to be complicated no matter how you try and slice it. Being effective in the mechlab is just as important as being effective in the battlefield though, so you're going to have to learn its quirks sooner or later. I recommend tinkering around with your builds in a third-party mech builder like Smurfy when trying to plan out your changes. It's a cleaner interface that's easier to use and you won't be risking thousands of your space-dollars on an accidental mis-click. Always invest in the double-heatsink upgrade if a mech doesn't come with it. Despite more than a few attempts at balancing it out, double-heatsinks are ALWAYS worth taking, and mechs that don't run them are obsolete out of the garage. Endo-steel always saves more weight than the ferro-fibrous upgrade and takes up the same number of critical slots, so always go for that one first between the two. Your first robots (hopefully on the cheap):  Building a garage of personalized killer robots is one of the best parts of MechWarrior. However, mechs are expensive, C-bills don’t grow on trees, and garage space is at a premium, so you want to make the best purchasing decisions you can. Accounts start with four mech bays (essentially character slots) for you to fill in with your own mechs by default. Seems like plenty, but they fill up fast. Progression in the mech skill trees depends on owning three chassis of the same kind of mech, so four bays will limit you to one particular brand of ride, or require some extremely tedious re-selling and re-buying. Mech bays can only be purchased with real money unfortunately, but diligent spendthrifts can earn free ones by participating in fairly regular weekend events and dipping their toes into the various faction play options (you unlock a free mechbay fairly early in the progression for each house or clan and are free to bounce between them after fleecing them for the reward). When buying a mech, you have to consider the cost of equipping it as well as the flat cost of the mech. Upgrades like endo-steel frames and double heat sinks are essential and bloat the sticker price of a mech. XL engines are used in several popular Inner Sphere mechs and cost millions of C-Bills on their own. Again, pre-planning your builds in a third-party builder is a smart move. You can move engines around between mechs, so try and purchase ones that you can reuse in several mechs (my single XL 255 engine is swapped between basically half of my medium and light mechs). The XL 300 is also used in many popular builds and might be a wise investment. You’ll notice when buying mechs that there is a divide between Inner Sphere tech and Clan tech. For folks unfamiliar with BattleTech lore, these basically represent two different sides of a galactic conflict. Clan mechs cost more than their IS equivalents, but you get what you pay for -- and here is the part of the guide where I make a lot of enemies -- because Clan stuff is generally better. Outside of any lore affiliations, in-game, the choice between Clan and IS represents a difference in power and playstyle. Clan mechs come equipped with XL engines (that don’t explode when you lose a side compared to the fragile IS equivalent), double heat sinks are standard, and many come with upgrades like endo-steel pre-installed. So while the sticker price is higher, it’s also a little closer to what you actually pay in the long run. By and large, Clan tech is lighter, hits harder, and has greater range than IS tech. On the downside, Clan weapons tend to fire in volleys or bursts and their lasers take longer to do full damage (all the more reason to twist and spread the damage). The potential to do A LOT more damage than IS mechs exists, but you need a steady hand to really take advantage of it. Clan weapons also generate more heat on average. In default game modes, you aren't locked into either side and are free to fill your garage with whatever mechs you want. If you plan on getting deep into the Community Warfare aspect of the game though, you will naturally want to focus on one team eventually. On the bright side for the IS, several mechs have positive “quirks” that let them leverage unique attributes with certain weapons, or give them a little more durability than their armor rating may imply. If you pay attention and build towards them, some IS mechs can be just as powerful (or more) than Clan mechs and cheaper if you can swap around parts. On the IS side, the Blackjack line of mechs are relatively cheap, has great high-mounted weapon hardpoints (they can peek over a ridge and fire without exposing too much of themselves) and thanks to a few quirks, can do surprising damage (the 1X with six medium lasers in the arms is a beast). You can also look into the heavier Thunderbolts with laser quirks if you want to make an impression, or the nimble Firestarter if the idea of backstabbing larger mechs appeals to you. For the Clans, the medium weight Stormcrow packs all the firepower of a heavy (and maybe some assaults) while staying incredibly mobile. Lovely hardpoint placements high on the torso and nose of the mech make it easy to use. The Timberwolf heavy is also a great (if expensive) choice with a ton of build flexibility -- it’s the poster child of the franchise for a reason. Good luck! For a “very quick tips” post this guide went on, didn’t it? There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of in MWO and it can seem bewildering when starting out, but with a little practice and some patience, you’ll be reducing giant robots to scrap heaps in no time.
MWO tips photo
All systems nominal
With MechWarrior Online hitting Steam, there are bound to be a lot of new pilots climbing into the cockpit for the very first time. But getting started might not be the easiest thing in the world. MechWarrior is a little more...

Review: Hearthstone: League of Explorers

Dec 10 // Chris Carter
Hearthstone: League of Explorers (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Blizzard EntertainmentPublisher: Blizzard EntertainmentReleased: November 12, 2015 to December 10, 2015 MSRP: $19.99 for all four wings The basic setup has been pared down a bit, and I'm mostly fine with it. Instead of focusing on five wings, League has four, strewn about over the course of four weeks (skipping an additional week for the Thanksgiving holiday). It's maddening sometimes to have to wait to access another wing that you paid for, but that's mostly because Hearthstone constantly leaves me wanting more. This expansion really delivers with its single-player scenarios, topping any other fight before it. That's primarily due to the "choose your own adventure" sections, where players will have to deal with an event rather than face a specific enemy. You'll be able to play the odds by taking a high-risk, high-reward option or play it safe, and in the end, strategy usually wills out. Other fights involve mechanics like a staff that makes you invulnerable, and a boss that persistently fills your side with useless minions that explode over time. From a lore perspective, there's a decent amount of references here for fans, from a duel with Lady Naz'jar in the ruined city, to a showdown with Archaedas in Uldaman. I never thought Blizzard would one day make a card game and base it on the rich Warcraft world that it's spent decades developing, but I'm glad it did. As for the other bits, Heroic (hard) versions are still in, and although Hero challenges are a little too easy and straightforward this time around, each one rewards you with one card, so they're still worth playing. [embed]324539:61475:0[/embed] The new cards are also rather disruptive, in a good way. The main characters (pictured above) drastically alter some decks, and a few even allow for completely new deck themes. My personal favorite is Sir Finley Mrrgglton (love that name), a 1-mana 1/3 card that allows players to swap their hero power. It's such a tiny thing, but the ability to use hero powers interchangeably can alter the course of a match. I've also been using the Summing Stone in a few of my decks, which summons a random minion based on the cost of any spell used while it's active. Other cards like Tomb Spiders and Jeweled Scarabs "discover" new minions. Like the themes before it, the types of cards in League are cohesive, and fun to use. Murloc decks in general also got a huge buff, with "Anyfin can Happen" (a 10-mana card that summons seven dead Murlocs), and the Tinyfin (a 0-cost 1/1 card that essentially buffs other Murlocs). Hearthstone: League of Explorers is probably my favorite expansion yet for the game. I feel like Blizzard iterates for every release, and I hope this isn't the end of the adventures to come, as I vastly prefer them to card-only expansions. Maybe next time we'll see even crazier mechanics, like the co-op fight that was only used once in a Tavern Brawl. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Hearthstone review photo
Cheerio
Blizzard is doing a great job of keeping Hearthstone players invested. In addition to the typical daily quest, weekly Tavern Brawl, and Arena schemes invented to reward people with new decks on a constant basis, it has a...

Review: SteamWorld Heist

Dec 09 // Chris Carter
SteamWorld Heist (3DS [reviewed], PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One)Developer: Image & FormPublisher: Image & FormMSRP: $19.99 ($16.99 until December 31, with a 3DS theme)Released: December 10, 2015 (3DS), TBA (PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One) Although Heist is confirmed to take place in the same universe as Dig, the only thing that's remotely similar is the art style. Set in the future after the presumed fictional wild west period, the cast of the game is now spacebound, complete with more advanced weaponry at their disposal. The star of the narrative is Piper, captain of a smuggling ship who gets wrapped up in the ongoing conflict with pirates. Along the way you'll pick up more cast members to add to your home ship, Mass Effect style, all of whom boast unique abilities and statlines. The presentation is just as charming as Dig to boot, with gibberish dialogue (outside of the announcer), memorable characters, and some awesome vocal music tracks. One thing I wasn't too keen on though was the lack of character development, despite the fast-moving plot that gives you plenty of excuses to blow stuff up. While I felt very connected to Dig due to the smaller scale of its world that left me wanting more, the galactic conflict of Heist wasn't quite as compelling. Gameplay-wise, gone is the action platformer conceit, as things are now at a more deliberate pace. Think of how Valkyria Chronicles works -- players get a limited amount of movement, and can perform one action, including a skill or an attack, before their turn ends. You'll get to aim manually, and target any body part or object you wish. You can also opt to sprint further than your allotted movement, though it will immediately end your turn. Many strategy RPGs have used this same system, but I was surprised at how well it works in Heist's 2D space. [embed]324048:61439:0[/embed] Action is relatively fast-going, and there are a ton of nuances built into the combat system to constantly keep things interesting. For instance, weapon loadouts drastically change the way one approaches a situation, as some guns have laser sights, different rates of fire, or new ammo types altogether. When you add in the fact that headshots increase the chance for a critical hit, and that you can knock off enemy hats to add to your collection (of which there are nearly 100), it gets even more interesting. The whole equipment system alone is well crafted, from the way it starts off manageable and eventually ramps up, to the utility of the items in general. Players will have to choose two items per character, shifting their builds significantly and essentially turning them into new playstyles. Selling items is as easy as pressing a button, which makes inventory management effortless and fun without being too streamlined for its own good. Items like extra movement shoes, armor that restricts movement, and healing packs all come into play, and can be used in a static manner or more dynamically as a reaction to each scenario. It's deep without being too overwhelming, so newcomers shouldn't have any issues acclimating to it -- especially since you can alter the difficulty setting on every mission. It helps that maps are always interesting as well, providing multiple paths of entry even earlier into the experience. Because of how open each arena is, placement of your party is important, and finding cover can be relatively difficult when nearly all of it can be destroyed or blown up depending on the situation. There are so many variables involved in every level that missions never truly felt the same, even if I was repeating them to pick up some loot I missed, or clear an objective I previously failed. SteamWorld Heist is both a great entry point for people who normally shy away from strategy games and a good recommendation for veterans. With a deep combat system and a sliding difficulty scale, pretty much everyone can find something they'll like. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
SteamWorld Heist review photo
Smugglers with hearts of gold
SteamWorld Dig is a criminally underrated game. Although some were quick to judge its short length, it's the perfect thing to pick up and play at the drop of a hat, and the pacing is basically perfect. Heist is a co...

PC Port Report: Helldivers

Dec 07 // Nic Rowen
Helldivers (PC)Developer: Arrowhead Game StudiosPublisher: PlayStation Mobile Inc.Released: December 7, 2015MSRP: $19.99 If you were foolish like me and never played Helldivers on the PS4 when it came out, it's a top down four-player co-op shooter with an emphasis on teamwork and coordination. You play as a squad of Helldivers, a group of all-purpose space-marines, representing the peaceful (and not at all totalitarian, xenophobic, or belligerent) world of Super Earth as they “defend” their sovereign nation-planet against the scum of the galaxy. Cyborgs, giant bugs, and robots all threaten the future well-being of Super Earth (by not giving up their resources and getting in line fast enough), and it's your squad's job to either bring them democracy or hot death (note: there is no “democracy” button on your controller, just a trigger). The titular Helldivers have access to all the typical space-marine gear: machine guns, flamethrowers, miniature walking mechas, as well as specialized “stratagems” that can be called in from headquarters to be airdropped into the field. Stratagems range from supply drops and reinforcement respawns, to orbital bombardments and quick-deploying auto-turrets. All you have to do is stop firing, take a knee, tap out a quick series of directional movements (think the Konami code, but for strafing runs instead of 30 extra lives) and toss out a drop beacon. A total snap while fending off never-ending hordes of flesh-devouring bugs the size of school buses, right? Of course, being the biggest badasses Super Earth has to offer, the Helldivers are the most lethal thing on the battlefield -- even to each other. If you're not accidentally clipping a buddy with a spray of machine gun fire, or (oops) crushing half of your squad underneath a poorly placed supply drop, you're not bringing democracy to the front lines hard enough. Helldivers plays collateral damage for laughs, and stacks the deck in favor of hilarious live-fire "happy accidents." Mostly, these quirks add to the charm of Helldivers and only get frustrating if you happen to be playing with a madman who can't keep his grenades to himself or seems to be executing squad members on purpose. [embed]324957:61443:0[/embed] Thankfully, multiplayer support on the PC version is every bit as smooth and easy as the PS4 version. Hosting a game or joining one in progress is effortless and linking up with friends or kicking a toxic player is just as simple as it should be. Helldivers features built-in VOIP (which is actually enabled as an open mic by default as I found out accidentally to my teammates delight and my embarrassment. You can, of course, set it to push-to-talk if you prefer) but there are also quick-response radio options ("roger," "negative," etc.) if you're the type that doesn't like to talk into a mic, but still wants to coordinate with the rest of the team. The game has a very breezy, low-commitment feel. Unlike other multiplayer games where you can get roped into long, shitty matches, it's easy to pull up stakes and move on to greener pastures in Helldivers. Loading screens are mercifully short, inventory management and menu dithering is curtailed by a brisk timer that starts to count down as soon as one person readies up (so you're not stuck waiting on that one guy who wants to try out every cape option he has before dropping), and the actual missions are fast paced, "get in and get out" affairs. After spending a lot of time with MOBAs and games like Evolve this year, where a bad match can handily flush a half hour of precious quality game time away, I've really enjoyed the speed and ease of Helldivers lobby system. To top it off, every round I've played in the pre-release beta has been nice and stable with nary a hiccup. As always, the full release will put the game to the real test, but I'm optimistic that it will do just fine from what I've seen so far. In addition to the standard PC release, there is also a Digital Deluxe version available for $39.99 if you want to go wild. It comes stuffed with a boatload of DLC weapons, stratagems, vehicles, and extra swanky capes if you want your Helldiver to look his or her best. Personally, I feel like the regular game has enough content to unlock and play around with that you probably don't need to jump into the deep end right off the start. Small DLC packs of specific weapons and items just like the PS4 version are on the way, so you can probably wait and just cherry pick your favorites for a couple of bucks if you really want a particular outfit (or personal mecha, you know, just as an example and not something I plan on picking up as soon as its available). This is a great version of a great game. Pick it up, get some friends together, and do your part to keep Super Earth free, happy, and secure (by making every other planet broken, miserable, and reduced to a pile of ashes). [This PC Port Report is based on a press beta build of the game which was provided by the publisher.]
Helldivers PC photo
Airdropped into my heart
Earlier in the year, Conrad Zimmerman gave the PS4 version of Helldivers his highest recommendation. He praised it for its brutal and unrelenting action, and its dedication to pitch-black humor and decidedly laissez-faire att...

PC Port Report: Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree's Woe and the Blight Below

Dec 05 // Joe Parlock
Rig: AMD FX-8320 3.50GHz Eight-Core processor, 12GB of RAM, AMD HD 7970, Windows 10 64-Bit. Framerate measured with Raptr. Game played at the “High” graphics preset. First up, the options available leave a lot to be desired. Initially even finding some of them was a challenge, as while the basic settings like resolution and some limited graphics quality settings are available both in-game and in an external application, other settings like camera sensitivity are nestled within a maze of menu screens found once you’ve loaded up your game. While Heroes has settings for some less familiar settings like ambient occlusion and even what languages character speak in, it manages to entirely miss some of the more crucial and needed options. The two largest offenses are there being no way to control vsync, and anti-aliasing seems to be completely absent. The result is that while on a TV, the game looks perfect, but when you look at it up-close on a computer monitor, the jaggedness of the characters and environments is incredibly noticeable. Other than the anti-aliasing problem, it's gorgeous: great lighting effects, a fantastic art style, and high-quality textures. The game otherwise being so pretty makes the masses of jagged edges all the more disappointing. Framerates above 60 appear to be impossible. You’re given the option of locking the game at 60, 30, or strangely 20 FPS, but there's no option for a truly unlocked framerate. While on most configurations locking the framerate to 60 will achieve the same effect vsync would, good luck getting anything out of your expensive monitors with a higher refresh rate. In other words, if you want more control over the graphics, you’ll want to see what settings your video card’s control panel has available. While Heroes’ options aren’t exactly lacking, they aren’t comprehensive and often aren't the settings you'd most like to have control over.  As a positive, the game does have key remapping, which is nice. There’s also the ability to bind some of the usual keyboard functions to mouse buttons instead, which for some people would make things a lot easier.  [embed]324536:61395:0[/embed] Despite the generous remapping capabilities, I heavily, heavily recommend you use a controller if at all possible, because the controls are by far the biggest issue with the port. Playing it with a mouse and keyboard is uncomfortable at best, and almost impossible at worst. For starters, none of the menus can be controlled using the mouse, but require you to use the keyboard instead. It’s a massive pain considering just how many menus, maps, and dialogue sequences there are. The map even relies on you positioning a cursor over the location you want, so no mouse control just feels lazy. A bigger problem is that all the input icons show the Xbox controller buttons as opposed to keys -- even when you don't have a controller plugged into your PC. Last time I checked, my keyboard doesn’t have a right bumper, so the tutorial telling me to dash using it is a total waste of time. The only way you’ll have any luck playing Heroes with a keyboard and mouse is if you memorise the big list of key bindings. I haven't even mentioned how awful the game feels playing with a keyboard and mouse. The camera doesn’t stay rigidly locked to the character, so moving side-to-side will make them slowly drift to the sides of the screen, which means mouse control for the camera feels disjointed and fiddly and when in a hectic encounter, it can make you flat-out lose your character on the busy, cluttered screen. Even once I’d played with the settings, the mouse sensitivity feels completely off. I found it would pick up even the slightest movements and judder all over the place, and eventually it made me feel slightly sick. It wasn’t a fun experience trying not to vomit, and I found myself fighting with them more than the masses of monsters I was meant to be focusing on. After about two hours of trying to fight with the mouse, I gave up and used my Xbox 360 controller instead. The controller works far, far better and my queasiness instantly went away, so if you do decide to pick up the game, make sure you plug in a controller too. As far as optimisation and performance go, Dragon Quest Heroes ran incredibly well for me. It’s worth noting that my rig is getting on a bit now, so I’m only slightly above the recommended settings. Even then with all the settings at the highest possible, I consistently had around 45-50 FPS. Everything ran smoothly even in busy and detailed environments with tons of enemies. However, there is a huge caveat here. I’ve been playing on a system with an AMD card, but there have been complaints from some players that the game has much worse performance on Nvidia cards, especially in laptops. I’m unable to confirm this for myself as I don’t have the hardware to test the game on, but there are enough comments mentioning Nvidia performance problems for me to suggest being cautious when buying the game. Overall, while the port for Dragon Quest Heroes leaves a lot to be desired, it definitely didn't verge into unplayable territory for me. The biggest problem I found was the keyboard and mouse controls being pretty awful, but once I swapped over to playing on a controller, I found the port fine. For those who don’t like playing on a controller under any circumstances, the problems with Heroes will get very annoying very quickly. I have a slight confession to make: this is my first ever Dragon Quest game, and I only have a little experience with Dynasty Warriors. I’m by no means an expert in either series, so I won't be able to really assess how it stands up in comparison to its parents. Despite that, I did genuinely enjoy my time with Heroes. You don’t need to have ever played a Dragon Quest game to understand the story, but those who are familiar with the series will probably get more pleasure out of seeing characters from totally unconnected games meet at last. I have no idea who characters like Yangus, Nera, or Alena are in their original games, but I don't need to know to like their inclusion in Heroes. Going into it blind, I was struck by just how charming the entire thing is. Heroes is at its core about a lovely cast of characters who are all voice-acted incredibly well, going on an adventure in a very traditional, colourful and beautifully realised JRPG world. Compared to the few Warriors games I’ve played, Heroes appears to have a lot of influence from Dragon Quest’s JRPG foundations, insofar as you have to gather your party and manage their skills and equipment as they level up. Sometimes I felt like having to return to the base between every mission got in the way of the combat at the heart of the game, but ultimately it wasn’t too bad. The combat is utterly fantastic, as I would expect from a Warriors game. Mowing down dozens of enemies in flashy combos and watching as the damage counters filled the screen was brilliant. The large roster of characters all play very differently to each other, so the combat never felt repetitive or boring to me. One really neat feature is the monster coin system. Sometimes when you kill an enemy, they’ll be converted into a coin that, once used, can summon them to fight with you. Strategically collecting the stronger monster coins and redeploying them to get the tactical advantage over a wave of enemies gave the combat a bit more depth than just mashing the controller until everything died. Unfortunately while the combat never gets old, the mission structure certainly does. Sometimes you’ll get a cool mission where you have to fight your way through a level, and the boss fights are absolutely awesome. They’re often huge, and require you to think about the encounter in a new and interesting way. But after a couple of hours, you’ve more or less seen every type of mission the game has to offer, and most of them are simply variations on tower defence-plus-Dynasty Warriors. Even the progression through the chapters is often the same: head to a town in peril, fight your way through some enemies, protect a thing, and then fight the boss When the missions are good, they’re really good and a hell of a lot of fun. So it’s a huge shame that the remaining missions that pad those awesome moments are often just keeping enemies away from that level’s MacGuffin until you win. Considering how many optional side-missions there are, I would’ve hoped there was a bit more variation in what it was I was actually doing. I really like Dragon Quest Heroes. It’s colourful, cheerful, and is suitably camp for a Warriors game, and it also has genuinely involving yet accessible combat. It’s just a shame that after a few hours the missions began to feel repetitive, making playing for longer periods of time drag on a bit. Either way, as a total newcomer to Dragon Quest, it’s definitely got me interested in trying out some of the other entries in the franchise, and for long-time fans of the series there’s bound to be enough to keep you entertained for a while.  [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.] [This PC Port Report is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Dragon Quest Heroes photo
A great game with some big port problems
Hot on the heels of Hyrule Warriors, Koei Tecmo released Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below. It takes the long-running and well-loved Dragon Quest series of JRPGs and throws them straigh...

Dragon's Dogma runs wonderfully on PC

Dec 03 // Patrick Hancock
Tested on: Intel i7-4770k 3.50 GHz, 8GB of RAM, Geforce GTX 970, Windows 10 Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen is officially releasing on PC on January 15, so there will still be optimizations and tweaks between now and then. Honestly, though? I've encountered no technical issues whatsoever.  Here are the options included in the PC version: [embed]323834:61344:0[/embed] As you can see, the graphics menu has just about all the options players should expect, including a field-of-view setting. Playing with everything cranked up, I was able to run the game at a consistent 60 frames per second, including during the in-game cutscenes. As I mentioned, I'm only a couple of hours in, and nothing has gotten too crazy yet. Playing on a keyboard and mouse feels rather comfortable, and I'm generally not happy with third-person action games using this control scheme. The keyboard keys can be remapped, so if the defaults don't tickle your fancy, change them! The individual controller buttons cannot be changed, but there are six different control schemes provided. The game also automatically detects the controller (in my case, an Xbox One gamepad) immediately and even adjusts the button prompts. A small, but dedicated detail involves the screenshot feature. Players can pause the action and go into a specific "Share" menu option to get a screenshot (as I have done, above) to move the camera about and get a nice image. The PC version will automatically take a Steam screenshot when the Take Photo button is pressed. I expected the game to save it to some random location in My Pictures, but the developers went so far as to program Steam screenshots into this feature -- awesome! We'll have a full PC Port Report on Dark Arisen's official Steam release in January, but as of now, the outlook is very good!
Dragons Dogma PC photo
Smooth like butta
At some point, I downloaded Dragon's Dogma onto my PS3, but never got around to playing it. I'd scroll through and tell myself "some other day." Well, apparently that other day is the day it comes to PC. I hear tell that...

Review: Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege

Dec 02 // Chris Carter
Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege (PC, PS4, Xbox One [reviewed])Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftMSRP: $59.99Release Date: December 1, 2015  First and foremost, let me make it clear that Siege is still very much a strategic game, despite an increased emphasis on action. The crux is engrossed in the "siege" concept, where two teams of players are placed on opposing sides of offense and defense. The former is tasked with infiltrating a specific area, usually a building of some sort, and the latter will put up barricades and properly booby-trap the zone to protect an objective. Defensive capabilities are quite versatile beyond placing traps, with the ability to patch up windows à la Call of Duty's zombies mode, or deploy items for the rest of your team. The sheer entropy that comes out of this simple premise is lovely. There are so many options for breaching and a litany of defensive options that no one game is the same. Players can rappel up almost any window and break in, sneak around and breach doors with charges or a good old fashioned sledgehammer, or blow up walls and create new entrances. The concept of a destructible environment is not new (games like the original Red Faction have been doing it for ages), but the development team really follows through here, with a good balance of destruction to keep things tense. Part of the variety comes from the 20 Operators, which are essentially the classes of Siege. Archetypes range from a bruiser, to a "brainy" tech girl, to a medic, but all of them have a unique twist gameplay-wise that sets them apart from one another. It's also imperative that your team works together, choosing combinations that complement each ability -- this is partially forced by the fact that the game doesn't allow two people on a team to pick the same Operator. In the end though, any combo works relatively well as long as the team is on top of things, and players don't run blindly into rooms without thinking of all of the options available. [embed]323032:61291:0[/embed] While the 5v5 asymmetrical game type is the core mode, there are also two more facets at play -- Terrorist Hunt (PVE) and Situations (single player). The former is a lot like horde mode with a twist, as players will be dropped into levels with randomized objectives and enemy placement, with three varying levels of difficulty to choose from. While I prefer the insanity of playing human opponents given the open-ended nature of the game, I really enjoyed taking breaks with the PVE mode, as it really does provide a ton of different scenarios across its 11 maps. It's tough, too, as one bad move can result in a near-death experience, requiring others to rally around your low health pool, and bust out tactics like going in a vanguard formation with a shield-wielding Operator. From what I've seen people really attempt to use a mic, and if you strive for a shooter that transcends the "point and shoot" mentality, you'll find solace with Siege. If desired, players can also go at it solo, which is a nice option for those of you who don't love being online all the time. Having said that, there is no campaign whatsoever. Instead, you'll have your pick of 11 Situations, which are very similar to Terrorist Hunt, but with their own set of challenges. For instance, finishing a level with a certain amount of health or completing specific tasks will net you instant renown. I actually really like this mode, as objectives can be completed individually, even if you fail a mission -- so there's incentive to come back over time and eventually "three-star" each Situation. It's absolutely not a substitute for a full-on story mode, but it's one of my favorite non-campaign additions in a while, in a sea of multiplayer-only shooters. As previously stated, the way these characters are unlocked will likely turn off some, but it's very much par for the course for the genre, and even ahead of the curve in many ways, actually. In fact, I'm sitting here, having only played the game for a few days, with 10 of the 20 Operators, which isn't bad at all. If you hate the idea of microtransactions on principle you'll likely be angry here, but on my end, I was easily able to ignore them and still enjoy Siege. As for server issues, I've heard reports of other platforms' lack of stability, but Siege has been very reliable for me on Xbox One in the past 48 hours. While there are occasional bouts of connection problems after booting up the game, the issue is resolved in seconds, and I've played hours-long sessions with no problems. Rainbow Six Siege has a lot going for it when it comes to the long haul. While three modes doesn't sound like a lot, the sheer volume of variables involved will result in an experience that constantly stays fresh, even with the current pool of 11 maps. While a few other major shooters have let me down this year, I think Siege is one of the games I'll be playing the most going forward.
Rainbow Six Siege photo
A new taste of Rainbow
The original Rainbow Six was one of the first squad shooters I ever played, outside of the Delta Force series (both debuted in the same year). I still remember hanging out at my friend's house with his dad, who also...


Auto-loading more stories ... un momento, corazón ...