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Getting 'Showdown' To 90 FPS In UE4 On Oculus Rift
An anonymous reader writes Oculus has repeatedly tapped Epic Games to whip up demos to show off new iterations of Oculus Rift VR headset hardware. The latest demo, built in UE4, is 'Showdown', an action-packed scene of slow motion explosions, bullets, and debris. The challenge? Oculus asked Epic to make it run at 90 FPS to match the 90 Hz refresh rate of the latest Oculus Rift 'Crescent Bay' prototype. At the Oculus Connect conference, two of the developers from the team that created the demo share the tricks and tools they used to hit that target on a single GPU.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Alienware's Triangular Area-51 Re-Design With Tri-SLI GeForce GTX 980, Tested
MojoKid writes Dell's Alienware division recently released a radical redesign of their Area-51 gaming desktop. With 45-degree angled front and rear face plates that are designed to direct control and IO up toward the user, in addition to better directing cool airflow in, while warm airflow is directed up and away from the rear of the chassis, this triangular-shaped machine grabs your attention right away. In testing and benchmarks, the Area-51's new design enables top-end performance with thermal and acoustic profiles that are fairly impressive versus most high-end gaming PC systems. The chassis design is also pretty clean, modular and easily servicable. Base system pricing isn't too bad, starting at $1699 with the ability to dial things way up to an 8-core Haswell-E chip and triple GPU graphics from NVIDIA and AMD. The test system reviewed at HotHardware was powered by a six-core Core i7-5930K chip and three GeForce GTX 980 cards in SLI. As expected, it ripped through the benchmarks, though the price as configured and tested is significantly higher.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Quake Meets Minecraft in FPS Construction Kit Gunscape
SlappingOysters writes: One of the highlighted games at the PAX AUS expo starting on October 31 is Blowfish Studios' Gunscape, a game described as an FPS construction kit. As well as building and sharing FPS maps for multiplayer gaming sessions across eight different modes, the game will also be able to handle up to nine-player splitscreen on a 4K display. This includes co-op map building.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Tetris Is Hard To Test
New submitter JackDW writes: Tetris is one of the best-known computer games ever made. It's easy to play but hard to master, and it's based on a NP-hard problem. But that's not all that's difficult about it. Though it's simple enough to be implemented in one line of BBC BASIC, it's complex enough to be really hard to thoroughly test. It may seem like you can test everything in Tetris just by playing it for a few minutes, but this is very unlikely! As I explain in this article, the game is filled with special cases that rarely occur in normal play, and these can only be easily found with the help of a coverage tool.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Google Search Finally Adds Information About Video Games
An anonymous reader writes Google has expanded its search engine with the capability to recognize video games. If your query references a game, a new Knowledge Graph panel on the right-hand side of Google's search results page will offer more information, including the series it belongs to, initial release date, supported platforms, developers, publishers, designers, and even review scores. Google spokesperson: "With today's update, you can ask questions about video games, and (while there will be ones we don't cover) you'll get answers for console and PC games as well as the most popular mobile apps."

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

PCGamingWiki Looks Into Linux Gaming With 'Port Reports'
AberBeta writes: PCGamingWiki contributor Soeb has been looking into the recent larger budget game releases to appear on Linux, including XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Borderlands: The Pre–Sequel produced by Mac porting houses Feral and Aspyr. Soeb reports that while feature parity is high, performance could be a bit better. Performance differences aside, the games are finally arriving on Linux — now the userbase needs to expand to make a virtuous cycle.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Judge Says EA Battlefield 4 Execs Engaged In "Puffery," Not Fraud
DemonOnIce writes with a story, as reported by Ars Technica, that a federal judge in San Francisco has dismissed a proposed securities fraud class action lawsuit connected to Battlefield 4's bungled rollout. From the report: EA and several top executives were sued in December and were accused of duping investors with their public statements and concealing issues with the first-person shooter game. The suit claimed executives were painting too rosy of a picture surrounding what ultimately would be Battlefield 4's disastrous debut on various gaming consoles beginning last October, including the next-generation Xbox One. But US District Judge Susan Illston of San Francisco said their comments about EA and the first-person shooter game were essentially protected corporate speak. "The Court agrees with defendants that all of the purported misstatements are inactionable statements of opinion, corporate optimism, or puffery," Illston ruled Monday.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Doctor Who To Teach Kids To Code
DCFC writes: The BBC is releasing a game to help 8- to 11-year-old kids get into coding. Based on Doctor Who, it alternates between a standard platform game and programming puzzles that introduce the ideas of sequence, loops, if..then, variables and a touch of event-driven programming. Kids will get to program a Dalek to make him more powerful. (Apparently the BBC thinks upgrading psychopathic, racist death machines is a good idea!)

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

New Music Discovered In Donkey Kong For Arcade
First time accepted submitter furrykef . writes Over 33 years have passed since Donkey Kong first hit arcades, but it still has new surprises. I was poking through the game in a debugger when I discovered that the game contains unused music and voice clips. One of the tunes would have been played when you rescued Pauline, and two others are suggestive of deleted cutscenes. In addition, Pauline was originally meant to speak. In one clip she says something unintelligible, but it may be "Hey!", "Nice!", or "Thanks!". The other is clearly a cry for help.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

For Game Developers, It's About the Labor of Love
Nerval's Lobster writes With "GamerGate" and all the debates over who counts as a "gamer," it's easy to forget that games are created by people with a genuine love of the craft. Journalist Jon Brodkin sat down with Armin Ibrisagic, game designer & PR manager for Coffee Stain Studios, the Swedish studio that made Goat Simulator, to talk about why they built that game and how it turned into such a success. Brodkin also talked to Leszek Lisowski, founder of Wastelands Interactive, about the same topic. While these developers might debate with themselves (and others) over whether to develop games for hardcore gamers, or jump on the mobile "casual gaming" bandwagon, they'll ultimately in it because they love games — a small but crucial detail that seems too easy to forget these days.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Mozilla Teams Up With Humble Bundle To Offer Eight Plugin-Free Games
An anonymous reader writes Mozilla and Humble Bundle announced a new package that features award-winning indie best-sellers for which gamers can choose how much they want to pay. Naturally called the Humble Mozilla Bundle, the package consists of eight games that have been ported to the Web. The first five games (Super Hexagon, AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! for the Awesome, Osmos, Zen Bound 2, and Dustforce DX) can cost you whatever you want. The next two (Voxatron and FTL: Faster Than Light) can be had if you beat the average price for the bundle. You can pay $8 or more to receive all of the above, plus the last game, Democracy 3. Previously, all of these indie games were available only on PC or mobile. Now they all work in browsers on Windows, Mac, and Linux without having to install any plugins.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

How Women Became Gamers Through D&D
An anonymous reader writes: To add some historical context to the currently controversy surrounding attitudes toward women in gaming, Jon Peterson provides an in-depth historical look at the unsurprisingly male origins of the "gamer" identity. It also examines how Dungeons & Dragons helped to open the door for women in gaming — overturning a sixty-year-old dogma that was born when Wells's Little Wars first assumed the "disdain" of women for gaming.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Ask Slashdot: VPN Setup To Improve Latency Over Multiple Connections?
blogologue writes I've been playing Battlefield for some time now, and having a good ping there is important for a good gaming experience. Now I'm in the situation where I have mobile internet access from two telecom companies, and neither of those connections are stable enough to play games on, the odd ping in hundreds of milliseconds throws everything off. How can I setup a Windows client (my PC) and a Linux server (in a datacenter, connected to the internet) so that the same TCP and UDP traffic goes over both links, and the fastest packet on either link 'wins' and the other is discarded?

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Infinite Browser Universe Manyland Hits 8 Million Placed Blocks
j_philipp (803945) writes Manyland [Here's the twitter feed and a FAQ] is an HTML5 / JavaScript-based MMO universe created by a community and two indie developers from Europe. Everything in the world can be freely drawn and placed: From the cars, animals, plants, houses, bridges, to everyone's own bodies. Like Wikipedia, by default areas are editable by everyone (and removing a block leaves dust which can be used to undo the removal). Since the opening a year ago, over 100,000 different creations have been made, and now, over 8 million blocks placed. Some features are for logged-in users only, but the whole thing is free to explore for everyone, and it's just sucked away quite a few minutes for me.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Simple Hack Enables VR Mode For Oculus Rift In Alien: Isolation
An anonymous reader writes In a surprising appearance at E3 2014, Oculus showed a virtual reality demo version of Creative Assembly's forthcoming first-person horror game, Alien: Isolation. Despite intense reactions to the demo, the publisher stated that the full game would not feature Oculus Rift support. However, intentional or not, the developer left the code hidden in the game which can be enabled with a simple hack, leading to full support for the Oculus Rift including positional tracking.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Ubisoft Claims CPU Specs a Limiting Factor In Assassin's Creed Unity On Consoles
MojoKid (1002251) writes A new interview with Assassin's Creed Unity senior producer Vincent Pontbriand has some gamers seeing red and others crying "told you so," after the developer revealed that the game's 900p framerate and 30 fps target on consoles is a result of weak CPU performance rather than GPU compute. "Technically we're CPU-bound," Pontbriand said. "The GPUs are really powerful, obviously the graphics look pretty good, but it's the CPU that has to process the AI, the number of NPCs we have on screen, all these systems running in parallel. We were quickly bottlenecked by that and it was a bit frustrating, because we thought that this was going to be a tenfold improvement over everything AI-wise..." This has been read by many as a rather damning referendum on the capabilities of AMD's APU that's under the hood of Sony's and Microsoft's new consoles. To some extent, that's justified; the Jaguar CPU inside both the Sony PS4 and Xbox One is a modest chip with a relatively low clock speed. Both consoles may offer eight CPU threads on paper, but games can't access all that headroom. One thread is reserved for the OS and a few more cores will be used for processing the 3D pipeline. Between the two, Ubisoft may have only had 4-5 cores for AI and other calculations — scarcely more than last gen, and the Xbox 360 and PS3 CPUs were clocked much faster than the 1.6 / 1.73GHz frequencies of their replacements.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Reverse Engineering the Oculus Rift DK2's Positional Tracking Tech
An anonymous reader writes The Oculus Rift DK2 VR headset hides under its IR-transparent shell an array of IR LEDs which are picked up by the positional tracker. The data is used to understand where the user's head is in 3D space so that the game engine can update the view accordingly, a critical function for reducing sim sickness and increasing immersion. Unsurprisingly, some endeavoring folks wanted to uncover the magic behind Oculus' tech and began reverse engineering the system. Along the way, they discovered some curious info including a firmware bug which, when fixed, revealed the true view of the positional tracker.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Startup's Open Source Device Promises Gamers "Surround Sound For Your Eyes"
alphadogg (971356) writes A startup called Antumbra run by 5 college students is looking to throw a little soothing light on this situation: People who hunker down in front of their computers until the wee hours, until it feels like their eyes might fall out. Antumbra's open-source-based Glow, which launches in a limited beta of 100 $35 units on Thursday, is a small (1.5" x 1.5"x 0.5") doohickey that attaches to the back of your computer monitor via USB port and is designed to enhance your work or gaming experience — and lessen eye strain — by spreading the colors from your screen onto the wall behind it in real time. The idea is to reduce the contrast in colors between the computer screen and the background area. The the idea might not be new, and people have been home-brewing their own content-driven lighting like this for a while, but this is the first I've seen that looks like a simple add-on.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Vax, PDP/11, HP3000 and Others Live On In the Cloud
judgecorp writes: Surprisingly, critical applications still rely on old platforms, although legacy hardware is on its last legs. Swiss emulation expert Stromasys is offering emulation in the cloud for old hardware using a tool cheekily named after Charon, the ferryman to the afterlife. Systems covered include the Vax and PDP/11 platforms from Digital Equipment (which was swallowed by Compaq and then HP) as well as Digital's Alpha RISC systems, and HP's HP3000. It also offers Sparc emulation, although Oracle might dispute the need for this.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

NVIDIA Launches Mobile Maxwell GeForce GTX 980M and GTX 970M Notebook Graphics
MojoKid writes: When Nvidia launched their new GeForce GTX 980 and 970 last month, it was obvious that these cards would be coming to mobile sooner rather than later. The significant increase that Maxwell offers in performance-per-watt means that these GPUs should shine in mobile contexts, maybe even more-so than in desktop. Today, Nvidia is unveiling two new mobile GPUs — the GeForce GTX 980M and 970M. Both notebook graphics engines are based on Maxwell's 28nm architecture, and both are trimmed slightly from the full desktop implementation. The GTX 980M is a 1536-core chip (just like the GTX 680 / 680M) while the GTX 970 will pack 1280 cores. Clock speeds are 1038MHz base for the GTX 980M and 924MHz for the GTX 970M, which is significantly faster than the previous gen GTX 680M's launch speeds. The 980M will carry up to 4GB of RAM, while the 970M will offer 3GB and a smaller memory bus. From eyeballing relative performance expectations, the GTX 970M should be well-suited to 1080p or below at high detail levels, while the GTX 980M should be capable of ultra detail at 1080p or higher resolutions. Maxwell's better efficiency means that it should offer a significant performance improvement over mobile Kepler, even with the same number of cores. Also with this launch Nvidia is introducing "Battery Boost" as a solution for games with less demanding graphics, where battery life can be extended by governing clock speeds to maintain playable frames, without overpower the GPU at higher than needed frame rates.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Fixing Steam's User Rating Charts
lars_doucet writes: Steam's new search page lets you sort by "user rating," but the algorithm they're using is broken. For instance, a DLC pack with a single positive review appears above a major game with a 74% score and 15,000+ ratings. The current "user rating" ranking system seems to divide everything into big semantic buckets ("Overwhelmingly Positive", "Positive", "Mixed", etc.), stack those in order, then sort each bucket's contents by the total number of reviews per game. Given that Steam reviews skew massively positive, (about half are "very positive" or higher), this is virtually indistinguishable from a standard "most popular" chart. Luckily, there's a known solution to this problem — use statistical sampling to account for disparate numbers of user reviews, which gives "hidden gems" with statistically significant high positive ratings, but less popularity, a fighting chance against games that are already dominating the charts.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Microsoft's "RoomAlive" Transforms Any Room Into a Giant Xbox Game
An anonymous reader writes Microsoft has unveiled a new augmented reality experience called "RoomAlive". Using projectors and Kinect, RoomAlive allows for fully interactive gaming experiences that take up an entire 3D space. From the article: "RoomAlive builds on the familiar concepts of IllumiRoom, but pushes things a lot further by extending an Xbox gaming environment to an entire living room. It's a proof-of-concept demo, just like IllumiRoom, and it combines Kinect and projectors to create an augmented reality experience that is interactive inside a room. You can reach out and hit objects from a game, or interact with games through any surfaces of a room. RoomAlive tracks the position of a gamers head across all six Kinect sensors, to render content appropriately."

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Intel Drops Gamasutra Sponsorship Over Controversial Editorials
An anonymous reader writes Processor firm Intel has withdrawn its advertising from Gamasutra in response to the site's decision to carry feminist articles. The articles had drawn the ire of the self-described "Gater" movement, a grass-roots campaign to discredit prominent female games journalists. Intel was apparently so inundated with criticism for sponsoring the Gamasutra site that it had no choice but to withdraw support. An Intel spokesperson explained that "We take feedback from our customers very seriously especially as it relates to contextually relevant content and placements" and as such Gamasutra was no longer an appropriate venue for their products."

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

How Hackers Accidentally Sold a Pre-Release XBox One To the FBI
SpacemanukBEJY.53u (3309653) writes Earlier this week, an indictment was unsealed outlining a long list of charges against a group of men that stole intellectual property from gaming companies such as Epic Games, Valve, Activision and Microsoft. An Australian member of the group, Dylan Wheeler, describes how it was betrayed by an informant working for the FBI, which bought a hardware mockup of an Xbox One that the group built using source code stolen from Microsoft's Game Developer Network Portal. The device, which the FBI paid $5,000 for, was supposed to be sent to the Seychelles, but never arrived, which indicated the hacking collective had a mole.

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Tetris To Be Made Into a Live Action Film
SchrodingerZ writes: Threshold Entertainment has announced that it will be producing a live action film based on the Russian stacking game Tetris. Designed in 1984 by Alexey Pajitnov, Tetris has sold over 35 million copies worldwide. Threshold CEO Larry Kasanoff promises "a very big, epic sci-fi movie," explaining, "this isn't a movie with a bunch of lines running around the page. We're not giving feet to the geometric shapes." Kasanoff is known for his work with the video game films Mortal Kombat, and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, collectively grossing $105 million in revenue. The studio is planning "a story behind Tetris which makes it a much more imaginative thing," though no directors nor cast have been connected to the film. Threshold Entertainment teased the idea, saying "What you [will] see in Tetris is the teeny tip of an iceberg that has intergalactic significance."

Slashdot: Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014
Suggest a feed to syndicate here, or check out what I'm doing over at freshtao.
~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:45 2014

Dungeon of the Endless Review

Dungeon of the Endless draws its influences from a wide variety of sources. It features elements from roguelikes, turn-based, and strategy games like XCOM and FTL while blending in some tower defense ingredients, carefully shaping them into the mold of a dungeon crawler. With so many distinct pieces, any imbalance in the scales would have resulted in a failed experiment. But Dungeon of the Endless brings together its disparate parts beautifully. While a lack of variety and some harmful glitches do harm the presentation, the impeccable gameplay balance, as well as the hunt for new characters and an excellent multiplayer mode, can keep you engaged for long after you sit down to play.

In Dungeon of the Endless, you guide a small, hand-picked team from room to room, using a large crystal to illuminate discovered areas, all the while looking for an exit point that takes you to an express elevator that only goes up. There are 12 floors between you and freedom, and surviving until you reach the surface of a hostile alien planet is your only goal--but the path ahead is obscured in darkness and peril.

What’s behind the door? It’s probably a horrifying death.

The crystal, however, is the torch to light the way. Collecting a resource called dust, you power up your crystal to energize rooms, which then become temporary safe zones. But each level is procedurally generated, so you never know what the other side of a door yields. You could discover a stockpile of dust if you’re lucky or a gang of ravenous monstrosities if you’re not.

If micromanagement is your dish of choice, Dungeon of the Endless offers a full plate and a second helping, so come hungry. Not only do you have to maneuver a team of up to four heroes while collecting dust, you must also gather three other resources while building turrets to stave off advancing waves of alien foes who are out to destroy your crystal. And if they accomplish their goal, you have to start all over. You construct modules to collect resources or to build turrets. Major modules collect said resources in the forms of industry, which is spent on creating new modules; science, which upgrades existing modules; and food, which allows you to heal or level up your team or recruit new heroes. Minor modules consist of turrets, ranging from laser blasters to mortars to devices that can heal or strengthen your heroes.

Protect the crystal at all costs, or it’s back to level one for you.

There is a lot of strategy to consider as you hunt down your exit. Dust is a limited resource, and you almost never have enough to power every room in each expansive level. Lighting a room stops enemies from spawning there, but the longer you take to find your way out, the more darkened rooms are left behind--each one capable of spawning dozens of monsters. With this in mind, you are left with the task of how to best manage your heroes. A favorite strategy of mine involves taking the fastest members of the group as a scouting party while placing stronger (but slower) heroes in a darkened room to keep enemies from spawning or at choke points with turrets to halt the march of any attacking foes.

It’s a lot to handle, but the game’s sharp design keeps everything balanced. Controlling your team is smooth and intuitive; you can select all your heroes with a button, or just take a small group to scout ahead while leaving others to guard the rear. Working with the mouse and keyboard is effortless, making way for quick, deft movement to navigate your team while using a tactical map to coordinate attacks or retreats. You can also pause the action to give yourself some time to plan your next move.

If micromanagement is your dish of choice, Dungeon of the Endless offers a full plate and a second helping, so come hungry.

Finding the exit completely changes how you approach the game. Where exploration and survival were the initial focus, the final part of the level is a mad dash to take your fragile crystal and slowly move it to the exit. One character is needed to carry it, making him or her unable to attack. Enemies surge from the darkness in an endless stream, and it’s up to your remaining heroes to protect the crystal during its perilous journey. But this is not an easy task. The game is difficult, and watching your crystal bearer succumb to a wave of gnashing foes just inches before the exit is almost too gut-wrenching to witness.

Dungeon of the Endless provides you with only four available heroes, but many more can be found roaming the floors. You begin your journey with two heroes in a party but can recruit up to two more. As your knowledge of each character grows, you can figure out new ways to fit them into your party. Pairing a burly tank character with a nimble thief, whose speed and passive ability to sneak past enemies without drawing their gaze, is a good start. But throwing in some brains isn’t such a bad idea, either. An engineer, for example, scurries about a room repairing damaged modules, all the while mumbling sage advice on how keeping equipment in working order returns the favor to its users. Characters can be equipped with a wide assortment of weapons and gear found throughout the game. Many items are discovered in treasure chests, but others can be purchased from a merchant, who trades his wares for resources.

Some of the characters share a history, and not always a pleasant one.

Colorfully pixelated, the ever-shifting environments keep your flight to the surface from becoming stale. Brushed steel and the flickering lights of a Hollywood sci-fi setting adorn the halls of one level, while other floors display something more akin to the home of a necromancer: Lit by flickering torchlight, potions dot the ground, and the walls are lined with old books or prison cells--the inhabitants now lifeless skeletons. In other levels, the walls pulsate and ooze, while frozen zones covered in ice yield large, mammoth-like skulls. A great use of lighting effects helps sell the feeling of dread and isolation of the strange world. Characters, monsters, and alien flora covered in waving tendrils cast creepy shadows against objects and walls, giving the atmosphere an eerie and foreboding quality. Enemies themselves are also widely varied, from crystalline golems to sorcerers that cast spells.

Reaching the planet’s surface for the first time is an immensely rewarding feeling, but, unfortunately, it isn’t one you will experience again. Variation in the levels is moderate, and once you have conquered all 12 floors, you have seen just about everything Dungeon of the Endless has to offer. Replaying the game to unlock more characters’ escape pods that change how you approach the game is pleasurable, but even that doesn’t last for too long. Once I completed the game, taking four heroes to the surface, the thought of playing it all over again wasn’t particularly exciting.

Construct modules to gather resources.

The game’s mantra of proper balance is reflected again in its multiplayer mode, with split resources and responsibilities, making for a gratifyingly enjoyable time. You and up to three others combine your efforts and work together to make it out of the dungeon alive. Each player controls one hero, and since your life is now in the hands of others and vice versa, constant communication is a must to survive, though it does slow down the pace of the game. Deciding whether to explore the area some more or quickly make for the escape exit once it’s found makes for some surprisingly tense conversation. I’ve experienced a game where votes on decisions were tallied, as well as they often should, as one false step could lead to failure. But nothing beats the sense of satisfaction that comes with successfully completing a difficult level; the sighs of relief and cheers in the elevator between missions are palpable.

Dungeon of the Endless isn’t free of issues. In multiplayer mode, the lack of item trading keeps valuable weapons and gear out of the hands of those who need it most. There is also no host migration, forcing games to end prematurely if the game creator has to leave or gets disconnected. Other problems range from glitches to problematic menus. At times, turrets don’t face enemies while firing, and sometimes character menus seem to stick and require some extra jabbing with the mouse pointer to free them. But those are merely nitpicky issues. Actual problems include a particularly annoying glitch that prevents you from purchasing new items from the merchant. Normally, this bug is fixed by restarting your saved game and speaking with the merchant again. But running across it online, where restarting is impossible, creates a frustrating scenario where any useful items now have to be left behind.

Great use of lighting effects helps sell the feeling of dread and isolation of the strange world.

Dungeon of the Endless manages to pull off the especially difficult task of cobbling together parts from multiple genres, ultimately creating something that feels special. The incredible balancing act alone is worthy of some attention, if not for its excellent multiplayer mode, which definitely merits a good look. While the lack of gameplay variety and an occasional kink or two does slow its ascent, Dungeon of the Endless is an elevator from hell that will keep you entertained for hours.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Planetary Annihilation Review

Total Annihilation goes intergalactic, and at hyperspeed. That, in a nutshell, describes Planetary Annihilation, Uber Entertainment's homage to one of the all-time greatest real-time strategy games. The game comes with some key enhancements, however, including a challenging pace and enemy artificial intelligence, along with full globes of cartoony planets and moons serving as battlegrounds. RTS newcomers will have a tough time with the sheer velocity of the combat and the lack of proper tutorials and manuals, as will tacticians who prefer to think before they click. But the speed, difficulty, and map innovations make Planetary Annihilation grow on you.

I wouldn't have said so in the early hours, though. Planetary Annihilation steamrolled me initially. The game comes with little in the way of documentation. There is no in-game tutorial; all the primers that you get before being dropped on a planet come from blurry videos that barely hint at what the game has to offer. To figure things out, you should watch an hour or three of YouTube videos and search the Internet for tips. Until you research, you are cannon fodder on map after map. Planetary Annihilation desperately needs a proper tutorial that lets players dip their toes into the deep waters; the "jump in head-first" approach doesn't work with a game this unforgiving.

The little planets and great big units are cute, in a mass murdery kind of way.

The underlying RTS formula is familiar, at least. As in Total Annihilation, you start off with a giant commander that has the power to construct various parts of your headquarters, including vehicle and robot builders, power plants (energy is one resource), metal extractors (metal is the other), laser turrets, and so forth. Every faction is led by one of these bosses, so victory comes when you blast these Transformer wannabes into rubble. There is a simple progression here. You start with your commander and then create a fabricator vehicle with access to even more facility blueprints and improved factories that can crank out bigger and better tanks, planes, bots, ships, and orbital weaponry and vessels. Then you create advanced versions of all this stuff that handle heavier duties that lead to even more formidable armies.

Planetary Annihilation sticks you into a quick-tempo arms race that rolls from planet to planet, from moon to moon. From the moment that your big robot commander hits the ground, you need to establish facilities and ensure that you have a production line running at maximum efficiency. Units need to be streaming out continuously, and knowledge of hotkeys is imperative, especially when the guns start going off. The enemy AI always gets its armies flowing quickly, so taking extra time to play with the mouse or contemplate what type of tank would be most useful in the current situation results in being besieged and obliterated. You don't even have any time to spare when the foe is a planet or two away, as the bad guys rapidly send a transport your way and then build the transporter needed to beam full armies to your front door.

Foes can attack from any direction. Unlike other RTS games with traditional flat maps, the battlegrounds here are full globes. Planets look rather cartoony, as they are extremely tiny, your units are spectacularly huge, or both. But they form effective theaters of war and feature various types of terrain ranging from ice balls, to desert worlds, to chunks of metal. It’s hard to get used to at first; RTS instinct might have you building defenses between your bases and the enemy, forgetting that all opponents must do to flank is to simply run around the globe. This strategic consideration caught me off guard in the early stages, and forced me to spend more time walling off bases and ensuring that I had proper turret protection all the way around against ground and aerial assaults.

Make sure to build defenses again orbital attacks, too. As you might expect from a game where you conquer planets and moons, space is a key dimension in addition to the traditional land, air, and sea units. Orbital constructors crank out spaceships like fighters and transport vessels necessary to launch interplanetary invasions (although transporters make it easy to teleport armies across the void instantaneously after you establish a beachhead). This whole concept is initially befuddling; AI makes full use of space attacks, so you might be convinced at first that some buildings are blowing up on their own. Once you surmount that learning curve and stage an invasion, however, the course of battle becomes easier to understand. There is also the ability to build Death Stars by fitting guns into metal worlds and crashing one planetary body into another, giving matches a suitably apocalyptic feel.

The AI is cunning and spectacularly aggressive. It builds quickly, creates a solid base infrastructure with loads of power plants and metal extractors, and immediately sets forth to crush all opposition. It is smart at reacting to your defenses. Build a ton of anti-air defenses to deal with enemy planes, and the AI will quickly react by throwing more tanks and ships at you. Any vulnerability is identified and attacked, even on the default normal difficulty, making the challenge occasionally difficult to take. You might get a base set up, think you have everything covered, and be ready to roll out enough fighters and bombers to blot out the sky, only to be steadily whittled away by probing enemy strikes that are inevitably followed up by massive waves of units.

An easier difficulty setting might have provided time to get fully accustomed to the interface and then ramp up the speed, but its global battles can get under your skin, keeping you coming back for more and more. Planetary Annihilation is a good, challenging RTS designed along very familiar lines. True, its best qualities can be obscured in the early going by its unforgiving difficulty and the absence of good tutorials, but even when you're overwhelmed, speedy combat and smart AI reel you in. Give it time, and the fast and furious combat smooth out the rough edges into a compelling and challenging strategy game.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Dreamfall Chapters Book One: Reborn Review

Eight years is a long time to wait for answers, and the opening scenes of Dreamfall Chapters understand as much, providing a tearful gut-punch that is as much of a conclusion as it is an introduction. This is the universe that has occupied my thoughts and fantasies since 1999, when The Longest Journey was released and earned rightful praise as one of the best adventure games ever made. It was a game about balance: the balance between the mundane and the magical, the head and the heart. Its sequel, 2006's Dreamfall, found new worlds to balance--those of waking life and dreams--and Dreamfall Chapters returns to this same theme soon after its emotional opening. Returning Dreamfall heroine Zoe Castillo has remained comatose, but she has not allowed her body to serve as a prison.

Those earlier games provided another kind of balance: that between a slow-paced opening and meaningful narrative tension that rose as the stakes grew higher. The first episode of Dreamfall Chapters provides the former, laying the groundwork for a potentially rousing adventure, but too little rises from that foundation. Those eight years between Dreamfall and its sequel were long--but I suspect that the wait between the Dreamfall Chapters' first and second episodes will feel just as lengthy, even if it's a matter of months and not years. As part of a long-term arc, Book One: Reborn may prove highly effective; on its own, it plays at a measured adagio that rarely quickens. The episodic format doesn't seem a good fit for the series' long-term storytelling, and I felt stranded by the abrupt ending, as if I had been invited to an opulent dinner only to arrive and find no one was home.

Zoe has a knack for getting in over her head.

Dreamfall Chapters may begin with an answer, but it is more concerned with questions--questions that you can add to the growing list of Longest Journey mysteries. The nature of the Tower being built in Marcuria, the relationship of the Undreaming to the dream machines, the identity of the white dragon: these lingering wonders are left to occupy your thoughts while you navigate Book One's more pressing themes. Zoe's spirit has been left to wander the Dreamtime, that otherworldly dimension first introduced in Dreamfall, even as her body rests in hospital. Here, she helps those stranded in the Dreamtime, people in the waking world that are connected to WATIcorp's dream machines, which provide on-demand dreams as entertainment to the masses.

The subsequent level provides both an intriguing setting and an effective tutorial, putting you in control of Zoe from a third-person perspective, and having you assist lost dreamers in finding their way home. A selection cursor automatically hones in on interactive objects in your field of vision, flipping between choices as you move and look about, and indicating the type of interaction available with an appropriate icon. This system is a natural progression from Dreamfall's selection cone, making both controller and keyboard-and-mouse setups viable options.

Two characters, two prisons.

More importantly, this sequence familiarizes you with Dreamfall Chapters' dialogue mechanics, which allow you to choose responses that suit your vision of Zoe. One of the game's successes is how it allows you to set a path, but ensures that all paths are authentic to this lovable woman who captivated me and so many others years ago. Zoe has always been gentle but aimless, making her indecision during these conversations an authentic aspect of her character, and not a game-ish contrivance that contradicts the earlier games' linear tales. When faced with a choice, Zoe thinks each choice aloud as you hover over it, speaking every line with a thoughtfulness and sincerity that should easily win you over. "I'm not ready to wake up, to face myself again," she thinks to herself. "I'm scared of losing what little I have left." Having found a purpose in this supernatural zone, it is no wonder she would have reservations about leaving. But because her choices--and therefore yours as well--occupy different places in the same emotional spectrum, none of them contradict what we already know of her.

Zoe ultimately finds her way back to the real world--well, the real world the series calls Stark, in any case--but her memories of the past are left behind in the Dreamtime. Months after her revival, Zoe has made a home in Propast, another of the series' rich and gorgeous locales. It's a multicultural neighborhood, far removed from the dystopias science-fiction stories typically depict. Propast is a future that rose from a past and present we understand; that the city should be home to people with American, European, Asian, and African accents is perfectly reasonable. This is the global village the age of the Internet has produced. Gorgeous lamps sway above you as you traverse the Chinese district; just blocks away, neon signs written in German ("Sonnenschein" consumer goods company) and English advertisements ("Cloud Nine Prosthetics") peacefully coexist. Food carts sell every kind of food you can imagine from the world over. You have never been to this city, but it sure feels like home.

Choice leads to consequence.

The relationship between technology and culture isn't always so peaceful in Dreamfall Chapters, though your earlier choices determine how you approach that dichotomy. In my time with Zoe, I learned about her job as a laboratory technician, and set about testing synthetic algae with the help of a little hovering robot called Kidbot. Other players have told me of a mechanical friend called Shitbot, but my choices never led me down a path that included him. I don't regret my time with Kidbot, however: her playfulness is cute but never grating, a difficult balancing act that Dreamfall Chapters gets exactly right, thanks to adorable dialogue and fantastic voice acting that conveys innocence without ever becoming saccharine.

Dreamfall Chapters thus reflects the series' history with its imaginative settings and empathetic characters. There are puzzles to solve and tasks to perform in your time here, but the episode is short on brainteasers: the obstructions you encounter are easily surmounted. The few inventory items you accumulate have intuitive uses and are quickly disposed of, making the first episode as much of an extended tutorial as it is a meandering prologue. Episode one is not short on glitches, however; the game struggles somewhat with its lens flaring, sometimes streaking your screen with distracting lights and colors, and in the game's final and curious scene, I walked right through a door and out of the level.

The super-city of Europolis sprawls across what used to be entire countries. Propat is just one part of the whole.

That final scenario isn't just intriguing from a story perspective: it also puts you in control of an unlikely protagonist with a particularly charming way of interacting with the world. Earlier in the game, you also take control of Kian Alvane, so the world of Arcadia does not go unacknowledged, though a prison is the only setting you get to explore there. Kian's chapter is light on challenge, but the thematic ties to Zoe's story give his section heft regardless: just as Zoe refuses to let her comatose body cage her, so too does Kian embrace the opportunity to flee his cell. Both characters are getting second chances, just as the series itself has risen from the crevasse Dreamfall left behind.

The Longest Journey crafted a protracted story arc that featured an equally leisurely opening, but grew into one of the genre's greatest citadels. The first episode's flat narrative structure may not be entirely satisfying, but Dreamfall Chapters' diverse and endearing cast, nuggets of political and personal tensions, and glimmers of the poignancy that made the previous Longest Journey games so memorable make me hopeful for the futures of Stark, Arcadia, and the Dreamtime, wherever those places might take me.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Skylanders Trap Team Review

The hook for this year's Skylanders entry seems prosaic at first; a speaker on the series' newly designed portal can broadcast the disembodied voices of baddies you defeat in-game, with the portal acting as a prison for your vanquished foes. The intended effect is the reverse of what the series has done so well in its previous entries. Instead of making you believe that a toy has come to life on screen, Skylanders Trap Team wants you to believe that a character on the screen has come to life in the real world. Sure, there are also new real-world figurines to collect in Skylanders Trap Team (such as the eponymous new type of Skylander), but trapping bad guys, having them interact with you, and then using them in battle is the key differentiator for this year's game. Compared to the inventive mix-and-match focus of last year's Swap Force, a talking portal seems almost pedestrian.

Broccoli Guy is an amazing villain.

That is, until you see and hear it in action. Defeat a boss, and (provided you have the right type of elemental trap inserted in your portal) a gigantic, whirling portal appears on screen, sucking in your struggling foe. A flash of light and a rush of sound later, and the voice of your vanquished enemy blares from the portal sitting right in front of you. It's a surprisingly effective gimmick, particularly for the younger set. My five-year-old son was transfixed the first few times it happened, and would engage in conversations with the virtual baddies in their plastic prison. It seems that time and familiarity still hasn't dulled that Skylanders magic.

It helps, of course, that the actual gameplay that accompanies this four-year-old toys-to-life franchise is charming, funny, and engaging, throwing lots of different challenges and scenarios at you in an effort to make sure that boredom never has a chance to settle in. Mechanically, the game works as it always has--place a real-world Skylander figurine on the game's included portal, and that character's digital likeness appears on screen. The figurines themselves are, as I've come to expect from the Skylanders franchise, well built and sturdy enough to withstand some knocks from the little ones. The new Skylanders added this year are particularly excellent. These Trap Team figures are about the size of the larger Giants and Swap Force toys of previous years, and all feature some cool transparent weapons or armor. As always, their designs are expressive and appealing, giving you a clear indication of what these little guys will be like when you actually start playing with them on screen. The figure for the crocodilian Trapjaw, for example, has a huge crossbow that he indeed uses to great effect within the game, while the round belly of the bulbous Gusto figurine leads you to believe that he'll have some use for his big gut in battle (which, of course, he does).

The villains that you battle and capture in the game don't get their own toy line, however, and their real-world presence is limited to clear plastic "traps" that you'll need to insert into the Skylanders portal to actually use these baddies as fully controllable characters in your adventures. But what they lack in physical presence they more than make up for in personality, with almost all of the trappable villains being an absolute joy to hear (and play). Some of these characters are simply straight-up funny, with the various quips and comments they utter whilst trapped in your portal sure to bring some laugh-out-loud moments.

Not only are these villains affable companions, but they're also capable allies in the field. There's great joy in using a captured villain right after you've defeated him, using attacks that were just used on you against the rest of your foes. The Skylanders Trap Team experience itself is a varied adventure, and whilst it's never truly challenging, its sheer insistence on gameplay variety and its consistently charming presentation makes dull moments few and far between. You'll spend the majority of your time bashing and pummelling your way through enemies using your favored Skylander, but there is seemingly always something different to do to break up the swathes of combat. There are turret sequences, puzzles to solve to open locks, Angry Birds-style mini-games, tower-defense-like challenges, and even a basic card game to compete in, just to name a few. And you perform these activities in some gorgeous locations. From lush and verdant areas where gigantic flowers pop open when you get close to dreamscape locales where fluffy clouds disappear under your feet, there are a lot of cool sights to see during the long campaign.

The Skylanders, too, are an equally varied bunch. I used about a dozen different figures (a mix of new and old) when playing Trap Team, and each felt unique to play thanks to their distinct powers and abilities. This is no small part continues to add to that feeling of variety with Skylanders, as switching from one play style to another by simply replacing a character is as easy as ever.

There are lots of different things to do in the Skylands.

It helps if you've previously invested in the Skylanders franchise and have toys from previous generations (they're all compatible with Trap Team). From a financial viewpoint, Skylanders continues to be a potential money sink, particularly if you're coming into the franchise cold. There's a casual pressure to buy more of the real-world toys permeating the entire game, manifested in things like special areas being accessible only to specific elemental types of Trap Team toys, and abilities being unlocked for characters you may not even have. It's never pushed to point of being egregious, but it's there. More problematic for me were the traps in this game. You need to have a trap of the right elemental type to capture and use a villain, and each trap only holds one baddie at a time. To experience some of the best this game has to offer (those excellent, funny, and awesome villains), you're going to have to shell out some extra cash for more traps.

The flipside of this is that you have access to the bulk of what Skylanders Trap Team offers using what you get in the basic starter pack alone. And what's there is great--an expansive, funny adventure that appeals to kids while having a surplus of wit and charm that can directly engage older players. I had an excellent time playing co-op with my son in Skylanders Trap Team, but if you don't have a little rugrat, don't let it dissuade you from playing. There's plenty of joy to be had for grown-ups in Trap Team, and more than a few laughs as well.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Fairy Fencer F Review

Conceptually, Fairy Fencer F would seem to be a return to the roots of the JRPG genre: a traditionally-styled game with a distinctly Japanese story and aesthetic. Consider the alliteration in Fairy Fencer F’s title, which calls Final Fantasy to mind, or the game’s development team, which includes composer Nobuo Uematsu and artist Yoshitaka Amano, both of Final Fantasy fame. How unfortunate, then, that Fairy Fencer F is no glorious return to the heyday of the JRPG, but rather a strange, distorted effort, terrifically fun in bursts but plagued by unfortunate technical issues.

Fairy Fencer F is the story of young warrior Fang and his fairy partner, Eryn. Fang's excessively cynical and derogatory attitude is likely to grate within mere minutes of starting the game, in which he constantly complains about his new path in life. You see, as the game begins, Fang is told by a shopkeeper that if he is capable of pulling out a strange sword embedded in a rock, he will be granted any wish he desires. All he wants is tasty food (a running obsession that becomes unfunny almost instantly), but, upon yanking out the sword, he is greeted by semi-amnesiac Eryn, told he is a legendary fencer, and asked to free the world's Goddess from her stasis by finding and using Furies, fairies trapped in mythical weapons. Fang’s annoyance at having such a burden suddenly dropped on him is understandable, but his continued whininess and apathy is exceptionally irksome. Eryn is more likeable, though the moment another female appears on the scene she goes into (similarly unfunny) jealous-possessive-angry mode.

Fairy Fencer F's least irritating character.

I soon met Tiara, a stuck-up, bratty fencer who harbors a genre-standard terrible secret. She also doubles as an exposition machine, teaching you about the plane beyond reality where the Goddess and evil deity are sealed and giving you a free inn to recover at--when she's not being bossy and condescending. Notice a theme here? The majority of Fairy Fencer F's cast was ripped straight from the pages of Anime Character Tropes You Can Implement Easily. Suffice to say, it takes a fair amount of time before a truly likeable character joins the troupe. Certain party members become more tolerable as time goes on, but it's hard to shake those awful first impressions.

Saddled with a party of people I would have liked to punch in the face given the opportunity, I ventured out into the exploration portion of Fairy Fencer F. Much to my relief, exploration and combat are a fair bit more energizing than watching barely-animated character cutouts complain to each other. Combat is turn-based with positioning elements: You and your enemies move around a small field and trade blows with each other, launching area-of-effect spells and utilizing strategic positioning to your advantage. The basics aren't tough to grasp, and as you earn more weapon points in battle, you can customize your stat boosts and add multi-hitting combo capabilities to your characters' strikes.

This kind of cringe-worthy dialogue is par for the course.

The majority of Fairy Fencer F's cast was ripped straight from the pages of Anime Character Tropes You Can Implement Easily.

A neat addition to the formula is the tension gauge: as characters attack and use skills, their tension increases and multiplies the damage they deal. Once tension reaches a certain point, characters can "fairize," transforming into quasi-robot-armored fighters with access to special, super-damaging techniques. However, playing overly defensively--using lots of healing items and spells, retreating from enemies, running away from battle--reduces the tension, and if it dips below a certain point, your combat efficacy will suffer. It's a neat system that makes the combat considerably more engaging. It's quite fast-paced, as well--the handy L2 button allows you to skip a lot of long-winded combat animations.

You can find new dungeons to explore at set points in the story, where you'll find some Furies to collect (along with the fairies that inhabit them and/or possibly another fencer). Once you've got a Fury/fairy combo, you can summon the pair to remove one of the binding blades sealing the Goddess and the Vile God. Doing so upgrades the abilities of the fairy, who can then either be assigned to one of your party members or to a dungeon via a process called "world shaping." While the stat bonuses fairies can provide to party members are nothing to be sneezed at (and they also level up through combat), world shaping is particularly cool: by assigning a fairy to a dungeon, you also get persistent effects throughout that dungeon, i.e. an experience boost when defeating enemies. This helps make sub-questing less of an out-and-out grind, as it helps tailor some dungeon settings to your liking. The dungeon romping itself is also more engaging than developer Compile Heart's previous endeavors, with multi-level layouts and traps.

This still frame is only a little slower than the game's average frame rate.

As much as I enjoyed the fundamental combat and dungeon-crawling, it was sometimes difficult for me to enjoy them. In many of the dungeons, Fairy Fencer F suffers from an atrocious and varying framerate, frequently dipping into the sub-20 frames-per-second range. Compile Heart games tend to suffer from this problem, even though the visuals aren't terribly complex, but Fairy Fencer F is particularly awful, to the point where dungeon crawls can lead to motion sickness and headaches.

The irritating cast and miserable framerate dips aside, you must also contend with sudden difficulty spikes, recycled environments, and an inconsistent art style. Even the much-touted Yoshitaka Amano and Nobuo Uematsu’s contributions are disappointing. Amano's contributions are a handful of art concepts, while Uematsu's--or more specifically, Uematsu's team of musicians, the Earthbound Papas’--music is uneven; some tracks are absolutely fantastic, while others are entirely unmemorable. Yet there are glimpses of a game that could have been consistently entertaining: combat, when it's not running like a slideshow, is satisfying; there's a lot of customization available to the player; and that butt-rock theme that plays during fairizing is rousing in much the same way Uematsu's Blue Dragon boss music was.

Fairy Fencer F has its bright spots, but it's not a game I can heartily recommend--there's too much detritus to dig through in order to get to the fun bits. Compile Heart has announced a sequel, so here's to hoping the move to more recent hardware will solve their games’ lingering technical problems--and here's to hoping the resulting games will be better as a result.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Minecraft Xbox One Edition Review

Minecraft is about the big things, just as much as it favors the small. It's almost impossible to think of Minecraft without envisioning the picturesque structures, from castles to cities, that have been constructed by fans. But Minecraft is also about the minor touches, and sometimes they are what you remember the most--that feeling of awe as you peer across a forest of snow-capped oak, nearly out of sight, the sense of relaxation as you watch the sun set behind a distant mountain, and the sharp intake of breath as you stare deep into an underground mine lit by glowing pools of red-hot lava. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition offers both worlds, large and small, as well as the tools to create your own voxel-constructed paradise.

As if climbing a ladder, you start at the bottom and work your way through technology. Spawning a procedurally generated world in Minecraft's default survival mode for the first time places you at the bottom rung, where your goal is to seek tools, shelter, and food. The humorous term "punching trees" was popularized by Minecraft, as your earliest task involves hammering away at the nearest oak or spruce tree for blocks of wood. From wooden tools and weapons, you soon move to stone, then iron, and then, if you're fortunate enough to find it deep in the earth, diamond--not unlike rising through the tiers of the ages of man. Killing animals such as cows or pigs yields food, which staves off hunger, at least for a short while.

With the crafting menu, you turn wood into planks and then create a crafting table, the backbone of your Minecraft experience. The crafting table in Minecraft's console versions hasn't changed since the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, for which the options are vastly different compared to the game on PC. Here, all items, from tools to decorations, are available for you to investigate. If you have the material to construct a certain item, it will be fully colored in; otherwise, it remains slightly opaque. On the PC, however, crafting requires a method of trial and error, where you place materials such as wooden planks and sticks on a nine-by-nine board to create new items. On console, you need only have the necessary material in your inventory to craft items. The process is more streamlined, and it prevents you from constantly rubbing several things together in hopes of creating something useful, as well as from looking up crafting recipes online, so you can get to building your blocky empire more quickly.


As your knowledge grows, so does the complexity of your projects and the scope of your adventures. A small hut awkwardly cobbled together from blocks of wood and stone is a strange thing to take pride in, and yet it's hard not to feel some accomplishment in its creation. It's small, it's ugly, and there's a good chance the floor is made of dirt, but it's yours. As you learn the odds and ends of creation in Minecraft, that motley shack will be traded in for a cabin deep in the woods or a castle high on a mountaintop where you can survey the land through its windows. Or it could become something else, anything else, as your hand is guided by your imagination, your only limit on what you can accomplish.

Minecraft doesn't include a story to follow or missions to complete; your quests are set by you, but the journey can be just as rewarding as those found in other games. There are many sights to see, from the aforementioned sprawling oak forests covered in snow to mucky swamplands with vines and water flecked with green lily pads. Your adventures often carry a similar tone to those found in Fallout or Elder Scrolls games, where a trip through the desert on a hunt for crafting materials is stopped short as a village materializes in your peripheral vision, luring you with villager trade, books to steal, and crops to harvest. In that same desert, you could stumble upon a half-buried temple, where beneath its floor lies secret treasure--as well as an untimely end for brazen travelers who ignore the hidden trap.

Some familiar Xbox franchises get the Minecraft treatment.

There are dangers in Minecraft that stalk every dark corner and winding tunnel. At night, vicious creatures roam, threatening you with poisoned fangs and sharp arrows. You can protect yourself with armor and weapons, crafted from materials ranging from leather from slaughtered cows or iron discovered embedded in stone. But even the most seasoned Minecraft veterans can fall prey to the many enemies that haunt the land. Cave spelunking is often quickly ended by an undetected creeper, its blood-curdling hiss the last thing you hear before the inevitable explosion. I have been knocked into a river of lava by a skeleton archer just out of range more often than I care for, once even during the course of this review. The loss is always a bitter pill, but you can always respawn and try to recover any lost items. That is, unless they fall into lava, in which case it's time to start over (I hate those archers so, so much).

It's not expected that you will raise a castle or stretch railways across the land overnight, but Minecraft: Xbox One Edition does well in easing you into the basics as you move along. Enabled by default, tooltips inform you of the uses of the many blocks that surround you. You learn that throwing blocks of sand into a furnace will result in glass or that nether quartz, found in Minecraft's hellish nether, can be crafted into blocks of marble. The in-depth tutorial mode is like a game itself, and it is here that you learn everything that Minecraft is about. The tutorial takes you from learning how to construct small structures and tools to spending gained experience points on enchanting tables to add extra bite to your sword or efficiency to your pickaxe. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition does a fantastic job of blending useful information and advice into its design, allowing you to play the major role in its lessons.

Minecraft: Xbox One Edition surpasses the Xbox 360 Edition with cleaner, sharper visuals, and a farther view distance, and it runs at 60 frames per second for complete smoothness.

In Minecraft, you don't need to take on adventures alone. Killing skeleton archers drops bones, which you can offer a wolf for the chance that it will become a friendly dog that stays by your side and protects you from enemies. In the wild and bright-green jungles live spotted ocelots, which have a chance to transform into adorable house cats after being fed a fish. But if it's the comfort of fellow humans you seek, you can bring along up to seven friends on Xbox Live to join you on your journeys. Minecraft is an excellent social game, one where ambitious projects no longer seem so laborious when more hands are added to the fold. You can also play with a four-player split screen, where family or friends can tackle any undertaking together.

Minecraft on the Xbox One is similar to its PlayStation 4 iteration in both performance and accessibility, with only a few notable differences. Both versions allow you to load saved files from their prior console generation, though your old map is still unfortunately limited to its original size, surrounded by invisible borders. The latest versions are much larger, featuring map sizes roughly 37 times larger by volume than what the prior games boast. However, the size is not unlimited; there is still an impassable wall, but the land within is enormous nonetheless, so it's improbable that you will see and do everything too soon. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition surpasses the Xbox 360 Edition with cleaner, sharper visuals, and a farther view distance, and it runs at 60 frames per second for complete smoothness. The game also includes a creative mode, which allows you to create without the limitations of materials. In this mode, you can fly around the land and construct anything you desire.

Look familiar?

Where the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions differ the most is downloadable content. Both ports feature multiple skin packs, but they star different characters. On Xbox One, you can purchase packs that allow you to play as the Master Chief or Gordon Freeman, while the PlayStation 4 offers characters from God of War and The Last of Us. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition, however, includes resource packs with theme block textures to match Skyrim, Mass Effect, or Halo, which are not currently available on PlayStation 4 (though I don't expect to see a Halo motif any time soon for Sony's console).

Like the PlayStation 4 version, Minecraft on Xbox One plays second fiddle to the game on PC. The latest iteration of Minecraft on PC includes horses that populate grassy plains, fluffy rabbits, as well as updated flora, and stained glass. However, it's better to view the PC experience not just as a better or different Minecraft but as a vision of what the game will soon become for consoles. Minecraft: Xbox One Edition offers dozens and dozens of hours' worth of entertainment, and as time goes by, updates will include even more to see and animals to interact with. Much like going from a rustic shelter to a statuesque castle, Minecraft: Xbox One Edition will only offer more in time, with future updates adding even more hours to a game already brimming with near-endless potential.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Lords of the Fallen Review

His name is Harkyn. He exits conversation not with a goodbye, but with a gruff "I don't care," as if he can barely be bothered to embark on the quest at hand. Harkyn may not be delighted by the adventure he's been thrust into, but I can claim no such apathy: Lords of the Fallen is a dark-fantasy pleasure, cut from the same cloth as Dark Souls, yet distinct enough to earn its own spotlight and, perhaps, to earn your affection as well. Harkyn himself is not easy to love, but ultimately, he doesn't matter as much as the world he serves and the hammers he swings.

"World" might be too generous a word, actually: You spend most of your time in corridors and combat arenas, not gazing onto spacious landscapes. Lords of the Fallen's dramatic citadel and hushed monastery are suffering from the invasion of otherworldly flesh-monsters and armored behemoths. Snowy peaks may rise in the distance, but you will not be breathing in their refreshing air. Lords of the Fallen means to choke you with smoke and poison, and to crush you between the stone slabs that line its monumental suspended bridge. The view from this bridge says more about this world than words can convey. Ahead of you lies the gaping maw of a demonic temple hungry for your flesh. The massive chains that connect your destination to the bridge must have taken hundreds of hours to forge. Two colossal soldiers are carved into the mountain on either side of the entrance, warning you of the blood that will soon be spilled. This is Lords of the Fallen: ponderous and unwelcoming. There is no hiding from its dangers.

Unwisely, the game insists on trying to weave a coherent story into these spaces, with each of Harkyn's cohorts and various audio logs tossing up a word salad that does little to get you invested. In time, the story begins to make sense, but this cliched tale of the balance between good and evil isn't the reason to press on. Instead, it's better to let the frozen walkways and giant braziers speak for themselves. You may begin your adventure in a holy sanctuary, but this place seeks to murder you. Consider the titles of the bosses you fight. Guardian. Beast. Champion. Who needs proper names, when "Annihilator" gets the point across? These titans and their lesser cohorts have no other purpose than to kill.

You fight several such rivals in the first few hours (out of 20 or so) alone, though it takes time to reach the most formidable ones. In the meanwhile, you roam the game's corridors from a third-person perspective, swinging an axe or sword, dodging or blocking incoming attacks, and occasionally calling on the gods of magic to give you a hand when you most need it. It's almost impossible not to draw the obvious comparisons to the Souls series here. An energy meter depletes when you block, roll, and attack, forcing you to closely manage your defenses lest you leave yourself vulnerable to damage. Different melee weapons require different approaches, but Lords of the Fallen gives each of them an authentic sense of weight. Combat requires understanding of how long it takes to swing that humongous greatsword you carry, and how much time that fire-breathing thing you're fighting takes to prepare its next blow.

Lords of the Fallen's dramatic citadel and hushed monastery are suffering from the invasion of otherworldly flesh-monsters and armored behemoths.

So far, so Dark Souls then. Compared head to head, Souls games are superior to Lords of the Fallen in most given areas: Dark Souls is more mysterious, more difficult, and more diverse, and Lords of the Fallen features no online connectivity. To call Lords of the Fallen a poor man's Dark Souls sells it entirely too short, however. For one, Lords of the Fallen strikes a different kind of tone. It is moody and oppressive, but rarely terrifying; it is a power fantasy, not a heart-wrenching death simulator that rolls deadly boulders at you as if you are a single, miniscule bowling pin. The art style reflects the difference: armor and architecture is less Medieval, chunkier and excessively ornate, mirroring Harkyn's strength and confidence. Lords of the Fallen has a few challenges, but it's rare for you to feel frail or afraid: the game simply isn't hard enough to make your blood boil. That's at least true in the main world; the visits you make to a shadowy and sinister otherworld are more frightening.

Those visits bring great reward if you can conquer the darkness. Traversing this otherworld is like exploring a foggy dessert during the witching hour: you can barely see further than the tip of your blade, which make the occasional glimpse of light a true ray of hope. There is tribulation to undergo, however, before you reach possible treasure. Your steps into the beyond lead you first to easily-dispatched knights and mutants, which require only that you put the finicky targeting system to good use. Soon, though, you could encounter a rolling fire demon whose flaming carapace will quickly scorch your flesh. Your introduction to this dimension is a limited one, fortunately: you open a few treasure chests in the hope of finding a rune for upgrading your equipment, a new armor set, or an item that temporarily protects you from poison, and then return to the land of women and men. You reach this realm by entering portals that only unlock when you have killed some unknown beast. You will come to identify an available nearby portal by the crackles and creaks it makes as it opens, as if it's made of ancient tendons that haven't often had a chance to stretch.

The grind to level up is minimal, and while death is likely, it's not frequent enough to elicit heartache. When you perish, you leave behind your ghost and (usually) revive at whichever ruby crystal you last saved at. Your ghost contains all the experience you have accumulated since the prior death, but it doesn't remain forever, so it's in your best interests to go retrieve it, and to be timely about it, at least in the early hours. Every fallen enemy will have respawned after your death, but you will be armed with the knowledge of what lies ahead of you. You will also be armed with some spells and a gauntlet that shoots out magic projectiles, spews fire, and helps open new pathways. Selecting and casting spells is a matter of pressing or holding a button: there's no need to switch from a dagger to a wand if you want to punch a demon in the groin with your quake skill. There are no bows and arrows in Lords of the Fallen: it's all swords and sorcery. You can engorge on magic when leveling up and make quick work of the three-legged freak known as the infiltrator if you play your cards right. I prefer the heaviest killing tools, however, coming close enough to my foes to smell their breath.

You will probably not sob when your ghost expires and you leave behind all your experience. Experience can be regained easily, and in the last several hours, you accumulate too little experience from killing enemies to mind the loss. The bosses may parade around their ominous titles and roar with indignance, but most of them are more bark than bite: if you have Souls experience, many will go down on the first attempt. The challenge ramps up nicely during the lead-up to the final showdown, however, beginning with a double-boss encounter that signals trouble to come.

The greatest challenge Lords of the Fallen provides isn't a welcome one: it's easy to lose yourself in the crypts and corridors, unsure of where the game means for you to go. Every region cleverly connects with others, and unlocking a new door often leads you to a familiar area, provoking cries of "Eureka!" That interconnectedness can also be a burden, however, particularly when a loading screen is there to interrupt your travels. Dark Souls has no quest log, yet smartly uses its visual diversity and clear environmental gating to direct you. Lords of the Fallen tells you what you must do, but some areas are so circuitous and same-ish, and some entrances so subtle, that the game can become aimless. Backtracking is sometimes required, so you may not know where the right path lies.

Intriguing subtleties ultimately overcome any resulting tedium, however. You choose whether to save a man's life by amputating his arm--and then, whether to offer him a potion to help heal the wound you dealt him. Offering the potion diminishes your available (and replenishable) health draught count by one, but I was never sure if I had earned any reward for allowing him to live. Soon afterwards, I convinced a fellow warrior to spare a monk's life; I'm not sure there were any repercussions, but I was at least content to know that Harkyn was not always the vile executioner others insisted he was. Later, you get to make a more interesting life-or-death decision, and in at least one case, can circumvent danger entirely. Lords of the Fallen has a brief brush with mystery in these circumstances, inspiring "what if" quandaries. What if I ignore the order to request a group of deserters? What if I go around the monster rather than meet it head-on? Should there be a Lords of the Fallen 2, I hope for more what-ifs, and more-meaningful consequences to accompany them.

The bosses may parade around their ominous titles and roar with indignance, but most of them are more bark than bite.

Superficially, you could call Lords of the Fallen a Souls game for the meek and the uninitiated. But it earns more respect than such a flippant description. Lords of the Fallen isn't about the game that it isn't, but the game that it is. It's about the ghoulish blacksmith, his glowing eyes, and the long tufts of stiff hair that rise from his scalp. It's about the crunches of iron against bone when your hammer finds its mark. It's about taking in new sights and sounds, and about finding new ways to travel to old ones. It's about that suspended bridge, the monuments that guard it, and the creatures waiting within. Harkyn may have no use for these places, but there are riches inside nonetheless.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Sunset Overdrive Review

If you're worn out on games with drab palettes and dramatic characters, then Sunset Overdrive is just the game you need to lift your spirits. It's dripping with color and upbeat personality, and its cast is filled with comical caricatures. Sure, its dialogue is vulgar and absurd, but unlike so many games that attempt to be edgy, Sunset Overdrive makes its quips feel natural rather than forced. It never takes itself too seriously, which in this case, is a good thing. It's also a blast to play thanks to it's movement system and over-the-top weapons. It's a liberating game that trades in rules and drama for freedom and pure unadulterated enjoyment, and Sunset Overdrive never pretends to be anything but an excuse to swear like a sailor, jump off of a skyscraper, and blow up a gang of monsters.

As you'd expect, an absurd game like Sunset Overdrive features an equally absurd plot. It's the end of days after the evil energy drink corporation, Fizzco, poisoned the citizens of Sunset City, turning them into violent rage beasts known as OD. On one hand, that means you need to fight your way out of the city, on the other hand, that means you get to fight your way out of the city. As a janitor that's been taken advantage of by Sunset's hedonistic jerks in the past, it's finally your turn dish out the pain, and you get to do it with an over-the-top selection of powerful and ridiculous weaponry.

Before your crusade kicks off, you create a character of your choosing using the character customization system. There's a great variety of options to choose from, but should you grow bored with your character, you're free to go back to the drawing board at any time and revise your appearance. Over the course of your journey, you team up with small factions of survivors to devise your escape plan, and along the way, you go toe to toe with hundreds of monsters, Fizzco robots, and enemy humans known as scabs. Each faction you fight alongside sticks to a theme: there are the lazy, rich, preppy kids, a scout troop, and a gang of LARPers, to name a few. Though the factions' characterizations are slightly mocking and exploitative of the groups they represent, there are also plenty of times when representatives from each group call out and mock the stereotypes that are so often applied to them, striking a respectful balance.

Make no mistake, however: Sunset Overdrive is immature on all fronts. Nearly every character swears up a storm, dropping f-bombs like it's going out of style. Thankfully, unlike many games that take this approach, their foul language feels natural and it reinforces the brash attitude that permeates the game. Largely, the voice actors behind the game's cast do a commendable job of selling their roles. You'd think that everything would be colored by a hint of doom and gloom given the situation at hand, but the survivors you meet seem to take it in stride, giving the game a lighthearted and irreverent quality that's rather uplifting.

Sunset Overdrive is one of the best looking games on the Xbox One, both on a technical and artistic level. The city itself is large, dense with buildings and artifacts, with plenty of variation in architectural style. Everything's coated in a bright, saturated coat of paint, giving the game a cartoonish quality that's easy to love. When you're in the midst of battle, sometimes with what seems like a hundred enemies, the screen fills with explosions, bursts of lightning, and occasionally bright green ooze. Despite all of the chaos on screen, the frame rate remains rock solid. Sunset Overdrive isn't meant to look realistic, but that doesn't disqualify it as a top contender for the best looking Xbox One game. It's simply beautiful to behold.

Of course, when you're zipping across town, you're going to miss a few of the finer details, but you'll be having too much fun to care. One of Sunset Overdrive's primary delights is its mobility system, which is loose and flexible in the name of enjoyment. Nearly every object and surface is an opportunity to gain ground, which makes it easy to travel great distances with speed and grace. You can grind along most objects, including telephone lines, ledges, handrails, and the like. Cars, awnings, and exhaust ducts act as trampolines that send you skyward, allowing you to work your way up and over buildings with ease. You can also wall-run indefinitely and, eventually, dash in mid-air and run atop bodies of water.

The only downside to the emphasis on movement is that if you find yourself standing in place in the middle of combat, you're going to be punished. It's easy to become overwhelmed by dozens of enemies at once if you're fighting while stationary, and they can quickly whittle away your health. There are times when your instincts tell you to fight rather than flee, but despite your best intentions, this is rarely the right decision.

Stringing movements together not only gets you to your destination safely and quickly, but it exemplifies what Sunset Overdrive is all about. Sometimes you slightly miss your target, but that's OK, because the game's very forgiving when it comes to timing and aiming. Once you get the hang of each move, you can free-run from one end of the city to another without ever touching the ground. The more tricks you use, the more style points you earn. As you fill up your style gauge, you activate elemental and stat boosts that make you more effective in battle. These "Amps" can be applied to you or your weapons, and are purchased with collectibles that are strewn throughout Sunset City. Similar to the open world game Crackdown, you have to explore every nook and cranny of the city to find them, but you can make it easier on yourself by purchasing maps for each type of collectible.

Sunset Overdrive never pretends to be anything but an excuse to swear like a sailor, jump off of a skyscraper, and blow up a gang of monsters.

As you perform certain actions, such as grinding, using automatic weapons, and air dashing, you earn badges that can be traded in for overdrives. Overdrives are another form of upgrade, which are similar to amps, but they're earned a different way. They can be applied to your character to increase style-point generation, boost weapon strength, or grant you health augmentations. Between Amps and Overdrives, there are a seemingly endless number of ways to upgrade your character and remix their strengths. If you want to explore the full range of options, you're going to spend a lot of time gathering collectibles, and even more time generating badges to unlock the best Overdrives.

Like the movement system, Sunset Overdrive's weapons are wild and varied enough to keep you entertained well beyond the end of the main mission path. Unlocking some weapons requires an absurd amount of the game's energy drink currency to unlock, and your best bet to earn them is to tackle the large selection of side missions, or to replay old missions for better rankings. You take aim with the likes of an acid sprinkler, a bowling ball cannon, an explosive teddy bear launcher, and a gun that bombards enemies with fireworks and illusionary Chinese dragons. Sometimes it's hard to choose which weapons to bring into battle, not because you need specific equipment, but because there are so many great options to choose from.

Unfortunately, one of the few issues with the game is its selection of mission types. For a while, it feels like all you're doing are fetch quests. Someone needs supplies and they need you to go get them. It definitely helps that moving and shooting are so fun, but you still pine for something different after the dozenth fetch quest in a row. Give it time, however, and you'll eventually discover a wide variety of challenges, including a hefty dose of traversal challenges and combat scenarios to keep you busy and beef up your resources.

There are also more than a few great boss battles that challenge your ability to act quickly and move effectively, and these are some of the best moments in the game. Just when you think you're on the verge of boredom, an over-the-top mission appears, reigniting your enthusiasm. If you've always dreamed of taking on a massive inflatable mascot, similar to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters, there's a boss battle for that. Maybe you've wanted to chase a train by grinding on rails, or you have a burning desire to ride on the back of a massive dragon that's winding through a vast cityscape. It's not that there's no fun to be had in Sunset Overdrive's typical missions, but the imaginative and surprising boss fights provide an enjoyable and taxing challenge.

You can freely replay any mission at a moment's notice, but eventually you'll want to jump online and screw around Sunset City with your friends. Hop into the Chaos Squad booths around the map, and you and a team of seven other warriors can tackle horde-like throngs of enemies, defend outposts, and put your traversal skills to the test. Sunset Overdrive emphasizes cooperation, but team members are awarded for their individual performance. Throughout the course of the game, you fight alongside computer-controlled warriors, but they're mostly useless fodder. In Chaos Squad, you're working with other tricked out players that are capable of zipping to-and-fro with a cache of arms at the ready. It feels like you're part of a stylish, amoral Justice League. Unfortunately, the difficulty of co-up doesn't scale based on the number of players in your party. With fewer than eight people, some Chaos Squad challenges are simply too hard; with fewer than four, you're almost always asking for trouble.

Insomniac Games has crafted an excellent game in Sunset Overdrive. It's not without a few niggling issues, but you'll be too busy enjoying yourself to care. You can compare it to games like Crackdown, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater, and Ratchet and Clank, but by combining the best elements of those games into a single package and injecting it with an anything goes, rock and roll attitude, you'll never think of it as anything but a singular achievement that stands tall on its own merits. It's one of the best games on the Xbox One, and a refreshing shot of merriment.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Legend of Grimrock 2 Review

It's fitting that the music first greeting you in Legend of Grimrock II is a rousing, bombastic tune that would just as easily be at home in a summer fantasy blockbuster. The sequel is a grand adventure, a far cry from the claustrophobic tunnels of its predecessor's excellent first-person, tile-based dungeon-crawling revival. And while the suffocating atmosphere of the franchise's first entry has been diluted by a focus on exploration rather than escape, its mechanics and well-crafted content have flourished and been improved in almost every way. Legend of Grimrock II is a logical and brilliantly executed next step for the series, exhibiting slight symptoms of too much freedom, but never stumbling for long.

Grimrock II has little to do with the mountain peak in the game's title; rather, it serves as reassurance that the formula defined decades ago, and modernized in the original Grimrock, still elegantly drives the experience. You fashion a party of adventurers with classic Dungeons & Dragons character trappings and step through unexplored three-dimensional terrain one tile at a time. Along the way, you acquire armor, weapons, and artifacts of increasing prowess, outfitting each of your characters to do real-time battle against a bestiary of monstrous creatures. You trigger fatally hidden traps, avoid the obvious ones, and search for vital clues to unlock gates and doorways, while solving riddles and puzzles in a quest for answers to larger mysteries and the almighty pursuit of power itself.

Giant rats are so 1990. It's all about pirate rats now.

Legend of Grimrock II shirks the longstanding reliance on subterranean labyrinths that have so-well suited the genre; instead, it pulls a new foursome of characters to the Isle of Nex, and the welcome addition of outdoor locales. From the temperate woodlands of Twigroot Forest to the noxious vapors of Keelbreach Bog, each environment carries a unique personality, and together they create a more diverse setting than the original's endless halls of stone and darkness. Of course, thousands of steps are still waiting to be taken in decrepit dungeons and tight tunnels, but the promise of returning to the fresh air of the surface alleviates the impenetrable gloom of underground life. Even returning to an open sky of a pitch black night--thanks to the great addition of a day and night cycle--feels like a safe haven from the skittering terrors that roam the chasms below."

The openness of the island setting is mirrored in the game's navigation. Shortly after your arrival on Nex, you're free to traverse nearly anywhere you can see, assuming you can unlock the barriers to entry and survive your own curiosity. To that point, there's a naural sense of progression in Grimrock II: it gently guides you through each new zone without spelling out an optimal order for visiting them. Should you somehow decipher the means to wander into territory too dangerous for your fledgling skills, that gentle hand becomes a clenched fist, ready to immediately bludgeon your party for its foolhardiness--but the option exists, and that non-linearity is refreshing.

Returning to an open sky in a pitch black night--thanks to the great addition of a day and night cycle--feels like a safe haven from the skittering terrors that roam the chasms below.

Unfortunately, that freedom of choice and ambiguous direction is where Grimrock II briefly falters. Much of the adventure hinges on the collection of scattered MacGuffins, conveniently spaced and designed to require the exploration of every area in order to chase them all down. In fact, the journey from your shipwrecked landing to the heart of the mystery is largely devoid of overarching narrative until the climax. What little references there are to a grander scheme are delivered in coy notes from an unknown master of this undiscovered island.

It's understandable that a focused narrative pushing you from one area to the next might hamper your ability to freely navigate the isle, but the chosen alternative is a nearly blind journey requiring a herculean effort and an enormous amount of good faith that it's going to pay off in the end--which it thankfully does. Instead, the real story takeaway is found in the immaculately designed riddles, puzzles, and moments of sometimes-not-so-near fatal choice that punctuate every step of the adventure.

Developer Almost Human has deftly crafted dozens of bite-sized, standalone engagements that are often vague, frequently complex, and always clever. And it's in these moments, when you're stuck wondering how exactly the provided clues don't point to the seemingly obvious conclusion, that you might truly appreciate the openness of a world that allows you to go off and perform some other task while you let all the elements of a particularly devious obstacle simmer in the back of your mind.

Word of advice: Don't fall in the pit full of zombies, aka, the Zombie Pit.

Overcoming the many vague riddles in Legend of Grimrock II is occasionally grueling, but to Almost Human's great credit, the answers are nearly always rooted in logic or interpretation, rather than finding some minute trigger on a wall. Oh, there are many secrets on Nex that are only uncovered with a keen eye, say, scrutinizing a sea of stone for the smallest switch, but these instances are almost exclusively tied to superfluous loot rather than vital game progression.

The vein of thoughtful improvement running through Legend of Grimrock II may be most apparent in its intricately designed quandaries, but it snakes through even the most basic elements of the franchise. Character creation, the cornerstone of the dungeon-crawling experience, exhibits a comparable leap forward. Where the original Grimrock opted for a trifecta of class selections--Fighter, Rogue, and Mage--the second offering builds on that trinity, filling the spaces between with new and unique roles. Choose to crush monsters through the Barbarian's brute force, strike a balance between marshal and mystical arts with a Battlemage, or brew life-saving concoctions with collected herbs as an Alchemist. All are viable additions to a budding party, though in practice, some classes are clearly more beneficial than others.

The real story takeaway is found in the immaculately designed riddles, puzzles, and moments of sometimes-not-so-near fatal choice that punctuate every step of the adventure.

In another sly wink poking fun at the tropes of the genre, there's even a Farmer class, which excels in absolutely nothing you'd want in an adventurer and gains experience not by killing enemies but by eating food. It's these small touches of playful meta--for example, some races gain hidden statistical benefits after ingesting their preferred foods, and the new Ratling race has a special affinity for cheese--that paint Grimrock II as a creation that's totally comfortable in its own skin while still true to the dungeon crawling mantle of yore.

But while an old-school spirit might power the core, the vessel is a more modern, expanded take on the experience than even the original Grimrock had to offer. The addition of weapon-specific special attacks adds a welcome layer of depth to combat; by drawing from your characters' energy pools, you're able to trigger devastating blows with titanic axes, or launch a flurry of slashes with a sabre. Moreover, the overhauled spell casting system allows you to quickly swipe across runes to prime a spell, replacing the cumbersome need to click each individual one. Now you can engage in combat that is fluid and interactive, rather than just repeatedly hacking at something until one of you squeals and collapses.

Better still, when paired with the active and passive bonuses of available skills and traits, each character can potentially attain enough unique purpose that fights are often elevated from slugfests to battles of timing, positioning, and resourcefulness. The appointed leader of my party, Arielle the Knight, started as the tough-as-nails tank, but somewhere during my 30-hour adventure she learned to dual-wield rune-adorned scimitars, backstabbing unsuspecting enemies in her impractically bulky armor. Thanks to the untethered skill system, she did it all, and you're free to similarly build any class in any direction you choose.

Poison, petrification, disease, blindness--there's a status effect for everyone!

Combat in Grimrock II is a more refined, empowering, and choice-centric part of the experience this time around, and with good reason: The beasts that inhabit the Isle of Nex are a much more formidable breed. Mainstay monsters that have adorned the darkened hallways of grid-based crawlers for years are well-represented: giant spiders, rats, ogres, and the undead. But new to the fray are creatures that, like your characters, carry their own functional skillsets. The giant toads roaming the bog may seem straightforward, but when one leaps across several tiles, landing behind your party, lashing out with its sticky tongue and pulling your characters' weapons out of their hands, the encounter shifts dramatically in its favor. Wispy elementals patrol the forests and press their attacks, unfazed by conventional weapons and spells, and leaving you helplessly searching for a vulnerability of some kind. And amethyst-hued cycloptic floating squid-beasts spew blinding ink from both ends, disgustingly enough, in the jewel-encrusted mines beneath the surface of Nex.

These functional additions to the bestiary are fairly indicative of what you should expect from Legend of Grimrock II: A well-established foundation revisited and excellently enhanced in the years between releases. Nearly every aspect of this dense adventure has been touched in a positive way, with none of the clutter that often accompanies second-act offerings that try to cram too much in. And despite the lack of narrative, Grimrock II is an outstanding second trip to the nostalgia well. It synthesizes the key elements that made the first game great, improves upon them in intriguing and powerful ways, and uses that as a platform for designing and launching more of the same great content.

Legend of Grimrock II is similar to one of its many well-designed riddles: While solving it may be a long, arduous process, approaching each obstacle with newfound understanding and hearing the victorious click of gears finally turning gives you a feeling of profound pride and accomplishment. Legend of Grimrock II is another glorious glimpse of the past, a window to a genre dead and buried and brought back to life with care and respect, and I urge you to peek through it.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Neverending Nightmares Review

There's an elite brand of horror that, even in these glory days when players are drowning in utterly terrifying interactive experiences, is rare to see, and harder to pull off, and that is the horror of the self. That is, the terror that comes not from a malignant, malicious invader that must be put down, but from witnessing perversions and desecrations beyond imagining, and realizing you're responsible for such terror, and you have to forever change to keep it at bay. This is the territory that Silent Hill 2 occupies, and it's one of only a few games to get it exactly right.

Neverending Nightmares is a solemn attempt to flourish in that territory, and it has the right ideas. It's the story of a young man named Thomas who is stuck in a seemingly eternal Inception-style loop of visceral Edward Gorey nightmares. His own house is slowly overtaken by living, ominous shadows and dolls with frozen smiles whose eyes follow him when he walks by. He finds himself in an asylum overrun by straight-jacketed cannibals and with haphazardly-piled mutilated dead in the hallways. Dead women rain from the sky in a cemetery while birds feed on the corpses. There are common elements in each scenario, but the omnipresent one is the ephemeral specter of a black-haired girl. The girl takes many forms: sister, wife, psychiatrist, daughter, china doll, bride, and, not least of all, bloody, knife-wielding murderwoman. She is both the reason to press on and the reason to want to escape every nightmare Thomas finds himself in. But you don't escape. You simply… persist.

Spot the creepy ghost lady, win a prize.

The devil is quite literally in the details in Neverending Nightmares. As you explore, a room might be little more than a bunch of family paintings, or a benign toy chest in a corner, or a sterile bathroom. Returning to that same room later, the wallpaper might have turned into deathly skulls, or the expression on the doll’s face turned to terror; random blood stains might’ve appeared, or you might hear random whispers, crying, and screams off in the distance. When Neverending Nightmares is at its best, it’s a sort of hellish Gone Home, where opening a new door means falling forever, having your Achilles tendons slashed, ripping out your own veins like string cheese; and making progress towards a new nightmare is indistinguishable from abject failure until you notice the change in the air, a different set of taunting voices. It's a perfect storm of fear: You are free to explore yet claustrophobically trapped, all at once.

This dichotomy would create a distressing combination even if movement weren’t so restricted. Thomas' regular gait when walking is a limping shuffle that makes simple walks down a hallway feel like roaming 40 years in a desert. Yes, you have the ability to run, but Thomas apparently has the stamina of a chain-smoker with one lung, and you can get maybe five seconds of sprinting out of him before he’s exhausted. It adds a nice layer of tension to the game's many terrifying chases, but when it takes forever to get from point A to B, tension turns into flat annoyance.

Worst. Slumber party. Ever.

The monotony isn't helped by the fact that Neverending Nightmares is such a sparse game. After knowing what's scattered around each environment, you can go for stretches where you’re walking in and out of doors with nothing happening, nothing having changed, and with nothing new to interact with. The intent seems to be to give the player breathing room before going in for the scare, but it feels more artificial. Bad dreams typically aren't characterized by moments of lukewarm emptiness, and the fact that there are many here distracts.

What dreams do have, however, is abstraction, and Neverending Nightmares excels here. The game speaks in the broken dream language of trauma and internalized pain like few games do, and the facts of Thomas continually murdering himself, being marauded by defective babies, or seeing the girl dead in so many configurations are meant to walk the careful line between subtext and text. You are meant to put the pieces together, and the more the game feeds you on the far extremes of violence and sadness, the less it makes sense. Are you watching a man who killed a loved one and can no longer rest? Are you watching a brother stuck in purgatory for attempting suicide? Are you seeing the aftereffects of a parent grieving a dead child? The emotions are clearly represented: Fear, grief, surrender, self-loathing, and doubt.

Protip: Anything she found here is terrifying. Please don't follow her.

What those emotions are in aid of is the pertinent question, and it's a haunting one, which the game's multiple endings do muddled work in answering, to both the game’s benefit and detriment. You walk away with heady questions about what you’ve played. What you might not come away with is satisfaction. Despite being only a one-to-two- hour game, it feels like a long way to get to either of the three finish lines; even trying for a second ending feels like work, and at least one of the endings puts far too easy a cap on what came before to feel true to the preceding hour.

And yet, having slept on it, I find myself obsessing over the questions raised, and the imagery foisted upon me by the encroaching darkness, than I have with any game in recent memory. Its frustrations are many, but they are not what sticks in the mind after it’s done. Neverending Nightmares might be a dream only worth taking once, but once is all it needs to work its ill upon you.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Civilization: Beyond Earth Review

I am looking at the number 585. It's below the "hours played" tab for my copy of Civilization V and I...well, I'm not sure I want to dwell on that figure. But I can tell you that for all those hours, I've only actually seen a single session with the history-based strategy game through to completion. I'm an absentee world leader: present for my peoples' first fumbling steps towards agriculture, gone again somewhere between the invention of the compass and the internal combustion engine. I get into these obsessive restarting loops, curious just to see what new permutation the game's map-making algorithms spit out. Eventually I'll nestle a few defensible cities into the mountainside, churn through tech advancements until I can fuss over cute little janissaries or hussar units like they're collectible figurines. Then, in a sudden fit of self-loathing, I'll wipe the board clean. It's wonderful, soul-sucking entertainment.

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth shifts the series' brand of turn-based discovery and conquest off-planet, and the sci-fi setting puts a slick, chrome sheen on my old neurosis. But Beyond Earth also calcifies much of Civilization V's vocabulary and play arc. You still situate your capital city, and click it to designate the production of military units or workers that can spruce up your immediate surroundings. You still unlock new technologies and cultural policies that ensure a steady drip of upgrades and benefits. There are the familiar icons for production, food, and culture to illustrate the quantified output of your cities, and a new one, energy, is a reasonable enough stand-in for currency--its icon even looks a bit like a golden coin to ease you into the transition. So despite the new trappings, it's simple enough to slide back into routine. Create, explore, and expand--or, if you're like me, create, explore, quit, and create again.

The alien terrain shows off smooth transitions between tiles.

There are a few welcome touch-ups to smooth over Civilization's old edges, and they first appear in pregame as a series of decisions to make prior to starting your bid for global domination. A first step can be taken towards generating energy, science, culture, et alia, and you can opt to begin the game with a military unit, or a clinic if you'd prefer. There's more freedom afforded when picking out which parcel of land to found your first city on, and there's even a perk that reveals the outlines of the world's land masses. So much for my incessant restarting, then--all things considered, Beyond Earth seems to output viable starting situations more reliably than its predecessors.

But viable doesn't necessarily mean welcoming--this is an alien planet, after all, and colonizing it is going to beget some unfortunate learning experiences on the behaviors of local wildlife as part of due course. Maybe those lessons will come from the sandworm churning up your freshly tilled farmland a few tiles from your capital and consuming any trade expedition you send in its general direction. Or maybe from the creature that's three-quarters mandible, just kind-of loitering ominously offshore. Aliens play the role of the barbarian tribes from the last few Civilization games, as an entity that's not exactly "in it to win it." But they'll mess with your early game plans all the same, utilizing better cunning and more imposing units than their old club-wielding counterparts. Even Beyond Earth's loan translations of the previous entries' forests, mountains, and livestock feel suitably threatening here. A toxic miasma coats about a third of the surface of any map, damaging human units and healing aliens. And while natural wonders are conspicuously absent--robbing players of part of the draw of exploring a new planet--the varied terrain is full of curious features like resource pods, ruins and alien skeletons to seek out. The land is pock-marked with craters and chasms, the grasslands have a sickly cast to them, and I'm still trying to get comfortable with the idea of constructing a paddock for giant beetles.

Beyond Earth's opening cinematic teases colorful cultures that wash out in the gameplay.

But you're probably going to have to manifest some destiny sooner or later, because advancement in Beyond Earth necessitates subscription to a belief system and two of the three available are less than concerned with preserving indigenous species. So-called affinities push your development towards divergent goals: Purity, Supremacy, or Harmony. It's a choice between Terran, Protoss, or Zerg, really. Purity marks a civilization that concerns itself with recreating the comforts of home and preserving humanity in a more-or-less recognizable state. Supremacy is a technocratic zealotry that comes with all the haughtiness you'd expect--really, its units bear names like "Educator" and "Prophet." Harmony is there for us Truffula Tree-huggers, and since it lets you ride an alien like a horse and sic giant space katydids on your enemy's cities, I'd say it's the clear choice for the discerning Fremen. Interestingly, the text that accompanies each new affinity level shifts in tone along with the stage of the game, starting with earnest, innocent theorizing and gradually taking on a more hawkish, proselytizing inflection as the players start jockeying for position near the home stretch.

The Civilization series portrays a history that's not of people, but rather "the State." That is to say, you don't play as Ghandi, or Gengis Kahn: you play as India, or Mongolia, as well as a vision of those peoples united in a singular, millennia-spanning focus on besting all other nations. Beyond Earth expands upon this cult of the state, drawing the series' diverse cast of historical cultures into eight broad, continental coalitions, and rescinding the roles that individual artists, engineers, and scientists had been enjoying in Civilization V. The loss of the latter means a less celebratory, more overtly martial sort of strategy game, and I’m not keen on this step backwards towards the series’ competitive, board game roots. It’s echoed in the relative parity of the eight coalitions, which lack the color and diversity of play-styles that Civ V furnished so adeptly. In Beyond Earth’s eight-person multiplayer (local or online), the terms have never been so even, but some of the fascination went out the door with the asymmetry.

Affinities push your development towards divergent goals: Purity, Supremacy, or Harmony.

It's a brave new world, with new lands to chart, resources to harvest, and goals to pursue. But it's also as cynical as the old one, where most actions serve competitive ends, and even the most cooperative and well-maintained alliances will be shattered by necessity towards game's end. To Civilization, the State is an entity that acts on only the basest and most selfish of desires--consume, grow, and propagate. That's become increasingly ironic, as Beyond Earth's web of discoverable technologies introduces high-minded and esoteric futurisms like "Human Idealism" and "Artificial Evolution." A little barbarism was to be expected back when Civilization's tech tree was largely given over to simply escaping the Dark Ages. But Beyond Earth suggests--and perhaps not wrongly--that advancements like euthenics or microrobotics are ultimately just the new sticks we'll use to club each other over the head.

Beyond Earth's operatic opening short tells the story of a young female colonist who bears at least some superficial resemblance to National Geographic's famous "Afghan Girl." But it's otherwise hard to get a sense of what these people look like, or what their culture entails beyond that brief cinematic glimpse, because only the military gets treated to any real illustration in the game proper. Gone are the works of art, music, and writing that helped to redefine the cultural victory in Civilization V, pared back to an abstract number that's ultimately used towards more aggressive ends. World wonders do reprise their role as larger constructive undertakings, but the bonuses they proffer feel tepid and same-ish this time around. There are quests, though--a first for Civilization. In practice, they're a limited set of binary prompts with a light influence on your direction of progress, but they nevertheless lend some helpful narrative context to the action, and they can branch in unexpected ways. A newly founded independent outpost might turn out to be performing questionable experiments on its colonists, perhaps, or a plant brought along on the journey to the new world might take root and begin overriding the local flora.

In at least one case, you're tasked with spying on a particular city belonging to a rival civ. It's a subtle guiding of the eyes towards Beyond Earth's enhanced spy system, which requires regular management of a small team that can siphon energy, science, or units from other cities in addition to the last game's tech thievery and intel thievery. Successful operations increase the intrigue rating for a city, ostensibly granting access to higher-tier abilities like fomenting rebellion or planting a bomb, but in practice it seems difficult to ever reach those levels. Relocating a spy to one's own city might be too reliable a means of reducing your intrigue levels when you see them spiking.

Gone are the works of art, music, and writing that helped to redefine the cultural victory in Civilization V.

But absent a more subversive method of dealing with your foes, there's always old-fashioned battle. Military units still hold sway over most of the game space, trading turn-based fire between the hexagonal parcels of land and besieging cities. They fall back on Civilization's traditional archetypes: melee, ranged, cavalry, and siege, even as their outward appearances morphs from astronauts with rifles and moon rovers to bipedal robots and giant kaiju. The ones you field depend on your progression towards one of the three affinities, and in a welcome bit of streamlining, the upgrades get rolled out automatically with each new level--no more paying for promotions for each individual unit. Better still, a new, similarly tiled orbital layer plays host to satellites which can be launched for quick industrial bonuses, or support coverage for your armies in the field.

Beyond Earth's combat suffers from some balance issues though, and that's curious for a game that leans so heavily on proven systems. Cities are comically easy to take--most melee units fare much better at city capturing, and you can often halve a city's defenses in a single attack--resulting in situations where cities tediously trade ownership turn after turn. The fragility extends to the units themselves, many of which die in a single hit. By consequence, a small standing army is less tenable than it was back on Earth, and I find myself less invested in the fate of any one unit when it can be snuffed out by an orbital strike at any given moment.

I am finding that I play more games through to completion in Beyond Earth. In inverse of my experience with Civilization V, my favorite part might be the ending, where a civ has to lay its cards face-up in a bid for one of the five methods of victory, and any semblance of "civilization" goes out the window as everyone else tries to drag them back down like the proverbial crabs in the bucket. The three affinity-specific victories don’t play out all that differently, nor does a fourth concerned with making contact with an unseen, advanced alien race. Each entails researching a few specific technologies, then designating your cities to produce a structure or two that sometimes have minor idiosyncrasies, like consuming your surplus energy each turn. But the path to victory is more elegantly interwoven with the early and middle game this time around, and of course, global domination, ever the crude way out, remains as tempting as ever when another world leader shows up uninvited to talk some smack. The more things change, the more they stay the same, then; a journey to a planet halfway across the universe reaffirming the draw of the same old creature comforts--a plot of land, and just one more turn.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

The Evil Within Review

The Evil Within is not a game that relies on cheap jump scares. It's driven by a slow, sustained, and deeply pervasive sense of dread that sets your mind racing at every crunch of glass beneath your feet and every distant groan from an unseen enemy. Much of this tension is thanks to the game's striking use of atmosphere, so gloomy and impactful it often borders on suffocating, but it's also a testament to an action-heavy combat system whose scant ammunition and immediate threat of death is just as demanding as it is satisfying. Were it not for the occasional stumble into moments of immense frustration and an aimless, sputtering story, The Evil Within could have been something truly great. What's left, though, is an uneven but ultimately captivating ode to the glory days of survival horror.

At the center of it all is Sebastian Castellanos, a detective called in to investigate a vicious collection of murders at a local mental hospital. The brief preamble leading up to this investigation is all the calm The Evil Within can muster, because from then on Castellanos is sent tumbling through a twisted and only occasionally coherent story involving supernatural apparitions, gruesome monsters, and a seemingly infinite series of nightmarish backdrops.

It's not a good story. Nor is it self-aware, lacking any trace of that cheeky, almost-a-Jill-sandwich charm of early survival horror games. It is genuinely, earnestly bad. Castellanos is a wooden and thoroughly uninteresting protagonist, a gruff cop with a dark past whose in-game journal actually contains the line, "I have to stay strong, but it's so easy to drown my thoughts in whiskey." Then there's the overarching plot, so meandering and slipshod with its constant jumps in and out Castellanos' tormented visions that this narrative trickery becomes routine, even numbing in a way. It's a saw whose teeth have been worn down by overuse.

So the world lacks context, but it doesn't lack impact. The Evil Within is a horror experience built on such an outstanding foundation--the chilling use of light and shadow, the menacing audio flourishes--that merely traversing its environments is enough to make your heart skip a few beats. Whether it has you exploring a derelict hospital ward splattered with blood and overturned wheelchairs, a ravaged urban center where aquatic monsters patrol its flooded streets, or even that most weathered of survival horror settings, the creepy mansion, The Evil Within transports you through a diverse assortment of places with one theme tying them all together: an absolutely terrifying sense of atmosphere.

The letterbox effect is odd at first, but you hardly notice it after a while.

There's more to contend with than eerie sights and sounds, of course. The Evil Within is full of grotesque creatures who relish every opportunity to rend you limb from limb. There are the vaguely human monsters that populate early chapters, wielding hatchets and hurling sticks of dynamite like super-charged zombies, but as the game wears on you're pitted against increasingly nasty and challenging foes. But no matter where you are in the game's lengthy story, death is never far around the corner. The Evil Within is a brutal experience where the slightest lapse in concentration can turn you into a pool of viscera on the ground.

As a result, caution and patience are your greatest allies in this fight for survival. Every handgun round feels precious, every healing syringe feels like it could be your last. But for as stingy as the game is with its resources, it's also rich in choices. Do you use that one remaining bullet to go for a headshot, or shoot your foe in the leg before rushing up and burning it with a match? Do you throw a bottle to lure that creature toward a trip wire booby trap, or risk dismantling the trap yourself and using those parts to craft a new crossbow bolt? The whole game is littered with these tense moment-to-moment decisions, always forcing you to be creative and resourceful with the way you approach each fight. But when your craftiness pays off and you manage to scrape through an encounter with your body intact, the payoff is immense.

That challenge scales well, too. Part of the enjoyment of slowly searching through each environment is the allure of finding green gel, which functions as currency for the game's extensive upgrade system. It's here that you can choose from options like increasing your sprint time, carrying more shotgun shells, or even reducing the sway on your handgun reticule. It's a great system that allows you to feel like you're adequately prepared for the ferocious monsters waiting for you in the game's later stages, but on your own terms and with your own strategy in mind. (Green gel isn't so abundant that you can upgrade everything; you really need to pick a path and stick with it.)

Part of the reason combat is so satisfying is the feeling that every last bullet is critical.

The Evil Within does a remarkable job of pushing you to your limit, but there are moments when it crosses that line and the experience suffers for it. One of the biggest culprits is the autosave system, a finicky and unpredictable thing that doesn't seem to behave by any consistent logic. It generally records your progress after major encounters, but there are times it saves your game mid-battle for no apparent reason, and others when it's been so long since you saw that little icon on the screen that you feel as though you're crawling through the desert in search of water, cursing the sun for its abject cruelty. You often find yourself playing through certain stretches again and again for no clear reason, the game's striking atmosphere becoming a little less impressive each time through . (Note: there is a manual save system, but it's generally only accessible at the start of each chapter, meaning the further you proceed, the more you surrender yourself to the whims of the autosave gods.)

The Evil Within's upgrade system provides a great incentive to explore the environments. Yes, that includes toilets.

A similar issue plagues some of the boss battles. The bosses are suitably terrifying, twisted monsters capable of making you shiver at the mere sight of them. And some of them make for great encounters, forcing you to take the same wits and creativity you've been refining in basic combat and dial them up to a whole new level. But others require you to perform these very specific, very obtuse secondary goals hidden somewhere in the environment. It's these fights that you need to plow through over and over and over until you figure out the right process, a chore made even more tedious by the game's glacial load times and habit of repeating the same boss introduction cinematic.

Other moments of frustration pop up throughout the campaign--invisible enemies, a recurring character who appears from nowhere to kill you instantly--which feel like clumsy missteps in an otherwise satisfying fight for survival. But it's a fight that anyone with a tough stomach should take on. Because for as much as The Evil Within does stumble, it always seems to recover. What it does at its core it does so well that all those issues floating on the periphery eventually fade away to reveal a satisfying if slightly blemished return to classic survival horror.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

F1 2014 Review

It takes great talent to drive a Formula One car. The vehicles are set up to go as quickly as possible within the given (and complicated) FIA regulations, and this season's new turbocharged cars are horribly twitchy and snappy, particularly if you don’t know what you’re doing. In the hands of a normal driver, they'd spit you off into a wall at the first corner. This is what happens very early on in F1 2014.

Then again, that is the point. Sure, there are myriad of driving assists to help keep you on the track, but the real appeal of F1 is in keeping your car planted without any help at all. Assists for braking, steering, traction control, and so forth do play their parts as you learn the braking points of a track and get to grips with the twitchy handling of this season's cars, but as time goes on, you find yourself lowering the artificial assistance to the minimum, and racking up some respectable lap times.

Smooth movements, correct braking points, and the right amount of steering lock are key to finding your way around corners with any degree of success. The learning curve is steep, and the game doesn't do a great job of teaching you the finer points of driving an F1 car, which you need in order to turn off any of the assists. That you need to be as alert as you do to get the cars around a track is a testament to the quality of the simulation on offer, though. As with real F1, make one mistake and your race is ruined, presuming you prefer not to make use of the replay system. Excellent tyre physics let you feel every twist and turn in a track, while a surprisingly accurate degradation model means you've got to keep an eye on tyre performance during the longer races, lest you lose grip and spin off the track. The same goes for fuel management, which requires a keen eye and good pit stop management. Ultimately, if you look after your car, it'll look after you. Abuse it, and you'll find you have no wing, no grip and barely enough go to make it to the pits.

While the updates to F1 2014's simulation mean that the cars handle differently but accurately for this season (or as best as a person that's not actually driven an F1 car can tell), there are some underlying issues with that game that this year's update fails to resolve. For instance, modulating the throttle is still frustratingly difficult on the Xbox 360 controller, and I often accidentally wheelspan away from the line, or simply gave the car too much juice over an apex. The brakes are easier to modulate on the pad; the steering less so, but it's manageable.

The best way to play F1 2014 is with a wheel and pedal. A quick spin on the PC version with the proper kit (in this case, the excellent and fully supported Thrustmaster T500 RS) not only made the racing more manageable, but far more immersive as well. The focus of F1 is on precision, but that's not to say there aren't some exciting moments to be found outside of a well-executed gear change. I often found myself chasing a car, repeatedly telling myself "I’ll take him on the next corner," or hoping to a deity that I could outbrake him to get ahead, only to be pipped to the post in a furious pedal-to-the-metal finish on the home straight.

F1 2014 is beautiful. Each car is shiny in all the right places and covered in all the right sponsors, making those fast-lap replays look fantastic. It all looks even better in the rain, when the track becomes covered in a watery sheen and a fine spray rooster-tails its way from the back of competitors’ cars, blocking your view in close quarters racing. Aesthetically, it’s hard to fault F1 2014 in all but two areas: the wing mirrors and the drivers. The former are blocky, indistinct, and not all that useful in a race, while the latter look rather sickly. Perhaps the drivers are suffering from the grueling hours of a full F1 season, or maybe the Xbox 360 and PS3's ages are beginning to show, but considering the cars look so good, the ugly drivers do take you out of the moment.

F1 2014 falters further when it comes to its selection of modes and extras. In comparison to F1 2013, aside from the tweaked handling, all you get are a few new car models and a couple of new tracks. F1 2014 actually removes some of last year's content with the loss of the awesome classic mode. That was a major selling point of the old game, so not having it here is a significant step backwards. Still, what is in F1 2014 is decent, if not at all that different to last year.

Rivals, Career and Scenario make up the meat of the game: in Rivals you enter a back-of-the-grid team as a rookie and fight your way up the rankings to beat a chosen rival in a best-of-three battle. Your chosen rival is supposed to be someone in a higher-tier team than you so you can steal their drive, but they're often so much faster that what should be a nice challenge turns into a frustrating experience. Swap a rival out for a fresher, slower driver and he'll miraculously speed up as well. Moving the goalposts in such a way makes for a frustrating experience.

Career mode takes you all the way through a race weekend from practice to qualifying, and then on to the big race itself. Again, the AI drivers are hard work, but keep plugging away and eventually you can shave seconds off your lap times to steal a podium spot. Handily, you can choose how long your season is, so you don't have to commit to too much if you don't want to. Scenario is by far the most interesting mode to play in. You're given specific tasks to complete, such as having to complete a wet race on less than appropriate slick tyres, for which you're awarded a medal based on your performance.

Despite F1 2014's good points, it's hard to get away from the fact that it's little more than an inconsistent update of a great game. The cars are good fun once you get the hang of the new handling model, the visuals are surprisingly sharp (for the cars at least), and there's more than enough punishing difficultly on offer for those after a real racing challenge. Ultimately, though, how big an F1 fan you are is going to dictate the value proposition here: if you're fair-weather and already own the feature-packed F1 2013, just how badly do you want to drive the new cars?

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

A City Sleeps Review

A City Sleeps is a music-driven, bullet hell shooter with an invigorating soundtrack and a colorful, comic-like presentation. The hybrid of concepts feels fresh and fun in the beginning, and there are moments when the ideas harmonize, but the game rapidly runs out of new stages and music, and you're left with nothing to do but replay the same levels at higher difficulty settings. At that point, your enthusiasm quickly falls through the cracks, well before you get access to the game's advanced upgrades. Shoot-em-ups have a reputation for being challenging by design, especially the bullet hell variants, but for A City Sleeps, there are more hurdles than bullet patterns to overcome and it's all to easy to find yourself tripping over the bumps along the way.

It's interesting to see how A City Sleeps toys with the general makeup of a bullet hell shooter, though. Games such as Ikaruga, DoDonPachi, and Mushimesama are members of the infamous sub-genre, which are defined by their screen-filling, curtains of bullets. Nearly every bullet hell shooter scrolls in a unidirectional fashion, be it horizontally or vertically. Enemies come from one part of the screen, and thus, so do their bullets. The background scrolls from right to left in A City Sleeps, but in reality, this is a twin stick shooter like Geometry Wars, with a static field. The background may be moving in a single direction, but enemies and their bullets come from every direction, drastically increasing the amount of ground you need to monitor at a given moment.

It's good that your weapon can fire in any direction, too, which affords you the flexibility to evade incoming fire and attack your enemies from any angle. You can close in and attack with a katana, which charges a meter for every successful strike. Once your meter is full, you can then slash at large swaths of enemies with a screen-sized spirit sword, which is invaluable during boss fights.

You're also able to tap into the power of spirits by possessing idols that appear at fixed intervals throughout levels. Once possessed, these idols can emit healing energy, fire at enemies, or freeze them in their tracks, depending on the spirit you assign to them, and you have the ability to reassign spirits on the fly with a simple button combination. Exploiting this mechanic is an important aspect of your strategy, and thankfully, the game also slows to a snail's pace when you initiate the possession process. You can unlock new properties for each spirit type, but only after you complete levels at advanced difficulty levels. In theory, the progression of abilities should work in step with the game's difficulty, but you always feel like the game is two steps ahead of you, and unlike most shooters, you don't earn weapon upgrades during levels. It's frustrating that you have to beat levels to get the most useful upgrades when you feel woefully ill-equipped in the first place.

The background may be moving in a single direction, but enemies and their bullets come from every direction, drastically increasing the amount of ground you need to monitor at a given moment.

As is tradition, your character, in this case Poe the Dream Exorcist, is only vulnerable at the very center of her character model. Here, her hitbox clearly represented by a green beacon. Being able to quickly identify her weak spot is critical when you're caught in the middle of a bullet wave, and in this instance, Harmonix has given you an advantage that you wouldn't normally have. Feel lucky, because you move at a slightly lazy clip, and though you can dash at a fixed distance, it's too big of a bound and thus not good for frequent use.

A City Sleeps is painfully difficult once you get past the first round of levels. This is partially because there are times when enemies attack you from every direction, pummeling you with dozens of bullets, but it's also due to the way in which the background music influences your weapon. The music is great, and firing your weapon contributes to it in a satisfying way by emitting sounds to the beat, but your rate of fire is also dictated by said beat, which fluctuates throughout each level. In other words: you can't count on your weapon firing in a consistent pattern at all times. In order to predict its behavior, you need to be in sync the music. Nevertheless, when enemies move at a consistent speed, regardless of the music, you're at a disadvantage when you can't defend yourself just the same.

Though it limits your potential firepower, the connection between the gameplay and music can be downright mesmerizing when you aren't stuck in an insurmountable situation. The tracks are simple and mellow in the beginning, but as stages progress, your weapon, and the actions of possessed idols and your enemies, add new layers to the orchestra. As the combination of instruments ramps up, you feel increasingly engaged in the action. It's not hard to feel in tune with the soundtrack, but this feeling fades away once the onslaught from your enemies reaches its peak and you struggle to find your footing.

You could argue that this connection between music and your weapon presents an unusual chance to balance multiple skills, but A City Sleeps ramps up the challenge too quickly to facilitate a proper learning curve. It would have been so much more enjoyable if the challenge grew in a smooth manner, because after you beat the game's three levels, a paltry selection, all that's left to do is replay them at harder difficulties. Not only is the game too repetitive as a result, but it's hard to get much enjoyment from the process when it feels like you don't have the tools you need to succeed. If the disbursement of upgrades were different, then maybe this wouldn't be the case, but as is, you feel alienated by the odds well before you get the chance to equip yourself for success.

A City Sleeps leans on hardcore difficulty to compensate for its lack of content, and its use of music, while interesting, is a source of frustration, especially as the difficulty increases. It's disappointing, because at its core, there are a lot of good ideas, but they never truly shine in the presence of the game's issues. Highly-skilled shoot-em-up fans and bullet hell veterans will find an experience that lives up to their maniacal expectations, but unless you count yourself among the shooter elite, don't expect A City Sleeps to hold your attention for long.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Fluster Cluck Review

Chickens in games are seldom ever funny, let alone charming. They're only appealing if you go all out with the chicken theme like Billy Hatcher and the Giant Egg, or if they serve a practical purpose, like the Cuccos from The Legend of Zelda or the eggs from Resident Evil 4. In Fluster Cluck, developer Loot Entertainment assumes that chickens are both universally appealing and deserving of an introduction by a loud, obnoxious M.C.

Loot Entertainment prescribes to the notion that chickens are not only funny, but doubly so when you're turning non-chickens into chickens. That's the crux of Fluster Cluck: deliver more creatures into a chicken-conversion device than your opponents. The ability to shoot down your competitors while you're carrying an innocent horse or camel is about as complex as the game gets. It's frustratingly unfortunate that all the other parts that make up Fluster Cluck cannot adequately support such a simple and straightforward concept.

It's not as fun as it looks, even in couch multiplayer.

Fluster Cluck's maps are devoid of imagination; Loot Entertainment's best designs and layouts are comparable to the least inspiring maps from refined multiplayer game collections like Nintendo Land and the Rayman Raving Rabbids series. That means these arenas fulfill the bare minimum requirements that constitute marginally interesting maps: multiple levels, a mix of narrow paths and open spaces, and non-symmetrical geography. Note that these attributes do not apply to every map in Fluster Cluck, just the entire playlist as a whole. Furthermore, the poor placement of spawn points and power-up wells do nothing to help these uninspired maps. Respawning on one of only two spots on a given map makes for a teeth-grinding session when, in the final minute of a match, that part of the arena has been cleaned out of victims to pick up. The A.I.'s aggressiveness and its focus on delivering creatures to convert leaves you no choice but to focus on chicken conversion yourself and ignore the remotely placed power-ups. It's just as well, since the potency of these enhancements offers close to nothing compared to a well-aimed salvo of the primary weapon.

Between the pervasive winter of the most recent Dark Souls II add-on and the dank sewers of Outlast, recent games have proven that familiar game settings can still engage the player as long as there's creative vision molding these environments. By contrast, Fluster Cluck underscores the generic aspects of these go-to surroundings. When you start from a pair of lush green pastures in the first two arenas and progress to the bright sands of Fluster Cluck's deserts, which are of course accompanied by mundane and familiar Middle Eastern game music, you just can't help but anticipate that the fire level is just around the corner (spoiler: it's the obligatory zombie-infested urban wasteland instead).

Big surprise, the desert map also has an evening version.

Somehow, these aren't the worst facets of Fluster Cluck's arenas, as the game's greatest test of patience involves the levels' pipes. As Super Mario Bros. taught us, pipes and similar kinds of passages can add a lot to an otherwise ordinary level. With Fluster Cluck's speed of play, the pipes work like portals in Portal, with no transitional sound effects or brief pauses. This does not work well in an arena, especially when there's only one passage to the map's goal. This is doubly upsetting when you have enemies on both sides of the pipe, bumping you like a helpless pinball in and out of the two sections connected by the pipe. It's not fun when the most sensible way to get out of such a tough spot is to die.

Bumping against and shooting down your enemies make up the bulk of your interactions with others. They're aggressive, but also predictable, often taking the most direct routes to the chicken converter. This leaves you with a decision: Do you charge into the scrum at the risk of getting toasted, or do you go off the beaten path at the expense of time? You should also consider the fact that any downed opponent can also be converted into a chicken, including yourself. Having to make these judgment calls every few seconds should make for stimulating play, but the high likelihood of dying every 10 to 20 seconds in a match infuriates more than it motivates. And even if you do win, you feel relief without the joy of victory.

There's no discernible difference in ammo types, no matter the color.

Fluster Cluck is sorely in need of an interactive tutorial, which would have been highly preferred to the rushed video rundown the game offers, an instructional clip that also serves as the game's opening cutscene, and one that unwitting players might skip in a hurry to get into the action. Moreover, the distastefully roaring narrator is under the impression that we're in the mid-'90s, when all manner of youth-targeted marketing was "Extreme!" Such delivery was tolerable at best back then; it's simply abrasive today.

As the Smash Bros. series has proven time and time again, unpredictably and chaos can yield addictive results, provided there's great game design behind them. Admittedly, repeat playthroughs and thoughtful study of each map in Fluster Cluck allowed me to wade through the disorder, making me a better player. Yet that road to enlightenment was paved with boredom and frustration, which left me emotionally spent by the time I cleared the final map. Not counting massively multiplayer delivery quests, my top benchmark for delivery-style games is still Choplifter. Fluster Cluck can be found at the opposite end of that spectrum.

GameSpot Reviews ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014
Suggest a feed to syndicate here, or check out what I'm doing over at freshtao.
~Created Sat Nov 1 13:22:14 2014

Girl Fight Screens
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Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Screens
2 new shots posted.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Battlefield 4 - Beta Details
Matt Cuttle talks to Battlefield 4 Executive Producer Patrick Bach about the upcoming Beta for Battlefield 4.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins - Ask GameSpot
We take on the bat in this episode of Ask GameSpot and answer any lingering questions you may have about Arkham Origins.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Star Wars Pinball - Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi Trailer
Take a look at the Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi pinball table, coming soon to Star Wars Pinball.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Scourge: Outbreak - Dan Bull Documentary
Check out the Dan Bull documentary that ties in with the patch update and DLC announcement.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Alien Rage - Launch Trailer
Check out the launch trailer for Alien Rage.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

WWE 2K14 Screens
13 new shots posted.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Lightning Returns: FFXIII - TGS 2013 Extended Trailer
Take a look at the extended version of the TGS 2013 trailer for Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Lightning Returns: FFXIII - Yuna Costume
Take a look at this trailer featuring Lightning in the "Spira Summoner" garb which was worn by Yuna in Final Fantasy X.
Gamespot Recent Updates [Xbox 360] ~Created Mon Sep 23 18:00:43 2013

Five Playable Family Members Feature in Telltale's GoT - IGN News
The upcoming Game of Thrones game will have five playable characters from the same family, says Telltale Games.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

PS4 Sells Big & COD: Advanced Zombies? - IGN Daily Fix
Win Call Of Duty: Advanced Warfare! Sony ships 3.3 million PS4 consoles & Zombies Mode leaked in Advanced Warfare. Plus, Master Chief Collection unlocks revealed & free Xbox games detailed.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

From Xbox One Price Drops to Star Wars, It's the Top 5 News of the Week - IGN Daily Fix
The week's biggest gaming news highlights Star Wars Battlefront new details, Xbox One price drops, Destiny's release date/info, next Battlefield dated and more.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Celebrate Halloween With Grand Theft Auto Online
Discounts, contests, and special item drops are all available in GTA Online's Halloween weekend celebration.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Resident Evil Short Film - Not Another Zombie Apocalypse
The 2013 IGN Resident Evil mini-series gets recut into one epic Halloween movie!
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Andy Serkis Joins the Cast of Volume
Serkis to star opposite Charlie McDonnell and Danny Wallace.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

J.K. Rowling Releases New Dolores Umbridge Story - IGN News
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling has released a new short story about the nightmarish Dolores Umbridge.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Game of Thrones Game Will Have Five Related Characters
Five interlocking narratives expand on Tales from the Borderlands multi-protagonist gameplay.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Destiny: Xur has Patience and Time + Halloween Goodies - IGN Plays
Destin and Alfredo show off where Xur is, his Halloween items and how they work and they pick up the Patience and Time sniper rifle.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Daily Deals: Free Android Apps, The Best PS4 Deals Around, Forza Horizon 2
Plus a super cheap Kindle Fire tablet, low prices on The Last of Us, and a sale on Bethesda games for PC.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

LittleBigPlanet 3 is Fully Backwards Compatible
All previously purchased content will transfer.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Ravens vs. Steelers - Greg and Bobby Play Madden NFL 15
Can Greg snap his losing streak or will Bobbya1984 continue to impose his will? Find out in IGN's ongoing Madden rivalry!
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Destiny Patch Caused More Errors - IGN News
Bungie's most recent Destiny patch has caused more errors than it fixed, according to some players.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Prey 2 Has Been Cancelled - IGN News
Prey 2, the follow-up to 3D Realms' first-person adventure game, is officially cancelled and no longer in development at Human Head Studios, Bethesda vice president Pete Hines confirmed with IGN.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Ed Boon's Top 5 Favorite Mortal Kombat Fatalities
We had a chance to sit down with MK creator Ed Boon and ask him what his 5 favorite fatalities were.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Battles of Kyrat Trailer
Ubisoft shows off the peer-vs.-peer multiplayer modes, such as Outpost and Propaganda.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Final Fantasy XIV: The Art of Eorzea
From Moogles and Chocobos to the impressive world of Eorzea, discover the art and rationale behind the land of Eorzea.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Diving Deep Into Far Cry 4's Multiplayer Modes
We've played all three PvP modes in Far Cry 4. Here's what we learned.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Xun Yu comes to the action game in this expansion, along with enhanced stratagems.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Design Behind the Scenes Video
Check out this extended look at the sprawling DC universe in the next LEGO game.
IGN PS3 ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:36 2014

Neverwinter Primer
There have been quite a number of video games based on the iconic Dungeons and Dragons franchise, and now Cryptic Studios is having a go at it with their upcoming MMORPG, Neverwinter. Along with many of the usual MMORPG trappings, they plan to let players contribute content to the game through a toolset called "The Foundry." This is a quick introduction to Neverwinter for the uninitiated.
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

Eve Online to Inspire Comic Book, TV Series
Eve has always been a game full of political intrigue, treachery, espionage, betrayal, and fraud, so in many ways it could make a great source of material for comic books and television shows. Apparently CCP, the developer of Eve Online, is planning to do just that with the best stories and ideas they can glean from Eve True Stories, where people can submit and rate tales of their adventures in New Eden.
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

World of Warplanes Beta Impressions
World of Tanks has been a big hit for Wargaming, so it stands to reason they're trying to grow their success by applying the concept to planes and other military vehicles. World of Warplanes is the next project on their roster and it's currently in closed beta testing. I've taken to the skies for a first-hand look at the game.
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

Darkfall Unholy Wars Launches
Following several delays, Aventurine's fantasy MMORPG sequel, Darkfall Unholy Wars, is now live. The game has an action-based combat system, open PvP, and what they describe as "the largest seamless and zone-less world of its kind." Unlike most sequels, this one actually replaces the original Darkfall, which was shut down in November of 2012. Unholy Wars uses a traditional subscription model: $39.95 for the game client and a monthly fee of $14.95 after the first 30 days of access.
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

MechWarrior Online Beta Impressions
Dealing out destruction from the cockpit of a gigantic walker is what the MechWarrior series is famous for, and now we're getting a free-to-play online addition to this memorable franchise. MechWarrior Online lets you slug it out in team-based multiplayer matches, collect a garage full of mechs, and equip them to your liking. The game is currently in open beta so I dropped in for a closer look.
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

Age of Wushu Arrives
The martial arts MMORPG Age of Wushu has arrived on Western shores after a lengthy localization process. The setting is inspired by 15th century China and the game featues many sandbox elements, including an extensive crafting system and open PvP, although the latter is not without consequences. Age of Wushu is free-to-play and they have a long list of in-game events planned to celebrate the launch.
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

A Tale of Two Kickstarters
Kickstarter has been a boon to independent developers looking for alternative ways to fund their games, and several well-known industry veterans have staged successful campaigns on the service. We've recently seen both Richard Garriott and Mark Jacobs go the Kickstarter route to build their dream games, Shroud of the Avatar and Camelot Unchained respectively. Here's a quick comparison of these two crowdfunding efforts and the games being proposed.
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

Defiance Launches
Trion's MMO third-person shooter, Defiance, is now available on
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

Game Launches: Best Avoided?
Launch problems have a long history that most gamers are very familiar with, and in the MMORPG community it's almost taken for granted that there will be some issues in the first few days following the release of a new title. With traditionally single-player franchises taking on more online components, launch problems are unexpectedly affecting games like SimCity and sparking considerable outrage. Maybe it's best to just wait it out for week or two when a new arrives? Here are some thoughts on game launches I've assembled in light of recent events.
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

Battlefield 4 Announced
We've known it was coming for quite a while now, but EA and DICE have now officially revealed Battlefield 4. The trailer that accompanies this
About Internet Games ~Created Sat Nov 1 13:21:39 2014

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