, | News
evolve_run

Turtle Rock Studios has announced that Evolve, their asymmetrical shooter, will be free this weekend on Xbox One and PC. See, they just released the Monster 2.0 update back on the 11th of August, but no one seems to have cared enough to talk about it. In fact, you didn’t even check to see that it wasn’t really called “Monster 2.0” at all. It’s the Hunter 2.0 update. With a rough launch and rougher marketing campaign that never quite overcame the vocal objections to the pricing model, Evolve has floundered. A free weekend may be just the ticket to get people to at least try the game.

Not only will the game be free for the weekend, but Turtle Rock is releasing the Meteor Goliath, a fiery variant of the monster, for free to everyone to keep. Also, if you buy the game after the trial period, all your stats and unlocks will carry over. Wait! That’s not all! During the weekend trial, all the DLC characters will be available for everyone to sample as well. You’re not too busy playing Mad Max, or Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, or taking a nap, to experience the shooter that got a solid “mixed” rating on Steam right?

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, | Movie podcasts
Hitman_movie_podcast

This week we see — and don’t hate! — the latest Hitman movie. At the 1:04 mark, we petition the podcast to change the topic to a discussion of characters who change their names.

Next week: Ricki and the Flash

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, | Game reviews
Passengers_review

So I went ahead and tried Passengers, which you can do as well. Sadly, it’s another example of the games industry’s continued immaturity, but in this case it’s a specific window into the jejune understanding of art and life by the people who make games. Sorry, did I say that? I have no idea what they think about art and life, or if they even see this as art, or just activism, or if art can be activism as well as art, which I think it can, but anyway. I wish Ian Buruma could write an article for the New York Review of Books about this.

But, after the jump, you are stuck with me. Continue reading →

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, | Movie reviews
No_Escape_review

When Eli Roth makes horror movies about foreigners, he suggests they will kidnap, torture, and eat you. Which is scary and all, but why invent scary things that happen in foreign countries when plenty of scary stuff actually happens? That’s what brothers John and Drew Dowdle have done with No Escape. The Dowdles cut their teeth on a creepy mockumentary called Poughkeepsie Tapes and then went on to do far more with the [REC] movies than the guys who actually made the [REC] movies. Their English-languge remake, Quarantine, and especially the clever follow-up, Quarantine 2: Terminal, are a marked contrast to [REC]’s confused slide into cheap silliness and irrelevance.

The first part of No Escape is promising as a horror movie, despite (because of?) the presence of two little girls. The moment you realize the protagonists have young daughters, you figure No Escape is going to pull its punches. You just can’t have kids in horror movies these days. Was Guillermo del Toro the last guy to dare to have a horror movie in which the monsters killed a child when one of the giant cockroaches in Mimic blindsided a street urchin? But No Escape flirts with grim high stakes as it reveals the ruthlessness of its monster. Are the two little girls safe when so many people are being shot in the head, mowed down with AK-47s, and hacked to death by machetes?

The monster here is a violent coup in an unspecified Asian country (never mind the Thai writing on the signs and especially never mind that the capital is conveniently on the border with Vietnam, which seems like a terrible place for any country to have its capital). The conspicuously blonde Owen Wilson and his family are caught unawares as rebels take over the palace and then the streets and eventually the tourist hotels. It’s got a bit of zombie apocalypse flavor, with a touch of The Purge. Because tourists and relief workers are targets, it recalls the kidnappings and beheadings by Islamic extremists. But in a brief odd bit of moralizing, No Escape explains that the rebels have a legitimate grievance against the West. Do we maybe deserve this? Did we invite this monster? Did we indeed invent it? Just as a slasher kills teenagers who have sex and use drugs, is this monster killing people whose countries protect corporations and dole out bad loans? It’s a facile but fascinating twist, but it comes too late.

The Dowdles and/or the Weinsteins who financed their movie don’t have the courage of their convictions. No Escape pulls its punches. Just as it hits the lowest level of degradation — where your realize the monster won’t just kill you, but it will strip you of your dignity and your humanity — James Bond arrives to save the day. From here on out, No Escape will be a thriller in which this golden boy from Texas and his Mama Grizzly wife give these rebels the what-for because America. Just like The Impossible, another movie about how privileged visiting white people caught up in an irresistible force shouldn’t have to suffer like the poor brown people who live there, No Escape turns out to be the opposite of its title.

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, | Games
nuk3town-returns

There’s a new Nuketown map in Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 because of course there is. You can get access to it by pre-ordering the game. This time, Activision and Treyarch say they’ve tuned the map to account for all the wall-running, and double-jump boosting that Black Ops 3 offers. If the thought of running back and forth and respawning umpteen times a session in that cul-de-sac for a third Call of Duty doesn’t turn you off, consider the name “NUK3TOWN” and everything that implies.

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, | News

Electronic Arts and BioWare announced Trespasser, the final planned single player DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition. It’s set two years after the events of the campaign, and tells the story of what happens to the alliance after the main threat is gone. Much like the final DLC for Dragon Age: Origins, Trespasser will also reveal a possible future threat to the lands of Thedas. Trespasser will launch on September 8 for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows PC.

BioWare is also going to release a major patch for Dragon Age: Inquisition that will add a “Golden Nug” statue to the player stronghold. Touching the Golden Nug (take that phrase out of context) will sync your game state across your characters so you can start a new game with all of your collectible goodies intact. This means schematics, recipes and tapestries will carry over like a new game plus. The patch will also add alternate costumes to player characters’ wardrobes. It’s dress-up time!

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, | Movie reviews
Turbo_Kid_review

There can be a thin line between homage and pandering. Turbo Kid, which lands with a resounding thud on the wrong side of that line, is a reverse engineered attempt at 80s nostalgia. With its bright Reagan era palette, thinly veiled Nintendo Power Glove, and earnest post-apocalyptic cheese but soft-pedaled BMX bike aesthetic, it’s meant to recall movies like Megaforce, Metalstorm, Ice Pirates, and Spacehunter. If you can name the subtitles of any of those movies, Turbo Kid thinks it’s for you!

But reverse engineered nostalgia requires a deft touch that eludes this group of filmmakers, who have all the energy and know-how of a crowdsourced movie crew. Without that touch, you’re liable to end up being as bad as your source material, and all the more cringe-worthy for aping it. It takes a Robert Rodriguez to craft a Planet Terror. For some reason, Turbo Kid is chock full of tone-deaf splatter humor. I’ve seen my share of cheesy 80s post-apocalyptic movies shot in rock quarries. I don’t remember any of them being showered in blood and viscera. Turbo Kid eventually has to whip out an umbrella against it all.

Michael Ironsides, looking more like someone’s grandfather than Michael Ironsides, seems to have lost his appetite for chewing scenery, which results in a curiously laidback villain. He’ll get to you when he gets to you. The highlight of this weirdly cloying enterprise is the wide-eyed Laurence Leboeuf as the hero’s love interest slash sidekick. Leboeuf brings almost too much energy to every scene, playing her role like a souped-up Cheri Oteri crossed with a blissed out Jodie Foster. The movie can barely contain her.

Turbo Kid is available for video on demand.

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, | News

That’s Overwatch, the upcoming free-to-play game from… Nope. Let’s try again. That’s LawBreakers, the upcoming free-to-play game from Boss Key Productions, Cliff Bleszinski’s venture after leaving Epic Games. It’s a class-based arena shooter with which the veteran game designer promises to bring “skill, not streaks” back to the genre. It’s coming in 2016 to the PC, and although pricing and specifics haven’t been revealed yet, it’s being published by Nexon, which also published Dirty Bomb – another class-based free-to-play shooter.

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, | News
Hal0_3_grossology

The anus doors in Prey. The beheading in God of War 3. The many grim deaths of Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. Every time you experience something gross in a videogame, people toiled hard to make that happen. An animator had to figure out how a person’s head would tear off. An artist had to research the textures for diseased skin. A sound designer had to mix the screams. Gamasutra has a piece about how these folks go about grossing gamers out and what kind of toll it takes on the people doing the work. It turns out that you can hate Halo 3’s Cortana levels for more than just throwing you into an impossible fight against the Flood.

“We wanted a lot of long stringy tunnels, and I’d gotten the idea of looking at colonoscopy videos for reference. So I was watching all these colonoscopy videos to get ideas on what I could do to mimic their style, that feeling of being inside something.”

As much as you detested running through those tunnels, you have nothing on Halo artist Vic DeLeon. He had to watch footage that came from inside someone’s butt to make those areas. A true gaming hero.

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, | Game reviews
Fran_Bow_1

Fran Bow has been committed to a mental hospital. It’s 1944. Her parents are dead. She misses her cat terribly. She’s suffering serious side effects from her medication. But at least she seems to be doing better than the other children in the hospital. Or is she? How reliable a narrator is Fran Bow?

I don’t want to say too much about Fran or her unfolding predicament, because the real value of this indie adventure game is its darkening mystery. But Fran stands out for being an Alice in Wonderland without the self-aware “oh, I’m so dark and edgy” of many latter-day Alices in their wonderlands (you’ll find an amusing Alice in Wonderland easter egg late in the game).

Although the main character is a ten-year-old girl, this is an adult game. If Fran Bow was a movie, it would be rated R for gratuitous gore and extreme images. It’s more Silent Hill than, say, Double Fine. The story doesn’t shy away from Fran being a girl either. One of the adult characters you meet will give you the inventory item you need if you “sit on his knee” or “give him a kiss”. These aren’t options, of course. Fran knows it’s skeevy and she’s having none of it. But it serves as a creepy reminder that a story about a ten-year-old girl can have different kinds of peril than a story about a ten-year-old boy. Let’s move on. The game certainly does.

After the jump, child’s play Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Elysium_review

Part of Trajan is a pretty cool “points salad”. You pick some bit of the board and take tiles or move pieces. Your Roman legions are conquering the Germanic barbarians or your workers are building a Roman something-or-other or you’re vying with other players in the Roman Senate or collecting gladiators for the Roman bread and circuses. Each of these things gets you points. It’s very stately and boardgamey and Roman. You feel like you’re wearing a toga.

But there’s a price to pay in Trajan, a classic — I would say “infamous” — boardgame by Stefan Feld. Before you sample from the points salad, you have to scooch some colored doo-dads around a series of bowls. It’s called a mancala. Mancalas are an ancient African tribal thing that uses dried beans and gourds. It’s not very Roman. Why is this the price of entry for taking my turn as a Roman dude doing Roman stuff? Why did Stefan Feld put this between me and the rest of Trajan?

The mancala all but consumes Trajan. It’s not my turn yet, but like everyone else playing the game, I have my head down studying the bowls. Let’s see, if I move the pink bean two bowls over, then next turn I can move four beans three bowls over which will let me, no, no, that’s not quite right because then I’ll jump the bowl with the two beans I need to later on do the thing I need to do. I mean, really, fuck these beans. Sorry for saying that. But it has to be said. Fuck these beans.

Elysium, which is twice the game Trajan will ever be, is much less complicated but every bit as bad.

After the jump, damnable columny Continue reading →

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, | News
youtube-gaming-stream

YouTube Gaming has launched. Google’s streaming video service competes directly with established services like Twitch by concentrating on gaming. It offers most of the features that Twitch does, but adds the financial clout and technical knowhow of Google. YouTube Gaming does some things Twitch doesn’t, like automatically archiving videos and a DVR mode that allows viewers to rewind a current stream. Tech-heads applaud the service’s use of HTML5 instead of Flash, which Twitch currently still uses to power their videos.

Some of the biggest YouTube gaming channels like jackfrags and Machinima have seamlessly become YouTube Gaming channels, which means Google’s infant service already has a sizeable audience. Google has also smartly bundled up existing YouTube videos on games and placed them into the channels for whatever game the video covers into the new service.

Will Google’s foray into gaming dethrone the current king? YouTube Gaming is off to a good start, but the key will be swiping the big official tournaments from Twitch. If Google can woo the heavy-hitters like Valve, Blizzard, Riot, and others away from Twitch, and if they can overcome the reservations some established star streamers have, YouTube Gaming may become as ubiquitous as VEVO is for music videos.

If you’re interested in becoming a YouTube streamer you can start the process here.

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, | News
Hegemony_III_splash

Canadian developer Longbow Games made quite a splash with Hegemony I, set in ancient Greece, and Hegemony II, set in ancient Rome. The schtick in their strategy games was a unified real-time world where you didn’t have to sit through a long loading screen every time you fought a battle. The battle just happened, right there on the strategic map, the same way actual battles happened in history. That’s realism.

Unfortunately, Longbow’s attempt to Kickstarter Hegemony III didn’t take. Was it because it was set in pre-ancient Greek times, before Alexander came along and made everything cool? Was it because Hegemony II was already plenty good and full of open-ended content? Was it because strategy game fans are too stingy to pony up a mere $30,000? Canadian dollars, sure. But, still, only thirty thousand of them. Whatever the case, Longbow was all, like, screw Kickstarter, we’re going to do it anyway and hope people just buy it when it comes out. That time is now. Hegemony III is out today on Steam for less than thirty bucks.

The thing about a Hegemony game is that the gameplay trumps the setting. I have no idea who these people are when I select one of the four factions in the basic campaign. The Veii, the Valathri, the Velch, and the Clevsin? I think I’ve fought all those guys in Star Control, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. Hegemony III’s objective-based campaign will walk you through the ins-and-outs of being, say, a Veii in the olden days. But for everyone else, there’s the grand campaign, where you aren’t limited to just four factions. Let’s take a look.

After the jump, I came, I saw, I froze up because I didn’t know which one to take. Continue reading →

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, | News
diablo-iii-console

Just in case you were planning on playing any new games, Blizzard has released the 2.3.0 patch for Diablo III on the PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. It adds a new snow biome called the ruins of Sescheron. It is physically impossible to say the name of this new place without sounding like you’re drunk. The ruins of Sescheron (hic!) is where you’ll find the Horadric Cube, except now it’s called Kanai’s Cube because the name Horadric Cube was taken. Throw legendary items into this doo-dad to collect and catalog their powers for use in crafting recipes. Gotta catch ’em all! You can also more easily assemble sets of gear that were previously the domain of the random numbers generator’s cruel tyranny. Basically, your newfound Cube leads you down a whole new rabbit hole of crafting, guaranteed to keep you from playing other games for weeks to come.

Among the other changes, the Torment level now goes up to X. Adventure Mode, a.k.a. the Only Way To Play, has been adjusted to feed into the new crafting sink. Among the usual adjustments to the different classes, the largest chunk of text is devoted to Witch Doctor changes. Remember, kids, time spent in Diablo III not playing a Witch Doctor is time wasted!

Here’s the complete list of features.

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