, | Game reviews
Oxenfree_review

I just tried to play Cinders, a visual novel with intricate artwork, distinct characters, and moderately intriguing worldbuilding based on self-aware fairy tale tropes. “Tried” is the operative word. I wanted to stick with it, but oh my! That JRPG-esque stream of line-by-line dialogue, finely chopped and rolled out one thin slice at a time, a slo-mo machinegun patter of staccato verbal filler. I made it three days into a seven-day storyline. Apparently, you’re supposed to play the storyline repeatedly to vary the outcome. To see what happens differently this time. I just don’t have it in me to read a novel, visual or otherwise, written by a game designer instead of an author. I had the same issue trying to make progress in Life is Strange, which at least had the presence of mind to include gameplay stuff. These are stories written by people who might know how to make adventure games or write visual novels, but they don’t understand very well how to tell stories.

After the jump, the things Oxenfree understands. Continue reading →

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, | News
Renowned_Explorers_campfire

One of the strengths of Renowned Explorers, a game I liked so much that it was the third best game of 2015, is its score chase. Sure, it tells a great story. Sure, it’s full of memorable characters, treasures, and encounters. Sure, it forces you into difficult but gratifying choices as you decide which three adventurers to bring along this time. Sure, its combat is unique in a genre that can’t stop chasing X-com. But in the end, it all comes down to your renown. Your score. How famous did you get? How did you rank on the list of world’s most renowned explorers? And how did you rank on the list of other players? Did you beat my score of 1,917 renown? The six of you on my friends list with higher scores aren’t invited to answer that question.

But the score chase is about to get a whole new leaderboard when developer Abbey Games releases the generically titled More to Explore DLC. Which does indeed offer more to explore. Two new expeditions, to be precise.

The Andean Adventure: A 3-star expedition into ancient Incan mountain territory. Find extremely valuable treasure by helping the different cities rise against the oppressive Emperor. Pay for the Llama Express to jump between areas of the map quickly.

The Lost Island: in this new end-game expedition the secrets of the Anti-Explorers will finally be revealed…if your crew is capable enough to make it through. Go above and beyond, and you might just find the prehistoric and dangerous secrets hidden in the mysterious pink mist that covers this island.

That’s good and well, but I still haven’t beat Shangri-La, so whatever is behind the pink mist on Lost Island is well beyond my reach for the time being. But where the More to Explore DLC is really going to be my downfall is with the innocuously named campfires.

After the jump, grab a marshmallow on a stick and have a seat. Continue reading →

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, | News
Gremlins_Inc_prosecutor

The new Automated Competitors DLC for Gremlins Inc, a great example of a videogame boardgame, gives each of the tokens a special ability. Imagine Monopoly — I know, I know, eww! — where the little dog gets extra movement, the battleship can attack other pieces to drive back a space, and the top hat, uh… Never mind the top hat. Let’s say the iron gets the ability to, uh… Okay, never mind the iron. The thimble gets to, well, uh… Look, I’m sure you get my point. Quit badgering me about stupid Monopoly.

In Gremlins, Inc, these abilities add a nice bit of flavor and gameplay. For instance, in my game with Kelly Wand (you can watch it here), my devil guy would have gotten victory points for mucking around in hell and he could have chosen among misfortunes instead of just taking whatever he draws. Kelly Wand’s garbageman would have gotten less money and would have been better at digging around in the dump. Our AI opponent, the prosecutor, would have gotten the best deal. With the new DLC, a prosecutor can steal votes to be elected governor, he pays reduced bribes to the police, and he can extort money from the other players. I call dibbs on the prosecutor in my next game! As part of the game’s thorough iconography — Gremlins Inc understands what it takes to make a videogame boardgame — any events associated with the new abilities are indicated by a light bulb.

Automated Competitors is the second DLC for Gremlins, Inc. It’s available today for five dollars. The first DLC, Uninvited Guests, was just cosmetic stuff. It was released last month, also for five dollars. A new patch, free to everyone, is also available today. It adds some new interface stuff and new cards. One of the cards is called Astral Elevator. It builds a permanent bridge between the bank and the astral plane, but only for the person who played the card. How is that fair? Unless, of course, I play it.

Correction: The character abilities are part of the free update and they’re completely independent of the paid DLC. This latest DLC, like the previous paid DLC, only adds cosmetic options such as character portraits, new music, and ingame emoticons. Everyone gets the new character abilities and furthermore, the developers have said they’re committed to making gameplay updates available to everyone free of charge. Thanks to Mysterio for the correction!

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, | Movie podcasts
They_Look_Like_People_podcast

Only two out of three podcasters like this movie. But we overcome the dissonance at the 1:02 mark by having Britney Spears play us over to this week’s 3×3 of some of our favorite tracks by some of our favorite composers. Huge thanks to listener sinnick for assembling everyone’s picks into a Youtube playlist! And be sure to check out his latest movie posters.

Next week: X-Men: Apocalypse

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, | News
Kathy_Rain_sales

Kathy Rain is a bit of Nancy Drew for adults meets Gabriel Knight for non-hardcore adventure gamers. So far I haven’t run into any puzzles involving cat fur and maple syrup. Instead, it seems to focus on characters, relationships, and something intriguing that doesn’t come along until a little further into the mystery than I’m comfortable revealing. I haven’t played it nearly as much as I’d like, but I’ve played it enough to know I want to keep playing it.

Unfortunately, as of two weeks after its release, it’s a financial failure. But Jonas Antonsson from publisher Raw Fury doesn’t mind. He figures they’re going to make their money over the long run. He figures the positive critical response is going to give Kathy Rain a long sales tale. But he acknowledges this is particularly problematic for a developer, in this case a dude in Sweden named Joel Staaf Hasto. Slow sales mean it takes that much longer for a developer’s cut of the revenue to kick in. As Antonsson says:

Way too often the developer can’t survive this sort of scenario, usually because they don’t have other sources of income. They are — to put it frankly — fucked. This is especially true for newer and smaller developers.

That’s why Raw Fury and Hasto have an unusual deal. As part of the publishing agreement, Raw Fury is paying Hasto to keep working for the next year, regardless of what he’s working on. I don’t know how common this is, and I’m sure it’s easier for Raw Fury to do this with a one-man team than, say, a small studio. But it’s nice to read about a game that has the dubious honor of being a “critical success” (i.e. it’s not making much money) without putting the developer in dire straits.

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, | News
Starcraft_II_Abathur

Dear Blizzard,

Stop already. Just stop. Everyone knows how great you are. Everyone has already had to tear himself away from World of Warcraft, Starcraft II, Diablo III, and Heroes of the Storm. And you know we’ll have to do it all over again when Overwatch comes out next week. So why would you release new content for the co-op mode in Starcraft II now, today, mere days before Overwatch arrives? Why would you give us playable Abathur, more room to advance our favorite characters, and “mutators” to add a greater challenge to familiar levels? And why would the first mutator be a zombie train called Train of the Dead that I’m going to have to play because zombies and trains are two of my favorite things? At least you’re charging $5 for Abathur, which makes it easier to pretend I’m going to say no. But why would you continue to make Starcraft II relevant to guys like me who are above the single-player campaign but below the demands of competitive multiplayer? Why now? What are you trying to prove? That you can upstage Total War: Warhammer, the latest Fallout 4 DLC, Doom, Uncharted 4, and Homefront: Revolution? That your old games hold just as much sway as everyone else’s shiny new games? It’s too much. It’s simply too much. Just stop for a while and give everyone else a chance.

Yours truly (no, seriously, I mean “yours” in an unhealthy way!),

-Tom

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, | Game reviews
Stellaris_map

The central concept in Stellaris — that a galactic emperor isn’t a god — doesn’t work. It’s a concept Paradox has explored to great effect, especially with Crusader Kings and Victoria (minus the galactic part, of course). Some things are outside the control of a ruler. He does not get to tell each point of population which tile to harvest. He does not get to gobble up territory indiscriminately. He does not get to move sliders willy-nilly. History, Paradox’s favorite subject, is not a strategy game. It is an exercise in limitations. It is about people trying to hold power against the demands of social unrest, religious freedom, petty rivalries, Popes, capitalists, natives making a fuss about self-determination, evolving political philosophies, progress, entropy. To their immense credit, Paradox’s strategy games are the same thing. They are among my favorite historical essays.

After the jump, what does this have to do with sci-fi? Continue reading →

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, | News
Marvel_Heroes_reinstall

On the off chance that you ever actually uninstalled Marvel Heroes, Gazillion announced they’re about to do that thing where you can start playing as soon as you start downloading. This will make it convenient to jump back in whenever you have the inclination to drive around a Marvel hero. And given the frequency of new movies and TV shows, that’s probably pretty frequent. For instance, I can’t be the only one who thinks this would be the ideal weekend to level up Jean Grey. In the near future, I’ll be able to do that without waiting for a 20GB download.

By the way, what level is my Jean Grey again? I’ll let you know in about 14GBs.

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, | News
NL_Apache

Wargame: Red Dragon, a supersexy for-serious modern military RTS that adds naval stuff to a game that really doesn’t need naval stuff, is still getting content from developer Eugen two years after its release. They’ve been adding armies, units, and maps all along. But today they announced upcoming Nation Packs for countries that still aren’t in the game. For instance, the Netherlands. The first Nation Pack will add their hardware, such as the Apache helicopter in the picture. Okay, so the Apache isn’t technically a Dutch helicopter. But since they bought some from us, a Dutch faction wouldn’t be complete without one. Eugene promises the Dutch have their own unique hardware as well, which will be included.

What sets the Nation Packs apart from the other add content for Red Dragon is that you have to buy them. As you know, going Dutch isn’t free.

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, | Tom vs Bruce

twilight start

After a hiatus, Tom and Bruce are back with this round of Twilight Struggle, Playdek’s PC adaptation of the classic boardgame. The article will go live for everyone in a week, but in the meantime, we hope you, our backers, enjoy. We’ve got more games and videos in the works, and if you’ve got any requests, feel free to leave them in the comments below, or to hit us up on Twitter. Tom is @qt3 and Bruce is @spacerumsfeld.

On with the show!

After the jump, some actual history before the Twilight Struggle.

Continue reading →

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, | Movie podcasts
The_Lobster_podcast

A comedy starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz that you might not think is funny. We’re in textbook “not for everyone” territory here. At the 1:06 point, this week’s 3×3 considers the incendiary topic of people walking away from explosions. And be sure to check out the latest movie posters by listener sinnick!

Next week: The Nice Guys. Oops, we mean, They Look Like People.

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, | Game reviews
Uncharted_1_review

There’s no reason to expect much from Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The developer, Naughty Dog, is commercially successful but creatively middling (their Jak titles have ranged from pretty decent to pretty bad). The game seems to be an unabashed rip-off of Tomb Raider, with the difference being that the main character is a dude, which out-Tomb-Raiders Tomb Raider for unabashedly ripping off Raiders of the Lost Ark. The prospects are not good.

After the jump, then you actually play Uncharted Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Uncharted_2_review

Late in Uncharted 2, all the gunplay and Tomb Raidering and calculated snappy banter about Chloe’s ass suddenly stop. The hero strolls through a serene village. Along the way, he can pet the livestock, play with children, and watch the women go about their work. They don’t speak English and he doesn’t speak their language. There is no direct communication, and the game knows better than to provide subtitles. It’s pure character. A village, its people, and this newcomer, all bemused at each other. It’s an example of how expressive Uncharted can be when it trusts its characters.

After the jump, the rest of Uncharted 2 Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
Uncharted_3_review

As a shooter, Uncharted 3 is solid, if not mostly the same as its ever been. I can do without the fisticuff QTEs, which play like a bargain bin version of the fighting from Batman: Arkham City. It’s especially silly how you have to keep fighting the same big guy over and over, as if Uncharted 3 needs to keep saying, “Hey, remember how cool this bit was in Raider of the Lost Ark?” Uncharted 3 says that a lot. But the gunplay is good, and it provides a solid foundation for the mostly typical multiplayer support. You get lots of options for leveling up, customizing your characters, and playing various types of cooperative and competitive games. There’s even a competitive/cooperative mode in which two teams of two players take turns playing the heroes and playing special thugs amid all the AI thugs.

After the jump, so what’s the bad news? Continue reading →

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, | News
Act_of_Aggression_Reboot

If your game doesn’t do well, that’s obviously because you made it wrong. So just make it correctly. Then people will like it and therefore buy it. That seems to be the thinking behind drastic gameplay overhauls in titles like Skyshine’s Bedlam, an egregious multi-staged effort at a do-over that fastidiously wrings out the Bedlam in favor of more XCOM. If people on forums complain loudly enough, they’re obviously better at making games than people who actually make games. Hence, Skyshine’s Bedlam Redux. And now Act of Aggression Reboot. Act of Aggression, a Command & Conquer General clone that never quite caught on, has had the Eugen wrung so it can be fortified with 100% more Command & Conquer: Generals. Here are the bullet points.

* Streamlined Economy: Manage only one resource as oil is automatically converted to cash, allowing you to focus on the action. Unit expenditure is up-front, meaning no more micromanaging production lines.

* New Base Building System: Like a traditional RTS, base building units are selectable. Build directly from the builder (or destroy your opponent’s builder!)

* New Airstrikes: You no longer control the planes mid-flight. They go directly to their target and strike, much faster than previously.

* Huge balancing update and unit model improvements as well as UI tweaks and changes: for example, all units now accelerate and decelerate faster, guaranteeing more streamlined and action-packed RTS gameplay.

The problem with Act of Aggression wasn’t any of the stuff changed in this update. The problem was a lack of personality. It had all the character of unpainted furniture. This is the kiss of death for any RTS, a genre where one of the prime design directives is to make players care about the little dudes on the map. Although Eugen cut their teeth making a better Command & Conquer: Generals, their latest work has been supersexy realworld military hardware porn. Big surprise that fan base isn’t interested in a Command & Conquers: General clone, rebooted or otherwise.

Age of Aggression: The Reboot Edition (their name) is available now as a free update for Age of Aggression.

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