Strange Brigade is a rip-roaring thrill ride, but isn’t equipped to soldier on

, | Game reviews

I’m not sure there’s anything particularly new or even special about Strange Brigade. You could call out its commitment to serial pulp adventures set in the 40s. Or, as it’s known these days, Indiana Jones. These characters and their weapons are the trappings of an era when a pilot was called an aviator and pith helmets weren’t ironic. Steamer trucks full of weapons and nary an assault rifle in sight. Zeppelins, tents and short wave radios at excavation sites of ancient Egyptian ruins, an incredibly annoying announcer trying his darndest to sound like announcers of yore. You gotta give developer Rebellion credit for their commitment to the aesthetic.

But really, Strange Brigade is the simple act of shooting powerful guns at monsters. And lobbing the occasional grenade. And even more occasionally popping off some magic power because, well, that might as well be in there if we’re going to have zombies and skeletons. For the most part it works splendidly. Simple, gratifying, quick, accessible, with a unique sense of character, to boot. So why have I stopped playing?

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When you revisit Assassin’s Creed 3, don’t forget to go home

, | News

If you purchase the Season Pass for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, you have copies of Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered and Assassin’s Creed Liberation Remastered coming. According to the newly updated support page, these are the full games with all story DLC and upgraded graphics. All the buzzwords are here. There’s 4K, HDR, new light rendering, denser crowd tech, and various other improvements.

What’s important is the remaster may get people to play Assassin’s Creed 3 that missed it the first time around. It might even entice some players that abandoned it halfway through to come back. If you’re one of those folks, ignore the hullabaloo over the main character’s supposed blandness or the criticism for the odd extended prologue. Instead, make sure to play the optional homestead missions. They’re a delightful set of quests that task the player with building a small slice of colonial America. They’re a great mix of gameplay, and the story gives the normally dour Conner a chance to show off some humor. Most importantly, the founding and nurturing of the homestead perfectly captures the essence of the setting.

Pinball FX3’s bewildering new identity crisis

, | Games

The first four of hopefully lots more Williams tables for Pinball FX3 just came out this week. Williams Pinball: Volume 1 is $10 DLC that adds Fish Tales, The Getaway, Junk Yard, and Medieval Madness, which all feel dated…in a good way. They’re among the physical tables from the days of yore, from actual stand-up pinball machines that exist in the real world, now ported into Pinball FX3 thanks to Zen Studios’ licensing deal with Williams. They introduce an odd dilemma for those of us who’ve been playing Zen’s tables all these years.

Pinball FX’s physics have been criticized as “floaty” or “soft”, and it’s not an unfair observation. Their tables are made to play by their own rules, with their own feel for where the ball should go and how. They never claimed to model actual steel balls rolling down actual inclines, bouncing off actual bumpers, and flipped by actual flippers. You could say their physics are stylized, which has freed Zen Studios to do some truly strange things with their tables. That’s just part of the identity of Pinball FX. There are other videogame pinball options for people who put a priority on real world physics. But with these four new tables, when you play a standalone round independent of the unlockable bonuses and wizard powers, you have the option to choose a “difficulty” setting. The choices are Arcade Mode or Tournament Mode. Arcade Mode is Zen Pinball as it’s always been. “Floaty” and “soft”, if you will. But Tournament Mode is their brand new physics model, presumably built to bring a sense of fidelity to these classic tables. And boy, does it feel different.

It feels so different that it doesn’t feel like Pinball FX anymore. It feels faster, and less forgiving, which is probably why Zen calls it a “difficulty” setting. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s like playing a whole new game. Who could object to getting a whole new game? And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to play it. But if you do like it — which I really do — now you have four tables that play this cool new way, and 78 tables that don’t. Now you might find yourself wishing the 78 other tables would get their own Tournament Mode. Now you might find yourself understanding why people bitched all these years about “floaty” and “soft” physics. Really, it just means I have to make hard choices as I mess around with these new tables. Get used to the new physics? Or pretend they aren’t in there? There are separate leaderboards for each mode, and although part of me winces at leaderboards splitting off in so many different directions, it does give me more options to beat my pesky friends who play Pinball FX3.

But what’s most puzzling to me is that now I like these tables that I didn’t think I would like, and not necessarily because I actually, you know, like the tables themselves. I like how they play. I like Tournament Mode physics. I’m coming around to the actual tables. I’m sold on Getaway, which is a fast and flashy and and open and growls like a muscle car. It wants to move. The pinball whipping madly around the crazy racetrack at the top of the table will never get old. It also means I’ll never have to play V12 again. Have you tried that table lately? Ugh. Junk Yard and Fish Tales are kind of junky and weird, but it feels nice to play these old fashioned designs for a change. Medieval Madness, however, just feels superfluous, given that Zen already has a jokey generic fantasy table called Epic Quest. But you can’t play Epic Quest in Tournament Mode, so Medieval Madness has that going for it. This will all be a non-issue as soon as Zen releases more Williams tables, especially the real classics like Pin-bot or Bride of Pin-bot, which give that much more weight to the new physics. But please hurry, Zen! It’s a very confusing time for some of us fans.

Creepy babies love Founders Breakfast Stout. But what do Qt3 Movie Podcasters think?

, | Features

Founders Breakfast Stout won a drawing for my Patreon review requests. Since I wouldn’t have any idea how to write about beer or what to even write — it’s bubbly, it tastes like beer, there’s words and hopefully a picture on the bottle, three stars! — I cheated and enlisted the help of actual beer connoisseur and Qt3 Movie Podcast co-host Christien Murawski. Together we review the beer in video form while we drink it! It’s a Let’s Drink, complete with a rating at the end.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider brings Lara Croft full circle

, | Game reviews

“I’ve only got one chance at this,” Lara says urgently.

I’m lining her up to make a jump I know she’ll easily make. Why did Square Enix decide to make her say “I’ve got one chance at this”? First of all, it’s not true. I have literally unlimited chances. But this isn’t even a particularly tense moment. Yet someone at Square Enix’ Montreal studio wrote that line, someone told actress Camilla Luddington to say those words in the sound booth, and someone decided to put that audio bit in front of this jump, which is just another of the dozens upon dozens of unremarkable jumps in this insipid retread.

I shouldn’t have been thinking about a dumb line at that point in the game. The climax was in high gear. Serious action was supposedly happening. The fate of the world was hanging in the balance, or something. I should have been caught up in the game. The line should have tapped into my sense of urgency at getting Lara where she needed to be. But by this point, I had been hate-playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider for some time, the same way I hate-watched Walking Dead or Lost. I’ve come this far. Might as well see it through.

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Is Lovecraft too racist for gaming?

, | News

Eurogamer with a screaming hot take on H.P. Lovecraft’s racism. The foundation of the piece, that Lovecraft had some extremely racist opinions even for his time, is not new. What is new is that Eurogamer’s contributor, Sam Greer, proposes that his racism so tainted his work that it should not be used in any context in gaming. In Sam Greer’s view, games recreate the xenophobia and racism inherent in Lovecraft’s writing, but through the sanitization of gameplay, and making it appeal to a general audience, offers no criticism or self-reflection. Additionally, Greer accuses the Mythos of being boring and overused.

It’s time to let go of Lovecraft. No more tentacled multi-eyed monstrosities, no foggy fishing towns or ancient aliens posing as gods. These are jokes and the remnants of a poisonous world view. Let’s move on.

SOMA, Greer writes, is a good example of a game that trades on themes of existential terror and loneliness without invoking Lovecraft. Clanking around the deserted science fiction facility while being chased by mechanical terrors offered a fresh take on cosmic horror, according to Greer. Lovecraft not needed at all.

Where does that put coming titles like Cyanide Studio’s Call of Cthulhu: The Official Video Game or Frogwares’ The Sinking City? Are players cleared to separate the art from the artist, or is the act of gaming in Lovecraft’s universe an implicit approval of his xenophobia?

Is gaming ready for its version of Lovecraft Country?

Microsoft wants you to not own any games

, | News

On-demand game streaming is the hot thing to talk about. Like Google’s recent Project Stream announcement, Microsoft is taking the cover off their own game streaming service. Project xCloud will leverage Microsoft’s Xbox experience and architecture to deliver gaming on the go someday. Unlike Google’s effort, Project xCloud isn’t open for select player tests, but Microsoft has the advantage of currently having millions of customers already willing to pay a subscription fee for Xbox Live Gold and Gamepass. Freedom from consumer ownership is right around the corner!

This is how Chilller got those first two terribly bloody stages

, | News

Chiller, the 1986 light-gun game from Exidy, is one of those bizarre relics of the end of the arcade boom. It’s small-time infamous for having two initial stages set in a dungeon in which the player is challenged to kill prisoners in as short a time as possible. Savvy players would use the various torture devices to quickly dispatch victims, such as shooting the guillotine blade to decapitate the condemned. More bloodthirsty players could shoot the prisoners directly resulting in torn limbs, bloody spurts, and a longer time to death. The other half of the game featured more traditional pop-out monster light-gun levels, but the first two levels with their (for the time) excessive gore and sadism stood out even compared to contemporaries that attracted more negative media attention. How did this come to pass? Luke Winkie, writing for Kotaku, asked one of the original programmers. Despite its salacious subject matter, the answer is as pedestrian as can be.

“If you don’t hook the audience in the first 15 seconds or 30 seconds, it doesn’t matter what’s going in the rest of the thing,” he said. “We knew most people like blood and guts, especially if they’re in an arcade full of wacko teenagers. We knew if we could just hook them with some gore – which itself isn’t much of a game other than how accurate you are, and not shooting the same body part over and over again – if you could get past that they’d be in.”

It always comes down to knowing your audience.

Dungeons & Dragons Online made its save versus entropy

, | News

Dungeons & Dragons Online has released its 40th update. There’s no anniversary or special holiday connected to the Cloaked in Darkness update. It’s a perfectly fine MMO content patch. It features the return of an annual festival event, balances some player abilities, adds cosmetic cloaks, and launches the Wood Elves race which can be purchased by players if they don’t already pay for VIP access. If none of that sounds exciting to you, then you’ve probably been playing games with cloaks and wood elves for the past decade. For longtime Dungeons & Dragons Online folks, Update 40 is a time to celebrate.

It’s a good reminder that MMO’s that you don’t hear much about still have communities of players, dedicated support staff, and a measure of success despite not having headline-grabbing news. The game’s been banging around since 2006, so bravo to players that stuck with it since its Stormreach days.

You’re finally going to see just how badly you lost XCOM

, | News

The Tactical Legacy Pack, for XCOM 2: War of the Chosen, bridges the gap between the first game and the second. The new Legacy Ops mini-campaign shows what happened while The Commander (you) slept in an alien stasis cocoon after the canonical defeat in Enemy Unknown. Featuring reimagined maps, guns, and outfits from 2012’s title, the four-mission Legacy Pack campaign fills in that comatose blank. Just how did the Earth Resistance form? Where did they get the home base ship? Who buys the booze in the officer’s mess? All those flashback assets will be added to the base game campaign as well.

The Tactical Legacy pack will be free for XCOM 2: War of the Chosen expansion owners for the first eight weeks after launch. It will be $7.99 thereafter. The DLC releases on October 9th on PC.

Cloud game streaming has always had problems. Maybe Google can fix them?

, | News

Google is experimenting with cloud gaming. Google has announced Project Stream to tackle the biggest issues with providing full interactive “on demand” game streaming to players. Beginning on October 5th, a select few applicants will be allowed to play Assassin’s Creed Odyssey right in their Chrome browser to help test Google’s streaming method. The software giant has already largely solved reliable video streaming with YouTube, so why not let them have a crack at the problems that killed services like OnLive?

Current services like Nvidia GeForce NOW, LiquidSky, and PlayStation Now struggle to deliver high-resolution games with low latency input. Even Steam In-Home Streaming has issues with spotty quality, and that’s with a separate hardware box and using your home network. Project Stream from Google could be the games-as-a-service dream for publishers.

Most awkward thing you’ll see all week: Hold the Dark

, | Movie reviews

If you come to this movie expecting something from the director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, and from the writer of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, you will be bitterly disappointed. If you don’t, you will be merely disappointed. Either way, you will sit through a slow and meandering thriller [sic] that flirts with mysticism and biology, but eventually wanders out into the wilderness with no place specific in mind. Director Jeremy Saulnier and writer Macon Blair seem curiously uninvested in this adaptation of a novel. Hold the Dark plays out as if it were thrust onto a director and writer who don’t quite know what to do with it. It lurches along like something based on a book that doesn’t lend itself to a screenplay.

The story and tone live in the same latitudes as a Scandinavian crime potboiler, but minus clarity or focus. It begins intriguingly enough. A woman calls upon a naturalist to track down the wolf that killed her son. He’s ambivalent about the whole thing, and he even has ulterior motives for answering her call. As you’ll discover over the course of two hours plus a little change, the movie isn’t even about this.

Jeffrey Wright is one of his generation’s greatest actors. So why is he spending so much time playing characters who are mostly just confused? His role in Hold the Dark is too similar to all those hours in Westworld he spends not knowing what’s going on. Compare this to Wright in A Single Shot, also a slow dark thriller about violence in remote rural tracts, in which he’s devastated because he knows precisely what’s going on. At times, it’s not even clear whether Hold the Dark is about him. At times, it’s about whatever is going on with Riley Keough and Alexander Skarsgard, who are the opposite of confused, but aren’t inclined to share with the rest of the movie what they know.

The real standout moment in Hold the Dark is an encounter between James Badge Dale and an actor named Julian Black Antelope. Dale is a typical outsider sheriff you find in movies, policing people he can’t possibly understand, but not for lack of trying. He is compassion and justice in a situation where compassion doesn’t help and justice doesn’t exist. Antelope is an aggrieved Native American left to wither in a backwater village. He looks like Christopher Lee and he’s even got a touch of Lee’s imposing presence. Hold the Dark explodes into life during their scene, and here you can see Saulnier bringing in the poignance of Blue Ruin and the cruel bite of Green Room. The exchange between these two characters belongs in a better movie.

Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed Wind River, which is what Hold the Dark feels like it’s attempting. Both movies try to express how different it is in the remote northern wilderness. How the air and land and people are of a piece, and none of those pieces fit neatly into the modern world of cities and multiculturalism and social safety nets. Both movies are punctuated by bursts of horrifically plausible violence. Both movies have important points to make. But only one movie manages to bring together its characters with its setting and its themes. It’s not Hold the Dark.

Time to save the kingdom, but first, a game of Gwent!

, | News

Oh, no. I thought I was done with Gwent. I wasted hours of my life playing the addictive little card game in The Witcher 3. Hours I should’ve used to hunt monsters and search for my witcher daughter. Instead, I tracked down every special card and played every stinking shopkeep that smirked at me. I thought I was doomed when CD Projekt RED announced a standalone free-to-play version of Gwent, but thus far, the early access version hasn’t held my attention. Something ineffable is lost in Gwent as a pure competitive game. I was safe. Now, this. Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales is a standalone single player Gwent game wrapped around a campaign story. I’m ploughed.