News

A new update for Serious Sam 2? Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahh!

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Croteam has released a new update for their 15-year-old Serious Sam 2, and it’s a beefy one. The 2.90 update adds a Beam Gun weapon, a flamethrower, rocket-jumping, sprinting, and all guns can be dual-wielded. The patch also gives players twelve new multiplayer arenas where they can old-school fight. It’s a bounty of additions to a game most thought would be static forevermore due to its age.

The update comes via Nathan Brown, a modder that became a Croteam developer in 2012. It’s part of the series’ 20th Anniversary Celebrations. It’s just the excuse I need to run backwards while headless monsters scream at me.

Xbox Live is dead. Long live Xbox network.

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Microsoft has rebranded their gaming network from Xbox Live to the more plain-sounding Xbox network. Microsoft confirmed the change to The Verge and explained that the move was made to distinguish the service from the subscription plan. It’s the end of an 18-year-old moniker.

In January, Microsoft had announced plans to increase the price of Xbox Live Gold, but the company was forced to backtrack after subscribers let their displeasure be known. In fact, Microsoft not only reversed the price hike, they promised to drop the need for Xbox Live Gold for players to access free-to-play multiplayer games.

Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s ending is certainly no Tenet

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There’s a whole cottage industry of explanation videos that recap and break down the deeper meaning behind movies, books, and games. Stuff like “The Ending of Tenet Explained” or “27 Hints You Missed in WandaVision” are dime-a-dozen on YouTube. Sometimes they have a nugget of wisdom, but usually they’re the most facile examinations possible. Watch a few Tenet videos and tell me what percentage actually bring enlightenment. If you got to the end of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla’s main campaign and thought, “Wait. What?” then this video from Ubisoft may be for you.

It’s a spoiler-filled hour-long interview with the game’s narrative director, Darby McDevitt, detailing the choices they made in developing Eivor’s path as a Viking. Fair warning. It really is chock full of spoilers, so if you’re going to play the game someday, or you’re still slogging through the main story now, you won’t want the appearance of Elvis or the dinosaur-cloning level spoiled for you.

Does McDevitt give a reason for the way the story just peters out or the unsatisfying epilogue? No, because the story in Valhalla is built around that open world and letting the player continue to explore and grind around England after the credits roll. The script, by necessity, has to take a backseat to the game’s framework. It’s too bad because with a little tweaking, the dinosaur level could’ve meant a lot more than being just a tie-in to Just Dance.

It took almost a decade to fix Grand Theft Auto Online’s loading times

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Grand Theft Auto Online’s loading times are notoriously slow. It’s been something of a running joke for nearly a decade that loading into Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode is excruciating. Even with an SSD in the PC version of the game, it can be multiple minutes of staring at the cloudy cityscape of Los Santos while the game slowly ambles along. Now, Rockstar says improvements are coming thanks to a diligent player.

At the end of February, a fan who goes by the handle “t0st” wrote that they had found a solution that cut GTA Online loading times by up to 70%. (The technical details and sample can be found here.) By eliminating a CPU bottleneck that was demanding calls to verify every single item available in the in-game shops, the game loaded significantly faster. So much faster, in fact, that Rockstar confirmed that they will be using t0st’s findings, which is good news for the company as there are still thousands of daily players that purchase Shark Cards to buy in-game stuff. The faster they can load in is that much faster to spend all their money and buy more in-game cash.

Dota 2’s tutorial is so bad, fans are willing to pay to make a new one

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In anticipation of an influx of new players from the upcoming Netflix anime, this already funded IndieGoGo campaign strives to have modders create a Dota 2 tutorial for newbies. There is an in-game tutorial in Dota 2. It’s bad. This is a fact that even the developers of the game acknowledge. It’s little more than a series of mini challenges to teach basic mechanics. Like many strategy games that have multiple instances of DLC, updates, and balance changes, the Dota 2 tutorial was an outdated joke within a few weeks. Even if you ignore that, the tutorial commits the sin of not actually teaching the game as it’s really played in the multiplayer wilds.

There’s usually two ways to handle an outdated tutorial. Either you ignore it, (the Paradox route) and let new players fend for themselves via YouTube or wikis, or you update the tutorial – an expensive proposition. Fans may have found a third option. Create their own via crowdfunding. There’s only one catch. The campaign’s goal will only create a static tutorial that applies to the current map and balance update. It too, will be doomed to obsolescence in mere weeks.

PlayStation 4 owners may have to commit to one Call of Duty

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It’s no secret that the file sizes for games have gotten pretty large. It’s not unusual if a game balloons over 150GB after updates and expansions. The more recent Call of Duty games being prime examples of this. In fact, Activision has issued a warning to base model PlayStation 4 owners. Due to the 500GB drive, and the way the system needs to copy files for patching, players are going to have to pick their poison with the latest update for Call of Duty Warzone. They will not be able to have Modern Warfare, Black Ops Cold War, and Warzone installed on the same PS4.

If you’re wondering why anyone would need both of the most recent Call of Duty games installed along with Warzone, the answer is that the progression tracks in the base games’ multiplayer feeds into the Battle Royale mode. Weapons from Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War are in Warzone. It’s generally easier to level up a rifle in the base game’s team deathmatch, then bring the gun over to Warzone for that mode’s use. It’s a system that has kept Modern Warfare multiplayer active, if only to give Warzone fans a quicker way to beef up their loadouts. Alas, with the latest content drop, original PS4 players will have to clear some space and overcome everyone else’s size advantage.

You can be anyone in Watch Dogs Legion except the guy being used by Player 2

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Cooperative online mode is coming to Watch Dogs Legion on March 9th. It’s been in development for some time, having originally been announced with the reveal of the game in 2019, but was delayed to a post-launch feature just before the game went live. The free addition to the game will offer missions and challenges set in the same drone plagued London as the base game, but your real-world buddies can help out. Ubisoft’s hope is that while you can “play as anyone” in Legion, you can’t play as multiple people at the same time, so your crew can chip in to overcome co-op obstacles.

“We designed it so that if you do bring in a parkour specialist, or someone that does gunkata, or a construction worker, or even a grandma, they all can join in.”

Having a posse of anonymous cargo drone riding construction workers get blown out of the sky by swarms of combat robots sounds like it could shore up some of the dullness of the vanilla game. The overview video is good for a laugh anyway.

River raids in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla would be better with dad jokes

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You’re probably playing that other Viking game now. Valheim is the game du jour. It’s $20 on Steam, looks great, and unlike many early access survival crafting games, it’s not a broken mess of potential. If you haven’t been wooed by the siren call of chopping wood and building huts in a pixelated procedurally generated Norse afterlife, you’re probably still hanging out in the largely static superhero action of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Don’t be sad. Ubisoft is bringing a bounty of goodies to lonely Eivors in the 1.1.2 title update.

Prepare your Jomsviking crew for this new highly replayable mode that will take you to unexplored regions of England, which is full of raiding opportunities. New loot, rewards, and challenges await the Raven Clan!

River raids are coming, and with them, players can get new abilities and skills. The Assassin Slide lets you sprint into enemies and dive into their legs to knock them over. Power Stroke pushes your raiding crew to boost your ship’s speed. Berserker Trap fits a bag of rage-inducing powder to your arrow, which you can shoot into surfaces creating a drugged booby trap. If none of those are your style, there’s Shoulder Bash which does exactly what it sounds like. Why that needs to be a thing you unlock is a mystery for Odin.

Unfortunately, the patch notes don’t say a thing about adding more goofball stories to listen to while sailing down the byways of England. Imagine the possibilities for a Jungle Cruise style tour guide bit just before you crash into the dock of a monastery and set fire to the surrounding houses.

Twelve years later, Six Days in Fallujah is real

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In 2009, Konami announced a third-person military action shooter based on the Iraq War – specifically, the infamous Second Battle of Fallujah that featured house-to-house fighting against insurgents that resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths. Atomic Games was going to be the developer, but highly vocal criticism of the concept caused the project to be quietly shelved by Konami and Atomic shuttered in 2011 after releasing Breach. Surprisingly, Six Days in Fallujah is making a comeback. There’s a new trailer and Steam page for it already.

Six Days is now being published by Victura and developed by Highwire Games. Victura CEO Peter Tamte was the head of Atomic Games back when the game was first announced in 2009, so this is a personal project for him. Highwire Games was founded by Jaime Griesemer, a former designer for the Halo games. The studio boasts the talent of Marty O’Donnell, the former composer and audio director for the Halo franchise.

This time around, the developers hope to stave off the pre-launch criticism by presenting a more nuanced take on the incident. Six Days is being made with input from not only some of the American and British military soldiers that fought in the battle, it will also include input from some civilian survivors.

Steam China is missing one big feature. There are no chat scammers.

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Steam is finally officially available in China. Technically, Steam hasn’t really been approved for use in China, although you’d never know it from looking at the player counts and sales numbers. It’s existed in a murky limbo where the Chinese government has turned a bit of a blind eye to all the citizens using a VPN and the international version of the Valve store to play PC games. At least until now. Valve, in a government-approved partnership with Perfect World, has launched Steam China. It’s just like Steam if you squint really hard.

It’s got the right look and it sells game like Steam, but Steam China has only 50 or so games on it at launch. (Thankfully, all vetted and licensed by the government approval boards.) The biggest difference is all the community features have been swept away in a gloriously cleansing wave of patriotic duty. No pesky chat or forums to negatively impact your view of the games (or the government) and no community guides to cheat your way past content. User reviews for games are available, but I’d wager there’s some monitoring going on there.

Steam community features have never been usable in China despite the widespread use of VPN to access it. Now, there won’t even be the temptation!

There’s a reason why Call of Duty is a 27 billion pound gorilla in the games industry

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Activision Blizzard revealed that Call of Duty has generated an eye-watering 27 billion dollars across the franchise since its start in 2003. There were over 100 million monthly active users on average throughout 2020, and the latest chapter, Black Ops Cold War, which launched in November, effectively doubled the average user’s time spent in-game when compared to Modern Warfare. CEO Bobby Kotick also announced in the 2020 results investor call that you all seem to love the Call of Duty in-game microtransactions and season pass malarkey. In-game sales grew 50% year over year in the fourth quarter of 2020.

While no specifics dollar amount was attached to Call of Duty’s in-game purchases, the whole of Activision Blizzard made 4.85 billion dollars from microtransactions in 2020. Overall, it was the best year for the company in its 30-year history.

Google and Amazon have discovered that making games is hard

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Google has shut down its internal Stadia game studios. According to Stadia VP, Phil Harrison, the company will shift all resources away from developing games and concentrate on providing a streaming platform where others can publish their games. Harrison cited the expense and time needed to create first-party games as a barrier.

“Creating best-in-class games from the ground up takes many years and significant investment, and the cost is going up exponentially.”

The business shake-up also means Jade Raymond, originally hired on to oversee Stadia’s game studios, is leaving to “pursue other opportunities” outside of Google. Raymond came from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise and EA’s Motive Studios and had originally been hired in 2019 to head Stadia Games and Entertainment, but Google’s studio produced no games during its short run.

At the same time, Amazon’s foray into creating games doesn’t seem to be going much better. Bloomberg dove into the recent failures at Amazon Game Studios and came away with some insights of the bungled effort. $500 million a year has given Amazon a catastrophic misfire in Crucible, a copycat free-to-play hero shooter game that almost immediately shut down after launching.

“One of the things that we hear most often from people who try Crucible is that it feels unique.”

Its MMO, New World, changed from a survival and crafting focus with a colonizers-versus-natives theme to something a lot less racially charged, but its issues continued. After feedback from playtesting last year, the launch was pushed from August 2020 to Spring 2021.

Game development is hard. When a company like Google cites Cyberpunk 2077 as the highwater mark of its platform, you know you’ve hit trouble.

2021 is the year to experience Battle Royale in Pinball FX

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Zen Studios has announced Pinball FX, the 2021 platform for bumping and scoring after Pinball FX3. A career, new challenge modes, tables based on new intellectual properties, and even “Pinball Royale” (the silver ball version of Battle Royale) is coming to the updated game. I expect another way to have my high score humiliated by true pinball wizards.

No details yet are available for pricing, launch date, or if your old tables will carry forward.

There’s foul seasonal weather ahead for Sea of Thieves

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Sea of Thieves is getting “seasonal” battle passes. Just like in Fortnite, Apex, Call of Duty, and every other multiplayer game on the market. If there’s anything pirates love, it’s climbing a timed progression ladder to unlock rewards. Scallywags were all about engagement and monthly user metrics.

Each season will last about 90 days in Sea of Thieves and progression will be based on a new Renown mechanic that is based on actions other than just turning in treasures. The first season kicks off on January 28 and will include a new Merchant Alliance Voyage that will be added to the game permanently.

There will, of course, be a premium pass available called the Plunder Pass that will give players greater rewards than the ones the hobo freeloaders get. It will cost 999 in-game coins which comes out to around a bajillion real world dollars according to pirate math.

Resident Evil Re:Verse looks like the inverse of what fans want

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Some great stuff came out of Capcom’s showcase stream for Resident Evil fans. Folks looking forward to getting dominated by a giant busty vampire woman in Resident Evil Village had their hearts set on fire by the newest trailer. (Lady Dimitrescu can step on me anytime!) And just like that, a million memes and fanart creations launched. If being manhandled by undead Gwendoline Christie isn’t your thing, the first-person exploration and shooting look good too, as long as you’re into the signature Resident Evil clumsy, frantic, backpedal gunplay. PlayStation 5 owners can download and play the standalone Maiden demo right now.

The above trailer for the multiplayer mode, called Re:Verse because Capcom is determined to ruin the good feelings some of us have for 2021, is not looking as polished. It’s free with Resident Evil Village, so it’s tough to really get too mad about it, but right from the first few seconds its easy to see that this is not the A team. The six person deathmatch looks dreadful, but at least the matches are limited to five minutes. Your agony won’t last long. Brave souls can sign up for the beta here.