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

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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?

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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!

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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.

Clear your drives, partner! Red Dead Redemption 2 will take a passel of space.

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Red Dead Redemption 2 launches in a little under a month on consoles, and you’re probably going to want to make some room on your hard drives. Rockstar’s western epic may require over 100 gigabytes of space on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. The news comes from a Target listing for a PlayStation 4 Pro bundle, via Rockstar Intel, that notes the whopping 105GB of space needed for the game. The box text also claims that Red Dead Online (the 1800’s version of GTA Online) will support up to 32 players at the same time, an increase of two cowboys from GTA Online’s 30-player max. Giddy-up!

There’s still no word of a PC version, so those hard drives are safe for now.

The Xbox 360 controller remains the king for PC gaming

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Valve has released some interesting stats for controller use on their platform. In summary, the Xbox 360 controller is far and away the most widely used controller on Steam, with 45% of players using it over other options. Another 20% of players use a PS4 controller. Close behind that is the Xbox One controller at 19%. PS3 controller use slips in at 7%. Finally, everything else, including the Steam Controller, gets lumped together for the final 8%. In fact, there are only about 1.5 million Steam Controller users.

What does this all mean for controllers on PC? Valve seems to consider their Steam Input controller code a success. Despite the relatively low sales of the Steam Controller itself, opening up the input configurations for all controllers to user tinkering has benefitted all players. Valve remains committed to supportung as many controllers as possible.

This is how ‘the bird’ wound up in Tales from the Borderlands

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It’s sad when game development studios go out of business. It’s downright tragic when it happens so abruptly that employees get left with no severance, benefits running out, and projects cancelled. The silver lining is that when a company shuts down, ex-employees feel free to relate humorous anecdotes about how the sausage was made. We’re seeing that now with Telltale Games. The bitterness and confusion over the sudden closure has calmed a bit, and the survivors are down to reminiscing about their time together. Here, Molly Maloney, a designer on Tales from the Borderlands explained how the scene with a character maniacally flipping off a bunch of monitors came to be.

“When we requested the animation for Rhys turning off Hyperion monitors in Tales from the Borderlands ep 5, the requested anim was worded as ‘Rhys flips off the monitors as he runs by.’ What we got back was so good [we] decided to just go with that.”

Whatever your opinion of Telltale Games’ output, it’s indisputable that their games had an impact on the industry. The Walking Dead: Season One was an emotional revelation, and while the rest of their catalog perhaps never reached those heights again, the studio plugged away at over a dozen games in the same vein. The studio even dipped into publishing indie titles from other developers like 7 Days to Die and Stranded Deep on consoles.

The newest ESPN cover athlete is a Fortnite streamer

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This is Tyler “Ninja” Blevins. He’s going to be featured on the cover of the October edition of ESPN The Magazine. A first for the publication. If you watch Fortnite gameplay streams, Ninja’s work is inescapable. He plays with celebrities, random people, other famous gamers, and of course, by himself. In April, he broke Twitch records by hitting over 600,000 concurrent viewers. The next month, Ninja broke his own record. By his estimate, he makes “close to” a million dollars a month from donations, subscriptions, and sponsorship deals. To an audience of a certain age, he is the next Michael Jordan or Joe Montana.

Regulators say loot boxes are gambling. Australian study agrees.

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It’s been a bad time for videogame loot boxes. Last week, Belgium began a criminal investigation into Electronic Arts’ refusal to halt the sale of FIFA 18’s Ultimate Team packs in that country. If the prosecutor in Brussels finds enough cause to move forward with a trial, EA will be forced to defend itself in court. It’s an escalation between gaming and government that the industry is keen to avoid.

This week, fifteen international regulatory agencies and the State of Washington Gambling Commission, co-signed a declaration to “address the risks created by the blurring of lines between gaming and gambling”. While the agreement is mostly focused on third-party sites linked to loot boxes, like the CSGO Lotto scandal, a key component of the declaration is a pointed warning to game publishers.

“We encourage video games companies to work with their gambling regulators and take action now to address those concerns to make sure that consumers, and particularly children, are protected.”

Meanwhile a study sponsored by the Australian Environment and Communications Reference Committee found that people with gambling addictions spent more on videogame loot boxes, supporting the theory that these rewards trigger the same psychological responses as traditional gambling. The report concluded that these digital loot boxes differ from physical collectible card packs or “blind box” offers in that the immediacy and celebratory feedback of these transactions encourages problematic behavior.

“This is what one would expect if loot boxes psychologically constituted a form of gambling. It is not what one would expect if loot boxes were, instead, psychologically comparable to baseball cards.”

Hitting that Overwatch loot box button is as good as pulling the lever on the old One-armed Bandit.

Space Base flushes Machi Koro out the airlock

, | Game reviews

Machi Koro sure is cute. The quaint fields, orchards, bakeries, and cafes. The sushi bar and flower stand and pizza joint. Even when it gets serious with tax offices, furniture factories, and airports, it’s still cute. It refuses to be anything other than a lightweight opportunity for a few folks to roll dice and pass around cardboard coins. Someone eventually gathers enough cardboard coins to finish his city. Presumably fun was had.

What I appreciate most about Machi Koro is how every turn is everyone’s turn. In other games, the act of rolling dice is something you do for yourself. It’s my turn, it’s my roll, the number is my result. You’ll get your own result from your own roll on your own turn. The simple twist in Machi Koro is that although we take turns rolling, the result is for all of us. If you roll the right number, you’ll activate my buildings. This means there’s technically no down time, that it’s always everyone’s turn. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do pacing right.

But with Space Base, the concept really takes off. Continue reading →

Daybreak is precisely what State of Decay 2 didn’t need

, | Game reviews

Among the many great things about the first State of Decay was its post-release support. The Breakdown DLC added infinite replayability to the core game along with progressively greater difficulty as you got further, with unlockable characters along the way. It very nearly turned State of Decay into a rogue-like. But that was five years ago, before we were kicking the term “rogue-like” around so freely. Then the Lifeline DLC shifted the tone, action, setting, and progression someplace new, with new kinds of characters who played the game differently. So what happened with State of Decay 2 that we get this new Daybreak DLC?

Daybreak is nothing you haven’t seen before, done better. It adds a four-player horde mode, played on a single unimaginative map, as a drawn-out and repetitive slog to unlock gear to draw out the repetitive slog even further. Along the way, bits of gear might trickle into your actual State of Decay game. But your time would be better spent just playing State of Decay 2 to find more stuff instead of grinding away at this half-baked horde mode to discover, oh, look, I got a new kind of hammer in Daybreak that now I can buy in State of Decay 2. Frankly, I would have been more excited by unlockable hats.

Daybreak is always and only four players, so if you can’t find an online game, some bots will tag along. They better because there’s no adjustable difficulty or variable challenge levels. You just live through the same number of waves, comprised of the same creatures, throwing themselves at the same wall, with the same clock counting down the same amount of time, culminating in the same cluster of superzombies with their thousand hit points, every time you play. Every single time. Each like the last. Except maybe you have a new type of shotgun or grenade. If you want State of Decay minus the expansive maps, dynamic crises, characters with personality, and constant threat of the unknown, Daybreak is for you!

However, please make sure you haven’t played Metal Gear Solid: Survive, Strange Brigade, Fortnite, or any of the other games actually designed to do zombie horde modes. Daybreak is glaringly bare bones compared to the game designs it’s aping. It chugs along, herkyjerky and weirdly clumy, trying to do something it wasn’t built to do. I have yet to have a smooth multiplayer experience in State of Decay 2. Yet someone at Undead Labs or Microsoft is intent on making it a selling point.

Previously, Undead Labs’ approach to State of Decay has been to embrace what makes it unique, to double-down on the idea of open-world resource management and community survival, with zombies, vehicles, and a vivid sense of place. It stands apart from Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil, 7 Days to Die, and anything else with zombies. But Daybreak feels like it was made by someone who has no clue what makes State of Decay special. This $10 DLC has no interest in standing apart, much less participating in State of Decay’s unique identity. Instead, it plays like a weak attempt to pander to people who aren’t playing State of Decay, leaving the rest of us to wonder what happened.