Firaxis unveils the Nico vs. Chthon showdown Marvel fans have been waiting for!

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If you’d asked me 20 years ago to name a bunch of Marvel superheroes, I would have done well enough. But if you ask me today? Now that Marvel is as culturally relevant as even the most famous Disney princess, I can probably name dozens. Literally. I bet I could manage the names of at least 24 superheroes without even having to boot up my copy of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 to remember there are superheroes named Crystal and Elsie Bloodstone.

But with today’s announcement of Firaxis’ Marvel game, Midnight Suns, I can raise that number to at least 29:

Through a twisted marriage of magic and science, the nefarious force known as Hydra has revived Lilith, Mother of Demons, after centuries of slumber. Lilith will stop at nothing to complete an ancient prophecy and summon her evil master, Chthon. Pushed to the brink, the Avengers desperately look to fight fire with Hellfire by enlisting the help of the Midnight Suns – Nico Minoru, Blade, Magik, and Ghost Rider – young heroes with powers deeply rooted in the supernatural, formed to prevent the very prophecy Lilith aims to fulfill. Together, they resurrect an ancient warrior – the Hunter, Lilith’s forsaken child and the only hero known to have ever defeated her.

On one hand, I’m glad to see Disney exploring the, uh, overlooked elements of their shiny new IP. But on the other hand, they couldn’t spare something a little more mainstream for the folks at Firaxis who brought us XCOM? I have heard of exactly two of the characters in that premise, one famous because he was played by Nicolas Cage, and the other famous for an aphorism about obstreperous individuals unwilling to accept the gravitational dynamics of ice skating.

Firaxis will be showing off Midnight Suns gameplay next week. Until then, I’m imagining the superhero X-com we’ve all been dreaming about since Simtex’s Guardians: Agents of Justice was canceled.

After 275 updates, Star Traders: Frontiers is finally ready to break some copyright laws

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The 275th update — not an exaggeration! — to Star Traders: Frontiers has finally added mod support to the Trese Brothers’ sprawling and lovingly intricate space opera. With the release of this update, they’ve announced five mods currently available. Most of them are the usual cruft. Little more than cheats, really. Hack your crew to max level! Insanely powerful ships to run roughshod over the official content! New classes that are really just remixes of existing classes! I can be dismissive because I haven’t actually tried any of them.

However, one of the mods I haven’t tried reminds me of a Firefly-inspired challenge to play Star Traders: Frontiers with fewer crew members, each of whom matter more. In its current state, Star Traders: Frontiers is about managing a few dozen crew members. If one or two mutiny or get killed, eh, no big deal, you’ve got plenty more. But what if they weren’t so disposable? What if none of them wore red shirts? Two years ago, that was the premise behind a Firefly community challenge. Today, it’s the premise behind the Merchant Marine: Fly Casual mod.

Of course, there are sure to be scads of Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Battlestar Galactica, Expanse, Defiance, and Dr. Who mods. I’m not sure if Steam hosts these anymore or if you’ll have to go to someplace like to get them. But I am sure they’ll be out there. I’ll be holding out for a Dune total conversion.

You won’t have to shell out for Mortal Shell’s expansion if you act fast

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Mortal Shell, Cold Symmetry’s debut fantasy action combat game is getting a roguelike expansion. The Virtuous Cycle adds procedurally mixed levels, scatters enemies around randomly, and comes with a new player avatar, Hadern. There’s also a nifty “axatana” weapon (pictured above) that honestly looks more dangerous for the wielder than the target. The expansion launches on August 18th and the price of The Virtuous Cycle is zero if you own the game by August 22nd. The timing coincides with the game’s launch on Steam, after it’s exclusivity on Epic ends for PC, which is also on the 18th. If you miss the free offer, The Virtuous Cycle will be $7.99.

Rift Apart brings ray tracing — and not much else — to Ratchet & Clank

, | Game reviews

What a great time to be a fan of ray tracing!  Whatever that is.  I couldn’t tell you what ray tracing is if my life depended on it.  Something to do with reflections and light?  I figure it’s like lens flare: if I notice it, it’s not doing its job.  But I’d have to know what it is to notice it.  So, hurrah, ray tracing has finally come to Ratchet & Clank thanks to the power of the Playstation 5!  And since I haven’t noticed it, it must be working!

Wait, hold on, what’s this setting in the options menu?

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Not even Wreckfest can resist the allure of zombies

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Wreckfest is having a Carmegeddon event. The latest update to Wreckfest adds the Bleak City and Devil’s Canyon tracks from Carmegaddeon, complete with pixelated zombies to run over. Participate in the time-limited tournament mode and you could grab the infamous “Eagle-R” car in-game to keep in your garage. Both new tracks offer free roam versions made for deathmatches, and Bleak City also has a reverse race layout.

Old World: So you’re in a hurry?

, | Game diaries

It can take a long time for your cities in Old World to finish whatever they’re doing.  Whether you’re producing a worker, a scout, a military unit, walls, a treasury, or a gardener for your lavender grove, it can take literally years.  Sometimes as many as a dozen!  Who has time for that?  Which is where hurrying comes in.  It’s a tradition in strategy games like this.  If you want that settler now, you can have it.  So long as you pay extra.  

But like many elements of Old World, it doesn’t work like you might expect, and it’s not very well documented.  You can puzzle over the tooltips, but the overall concept isn’t explained very well.  Here’s what Old World has to say about itself: “Hurrying can be unlocked with Laws, Archetypes, or Family Classes.”  Not terribly helpful.  So let me explain hurrying in the kind of detail you need to actually take advantage of it.

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The scourge of roleplaying games is coming to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

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Ubisoft is adding level-scaling to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. The next planned update for the Viking action roleplaying game will include five options for letting your game’s enemies grow in power with your Eivor. The “Default” setting will play like the current vanilla game where bad guys’ power levels will be generally set by the area of the map they’re in, with a bit of padding for areas you have out-leveled. The “Off” setting will be similar, but there will be no assistance given to lower-level goons. “Constant” will have your enemies level with you. Your guess is as good as mine on the “Nightmarish” or “Hard” options, but I’ll wager that they involve making the game a bit like ice-skating uphill.

The next update for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is planned for July 27th.

The top ten games of 2021 (so far)

, | Features

Oh, look, half of 2021 is gone already.  I hadn’t noticed that it was time to take stock of the best games of the year so far.  Note that anything that might have come out on or after July 1st, perhaps distracting me from other things, isn’t eligible.  So let’s take a look at the best game of 2021 that came out before midnight, June 30th.

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C.W. McCall knew the best way to travel in American Truck Simulator

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The long-awaited co-op multiplayer features are now live in American Truck Simulator. SCS Software has released the 1.41 update which includes Convoy Multiplayer. The feature allows players to set up their own multiplayer sessions with up to eight players and experience highball trucking the way “Rubber Duck” Martin or Cledus “Snowman” Snow intended. With good buddies in your lane! Mash your motor crackerheads, because in-game weather and traffic can be synchronized by the host. There’s even in-game “CB radio broadcasts” to keep it shiny side up.

Old World: Family isn’t a word. It’s a sentence.

, | Game diaries

Families aren’t a discrete system in Old World.  They’re also not something you can easily relate to other games you’ve played.  They’re not like combat, or income, or technology, or culture, or religion.  Instead, they’re all of those things and more.  They’re Old World’s middle layer, interacting with the smaller scale of individual characters and the larger scale of strategic gameplay, influencing and influenced on both sides.  Think of them as the glue that holds the Civilization IV to the Crusader Kings.  

Part of Old World’s brilliance as a design is how it combines its three distinct scales: personal, social, and geopolitical.  Imagine a wargame that you play at a tactical, operational, and strategic level.  You assign resources to train troops, then you arrange those troops into armies and move them around a map, and then you control individual soldiers as they fight a battle. Crazy, right?  It can’t be done!  Now imagine you play all three levels simultaneously.  Even crazier!

As videogamers, we’re used to designs like Creative Assembly’s Total War series or the X-com model, in which a tactical layer is wrapped in a strategic shell.  And we’re even used to games like Civilization V trying to combine a strategy game with a tactical layer of moving units around terrain, shooting arrows over lakes, and taking cover in hills.  But Old World combines three separate scales, all woven into the gameplay at the same time, all affecting and affected by each other constantly.  Nearly every moment of everything you do in Old World will percolate through its personal, social, and geopolitical gameplay.  Families are the social level and today I’d like to break down how they affect the larger scale of developing your cities.

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Slipgates to other Doom Eternal players’ worlds have closed

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Bethesda and id Software have abandoned their plans to allow Dark Souls-style player invasions in Doom Eternal. The now-dead feature would’ve had players taking control of monsters in other players’ campaign games and doing their best to mess each other up. In a message from id Software’s Marty Stratton, the studio cites remote work issues due to the pandemic for the initial delay, and explains that they will instead focus on a single player PvE horde mode addition.

“We’re confident this horde mode will offer you more of the diversity and challenge you’re looking for in the game.”

Presumably, an additional factor in their decision was that the developers released the second campaign expansion, The Ancient Gods: Part 2, in March rendering the invasion concept a bit toothless by now. The studio also plans to revamp the asymmetrical multiplayer Battlemode with more thoughtful ranking system, a new map, and balance changes.

Bringing new eyes to Old World

, | Game diaries

Mohawk Games’ Old World is finally out of early access today. And if you’re like me and you’ve been waiting for the full release, I should warn you that it might be a bumpy ride. Brace yourself. Is that godawful clattering sound everything falling apart, or is it the rollercoaster being pulled to the top of an impending thrill ride?

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The Texas Chain Saw Massacre: when you’re wrong, you’re wrong

, | Movie reviews

I’ve spent decades denigrating the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre as artless trash.  I’m not sure when I first saw it.  Probably in college, sometime around 1990.  That was also the last time I saw it.  Since then, I’ve seen Tobe Hooper’s other movies.  I’ve rewatched Invaders from Mars, Lifeforce, Eaten Alive, Funhouse, and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel in the last few years, and they’re all varying degrees of horrible (the conventional wisdom about Poltergeist, which is still great, is that Spielberg actually directed it).  It’s been my assertion all along that Tobe Hooper is a terrible director, and although there might be something raw and effective in his first movie, it’s artless trash.  

I was wrong.  So egregiously wrong.

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Resident Evil Village scares the guy that made The Haunting of Hill House

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Mike Flanagan, director and writer of The Haunting of Hill House, The Haunting of Bly Manor, Hush, and Oculus sat down with Rahul Kohli, actor and self-described avid gamer, for some conversation while the latter played some Resident Evil Village. If you watch for the gaming, it’s probably not going to do much for you, but if you want some insight into Mike Flanagan’s creative decisions like his feelings about jump scares, then the Netflix video is a neat little gift. Plus, there’s a bonus conversation about one of the best movies ever made!

You only have a few months to finish up GTA Online if you’re on the previous consoles

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Rockstar Games is ending support for GTA Online on the Xbox 360 and the PlayStation 3. You didn’t forget that Grand Theft Auto V originally launched in 2013 on those systems, did you? How embarrassing! Well, Rockstar didn’t forget and they’ve likely been looking forward to making this announcement as the online portion of GTAV has gotten bigger and more complicated through the years.

On December 16th, players still on the older consoles will no longer be able to access the online modes of the game. Stat tracking through the Rockstar Social Club feature will end a bit earlier on September 16th. Story mode will still continue to work as it does now, but it’s goodbye to trolling your buddies while roleplaying in Los Santos.