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SPECIAL ISSUE tHe Future oF PC gaMIng
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Hardware Cheaper! Virtual reality Realer Steam macHineS 4K monitors Worth it? internet Speed
DAYZ HUGE INTERVIEW
The insane future of the zombie survival game
Of pc GaminG REVIEWED à DayZ à StarbounD à ruSt à broken age
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#251 April 2014 EDiTOriAl Editor-in-Chief Evan Lahti Executive Editor Tyler Wilde Managing Editor Cory Banks Features Editor Wes Fenlon Computer Large Pixel Collider Contributors Nathan Brown, Andy Chalk, Richard Cobbett, Tony Ellis, Andy Kelly, Ben Griffin, Cassandra Khaw, Josh Norem, Samuel Roberts, Phil Savage, Tom Senior, Chris Schilling, Chris Thursten, Gordon Ung, Rob Zacny ArT Art Editor Jenny Esdaile Contributors Marsh Davies, John Strike, Julian Dace, Andy McGregor, David Lyttleton BUSiNESS Vice president, Content & product Kelley Corten, [email protected]
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We set aside some time to consider the future of Our Dear Hobby this month, and for me the whole process clarified the opposite-butinteresting directions that PC gaming is headed in. The Oculus is about to become the world’s first affordable and practical VR headset. It’s also a device that, for the foreseeable future, you’ll only be able to plug into a PC—the current generation of consoles don’t have the hardware horsepower to support it (http://bit.ly/ocuquote). And maybe that’s appropriate: we generally think of PC gaming as a more personal and individual experience than console gaming. It’s you, one or more monitors, at your desk, with headphones wrapped around your skull. VR, though, is even more private—something novel and personal that happens when the rest of the world is blacked out and you’re wading face-first into Skyrim. But VR isn’t a slippery slope to PC gaming being a hobby that takes place in total isolation, while you’re fed Soylent (http://bit.ly/soylentx) through a tube and your graphics cards mine Bitcoins all day to finance your reclusive lifestyle. PC gaming is simultaneously—through eSports, livestreaming, and living room-friendly PCs— EVAN lAHTi EDITOR-IN-CHIEF becoming more shared and spectatable. The [email protected]
Twitter: @elahti future of PC gaming, then, isn’t a singular experience, but an inclusive, open hobby that’s experimental, high-performance, accessible, and malleable. bringing you the scoops this month...
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Tyler Wilde @tyler_wilde Got lost in virtual reality and now doubts the real world. Swears he saw Cory clip through a wall.
Wes Fenlon @wesleyfenlon Reluctantly put Clementine at risk for his Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 1 review.
Cory Banks @demiurge Wants to thank Valve for abandoning its earlier plans to move PC gaming to the bathroom.
Andy Kelly @ultrabrilliant Racked up 75 hours in DayZ. Lost what little faith he still had in the goodness of humanity.
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#251 aPril 2014
MONITOR 08 » SEnd Your letters, our responses 12 » nEWS iO interactive promises a return to non-linear level design in the next Hitman 14 » Pc FTW Turning real-world locales nto photorealistic game worlds with infomatrix3d 16 » THE SPy Leaks suggest gTa V is coming soon
PREVIEWS 18 » Evolve 22 » dark Souls ii 24 » Entropy 26 » infinite crisis 30 » invisible, inc. 32 » Elder Scrolls online
FEATURES 34 » Future of Pc gaming We don the Oculus rift and peer into the future of Vr, eSports, fiber internet, and more 48 » Pushing dayZ How Bohemia plans to foster community (gangs!) and rebalance loot (bows!) in DayZ
REVIEWS 54 » Broken age 58 » dayZ 60 » Walking dead: Season 2 Episode 1 62 » nidhogg 64 » Metal gear rising: revengance 66 » asssassin’s creed iV: Freedom cry 68 » Starbound 70 » Might & Magic X: legacy 72 » The Banner Saga 76 » rust
EXTRA LIFE 78 » noW Playing Tyler sits on an ivory throne in Starbound, Wes co-ops Spelunky as a ghost 82 » ToP 10 doWnloadS Mayhem beckons in Just cause 2 MP 86 » UPdaTE DiCE keeps patching up Battlefield 4 88 » rEinSTall rockstar’s Bully still has schoolyard charm
The Hard Stuff 91 » SteamoS guide How to download, install, and play games on Valve’s Linux OS right now. 96 » THE rig
The FuTure oF PC GaminG
Jump on your hoverboard and scope out how Oculus Rift, SteamOS, and 4K monitors will change PC gaming
EldEr ScrollS onlinE
Mastermind Dean Hall talks about The massively multiplayer Elder Scrolls harkens back to MMO trailblazers Ultima Online what’s next for the DayZ alpha (Hint: cars , kidnapping, and more zombies) and Dark Age of Camelot
Double Fine delivers a modern pointand-click adventure—can it live up to the charm and humor of LucasArts classics?
We installed Valve’s Linux OS to guide you through the process and tell you what games you can play on a Steam Machine today ApriL 2014
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Desk space woes, gonzo journalism, and even more Spelunky fretting LPC envy
spK UR Mnd ■ Do devs really believe that women would charge into a horde of orcs with their boobies hanging out? John K Who’s to say what they would or wouldn’t do? You know, other than an industry culture that consistently targets male consumers with objectified women in absurdly impractical costumes. ■ Hit things with rock, cherish rock, run from others, collect more rocks with your rock, make stone hatchet, SURVIVE! @TheElecMindset Either you’ve been having nightmares about a disastrous Rolling Stones concert, or you’ve been playing rust. See our alpha review on page 76. ■ Bioshock Infinite is overrated. A linear shooter with too much gore and not enough story like the first/second one. Antonio Bisogni We’re not sure there’s too little story in BioShock infinite, but there is a lot of gore. ■ Facebook told me PC Gamer is similar to Playboy. Cus magazine? @DryvBy We do play. And Tyler has a rabbit tattoo. So we’re basically the same thing. ■ At this point a Steam Machine just seems like a console with a bunch of extra hassles thrown in... What is the point of buying one? @movegamer It’s a tough sell, for sure, but independence from Windows is alluring. 8
My relationship with my PC may never be the same. It’s a very fast machine. It can run Biochock Infinite at a constant 120 FPS (with FPS limiter) with everything maxed out on a 1920x1080, 120Hz monitor. However, I found myself ogling
the Large Pixel Collider [lpc. pcgamer.com], lusting after its ludicrously luscious lines, and hankering for its hunky hardware (too much alliteration?). Dang it, PC Gamer, I feel like I’ve cheated on my PC. Maybe I’ll have to buy it a new video card or something... Daniel Hendrix Remember that the LPC— monstrous as it seems now—is our vision of the future. It won’t always cost $10,000. Of course, by the time its power is affordable, we’ll have upgraded it to even more absurd and irresponsible heights. PCG
Hunter S. Gamer A window into the future.
One thing I’d love to read more of is “gonzo journalism” style pieces where a writer describes
ThE hOT MAIL Developing issues
Game development is being seriously underestimated. Publishers are putting excessive pressure on developers to get their games out “on time” rather than when they’re done. Hence BF4 and SimCity are released as disasters. Developers are giving publishers and the public unreasonable release date estimates—they must assume that based on past development that they would be able to get a new title out in a similar amount of time. However in the gaming world everything changes all the time: new engines, new technology, new platforms, new resolutions, new controllers. You have to estimate dev time completely fresh every time. The public are not aware of the sheer challenge of developing a
game. Everything from the marketing to the coding has to be managed in a massive team with sparse resources and insane time frames. So they get upset when games are delayed and blame incompetency when a game is released too early. It’s a lose-lose for everyone. Everyone seems to be underestimating the complexity of game development and it’s causing a lot of frustration all throughout the industry for both the developers and the consumers. Paul We can’t speak for any one publisher or consumer, but we’ve also observed a general misunderstanding of what it takes to develop a game. Greater respect for the craft would be welcome from all parties. PCG
Surrender to our DayZ diaries .
their personal experience in a game. Variable games like open world and roguelikes often produce exciting stories that are unlikely to be replicated. Brian Devins That’s good to hear, because with more and more systems-driven games, we have more and more stories to tell. Keep an eye on this space (hint hint), and as always, pcgamer.com—we’re currently running a series of DayZ stories from Andy Kelly that we think you’d love. PCG
I love building custom rigs. I love playing games on my custom rigs. There is always one restriction I face: Where to put it. I have had several different desks of varying styles and designs, but none of them ever provide the accommodation I seek. I’ve always had to buy compact keyboards so that there’s enough room for my mouse. The size of monitor is always severely restricted as well. I was hoping to get an idea of other people use for gaming stations. Is there even a company that specializes in gaming desks? Keep up the great work! Mike Tyler uses a big old drafting table from his art school days, and Evan built his own standing desk. Lacking those options, there are plenty of spacious desks out there—you may just have to look outside the typical “computer desk.” PCG
spk ur mnd
Eirik Iversen Currently playing: Rising Storm
So, i boot up Rising Storm after getting it dirt cheap in the Winter Steam Sale. i hop into the game and run around as i try to familiarize myself with the maps. i immediately get picked off with a sniper rifle by some dude 150m away. Typical. i pay no attention and respawn. i sprint back to the front line, only to be gunned down by a guy 150m away with a machine gun. i shrug as i figure the suppression mechanics were overpowered and respawn back at base only to die immediately to American flames engulfing my poor noob Japanese soldier. Now i was pissed. What a broken game! But then something clicked in my head. This is what
■ You gave Mass Effect 3 a 93% but Banner Saga an 82%?...Oh right. EA games get an automatic 20% bonus. @wirelessmouse If we assessed all games by comparing them to Mass Effect 3, we’d have a very strange review system. Like, why isn’t Garrus in Banner Saga, anyway? Seems like a huge missed opportunity.
The flash of someone else’s barrel is a common sight.
■ You all need to use the LPC to do maxed out Rome 2: Total War. @dalmascus
modern shooters have done to me. The typical war gameplay of sprinting in rambo style into enemy fire and coming out unscathed with a triple kill is ridiculous. Rising Storm encourages realistic, tactical
gameplay and punishes those who want to play hero. At first i was mad for feeling inexperienced, but in many ways i’m glad that Rising Storm has taught me how to be a noob again.
As if we can tell the LPC what to do! But we will make the suggestion and see what it—oh, its LEDs blinked once. We think that means “Yes.” ■ Hope Microsoft learned what we don’t want with Windows 8. @GeekLogics
Goodness, we hope so too.
I find it both ironic and sad that as PC gaming is reaching its 35th birthday, few of the staff at PC Gamer seem to have hit that milestone yet. Chris Papcin Evan’s gaming knowledge goes way, way back—and his joints hurt. Tyler is balding and highly recommends the Apple II game Bolo. Cory just keeps recommending vitamin C. And Wes won’t stop talking about Zaxxon. We love both old things and new things (Tyler is wearing hats now, for instance). So, no, we don’t find that sad. PCG This is an important (and adorable) game.
I really feel that you did PC gaming a huge disservice with your choice of Spelunky as the BEST that our platform could produce in 2013. I know you always receive lots of negative feedback from readers after your Game of the Year pick, but Spelunky? Really? I’m not saying it isn’t a good game, but the BEST? You have given my console friends all the ammunition they need to humiliate me. Years of my defending the PC have been ruined. The day your pick came out, three of my console foes knocked on my door with copies of your magazine. The
BEST PC game is something that could have been graphically produced on a Nintendo in 1989? Normally I can defend my position, but I had to concede to their mockery. I know what you’re going to say, “Replayabilty, fun, blah! blah!” The game may have deserved an award, but “BEST”? You have sent my arguments back to the Stone Age. Frank Mosca We’re glad to hear that your friends are readers! And look, we don’t think Spelunky is all things to all PC gamers, or the greatest 2013 achievement on all fronts. By awarding it Game of The Year 2013, we’re honoring its achievement in its genre, and what it represents about the year in PC gaming. That an indie roguelike took so much of our time actually strengthens your argument. Not only do we have graphics powerhouses, hardcore strategy and sim games, and the best versions of many multiplatform games, we also have the most creative and open platform there is—note that Spelunky was a free PC game before it found success on the Xbox and Steam. PCG
■ Congratulations Wes! HEY THAT’S MY STAPLER. @logandecker
It seems our new features editor, Wes Fenlon, has acquired the former stapler of former EIC Logan Decker. Don’t tell him about the curse— the spontaneous “squirrelings” should be a surprise.
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view of The world
Hitman’s future revealed
The Top sTory IO promises non-linear levels in the next Hitman game
O wants us to love Hitman again. In an open letter addressed to fans that reads like an apology, IO delivered a soft announcement of the series’ next installment, which promises to return to the sandbox-style nature of previous Hitman titles. The divided reaction to Hitman: Absolution— which spoiled pretty much everything we liked about a masterfully crafted stealth series—is clearly the issue they’re getting at in this attempt to reach out. “In the next game you will experience a globetrotting Agent 47 at the prime of his career—the apex predator stalking his prey across the world,” says the open letter. Levels that exceed the size of anything seen in the series to date are promised, without checkpoints and inspired by Contracts and Blood Money.
This information emerged a few weeks after nervous speculation about the future of Hitman, following a LinkedIn profile that mentioned a canceled project in the series (actually a mobile-related title). A reference to using “what we have learnt through Hitman: Absolution” is there to reassure fans who worry about the prospect of another disastrous storydriven bloodbath. One oddity that’s been stricken from this new entry is the animation quirk of weapons magically appearing from Agent 47’s jacket. It’s a return to what fans liked about Hitman, then—which is all anyone wanted Absolution to be in the first place. It’s a bit sad that it took such a contentious reaction for IO to get in tune with what that was, but at least it’s happening. One hangover from
Absolution, Contracts Mode, will reappear, enabling players to create custom challenges in these bigger levels. We want Hitman to be strong again. The principles of Blood Money have not been replicated successfully since its release, and if IO still has the capacity to reach that high watermark then we’d like to see it try. Freedom of approach and environments that fostered experimentation were intrinsic to the original success of Hitman. The last time IO showed it could make a game like that was eight years ago. The intention to return to the series’ roots is reassuring, but parts of the fanbase, offended by Absolution’s tonal stupidity and lack of complexity, will need more evidence that IO is up to the job. Samuel Roberts
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FOR THE WIN
Tales of gaming’s glory
Ben Griffin has a photorealistic face and a cel-shaded, low-resolution soul.
We can scan entire buildings, with hundreds of rooms. InfomatrIx3D is bringing true photorealism to videogames
The scanned-in content won’t be inert, either, instead supporting effects such as dynamic lighting and environmental destruction. “You can use this same technology as in other games...We did tests wandering in an abandoned building with a flashlight. When there is an opponent, I was truly terrified! You will have to design the game so someone doesn’t have a heart attack.” Just how viable is this technology? “We have all the information compressed, streamed,” Płonka assures, keen to calm fears that current PCs can’t handle Yes, that really such massive resolutions. “In is a screenshot. the future, when there will be better displays and graphics cards, we’ll be able to see the full quality.” It’s one of many ideas. Płonka claims Better Reality once used a GPS-enabled drone to scan the Polish city of Lublin. But, well, “it just did not work.” Some worry games will lose creativity in the pursuit of authenticity, but Infomatrix3D is about more than making rooms look realistic. It’s a foundation on which to build entirely new worlds, where elements of reality could become building blocks for realms of fantasy, horror, and sci-fi. Płonka suggests Infomatrix3D could change the very way games are made. “Exploration should be an experience. Realism and sense of presence in the digital world will be so big that this is a completely new way to design games...I would like to play a game that is not based on, for example, shooting.”
Get even is the first Game to use infomatrix3D
Lead designer Wojtek Pazdur explains the creation of a level
“In some locations we’re using scanned places. [Elsewhere] it’s 1:1, adding objects or particle effects only.”
“Sometimes we’re re-arranging room layouts or adding obstacles and cover… Customizing areas to different degrees.”
“And in some cases we’re using scanned elements as ‘Lego blocks,’ to build completely new structures.”
But who watches the spy?
The Spy’s jetpack is fueled by rumors, which are never in short supply.
espite the weak reception that contributed to the demise of publisher THQ and the closure of developers Kaos Studios, near-future FPS Homefront is getting a sequel. Video footage has emerged allegedly showing an early prototype of the game, now being made by Crytek. We see a remote control car being driven around an unfinished-looking environment, a multiplayer map, and some menus bearing the new developer’s logo. This, along with a pair of murky screenshots spotted in a Crytek promotional handout, suggests that the project is very much in development. It’s currently scheduled for release in 2015. Steam’s stats page may have accidentally revealed a number of unannounced games. The mistake was spotted by a NeoGAF poster and lists, among a few known unreleased titles, Killing Floor 2, Half-Minute Hero 2, and an HD version of the previously handheldonly Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. However, The Spy reminds you that games have leaked like this before on Steam, yet were never actually released. Grain of salt advised. According to the LinkedIn profile of Eidos Montreal senior game designer Heath Smith, the studio is working on an “unannounced AAA third-person action adventure.” The Spy wonders if this is part of Square Enix’s mysterious multi-game Deus Ex Universe project, or something else entirely. Development of the game
Rumors are emerging about the future of the Assassin’s Creed series. Ubisoft allegedly has two new games coming out in 2014, but they’re said to be console exclusives. The Spy isn’t worried about this, since every game in the main series to date has appeared on PC, but it’s a curious rumor. Black Flag was an excellent port, so Ubisoft is clearly taking PC seriously. Ubisoft Sofia producer Momchil Valentinov told Examiner that multiple Creed games next year is “definitely a possibility.” The Spy has never been in any doubt that Grand Theft Auto V will be coming to PC. Of course it is. All the others have, and Rockstar likes money—and potential evidence of its existence has been discovered by fansite GTA Forums. A huge 150-page internal bug list has apparently been leaked, and contains over 170 references to the PC version of the game, with mentions of DirectX 11 effects and a 64-bit build. The Spy reckons it’ll hit PC in March, then shoot it, then stab it, and run it over with its car. The Spy approves. Another potential scoop has been located on the developer-betraying LinkedIn, this time by Official
Games have leaked like this before, yet were never released.
seems to have started in November 2013, so it may be some time before The Spy uncovers any more details.
Xbox Magazine. According to the profile of Lionhead animator Franck Laurin, the studio, which is now owned by Microsoft, has been working on an “unannounced project.” Laurin left the studio in September 2013, but presumably this title is still in development. Its PC presence has been nonexistent since the days of Black & White and The Movies, but perhaps this heralds a return. Mirror’s Edge writer Rhianna Pratchett won’t be returning to write the sequel, she revealed on Twitter. “I’m not and wasn’t asked,” she told her followers. “I came in late to the first game. My script was hacked up and I wasn’t happy.” Mirror’s Edge 2, which doesn’t actually have a name yet, tells the origin story of hero Faith, and will be powered by DICE’s Frostbite engine. Development of the sequel was recently halted, as well as the anticipated Star Wars: Battlefront, while the studio worked on fixing Battlefield 4’s online problems. Rumors suggest that The Division, Ubisoft’s intriguing and beautiful-looking apocalyptic survival sim, has been delayed until 2015. “The game engine works well,” an anonymous Ubisoft source allegedly told Gamereactor, “but actual game development has barely begun. The fact that Ubisoft issued a 2014 release date seems laughable. This is a big project and we have very far to go.” The Spy is always wary of anonymous sources (other than his own, of course) but wouldn’t be surprised if such an ambitious game was delayed. Finally, Ukrainian studio Frogwares, known for its Sherlock Holmes adventure games, is working on a Call of Cthulhu horror title. Publisher Focus Home Interactive says the title is also being developed for next-gen consoles, so expect a graphical leap over anything the
studio has made before. Spy out.
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Played it Hands-on with Left 4 Dead’s sci-fi successor
icture Left 4 Dead on Avatar’s world of Pandora. Picture hordes of exotic wildlife, some friendly and some not so. Picture Bill, Zoey, Louis, and Francis replaced by four interplanetary Hunters charged with protecting human colonies in deep space. And picture a 30ft-tall beast gunning for them. Picture that, and you’ve gone some way to picturing Evolve, the new four-on-one sci-fi shooter from Left 4 Dead makers Turtle Rock. Founded in 2002, the developer made its name with the Valve-owned CounterStrike: Condition Zero, and later CounterStrike: Source. Then after a prod by Valve to design its own property, the CounterStrike custodians replied with arguably READ ME the best zombie game Developer ever. That was six Turtle Rock Studios years ago. publisher “We wanted to do 2K something big before link www.evolvegame.com people forgot that we
were the Left 4 Dead developers,” says Turtle Rock’s executive producer Matt O’Driscoll. “We learned a lot from that game in terms of multiplayer and co-op. Evolve carries the Left 4 Dead DNA.” In Evolve, up to five players face off in class-based combat. Four of them band together as Hunters, while the last plays the monster, which will be different on
Six years ago, the team created arguably the best zombie game ever—Left 4 Dead. each map. On Forest Ruin it’s the Goliath, who plays like the offspring of a Rancor and King Kong. O’Driscoll likens each 20-minute match to an epic boss battle. Unlike most scripted encounters, where you aim for a glowing weak spot and dodge a flurry of forecasted attackers, fights here progress organically. They “evolve,” of course. “We learnt that people like playing
cooperatively,” says Phil Robb, founder and art director at Turtle Rock. “We’re always looking for experiences we want that nobody has given us. That’s where a lot of our game ideas come from. As far as what we brought over, it’s a lot of small things.” Incapacitations, for example: “People don’t just want to die. We want to give them a chance to come back.” A lot carries over, but much has also been left behind—Valve, for example. “Certainly Valve had a big part in the initial days of Turtle Rock,” Robb says. “We worked very closely with them, we learned a lot from working with them. But some of their things are a little different from the way we want to do things. We have often been asked this question: ‘You did Left 4 Dead, but how much did you really do?’ We’re not going to sit here and say a bunch of words and expect you to take our word for it. We’re going to make a kickass game. We’ll do our best to prove that Turtle Rock is the real deal, and we don’t necessarily need Valve to be great ... as much as we respect and love them.”
Fire breath is one of five special abilities. Use it to take out bunched-up Hunters.
The Goliath can grab Hunters if he times his melee right.
Look at those giant coils on Markov’s back. Tesla would be proud.
Turtle Rock wants to establish its own identity, and the way to do that is Shear. A topographically scattershot ball of rock spinning on the end of the Milky Way’s longest arm, Shear is Earth if humanity languished in the middle of the food chain. We’ve broken from the bounds of the Solar System and spread out across the galaxy. There are colonies everywhere, and the farther you get from Earth, the more inhospitable they become. There is no planet farther than Shear. It’s one big frontier town, and people are settling there for the same reason that they settled in the American West. Money. Opportunity. A new life. “Early on, we tried some experiments with making the planet super weird, but at some point you take that too far and people become uncomfortable,” Robb says. “You want to create a world where people understand the rules ... so you draw heavy inspiration from Earth environments.” That’s the ice, desert, and lava levels confirmed, then. “I think you see that in pretty much every science fiction movie ever,” he adds.
“Star Wars certainly did that with Hoth and
[Tatooine]. Avatar did it too. You’ll
think that you’re in a jungle on Earth, but then something pops out and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s new.’” That’s where our Hunters come in. They’re planet tamers—think Liam Neeson in The Grey armed with armorpiercing bullets rather than poems. They drop down from ships and safeguard colonies from sharp-toothed natives. “The thing is,” Robb says, “these guys are used
You want people to understand the rules... so you draw heavily on Earth environments. to dealing with a certain level of wildlife, but they get here and the monsters are a bit above what they’re used to. So they find themselves in a tricky situation. These things are intelligent and they’ve got some mysterious unknown agenda that we don’t understand.” Pitting differently-powered players against each other recalls Left 4 Dead’s Infected mode. The main difference here
Pictured: your mom.
being that, rather than monsters hunting humans, for the most part humans hunt monsters. So what’s to stop the bigger and faster Goliath from simply legging it? On the mode I played, Hunt, the Goliath must meet its own objective to win: here it is to destroy the generators. Thing is, he starts as something small and squishy—no match for a team of heavily armed Hunters. So his aim is to roam the map killing and eating its fauna in order to bulk up. The first of many different types and builds of boss, Goliath is a brawler type who can scramble up vertical surfaces and leap like Ang Lee’s Hulk. In terms of handling he reminds me of Left 4 Dead’s Tank—Goliath can charge, wrench, and throw rocks from the ground, and flail around with his slab of a forearm. Only after evolving is he ready to tackle the generators. There are three stages of evolution—think of them in terms of height. Stage one: 10ft. Stage two: 20ft. Stage three: 30ft. Before the match starts you’ll choose two abilities, and then an
extra one upon each evolution. The general rule with consuming creatures
The Goliath mid-charge: you do not want to stand here. The Goliath shows visual damage. The more you shoot, the more he bleeds.
The art style is utilitarian sci-fi, like Alien or Blade Runner.
is that the tougher they are, the quicker you’ll evolve. Those long-armed sloths are a pushover compared to imposing herds of dinosaur deer with blue spiral snouts, but they don’t drop nearly as much meat. The fiercest animals give health bonuses and damage buffs, but sometimes they’re better left alone entirely. Turtle Rock calls these “elite animals.” One such elite bathes in a cloudy shallow pool on Forest Ruins, an alligatorsnapping turtle hybrid the size of a train caboose. Robb explains: “One of the cool techniques as the monster is, say you’re a little bit banged up but you need to bring the fight to [the Hunters], go hang out by the Tyrant pool. He’s more standoffish against a stage three monster but he loves to eat Hunters. So you sit around there and sooner or later you’re going to knock one of those poor buggers into the pool and he’s going to eat them and all hell breaks loose. It’s a really great strategy for the monster to use.” Indeed, there are numerous ways to utilize Shear’s wildlife. As a stage one Goliath fleeing the Hunters, I spot a reaver den and cut through it. They’re too
small to pose a threat to me but they’ll certainly give humans a hard time. Then, after lengthening the gap, I circle around and gobble up all the freshly killed reaver corpses. Yummy. The wildlife stands in for Left 4 Dead’s common Infected, but they’re less in number and not as consistently aggressive. Sloths might give you a swat if you walk too close but they’re not out for blood. The monkey-like reavers, on the other
The fiercest animals give health bonuses, but sometimes they are better left alone. hand, are. Pack animals, they’ll come after Hunters. At one point a Jockey-type jumped on my face and exploded in a green cloud of noxious gas. But what of Left 4 Dead’s memorable horde technology? “In terms of that sense of being overwhelmed, we were not really aiming for that, but a different kind of tension,” Robb says. When you’ve gorged on enough local
wildlife to fill your bar, you can evolve. Choose your moment though, because just like a teenager in puberty, you’re especially vulnerable during your transitional period. A ground-trembling roar echoes around the level when you grow, signaling that the Hunters are about to become the hunted. However, if the Goliath instead wants to play it safe and evolve further, Hunters have ways of finding him. They can follow the roars, feel vibrations in their controllers, and look for flocks of unsettled alien birds that give away the Goliath’s position. There are also sound spikes to stick in the ground that alert the team to suspicious movement, electric mines (up to eight of which can be planted at once), and waypoints. For the latter, clicking the right stick paints a yellow marker on the horizon in order to guide teammates towards areas of interest. If you happen to highlight the monster as you do so, this marker glows red. All Hunters have jetpacks as well. Navigating Shear’s craggy terrain would prove impossible without them. They’re limited by a cool-down timer, but Evolve
All the characters have cool little touches, like cigar-chomping Hank. The Hunters protect the generator from a third tier Goliath.
It’s not just the boss you need to watch for—these sloths are riled, too.
is generous with it. If you fall short of a steep cliff, you’ll automatically amble your way up to save being separated from your buddies. There are also Hunter-only perils. At one point I plunged down a deep human-sized hole that took an entire jetpack boost to escape from. Each of the four Hunters has a unique role in the team. As the Trapper, Griffin tries to control the monster’s movement. His harpoon gun slows it, and he has sole access to tracking devices called sound spikes. His most important ability is the mobile arena. If timed correctly, you can trap the monster under a huge energy dome for a limited time. This is where the Markov the Assault comes in. His close-range lightning gun and long-range rifle make him the DPS man, and when the going gets tough a personal shield makes him momentarily invulnerable. If the Trapper and Assault are the frontman and guitarist of the group, Support man Hank is the drummer. His laser cutter deals moderate damage, but his shield gun makes him great backup: aim it at someone to reduce their damage. He also has a cloak, and anyone inside its
radius will be rendered completely invisible to the monster, who will have to rely on infrared smell-o-vision. Hank also has a fearsome orbital strike. Lastly, Medic Val’s medgun emits green beams of health, and her healing blast instantly replenishes teammates within the radius. She’s important in tracking, too. Her tranquillizer rifle slows the monster to a crawl, while her anti-material rifle pierces its skin. If teammates target the hit
Each of the Hunters has a unique role, and combining powers is the key to victory. area, they’ll deal extra damage. Combining powers is key to victory. For example, restricting the monster’s movement with the harpoon gun, trapping it with the mobile arena, and then slowing it with the tranquillizer rifle allows the Support to line up an orbital barrage. These characters are designed to be memorable, too. Griffin looks fresh from the outback with his Aussie hat and
hunting knife. The bruiser Hank has a lucky playing card strapped to his bicep. Markov heaves a pair of chunky Tesla coils on his shoulders. In both shape and color, these characters are immediately identifiable in a firefight. Each class will contain several characters, too. “All the Assault guys are big guys. Markov has these double Tesla coils but the other guys have [their own] things. We want the monster to take a look and base his strategy on who he’s facing. Once you play it long enough you’ll learn what characters can do. ‘Oh there’s Markov, I’m going to play this way to counteract what he can do.’ Each one of the Assault guys does damage their own way,” says Robb. This, he hopes, will lend longevity to the game. Indeed, there’s a lot more to come from the currently pre-alpha Evolve. Despite the absence of Valve, first contact leaves me impressed with its distinctly Left 4 Dead level of polish. Turtle Rock has evidently learned from the masters and grown as a game-maker. The team has evolved, and perhaps the very idea of co-op will, too. Ben Griffin
Combat will still be tough, with new animations and attacks to master.
Dark souls II
NEW INFO Limited voice chat? Dedicated servers? Praise the sun!
rom Software promises Dark Souls II won’t bear the scars of a hasty PC port. Its predecessor arrived on PC in 2012 battered and crippled, limited to a 1024x720 resolution, burdened with Games for Windows Live and almost unplayable with keyboard and mouse. The PC version of Dark Souls, explains director Yui Tanimura in an interview with PC Gamer, “was a simple port to provide the PC version to fans as soon as possible.” Dark Souls II, he says, “will include the so-called standard PC game features providing a better, more in-depth gaming experience for PC gamers. We are currently doing our best to finalize and deliver the PC version.” Promising. Modders saved Dark Souls on PC, READ ME unlocking its developer resolution constraints From Software and framerate, publisher customizing shields Bandai Namco and armor, and link www.darksoulsii.com making it easier for
friends to summon one another for assistance. It looks like From Software acknowledged those improvements while developing the sequel. Last year, a contest gave community members the opportunity to create custom shields for Dark Souls II. Two of the six winning designs were recently unveiled on Facebook.
We want to maintain the ‘loose’ connections with other players in the online space. Summoning, too, may take after a helpful PC mod. Earlier previews revealed that there will be two different items for summoning co-op phantoms in Dark Souls II, and summoned players will only be able to stick around for a limited time. It sounds like a (confusingly) restrictive system, and there’s no straight up play-with-yourbuddies co-op option coming in Dark Souls II. But it will be easier to connect with friends, Tanimura tells us.
“We want to maintain the ‘loose’ connections with other players in the online space, and will not have any ways of directly playing with friends,” he says. “But we do understand the requests for a closer connection amongst friends, and so we will add elements such as items to narrow in your co-op partners, and also add voice chat in specific situations.” We don’t know how often, or when, voice chat will be available. But those brief windows of human contact—perhaps during boss fights, or in covenant skirmishes—may end up enhancing the oppressive isolation that blankets the single-player experience. We can already hear voices cutting off mid-sentence as deadly traps and vicious ambushes rob us of our short-lived friendships. Blood messages, bloodstains, and ghosts will carry over from Dark Souls more or less unchanged. Though From Software is still tight-lipped about specifics, it sounds like the switch to dedicated servers with Dark Souls II will allow for more nuance in the online system. Tanimura tells us that additional
You can still summon allies for assistance, though they may not stick around for long.
“If there’s something strange / in your neighboorhood / Who ya gonna call?”
PvP between rival covanents could impact the game’s difficulty.
features will impact how players are matched up. When asked about world tendency—a feature from Demon Souls that altered game difficulty based on the actions of thousands of online players— Tanimura says there isn’t any world tendency in Dark Souls II, but that’s not the whole story. “Dark Souls II involves a dedicated game server, and so there may be instances where certain happenings or events are carried out,” he says. “But we have not been able to reveal anything at this point.” Single-player purists who avoid PVP and summoning may not notice the changes From Software is making for Dark Souls II. Game balance, however, they’ll defend to the death with an oversized greatsword. Will Dark Souls II be too easy? Based on what we’ve played: nope. Tanimura says that Dark Souls II “will focus on streamlining the game play
experience to more directly portray the pure essence of the Dark Souls experience.” Which doesn’t mean Dark Souls II will be easier. Consecutive deaths as an undead will temporarily rob players of up to 50 percent of their health, forcing a tough decision: play with a major HP handicap, or turn human and risk being invaded by other players? The difficulty will still be there, but it isn’t the point of the game; it’s a tool the developers use to push players towards that rush of adrenaline and fulfillment that comes from mastery and execution (and masterfully executing bosses). “Our aim is to tune the difficulty to a level for players to be able to overcome and sense the highest sense of accomplishment possible,” Tanimura says. “With this, the AI will be tuned to react more naturally to the player actions, but at the same time, the player controls and motions will be more
Clementine could really mess up some walkers with a suit of armor.
natural and fitting to the actions carried out...We try to tune so that the games difficulty is not a result of the players reflexes or ability to effectively use the controller, but will be based more on the player’s ability to learn from mistakes and be flexible in strategizing, and paying attention to all that happens around them.” Dark Souls II doesn’t have a release date set for PC, but it’s set to his PS3 and Xbox 360 on March 11 in the US and March 14 in Europe. Wesley Fenlon
RELEASE MARCH 2014 April 2014
If you make a space game now, it has to be beautiful.
It also has to have asteroid mining.
Played it An online sim that’s ambitious, but still finding its space-feet
his new space MMO has been released on Steam Early Access by Artplant, the team behind the browser-based Battlestar Galactica Online. It’s Artplant’s attempt at recreating the dynamic, player-driven universe of EVE Online, giving players the opportunity to mine, trade, explore, and fry each other with lasers across 120 explorable star systems. CCP’s game has had the benefit of 10 years of iteration and updates, so it’s a hard act to follow. When you load the game you’re dumped straight into the character creation screen. They could really have done with some kind of cinematic here, introducing new players to the universe, but I imagine we’ll see that in a more complete build. The editor is impressively flexible, enabling you READ ME to freely mix and developer match human and Artplant alien features without publisher any the limitations of Jagex sticking to a particular link www.playentropy.com race. I created a jug-
eared, green-skinned thing, although players will only see me as a still portrait. Spaceships are piloted manually. You steer with the WASD keys, manage speed with the mouse wheel, and roll with Q and E. While it’s nice to have full control over your ship in a game like this, the operation is frustratingly sluggish. I felt like I was driving a tractor through a lake of syrup, rather than blazing through the cosmos.
Entropy will have to do something pretty special to stand out from the crowd. You start your career by completing a series of tutorials, which feel half-finished and end abruptly—this is definitely an Early Access game. You’re taught the basics of the combat system first, which is faintly reminiscent of Wing Commander and X. You have to lead fast-moving targets to hit them, which contrasts with EVE’s slower back-and-forths. A reticule gives you a rough idea of how far ahead of an
enemy to aim your shots. The developer says the game supports space battles of up to 100 ships, but my experience of playing was pretty lonely; I rarely felt the presence of other players. But if the universe doesn’t feel as alive as it should, it’s new and still building up its player base, so I’ll let it off. Without anyone to team up with, I worked through some jobs on my own. They were fine. Standard MMO fare, with no particularly memorable writing or design yet. Until the population expands, it’s difficult to judge Entropy. Artplant says it’s a universe designed to be shaped by players, so I don’t think its vision will be fully realized until the servers fill up. Whether it’s a powerful enough platform to create the kinds of fascinating stories that emerge from EVE’s sandbox remains to be seen, but I admire the developer’s ambition. The success of Star Citizen, which has raised a staggering $37 million, proves people are hungry for space sims, but Entropy will have to do something special to stand out from the crowd. Andy Kelly
RELEASE 2014 24
NEW INFO Turbine’s comic book lane pusher gets a three-lane map
t’s telling that Turbine has waited so long to release its three-lane map for Infinite Crisis. That particular layout is the standard, and the foundation upon which the genre gets its strategy. But from Turbine’s point of view, just replicating what other games have done— including League of Legends and Dota 2— would only hurt its game’s chances to stand out in the MOBA crowd. “This is our big achievement,” creative director Cardell Kerr tells me as we watch his quality assurance team run through yet another match on Gotham Divided, the game’s in-development three-lane arena. “When you think of Counter-Strike, you think of de_dust. And it’s like, you’re going to try to make a new version of this map? That’s great. You need to make that version at READ ME least as good.” developer Turbine Throughout the publisher match, Gotham Warner Bros. Divided’s use of Interactive destructible link www.infinitecrisis.com environments
consistently separates it from those other games. When one team destroys a tower in the bottom lane, the blast radius opens up new paths around it, adding areas for additional ganking and escape. Much of the main jungle on the map is gated off by destructible vehicles and dumpsters, enabling a few players from one team optimize their route by bashing through them and getting earlier access to mobs.
It’s an aggressive, skirmish-heavy match, which fits nicely with the superhero theme. “We’re all about environmental destruction,” lead designer Ryan Bednar says. “Not only to sell the power of the characters, but also to make it so you could change the map as you play it.” The three-lane map also uses many of the micro-objective ideas Turbine developed in its two-lane Coast City map, but without as much reliance on them. The end result is an aggressive, skirmish-
heavy match, which fits nicely with the superhero theme. Standing out from the competition is key for modern MOBA developers. Turbine’s advantage is the world it gets to play with: DC Comics. Everyone wants to be Batman, Superman, or Wonder Woman, and DC’s long history of alternate realities means Turbine can take a base hero or villain and create extreme variations, based on specific parts of a character’s personality. Batman uses fear to intimidate criminals—Nightmare Batman takes that to its unnatural extreme, playing off the vampiric version of Bruce Wayne from Batman: Red Rain to tailor the character for extreme damage and assassination roles. Arcane Green Lantern reimagines Hal Jordan as a medieval knight instead of an Air Force pilot, changing the character’s traditional abilities of a damage-dealing blaster into a more support-based role. The champion roster includes role variety while still making sure that each character is accessible to newbies—a demographic the studio is clearly going after.
Batman Prime, in his prime.
Arcane Green Lantern. Or World of Warcraft Judge Dredd. Who can say.
Most interesting is the version of DC’s flagship hero that Turbine shows me, from the game’s Mecha universe. This Superman launches a car across the map, sending his foes scattering. The violence may not match your standard view of the Man From Krypton, but neither does his appearance. Instead of blue tights and a flowing cape, this Superman is completely robotic, like a Transformers version of a superhero made from farming equipment and scraps of Americana. Bednar tells me that the design team referenced animated film The Iron Giant for the character’s backstory. Instead of a child sent from Krypton, Martha and Jonathan Kent discover a Kryptonian probe, and their son Clark activates it and teaches it how to be humanity’s greatest hero. There is no precedent for this character, but the implementation feels like it could be a one-shot comic. Not to mention that thwacking mobs aside with Mecha Superman’s wheat-thresher-turnedpower staff is over-the-top fun. Turbine’s transition to lane pusher developer is a big shift from their previous
life as an MMO studio; moving away from expanding games such as LOTRO to
“You wanna know how I got these shoes?”
refining a wizard-’em-up could have been jarring. But Bednar tells me it was a welcome change for his team, as the smaller scope allows for more attention to detail. “When you’re working on an MMO, you’re constantly adding more and more features and systems,” he says. “When we started talking about making a MOBA, we thought, ‘Holy crap, we can build one map with three lanes, and not have to worry about increasing your level cap or adding a new expansions.’”
Mecha Superman takes the whole Man of Steel thing too literally.
Instead of blue tights and a flowing cape, this Superman is completely robotic. Gotham Divided will be available to closed-beta players, and in the game’s open beta, but the team plans to keep refining it even after it’s in the wild. “The most important thing for us on this map is not just to do no harm,” Kerr says, “but to add gameplay where there is no gameplay in the other maps. It’s pretty damn important.” Cory Banks
RELEASE 2014 april 2014
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Played It Tactical espionage meets XCOM meets ’60s spy movies
lei Entertainment’s Invisible, Inc. is a big, turn-based game of hide-and-go-seek. Seriously, peering nervously around corners is a large part of this game. In fact, paranoid surveillance is all but mandatory for success. This is not a game where you brazenly swagger in, guns a-blazing. This is an environment for tactical espionage, a place where you shiftily lure patrols into janitorial closets, knock them unconscious, lock them in, walk out and install a shock trap on the door for good measure. Not that guns aren’t readily available. Even the team you begin with, the stealthoriented ACME Agency, is dressed in appropriate artillery. The problem here is that bullets are expensive. They cost READ ME action points to shoot, developer Klei Entertainment action points to publisher reload. More crucially, Klei Entertainment they cost you Invisible, link Inc.’s most precious www.invisibleinc game.com resource: anonymity.
Sometimes, all it takes to acquire your very own personal firing squad is a single, illtimed gunshot. Similarly, virtually anything you do can potentially trigger an unwanted firefight. A misstep onto a pressure-sensitive floor panel? Being impolite to a computer geek when he finds you rooting through the mainframe? Totally legitimate ways to get yourself killed. Which is OK, because you weren’t
After a few attempts, I realized I needed to peek first and select actions later. meant to be a trenchcoat-swaddled secret agent if your solution to everything is brute force. This game can and will dock cash for “cleaning bills.” Very much still in the alpha stage of development, Invisible, Inc. is both promising and frustrating. That’s partially because this complicated game of cat-andmouse doesn’t open with a tutorial. Instead, it simply dumps your two-man
team in a quiet room with a computer console. No mission statement, no explanation as to what the buttons peppering the interface meant. Good luck, buddy. You’re on your own. HQ is watching. Off you go. Much of my first two hours with the game was spent feeling slightly bewildered. At first, I tried it the old-fashioned way. I led operatives through doors and had their partners shadow them closely. It wasn’t an effective technique. Guards would dogpile on them, robots would perforate their toes with bullets. It was only after a few desperate attempts that I realized I needed to peek first and select actions later. Likewise, the importance of the Mainframe mode didn’t really sink in until I successfully appropriated a turret, staged a bloodied commotion in the far end of the building, and sneaked away while the guards were busy investigating. Situations like that are what invite return visits to Invisible, Inc.’s tense, procedurallygenerated levels. While currently missions are rarely more complicated than “escape the floor” or “shut down computer and
Rarely has shopping been so hazardous.
We have you out, er, roboted.
then flee,” they present opportunities to string together complex maneuvers and test your facility at outwitting rooms full of guards. There’s also the challenge of balancing greed and pragmatism. CPU points, the currency used to hack into the game’s electronic systems, don’t carry from level to level. Credits do. As a result, you’re forever perched on the razor’s edge of a decision. Do you ransack that safe and rescue that captured agent so you can expand your two-man operation, or charge to the exit? It helps that Invisible, Inc. controls easily enough. While weighted with a hundred variables to consider, the game itself operates on familiar rhythms. Your agents all come with specialized talents and unique skills. Each turn, you decide how they’ll spend their action and movement points. Minor tasks such as snooping around corners or opening doors will not take up precious action points but scanning for adjacent machinery will. Once you’ve exhausted your options, it’s time to pass control to the AI. As with many turn-based games these days, navigating the interface requires only a click of the left or right mouse button.
Interestingly, Mainframe mode exists
separately from this exchange of turns. So long as CPU points are available, it’s entirely possible to continue hacking through electronics, forcing safes to yield their contents and cameras to defect to your purposes. But Invisible, Inc.’s cyberspace has its hazards. Some devices are rigged with viruses or failsafes. New programs are installed at random, making it all the more needful to ration your CPU points. Make one mistake and you might find yourself subjected to lockdown. There’s a lot to be excited about in Invisible, Inc. Klei Entertainment’s clean, comic book art style works fabulously with the slightly campy ’60s spy movie aesthetic. If you’re willing to contend with a nighvertical learning curve (or dally with a community guide), it’s definitely worth picking up in its current state. Already, the game is accumulating updates, the most recent of which introduced unlockable teams and a new metagame. For Klei Entertainment, a semi-indie studio already associated with reliability and cool stealth games, a bright future seems written in permanent ink.
“I think they’re dead.” “Just a minute, honey. I’m checking his wallet.”
Beautiful blonde woman behind laser bars? Sounds legit.
RELEASE 2014 april 2014
The voice cast will include Lynda Carter, John Cleese, Bill Nighy, Kate Beckinsale, Michael Gambon, and Malcolm McDowell. TESO is set in Tamriel a millennium before the events of Skyrim.
Group encounters are new to The Elder Scrolls, but a familiar part of MMOs.
THE ELDER SCROLLS ONLINE PLAYED IT Bethesda’s MMO needs to prove it’s more than just a big name
orget about The Elder Scrolls for a moment. The Elder Scrolls Online is an MMO by the former lead designer of Ultima Online and the former producer of Dark Age of Camelot. The latter is one of my all-time favorite games and TESO is, structurally, its spiritual successor. Each of the game’s three factions will meet in battle for control of a central province, Cyrodiil, much as DAoC’s three realms battled over each others’ hinterlands a decade ago. TESO even borrows DAoC’s “relic” system. It’ll be possible to steal Elder Scrolls from enemy factions to boost the power of your own. Providing that it works as well as it did in DAoC, this will give world PvP a longterm narrative and sense of structure, READ ME allowing players to Developer trace the course of the Zenimax Online Studios campaign as power publisher swings from one Bethesda competitor to another. link The bonds that I www.elderscrolls online.com formed on DAoC’s
frontier are still part of my life—The Elder Scrolls Online appeals to me because it’s a sequel to that game, not because it promises to be Skyrim with other people. I asked lead designer Paul Sage how TESO was going to succeed as an MMO, rather than as an Elder Scrolls game. “We want to make a great online RPG first and foremost,” he says. He points to the game’s minimal user interface and twitch-based
Elder Scrolls Online is structurally the spiritual successor to Dark Age of Camelot. combat as elements that will set it apart. They are tweaks to the formula that will mean something to MMO veterans, although they may pass under the radar for players unused to the genre’s conventions. “We feel that an audience coming from titles like Ultima Online, DAoC, EverQuest, EVE, and many more fantastic games will see things that appeal to them and their community,” he continues. I have doubts
about the notion that you need “a little bit of everything” in an MMO; DAoC and Ultima created meaningful experiences because they challenged players to fit their pattern, not the other way around. It’s a successful model: a game about being murdered for a can of beans can sell a million copies on Steam. But MMO orthodoxy says that a player challenged is a player lost, and so developers smooth out the curves on their roller coasters. But Sage says the team has had surprising feedback from beta testers. “Many like the game to be more difficult, progression to be slower,” he says. “It’s something I don’t think anyone really expected.” Players are carrying a torch for hardcore MMOs even when developers won’t, and Sage believes that it’s the interaction between players that will really come to define the game. Whether or not TESO is able to escape franchise MMO purgatory will depend on how free its developer is to cater to the dedicated audiences that have always defined games like this: how free they are, in short, to forget about The Elder Scrolls. Chris Thursten
RELEASE ApRil 32
The FuTure oF PC GaminG
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long live the new flesh! virtual reality is finally real By tyler wilde irtual reality is here. Finally! We’ve been waiting decades for technology that has seemed feasible and inevitable since the ’70s, but has always been too expensive for anyone without a Defense Department contract or a joke, a novelty that only pretends at real VR. The Oculus Rift headset—which is now being prototyped by Oculus VR—is no joke.
Why VR works now
Consumer head-mounted displays (HMDs) existed before the Oculus Rift, but they weren’t nearly the stuff of cyberpunk fiction. A plastic toy can shine stereoscopic images into the eyes, but proper virtual reality requires an HMD with lowlatency head tracking, high-resolution screens, minimal motion blur, and a wide field-of-view. The first Rift prototype was 36
close, but still made our managing editor, Cory Banks, quit Half-Life 2 when his lunch quit him. The latest hi-res prototype, however, strapped Cory and his stomach into a space battle with enough fidelity to keep his lunch secure. By overcoming its biggest critic—the sensitive human body—VR has proven it’s ready to arrive in our homes. Whether it’s the Oculus Rift or a competitor’s device, VR is real, and we’ll be using it in the next year or two. Mind you, modern VR technology is nowhere near matching the dreams of sci-fi writers—we still need better motion control, haptic feedback, and face capture solutions—but think of the Rift as the PC you would have played Doom on in 1993. We look back at those Pentium-powered antiques and laugh, but we bought them
then because Doom was worth it. The VR tech of 2034 will make today’s Oculus Rift look silly, but VR is just sophisticated enough now to be worth having, and that’s why this is its watershed moment.
This moment isn’t just about playing the same games we are now but with screens strapped to our faces. Virtual reality isn’t a type of display; it’s a new gaming medium and it needs its own kind of games. As a first step, simulation makes sense. The closer technology gets to simulating reality, the better suited it is for simulations of reality. In the most basic VR scenario, you’re sitting in a chair with a headset on, which makes it perfect for games about sitting in a cockpit or driver’s seat. Expect VR support to be standard in driving, flight, and space sims—Project Cars, for instance, already supports the Rift, and EVE Online developer CCP is making a dogfighting game designed specifically for the headset (EVE Valkyrie is what Cory enjoyed at CES). First-person shooters work in VR, too—I
The FuTure oF PC GaminG played through part of Half-Life 2 with a Rift developer kit—but slower is better. I doubt Titanfall would make a good VR shooter, for instance. Jetpacking up walls and being flung around by giant mechs might disorient even trained astronauts. “No matter how good you make a VR headset,” says Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey, “It won’t necessarily let you do everything you can do on a monitor without feeling disorienting, and that’s because a lot of things that you do in traditional games would make you sick if you did them in real life.” That doesn’t mean VR games will be mundane, but even on a psychedelic trip to Mars, movement needs to be natural enough that the mind can cope with the sensory invasion. So we’ll move more like people move, we’ll explore more, and more and more, we’ll stop being asked to wield a gun. In VR-land, pure shooters will further lose status as the default genre for first-person games. In their place, the survival-horror genre will continue its recent ascension— Zombie Studios is already developing the Rift-compatible Daylight—and the less masochistic will play first-person RPGs like Skyrim and exploration games like Dear Esther and The Stanley Parable. VR games won’t always be “games” as we’re used to thinking of them (as the last two I mentioned are either accused of or praised for). We’ll visit photorealistic 3D-scanned replicas of foreign landmarks. We’ll bounce on the surface of the moon with friends. We’ll dive into the Mariana trench in personal submarines. In Star Trek: TNG, the crew of the Enterprise didn’t visit the holodeck to endure war. They roleplayed in exotic places with simulated people, because virtual reality doesn’t require headshots or hitpoints to be alluring. Just being somewhere new is exciting—so, if you could go anywhere, where would you go?
beyond head tracking PC gaming with your hands and feet
Uses a weak magnetic field to precicely detect the position and orientation of two handheld controllers.
A keyboard for your hand— over 40 actions can be performed by touching your thumb to your fingers.
An omnidirectional treadmill so you can walk through Skyrim by actually walking— will VR make us fitter?
The latest Rift protoype, Crystal Cove, tracks both head rotation and position.
This isn’t just about playing the same games with screens strapped to our faces. VR is a new medium. In EVE Valkyrie, head tracking is used to lock on missiles.
the Future oF PC gaming
the living room Steam machineS, SteamOS, and Steam cOntrOller By cory Banks f anyone can direct and dictate the course of PC gaming for the next 10 years, it’s Valve. The creators of Steam—and a little game called HalfLife—have already changed how we get our games, and the prices we’re willing to pay for them. Now the company is going one step further, with an initative that will expand where PC games are played. It’s a plan comprised of three parts: SteamOS, the open-source operating system compiled by Valve and running on the Linux kernel; Steam Machines, PCs that are custom-built for living in an entertainment center; and Steam Controller, Valve’s solution to the input issues that have made living room computing, at best, an uncomfortable compromise. The message, according to Valve, is simple: “You want to bring your Steam library onto your sofa, and we’re building the best way for you to do that.” Well, kind of. The message from Valve has actually been far more mixed than that. The company has trumpeted what it sees as the primary value in PC gaming— openness—and pitched its entire initiative as a means to open the borders of what PC gaming has traditionally been: namely, tied to the office. Moving our gaming to the living room is a more complicated change than just putting a controller in our hands, however. If the future of PC games also includes the living room, the types of games you play could be drastically different.
The first step to move PC gaming toward the couch is both simple and hard: put more computers in the living room. To do that, Valve has partnered with 14 different hardware manufacturers, who are building their visions of what a small form factor, living-room centric PC should look like. These range in both price and concept: Gigabyte’s Brix Pro will be a tiny box with a Core i7 and Intel integrated graphics, with no set price point, while Digital Storm’s Bolt II includes an Nvidia GTX 780 Ti graphics card and costs more than $2,500. Most of the Steam Machines unveiled will be user-upgradable, while the in-development prototype from Alienware will be more of an appliance box, like the consoles from Microsoft and Sony. There are few unifying factors here, except that these machines will all run Valve’s SteamOS and come with a Steam Controller. (See pg. 95 for more info on these rigs.) Valve positions these machines as full 38
PCs, but optimized for the living room. As such, its operating system, SteamOS, will be tailored to get gamers into their Steam libraries quickly, but open enough to allow for everything else you’d expect: web browsing, music, and working with documents. It’s Linux, but with Steam’s Big Picture mode on top. The current beta of SteamOS is even available for download right now, for those who want to build their own machines or give the OS a test run on their machines (flip to pg. 91 to learn how to install it yourself). But it’s the Steam Controller that could be the biggest challenge—and the biggest hurdle—for PC gamers. The keyboard and mouse setup has been the cornerstone of our hobby since its beginning, but Valve is designing a controller that it says will provide the accuracy of a mouse and the flexible binding of the keyboard, all in a compact controller. It uses two highsensitivity trackpads instead of analog thumbsticks, and haptic feedback makes it crystal clear when you push in any direction on either pad. The controller also now had eight buttons on the front, in two, plus-shaped configurations, and Valve has abandoned plans to include a touchscreen on the front. These changes indicate that, while Valve wants to build the ultimate gamepad for living room PCs, it hasn’t solved all of the problems with its current prototype pad.
Why it could work
At this point, you may be asking yourself what Valve is thinking. “Why should I buy a second computer for my living room?” you may ask. “Play my PC games with a controller?” And sure, at first it sounds like Valve wants to create its own console to take on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. But that’s too simple a reaction to have to what’s happening here, and the potential future that Valve paints is one I’m cautiously optimistic about, for three reasons. The first reason is simple: living rooms are social areas. The most exciting part of playing your PC games in the living room will be sharing them with friends and family, face-to-face. Traditionally, PCs have been resigned to the office, the bedroom, the desk. Playing games there is a solitary experience—you don’t typically have an audience when you’re conquering the world in Civilization V, unless you’re livestreaming. Putting that experience on a couch, where you can sit with your friends, your spouse, or your pets will also change the way developers think about PC gaming, which I hope will lead to more social experiences in games that don’t require server browsers or anonymity. Someday soon, we’ll be able to play the deep, complex games that have always been on the PC, but right beside our friends and family. We’ve been
It’s the Steam Controller that could be the biggest change—and the biggest hurdle—for PC gamers. Valve’s Steam Controller uses dual trackpads instead of thumbsticks.
Steam conSole? Valve could make its own Steam Machine, but not now
Valve has sent out 300 prototype Steam Machines, but doesn’t plan to sell them
When Valve first announced it wanted to take PC gaming to the living room, many interpreteded the news as, “Valve’s making a console!” Well, not quite. Even though the company has sent out 300 of its own custombuilt Steam Machine prototypes for testing, the company isn’t interested in selling its own PCs in the near future. But it hasn’t ruled out the idea for later—when asked at International CES 2014 if a Valve-produced Steam Machine is on the way, head honcho Gabe Newell stated that the company will “continue to make that decision as we go along.” So maybe someday, but not soon.
The FuTure oF PC GaminG Why PC gamers need a CouCh-friendly keyboard and mouse We’re glad that Valve is removing some of the obstacles to playing Civilization V on our couch. It gets us imagining PC gaming as a more social experience for friends, family members, and whatever other human beings you let into your house. But even if Valve’s controller exceeds our expectations and plays a very wide set of games comfortably, there’s a serious need for a keyboard and mouse platform that can be used effortlessly on a couch. Just 302 of Steam’s 2,523 games feature full controller support, and 512 feature partial support—a cumulative third of the library. Even if we give generous consideration to Valve’s claim that the Steam Controller “[fools] older games into thinking they’re being played with a keyboard and mouse,” I’m still going to need to edit command lines, to chat with my Steam friends, to Alt + Tab, and no amount of virtual keyboards, haptic feedback, and autocomplete will ameliorate that. In particular, I don’t have high hopes for how well hotbar-
heavy games like Dota 2, Starbound, Path of Exile, RTSes and MMORPGs will handle on the Steam Controller. The peripheral, though, isn’t actually the problem—it’s the absence of a stable surface in the living room that rests above your legs. Conventional mice and keyboards can work in the living room, but not without a desklike platform to rest them on. With Valve’s initiative, third-party manufacturers should be scrambling to produce a lapboard that accommodates gaming mice and keyboards, if only because it’s an item that will help them sell more mice and keyboards. Razer has a small history of experiments like the Artemis prototype, teased at E3 2012 for MechWarrior Online, and the Razer Hydra, but more practically, Razer already makes left-handed keypads like the Orbweaver and Nostromo, devices that would be the perfect starting points for a compact lapboard. Logitech would be another good candidate; they make plenty of mainstream wireless peripherals, and on
playing together across the world for years—now we can play together on the same screen. It’s also an initiative that assures we’ll get more use out of our rigs. One of the most exciting features of SteamOS is its ability to stream games from your existing PC to the Steam Machine connected to your television. It’s important for two reasons: One, most games won’t support SteamOS or Linux right off the bat (just 307 do now), so streaming games that run in Windows to your Steam Machine will
The Phantom Lapboard was a good first step, but we need more. the gaming side they have an ambidextrous keypad we like, the G13. Valve should want such a peripheral to be available as an alternative to its controller. After all, a sturdy, inexpensive, versatile gaming lapboard would absolutely increase
imagine a world where your Steam Machine isn’t a PC at all, but a device that can plug into any screen in your house. allow you to access your whole library. But it doesn’t have to stop there: imagine a world where your Steam Machine isn’t a PC at all, but a device that can plug into any screen in your house. You could then play your Steam library on your living room TV, “or your bedroom TV, or even on a tablet device, like an iPad. It’s unclear exactly how inexpensive a device one could build to get flawless in-home streaming performance, but that’ll become clearer in 2014 as Steam’s in-home streaming leaves beta. My dream is for a streaming dongle that I can plug into any screen in my house.
The final reason we’re excited about Valve’s initiative is the one that could most easily go away: openness. Since Valve announced SteamOS in November 2013, it’s proclaimed that the ultimate goal is to provide more options for PC gaming. To Valve, that openness is defined by having the ability to move away from Microsoft, whose Windows 8 OS strikes as one giant move toward closed, app store-like 40
the adoption of living room PCs and SteamOS. Valve’s goal isn’t to sell controllers, it’s to get you playing PC games on your couch, and we should all want that proposition to be as effortless as possible. Evan Lahti
platforms for all software, including games. That would be devastating for Valve, since it runs the largest “app store” for videogames, but it’s not a great situation for us gamers, either. Valve’s solution is to shift the industry toward Linux, an operating system that is free in all of the important ways: free as in cost, and free as in, “do whatever the hell you want with it.” The immediate effect of SteamOS’ success is that DIY system builders can save $100 on a Windows license. That alone isn’t so bad. The longer-term effect, however, is that PC gamers may have many more choices in how they play their games. And that’s fantastic. All of this is dependent on the success of SteamOS, of course. At this early stage, I’m skeptical that there is as large of an audience for a $2,500 living room gaming PC as Valve hopes, and my brief hands-on time with Steam Controller left me curious, but unsure that the input options provided could be universal enough to address all of my favorite games. But it’s still early days for SteamOS, and the future looks bright.
Live sTreaming smile! the game you’re playing is live
By cory Banks
nless you suffer from debilitating performance anxiety, chances are good that you’ve tried live streaming. Thanks to services such as Twitch and apps like the free Open Broadcasting Software, it’s super easy to capture gameplay video or stream your playthrough live on the Internet. Which means the future of PC gaming is a comment room full of viewers, mocking your Hearthstone deck. Humiliation aside, this near-instant
access to people playing games, live right now, means that a game’s watchability—a word I just made up—is just as important as its playability. Esports is the prime example: the importance of a user interface that not only conveys info to the player, but the 300 people watching that player jungle, cannot be overstated. But even non-competitive games will embrace streaming in the future, with brighter colors and cleaner UIs. It’s just smart business: YouTubers playing your game is the greatest kind of marketing, and there’s no better way to
discover or learn a game than to watch someone play it. Livestreaming will also allow us to enjoy games when we simply can’t play them, an important factor as our community matures and responsibilities grow. With a family and a full-time job, you might not have the spare 400 hours to conquer in Europa Universalis IV. That’s okay: there are plenty of streamers that have content ready for you to watch on demand. It’s yet another way PC gaming will become more social: in the living room, in eSports, and in front of the camera.
The FuTure oF BroadBand Faster, Fiber! spread! spread! By Wes Fenlon
s PC games gobble up 30 gigabytes in a single download, we need a brave new broadband service to lead us to the land of plenty. A service that casts off the heavy chains of bandwidth caps and delivers Steam games unto us at a gigabit per second. A service that inspires hope and awe. We shall call it... fiber. Fiber Internet will shepherd us into this new age of high-speed bliss. At least, fiber will lead a chosen, geographically privileged few to affordable gigabit (1024 megabit) connections. 2014 and 2015 will be big years for fiber rollout in the US, but Google Fiber and Verizon FiOS—two of the bestknown fiber services—are, combined, only available in two dozen US cities. Some cities, like Chattanooga, TN, have taken matters into their own hands by building public-owned fiber networks. Gigabit Internet costs $70 per month in Chattanooga. If you feel like crying, compare the price-per-megabit to what you’re currently paying your ISP. As more cities follow Chattanooga’s lead, select gamers will gain incredible download speeds without dealing with Big Cable. The future doesn’t look as bright for some of us. A January 2014 court decision overturned the FCC’s net neutrality regulations, allowing companies like Comcast and Verizon to prioritize traffic on their networks. They could charge services like Twitch a premium for reliable bandwidth.
More bad news: Netflix’s ISP reports indicate that US ISPs deliver an average throughput of less than 2 mbps during prime hours. Most online games-even big ones like Battlefield 4—use deceptively little bandwidth, but streaming and cloud gaming demand more bandwidth and rock-solid reliability. Twitch requires a bitrate of 1.8-2.5 mbps, higher than the average throughput Netflix reported. Nvidia recommends a 10 mbps connection for GRID, its cloud gaming
service (think OnLive). We need fiber to meet the rising demands of livestreaming and cloud gaming. It’s the future of broadband in the United States, and it’s expanding, slow and sure. As sci-fi author William Gibson would say, the future simply isn’t evenly distributed yet. April 2014
MAKING HARDCORE GAMES ACCESSIBLE By RoB Zacny
pen up Twitch at any time of day or night, and the odds are good that you’ll find a competitive gaming stream from somewhere in the world. An insomniac or early-riser might greet the day with an evening StarCraft or League of Legends broadcast from Korea. Take a break from a dull workday and you might find a Dota 2 tournament in Eastern Europe, or a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive match taking place in Sweden, Germany, or France. Esports are global in a way that few traditional sports are. They transcend national borders, language barriers, and markets. They are also defined by their allegiance to hardcore PC gaming. While mainstream gaming was becoming increasingly focused on mass-market blockbusters, eSports celebrated deeper experiences that rewarded skill, commitment, and cooperation. Thanks to eSports, PC gamers around the world can play demanding RTS games, MOBAs, and shooters with a community of millions.
Skills that pay the bills
There was a time, just five or six years ago, when it seemed like high-skill ceilings were about to be permanently lowered in favor of accessibility and mass market appeal. You didn’t have to be a professional gamer to be depressed about the disappearance of fast-based twitch shooters, or the shrinking RTS genre. Esports have already proven that there’s a huge audience for challenging, skillbased games, and one that will reward developers who don’t compromise in the name of accessibility. Look no further than the growing success of Dota 2, with its legendarily steep learning-curve. Dota 2, like many eSports-focused games, is not a game that rewards its players over a term of months or years. That’s a big ask for a lot of players, but eSports lower the barrier to entry by showcasing these games at their best, and demystifying what it is that makes them special. Even if you never play a ranked match or compete in a local LAN tournament, you can appreciate and engage with the most advanced gameplay in the world. And players have responded around the world, proving that high-skill, competitive games have a bright future and a tremendous audience that’s hungry for them. But it is a PC-based audience. The PC is the lingua franca of eSports, the only thing that unites these huge, disparate international audiences. 42
Esports celebrate, preserve, and promote PC gaming’s great traditions. In the last year, Wargaming.net has launched major eSports intiatives to showcase what’s possible in World of Tanks. Wargame: European Escalation has been spotlighted by Europe’s Electronic Sports League. Between GDC and E3 in 2013, it sometimes seemed like every developer was trying to keep an eye toward the eSports potential of their upcoming games, including native Twitch streaming support or spectator controls. It doesn’t really matter whether a game turns into a major eSport on par with CS:GO or Dota 2. Nor does it matter if eSports ever become so massive that they
With StarCraft 2, Dota 2 is the most spectator-friendly game on PC.
are broadcast in primetime on a cable sports network. such as ESPN. What matters is that eSports celebrate, preserve, and promote some of PC gaming’s greatest traditions. In a gaming landscape rife with Quicktime Events and meaningless scavenger hunts, eSports show that greatness awaits those who are patient enough to work for it. They ensure that the PC will remain a place where players can earn achievements that don’t need a badge or an icon. Esports can—and should—open up the hardcore to the masses, and the PC is the perfect place for that.
THe FUTUre oF PC gaming
HigH-enD gPUs Beefier GPUs for 4K resolUtions By Josh Norem
s we head into 2014, the GPU landscape looks a bit like the beaches of Normandy post-invasion. Nvidia has launched all of its 700-series cards, including the reigning champion GPU, the GTX 780 Ti. AMD is seemingly finished launching its “Titan killer” Radeon R9 290(x) cards, which posed a serious challenge to Nvidia’s supremacy. The company is also on the cusp of releasing its highly-anticipated Mantle API update for its R9/R7 series cards, which could breathe new life into Battlefield 4 and other Frostbite 3-powered games. Where do we go from here? We know Nvidia’s prepping its upcoming Maxwell series of GPUs, which are radically different from all its previous architectures in that they have an embedded ARM CPU, which is a project the company has been working on for years. Named Project Denver, these GPUs seek to reduce the amount of performance lost waiting for the host CPU to communicate with the GPU. It’s also possible the GPU could offload tasks to the CPU, including PhysX calculations. It’s being reported that Maxwell will initally be used in lower-end GPUs targeting mobile users, but will eventually work their way up the chain to a flagship SKU, though it’s unknown whether or not the company will be producing these chips on a processs smaller than the 28nm process it is using for its Kepler cards. Maxwell’s goal is to make the GPU semiautonomous since it has its own CPU built-in, but it should be able to make it more power efficient as well, and will also simplify
programming. Nvidia might also release a dual GK100 board still, the elusive GTX 790, or a GTX 780 Ti with double the memory (6GB) of the current model, to help it compete with the Radeon R9 290X and its 4GB of video RAM. AMD’s upcoming plans are more mysterious. There are rumors that its R9 290X has a couple hundred unlocked streaming processsors, so it’s possible it’ll uncork the board’s potential. It’s also possible that it will release a Hawaii-based dual-GPU board, code-named Vesuvius. Such a card would likely throw down some serious firepower, and require cooling beyond what we would consider possible with a reference design. It might even be water-cooled right out of the box, like the Asus Ares II. It’s also possible that AMD could abandon the high-end market altogether in favor of its GPU/ CPU hybrid chips, dubbed APUs. These APU are in both the Xbox One and the PS4, and the market is clearly heading in the direction of low-power chips that can power tablets, laptops, and smartphones. Beyond the cards themselves, both companies will be pushing hard in 2014 for adoption of
4K resolution and vertical sync technologies. 4K requires a beefy setup (think dual GTX 780s or R9 290X boards), but with the recent introduction of sub-$1,000 4K panels, the market could be ready. Nvidia has also announced its G-Sync technology, which eliminates tearing in games by sycing the monitor’s refresh rate with the output of the GPU. AMD’s version, FreeSync, works by telling the GPU to vary the refresh rate. Of course, existing monitors can’t change their refresh rate, but if this technology catches on perhaps display manufacturers will add this feature to its products. It’s too early to tell which of these technologies will win, but they could have a huge impact on the future of video.
The GPU landscape looks a bit like the beaches of Normandy.
about gaming? That’s where it gets tricky. Certainly the increased PPI helps with visuals. If you’re eyeball-to-eyeball with a 32-inch 4K panel, you’ll notice the higher DPI during gaming sessions pretty quickly, especially if you’re coming off of a lower resolution, lower PPI 1080p panel. If, however, you’re thinking about moving from a higher-resolution 27-inch panel with QHD resolution of 2560x1440, it won’t rock your world the same way. The bad news is that there’s still a lot in the negative column. The most obvious is that you’ll need a stronger graphics card. If you can comfortably play games with your current GPU on a 1080p monitor, you’ll probably find your system gasping for air when you almost quadruple the amount of pixels the graphics card has to push. Obviously, games that aren’t as susceptible to problems with lower framerates, such as driving or flying simulations won’t be as bad, as say a twitch first person shooter that demands 60fps or higher. Even with today’s extremely powerful graphics cards, we’d recommend a dual-card setup (see the preceeding page) to run 4K gaming at full framerate without turning down graphics settings. No one wants to buy an expensive 4K panel if you have to set your games to low quality to play. There’s also technical nitty gritty such as how you hook up a 4K panel to your monitor. You’ll need DisplayPort 1.2 to support 60Hz gaming at 4K or HDMI 2.0, but no GPU we know of supports HDMI 2.0 today. And then there’s the price of the glass. The exquisite Asus 31.5-inch PQ321Q pushes $3,000—down from $3,500 in Summer 2013. Both the Asus PB287Q and Dell P2815Q are slightly smaller monitors that offer 4K resolution for an amazing price of $699 and $799, respectively. Unfortunately, neither are great for gaming, with their refresh rates stuck at 30MHz for native resolution. A 30Hz refresh rate is so low that it’s noticeable just moving windows around the desktop. That’s a deal breaker. The upshot is that, for the immediate future, 4K panels are still pretty stuck in the early adopter phase. Yes, the technology is definitely here, but this high-definition future isn’t quite ready for everyone just yet.
4k Monitors Big resolutions, Big worries By Gordon UnG ardware vendors are ready to give you the next big thing: 4K, or Ultra HD, displays. 4K monitors can display around 8.3 million pixels. To put that in perspective for you, a typical 23-inch 1920x1080 panel is about 2 million pixels, and a 27-inch 2560x1440 is about 3.7 million pixels. Increasing the resolution of a monitor offers some very real perks. Take pixel
density—anyone who has picked up a 5-inch smart phone with a 1080p screen knows how wonderful a high dot-per-inch screen can look. You can get the same exquisite pixel-packed screen with monitors. These high PPI screens simply make high-resolution images sing, and give you increased desktop space to work on as well. But you don’t want to work. What
HigH-Rez PRos and Cons To give you an idea of how difficult it is to pick a monitor today, we choose one vendor, Asus, and combed through its huge monitor lineup and to pick out an assortment of panels to compare. If you go for resolution, you suffer in refresh rate. Go for size with low resolution and you suffer in PPI. TN
panels don’t give you the best off-axis viewing, but the high refresh rates offer smooth-asbutter gaming. The best of both worlds may be the VG278H. This panel features G-Sync which greatly reduces tearing at lower frame rates when used with Nvidia GPUs and offers a decent PPI and large screen.
Asus ROG Swift PG278Q
Asus VG248QE FHD
Refresh Rate Screen size Pixels PPI Street Price
the Future oF pc GaminG
Bold predictions The PC GAmer TeAm PeerS iNTo The fuTure for our fAVoriTe GeNreS
Tyler: Half-Life 3 will be released this year.
Cory: Wrong. eVAN: All I know is that these three things
are only going to become more ubiquitous in FPSes: map deformation, scale, and detailed match analytics/stat-tracking a la Battlelog. As bandwidth and server tech improves, we’re absolutely going to see more MMOFPSes—we love PlanetSide 2, but it also conveys what technological obstacles still exist for devs that want to make a twitchy, massive-scale, persistent FPS. Stuff like The Division is a stepping stone to that.
of this console generation, most of the big JRPG series will have PC ports.
eVAN: We’ll see more systems-driven RPGs in general, thank goodness. Shadow of Mordor’s open-ended recruitment, assassination, and enemy rivalry systems are a hint at developers’ move away from storytelling that’s 100-percent scripted.
Tyler: Single-player FPSes will grow, too. Since the early days, a lot of focus has been on adorning a simple construct (gun shoots bullets) with storytelling, RPG systems, loot grabbing, puzzles, and so on, but I expect more attention will be paid to that foundational architecture, which is often the most criticized part of games like BioShock Infinite. Less scripting and more simulation, real tactical choices, and meaningfully different weapons. And as with The Division and Titanfall, the trend of merging traditionally single-player experiences with multiplayer will balloon.
WeS: Japanese RPGs are going to see a big
resurgence on the PC. Japanese devs have already tested the waters by porting game series like Ys to the PC. As big names like Square Enix do the same, they’ll find surprising success—and a hardcore audience eager for more of their games. By the end
Tyler: And what happened to that old
dream of cyberspace? You know, a virtual universe where we meet with friends in grand digital cities, rejecting all physical interaction for a better, virtual version of reality? Oh yeah, Second Life happened. But I won’t let that get me down—MMOs won’t go away, but as Cory points out, they won’t be so D&D or WoW inspired. No more repeating the same raid over and over for XP—old-style game design will only exist in niche games. The MMO worlds of the future will be built by the players, combat will be deemphasized, and much more advanced simulation systems will work together to create dynamic worlds with more meaningful things to do. Think EverQuest plus DayZ plus Minecraft plus SimCity plus Neuromancer.
Cory: How long can Dota 2 and League of Legends be the top MOBAs? It’s been a good ride, but it can‘t last forever. I predict that Blizzard’s own version, Heroes of the Storm, ends up poaching a lot of players from both games.
Tyler: Non-player characters will stop being cardboard standups with three dialogue input buttons and canned responses. Type in what you want to say, or speak it out loud, and they will react naturally. Dialogue might still be authored and not all AI-driven, but it will be harder to tell that we’re interacting with programmed people and a predetermined series of events. BioWare will be one of the first to advance AI programming, and we can expect new RPG series out of it as Dragon Age and Mass Effect start to lose their luster.
eVAN: One of the best things that could happen to the genre is player-scripted quest design.
Cory: Outlook: not so good. Blizzard wants to create annual expansions for WoW, while games such as Neverwinter and The Secret World have struggled to find a big audience. Even SOE doesn’t think MMOs can last in their current form—that’s why EverQuest Next Landmark is taking so many cues from Minecraft.
We’ll see a renaissance in space combat sims. I can’t wait.
WeS: I predict Blizzard will put a ton of money and marketing muscle behind Heroes of the Storm, but their MOBA won’t have much staying power against League and Dota 2. LoL will continue its dominance as The Biggest Freaking Game Ever for years.
Tyler: The simple answer: they’ll get
more accurate. Physics modeling will be so advanced, a car crash in a game will be indistinguishable from a real car crash. A Supermarine Spitfire will fly exactly as a Spitfire should, with all the moving parts simulated. Add in VR support and the appropriate control peripherals, and all that will be missing is the smell of exhaust.
Cory: The space sim genre in particular will
stand on the shoulders of Star Citizen. I think the game will be fantastic, even in modular chunks, and with its success, we’ll see a renaissance in space combat sims. I can’t wait. April 2014
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Dean Hall talks about the long road ahead for his zombie apocalypse simulator by Chris Thursten ayZ’s success is, if nothing else, a victory for authenticity. The bestselling game on Steam isn’t finished, nor is it stable, accessible, or even particularly fun from minute to minute. What has driven it to a million-plus sales is its authenticity: the sense it conveys that this is as close to the realization of our zombie apocalypse survival fantasies as we are likely to get this side of total economic collapse. More than that, the sense that it has the potential to go even further, to furnish that fantasy with new features that inch ever closer to the dream of a fully-simulated life after the end of the world. Once a mod for Arma 2, DayZ is the creation of Dean “Rocket” Hall. He still works as the lead
designer and steward of the standalone version, joined by a team
of developers at Bohemia Interactive whose job it is to take the game beyond the confines of what the mod could achieve. When I speak to him, he’s a few days away from an important planning session that will determine which major new features and technological changes will come to the game in the months to come. At the moment, however, he’s putting the finishing touches to something much more vital and immediate. “I’ve been working on being able to put a burlap sack on the player’s head,” he says. “It changes the aperture setting on your camera so it makes you completely black. It also reduces your ability to hear sounds by 60 percent.” “Presumably, then, you can force it on to other players?” “Exactly!” It’s a simple, throwaway idea—but it also says something about DayZ, the people who play it, and the mindset of its developer. You can
wear a burlap sack on your head in this game because you are able to wear a burlap sack on your head in real life, and its inclusion in DayZ comes before vehicles or bases or more zombies are added because, Hall says, “It was easy. A lot of features are like that—though not all of them work out.” Expect a dozen little ideas alongside every major one for the rest of the game’s development. The reason I suspect that this is the right approach is that gaming communities can do an extraordinary amount with very little. A feature that Hall can knock out in an afternoon has the potential to become the basis of a dozen YouTube videos, each expressing a different creative interpretation of what you can do with a bag on your head. That’s gamers for you—and it surprises the game’s developer, too. I asked Hall if he’d expected players to get so much out of the alpha in its current state. “I sit back going, ‘Wow, really?’
Bows and arrows, knives, and spears are all on the list.
People are playing the current alpha
that much? It’s very bare-bones and there’s a lot of stuff turned off in it. I haven’t really been playing it for fun, because I don’t think there’s enough in there.” Despite Hall’s misgivings, it’s possible to get a lot out of the game’s alpha—but it’s DayZ’s relative simplicity, he says, that is to blame for the limited range of behaviors displayed by players at the peak of their career. A fully-geared survivor has nowhere to go but down, currently—usually venturing back to the coast to gun down fresh spawns. “People get bored,” says Hall. “They love where the game is heading, but there’s not a lot to do. There’s the tension you get from combat with other players, so people are pushed in that direction.” It’s a problem that will be solved not by countering it directly, but by pursuing the game’s overall vision.
Hall is wary of trying to counteract “unwanted” player behavior directly. “I played a lot of Company of Heroes,” he says, “And I felt that, with a lot of their patches, they were trying to stop players from doing this or that. It got very frustrating for me as a player because it was like they were specifically trying to stop me from doing some particular thing. I’m quite careful with DayZ to make sure our designers don’t start saying, ‘We don’t like this behavior or that behavior’ and start letting that pull the game in a particular direction.” Issues such as hacking are the exception to this rule, as is “combat logging”—players disconnecting to evade death. A new server queue system will be brought in to eliminate the latter, adding a delay to server connection that gets longer the more servers you try to join in quick succession. This will have the additional benefit of preventing
DAYZ CUTTER Stupid ways to die in the world of tomorrow Dancing recklessly close to a helicopter.
Trying to put a burlap sack on a deer.
Stampede of horses caused by playing Swiss Beatz’ “Top Down” through in-game comms.
players from hopping from server to server to farm up loot in hostile locations—but it’s not the primary method that Hall is using to encourage players to stay on a single server. As per his resolution not to be proscriptive, the team is looking to find a solution that is more interesting than simply placing barriers in the player’s way. In the next six months or so, this is likely to take the form of a totally redesigned loot economy. At the moment, items have a chance to spawn in particular places, and those dice are rolled every time a server resets. In the future, the presence of all items across the entire game will be determined by the central hive server. Items will be more or less scarce depending on what they are, and their numbers will be fixed. DayZ will become a zero-sum game. It will have a finite number of military weapons, and they’ll only respawn when they break—drawing players away from the airfields, and into the rest of Chernarus. Hall hopes that the core game will change substantially as a result. “I hope that it becomes centred around community,” he says. “So as the game gets more complex, the players have more reason to figure out how to survive longer.” The new loot system will be designed to deliver a particular experience, not just to address
There’s always somebody who has to spoil the photo.
When you can, negotiate from a position of strength.
Soon, fully-geared players will be extremely rare.
balance concerns. Hall wants the
world of DayZ to feel real enough that players can use their real-life intuition to solve in-game problems. “You think to yourself: OK, I’m hungry,” he says. “I need food so I’m going to hit the kitchens, go to a supermarket, that kind of thing. We want people’s common sense to make sense of the game in terms of loot. I think that’s really good for suspension of disbelief.” This will be brought in alongside additions to the loot table lower down the food chain—bows and arrows, knives, and spears are all on the list, along with a physics-based throwing system that can be used inoffensively (throwing a can of beans to a friend in need) or offensively (throwing a can of beans at someone’s head). “That will dramatically change the game,” Hall says. “Then we’ll be able to dramatically reduce the spawn rate of important stuff, like military weapons. As some of these difficulties increase, players will start to see the benefit of grouping up.” He continues: “If you want the high-end gear you’re probably going to be competing with gangs. At that point, we’re down to the metagame—it’s not going to be so much about how DayZ works but how the community has developed. Have you got a few big communities that have got together and collected a lot of the military gear, roaming around
Chernarus killing people? Has a rescue force got themselves together? That kind of thing. That’s my hope for it. We get away from running to a particular building to find the military item. You might find one there, but nine times out of ten it won’t be. It’ll only be when they get destroyed or disappear that they respawn again.” The result will be a more mobile player population, making more use of parts of Chernarus away from the major cities and military bases. “One of the reasons we need a mobile population is because of the map,” Hall says. “As player numbers increase, it’ll get progressively smaller. That becomes particularly
DayZ is about subtle tensions, and letting the player explore how to try to control them. relevant for growing food, that kind of thing. I think there’s always going to be natural choke points, but the cool thing is that it’s a self-managing economy. As players move about it dramatically increases the risk, kind of like spinning plates on top of spinning plates. As you move one thing, it moves everything.” DayZ’s zombies have been one of its most problematic spinning plates to date. Add too many and server problems follow—too few, and it may
as well not be a zombie game. Hall says that the plan is to eventually far exceed the mod in terms of the number of zombies on-screen at any given time, but they’ll remain chiefly a problem in towns and cities. “We do still want the sense that there’s no zombies in particular places, out in the wilderness,” Hall says. “It brings this sense that I’m safe, but I have to take an active risk to go in where there’s more danger. I find that quite interesting.” He goes on: “I remember when I was a soldier, there was this report about how people react. Say you’re in a burning building but you have to run through a fire to get out. If you stay where you are you face certain death but if you run through the fire you risk dying as well. A lot of people will do nothing because of the fear of doing something that actively puts them in danger.” Beyond its microscale simulation of hunger, disease, ballistics and so on, DayZ is above all a simulation of that sense of crisis—and the effect it has on groups of people. “Say your group is getting along really great and you’re doing well and someone starts coughing,” Hall says. “What do you do? You suddenly have to face all of these issues. That’s key with DayZ: subtle, but layered,
tensions. It’s about setting those up and letting the player explore how they try to control them.” april 2014
I’m sure I’ll get a lot of hate when people’s dogs die.
Bike safety is taken extremely seriously in Chernarus.
We want you! To give us your beans.
Doing your best roadrunner impression will get you killed.
Zombies are one of those multilayered crises, as are other players, but they’re not the only obstacles you’ll face. Hall is looking for other ways to make the environment itself a meaningful antagonist, and much of this will revolve around the inclusion of wild animals. Hunting for game is a priority feature to be added, and while you are hunting, danger will be rife. Not only do you risk getting gored by a boar and bleeding to death: the deer that evades your clutches when you’re starving has killed you too. Hunting is also a way for Hall to start solving a much broader problem with the game—nighttime. “Nighttime is my favorite time in DayZ as a concept, but in terms of gameplay it’s... not so much,” he concedes. “You don’t really get much out of the game then, and that’s why, as designers, we need to fix it.” Players chiefly play on day-only servers, not believing that the risk of playing in the dark adds up against the potential reward. “In real life, the best time to go hunting is at night,” Hall says, hinting at one potential solution to the issue. Not every animal you encounter in the woods will be wild. Tamable stray dogs are something that Hall is keen to include—lure one over with food, befriend and train it, and it’ll follow 52
you from server to server as your companion. “I’m sure I will get a lot of hate from people when their dogs die,” Hall says. “People don’t seem to mind dying, but when an animal dies-” He laughs. I ask him whether he thinks we’ll see players murdering each other for the chance to make friends with a nice doggy. “Having played DayZ, I suspect that if someone sees you chasing a dog and they think that they don’t have a chance of getting the dog for themselves, they’ll just shoot the dog.”
On the off chance that he’ll tell me, I ask Hall if other domestic animals will follow dogs—cattle, livestock, horses? “Horses are looking a lot more likely than they were before,” he says. “Part of the problem is animating them. It’s not something we can promise, but it’s right up there in terms of things we’re looking at in the moderate term.” You’re likely to be traversing Chernarus by bike or car long before you do it on horseback, however. Vehicles are the next priority feature, requiring the cooperation of groups of players to assemble and maintain. The vehicle you and your friends build will, in a sense, be a second character—and it’ll need just as much caring for as a human being. “It’s vehicle survival,” says Hall. “I think that’s really fascinating. You can take a red door off one car and put it on a blue car—it adds a story to
THE DAYZ CHAIN The stages of life in Chernarus, now and in the future Now
DAYZ The cargo ship is one of the most dangerous places to hunt for loot.
your vehicle because every time you see it you remember where you got that door from.” DayZ standalone will use none of Arma 2’s existing vehicle physics or game systems. “It was the same approach we took with weapons,” Hall says. “We could have tried to half-ass it and use the existing weapons, modified around the edges, but we decided—nope. We’re going to start again. It’s the same thing with vehicles. We’re going to start simple, with bicycles—they’re slow, and there’s not much to them— then from there we’ll head out.” He pauses. “We won’t be able to do everything, but the idea is to provide a much more DayZ-appropriate vehicle experience. For example, I would love to see helicopters—but it’s going to be so difficult to keep your helicopter running, because there’s going to be an incredible number of items attached to it that all have to be looked after. The helicopter becomes this amazing thing to see, not just something you find and get in and turn on.” The desired end result of all these new systems is something like Space Station 13, where players needed to learn diverse and complicated disciplines and rely on each other’s expertise to survive. “There’s so much knowledge in there that it’s very difficult to be an expert in more than one area,” Hall says. “That strongly encourages teamwork— that’s something I really want to see
happen in DayZ.” Something else he’s thinking about long-term is living space. “I want to go with underground bases because it solves the problem of space on the surface. Even though DayZ has a huge map, it’s still not big enough for what we’re talking about. Anything else? “I’ve been talking to my brother, who we’re hoping to get to help us out from a virological standpoint. I’d like there to be—dare I say it—in-game content where you create a lab and try to keep that running. Suddenly resource gathering becomes very difficult,
You’re likely to be traversing Chernarus by bike or car long before you do it on horseback. and very important. Being mobile becomes critical, because your base is static. One of your goals would be researching the zombie virus and how it mutates, as well as researching and even manufacturing new viruses. I’ve been looking for ways to add user-created content without them having to make a mod and distribute a data file. It’d be great if we could have it so that players could make stuff and create events that happen based on the existing database.” Engineering, science, medicine, animal husbandry—these are all signs of civilization, not postapocalyptic chaos. I ask Hall if he
thought the game would become less violent over time. “I think if you look at human history the same thing happens,” he says. “As the complexity of the game increases, I think that gangs are going to be key. There’s things we’ll do to support that, like tattoos and being able to write markings on your weapon. The violence will become more concentrated. There’ll be more of a need to work together to achieve some of the more complex aspects of the game, a lot like EVE.” In EVE Online, as in life, not everybody is a soldier. The emergence of a “civilian class” in DayZ is something that Hall sees as possible, and that’s a fascinating endgame to consider. It really is the “end game,” though—not only the preserve of experienced players, but something that seems incredibly far off in terms of development time, too. It’s a dream, not a plan, at this stage. That’s why it’s so important that DayZ has sold as many copies as it has: the team now has the resources to deliver on as many of these ideas as it has the time and expertise to pull off. Provided the game has a long enough life—and I suspect it will— then player-made viruses and tamable horses don’t seem like such a long shot. DayZ rode to the top of the Steam charts on the promise of its authenticity; now, it has every chance to make good on that promise. april 2014
Need to know What is it?
LucasArts adventure legend Tim Schafer returning to the genre that made him famous.
Day of the Tentacle
Play it on
Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM
It started a gaming revolution before it even had a name. 54
OPPOSITES, ATTRACTED Tim Schafer returns to quirky point-and-click adventuring with Broken Age (Act 1) by Richard Cobbett
boy and a girl sit back to back in different worlds, neither of them aware of the other’s existence, nor that they are linked by an invisible story yet to be told. She is Vella, sitting under a tree to steal a brief moment to herself on the most important—and the last—day of her life. He is Shay, passenger, prince, and prisoner of an overprotective spaceship devoted to giving him everything he wants, except the freedom to finally grow up. Today, both face a rite of passage, and afterward, nothing will ever be the same again. Even before the game starts, there’s a lot riding on Broken Age’s shoulders—more than most Kickstarted games. It didn’t simply have a successful crowd-funding campaign, although raising $3,336,371 to enable Grim Fandango creator Tim Schafer to make a new adventure is nothing to sniff at. It was the crowd-funding campaign, the one that established that developers really could put fans in charge of their future—a landmark moment that directly inspired every other revival from Tex Murphy to Star Citizen. This comes with expectations. While Broken Age isn’t the first Kickstarted game to land, it is the one that has to do most to reward that initial faith in it. After all, it started a gaming revolution before it even had a name.
admittedly deserve a sigh. It’s happy to be traditional. Comfortable. It’s the kind of game that warrants words like “nice” and “lovely” in completely genuine, non-ironic ways. It’s about sinking comfortably into a bed of genre tropes made by a master of the craft, and being wrapped up snug and warm in gorgeous artwork, clever writing, and imaginative design that reminds you why you loved the genre. At least, this half of it is. Both parts are covered by your purchase; this one ends at an appropriate and suitably intriguing point that will do for the moment. Broken Age’s main gimmick is that you can switch between Vella and Shay’s stories at will, although their
Bags of bones Creating great animation on a Kickstarted budget
Half and half
You wouldn’t guess any of this by playing it, and that’s for the best. It’s not the greatest adventure ever made, but it’s not trying to be. Broken Age is not self-important. It doesn’t bite off more than it can chew in terms of style or storyline, unless you count shooting over budget and having to be split in half, which does
Broken Age uses skeletal animation on 2D characters to create a painted look without thousands of hand-drawn sprites. The effect looks great, and very expressive.
puzzles and stories don’t directly connect as you’d expect. They do complement and subtly contrast each other in clever ways, such as each character’s need to break free of their childhood and seize control of their fate. Vella’s story, however, takes the form of a traditional, linear magical journey through a number of worlds, while Shay spends his trapped in one location that can be explored more or less at will. His part of the game is more overtly built around the classic Three Trials puzzle structure: multiple tasks to do in no set order. Vella’s story uses lots of simple tasks rather than three big ones. Her world is a fantasy one, Shay’s a realm of science fiction, although so warped it almost justifies coining the term “nurserypunk.” Of the two, Vella’s is the more dramatic tale so far. It’s a twist on the classic folk tale trope of maidens sacrificed to appease dragons and other monsters, where the monster in this case is a potential Elder-Godlevel obscenity called Mog Chothra, who regularly descends on an event called the Maiden’s Feast to feast on maidens. It’s a creepy situation made worse by the way the maidens openly drool over the prospect, and fight to be lunch. Their families go so far as to dress them as cupcakes and other tempting morsels, and treat the whole thing as if they’re off to prom rather than facing their doom. Only a single, guilty line of regret from Vella’s mother, and her grandfather’s disdain for everyone’s lack of fight, suggests that anyone sees a problem with this setup. Even Vella is more or less OK with it—at least until Mog Chothra actually puts in an appearance and inspires her to try a new, smarter plan: bail, escape, find a way to kill the damn thing. Shay’s spaceship world is more casual, but also manages to be april 2014
Hang on, I’ll get my watch. What’s the time, Mr. Wolf?
Mom! Don’t call me “Captain Sweetie!”
Ask no questions, get no lies. Or worse, the truth. Adventure games! The choice of sociopaths since 1986.
Don’t be afraid, cupcake maidens. Mog Chothra will have your quake and eat it. Shay’s mother is the mistress of mixed messages.
It is a nice scarf.
Yeah, this is a thing that happens.
Red stripes mean it’s totally harmless, right? Even the navigator on Shay’s ship is knitted.
more unusual. As a character, he’s a bit like Adventure Time’s Finn, except on
the verge of clinical depression after a life of being cosseted by a computer so suffocating that it won’t even let him go out in a spacesuit unless he remembers to put on a scarf. Every day is the same, being fed the same food and going on completely artificial “missions” designed for toddlers. An ice cream avalanche. Emergency cuddle deliveries. A spacewalk on a leash that may as well exist to stop him running too far ahead in the park. When he spontaneously allows himself to fail, things change: the arrival of a mysterious and not at all suspicious looking wolf stowaway gives him the chance to go behind his computer mother’s back. Finally, he gets to go on a real rescue mission. All he has to do is sabotage the ship, and navigate it to a restricted part of space called “Prima Doom.” What could possibly go wrong? Both worlds are relatively small, but gloriously realized, having a hand-drawn look and a surprising variety of sprite animation, costume changes, and characters. Each part of Vella’s journey takes her to a different fantastical setting, including a cloudy realm where snow-shoes are needed to avoid sinking through and falling to the ground below. Shay’s world is a mix of high technology and nursery props—the bridge of his spaceship, for instance, consists of toys embedded into panels that he’s long since realized do absolutely nothing. The writing, too, is as good as I had hoped. Schafer and the other writers manage to make light, bouncy dialogue and witty banter seem far easier to write than it actually is. Few NPCs have much screen time, but they all use it well. The standout on Vella’s side is a furious tree driven to sap-spitting fury at the cruelty of man, to the point of turning a woodcutter into a paranoid recluse. On Shay’s side, the prize has to go to the always reliable Jennifer Hale, turning in another excellent performance as Shay’s virtual mother, an ever-smiling sun who is never anything but patient, unflappable, and absolutely devoted to keeping him safe from the dangers of the universe—even if it means driving him insane in the process.
How to kill a giant, maiden-eating monster Because seriously, how hard can it be?
Plan Kill with kindness Analysis You first.
Plan Nuke from orbit Analysis Might be the only way to be sure... Plan Deploy incredibly convenient, ancient weapon
Plan Call sushi chef
Analysis Idiot, that’s calamari! Plan Overfeed Analysis Error. Insufficient maidens.
The whole cast does a great job, with even the smallest characters bursting with charm and personality.
The one minor disappointment is that Broken Age doesn’t offer much in terms of puzzles, serving up amusing ideas and fun results, but absolutely no challenge. Almost every case boils down to using stock inventory objects, and since there are only a handful of these and a handful of screens, it’s usually immediately obvious what needs to be done. Even the more involved puzzles, such as taking a series of trips through a teleporter for reasons best summed as “Don’t ask,” actively avoid making life tricky. The result is that even when you take time to savor everything, both stories can be easily polished off in just three hours without any real chance of getting stuck, or even of getting one of those “Aha!” moments that merit a hearty, embarrassing self-high five. The best classic adventures constantly found new spins on the formula, and Schafer and his fellow LucasArts designers were no slouches at this back in the day. The physicality of Full Throttle, the freedom of the Monkey Island games, and the time warping of Day of the Tentacle all come to mind. So far, Broken Age hasn’t even attempted
◆ Expect to pay $25 ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer Double Fine ◆ Publisher Double Fine ◆ Multiplayer None ◆ Link www.brokenagegame.com
anything similar, though there’s still time. Hopefully the second act has something clever in mind. Whether that happens or not, Act One was a good use of that Kickstarter money. Broken Age might not be close to the length and complexity of previous Tim Schafer games such as Grim Fandango and Full Throttle, or an instant classic like just about every LucasArts adventure that’s not a bad anagram of “Escape From Island Monkey,” but it’s a fine reminder of them. And really, that’s what should have been expected. Those games were very much products of their time, and in specifically promising to hark back to that rather than update the idea, Broken Age was always going to be a celebration rather than a modern successor. As a premium grade nostalgia trip, it does a fine job. Like a reunion concert of a band you once loved, or a sweet shop selling a particular brand of candy that brings to mind childhood summers of sun and sea and all that other clichéd crap, Broken Age is a well-deserved chance to remember the old days and realize that they’re closer than they might sometimes feel.
A great start for a point-and-click adventure proud to have graduated from one of gaming’s best, oldest schools.
it’s a premium grade nostalgia trip.
86 AprIl 2014
528 days later
A year and a half into development, the DayZ alpha addresses some, but not all, of its issues by Evan Lahti
Need to know What is it?
A first- and third-person survival game with persistent characters and permadeath.
Arma 2, Space Station 13
Play it on
Quad-core CPU, 4GB RAM, GeForce 560/AMD Radeon 7750
Alternatively Rust, Nether
am exiting an abandoned factory, probably somewhere around Solnichniy, when I hear something completely unexpected in DayZ: music. I think I know the song, even though the melody is too distant to really identify. DayZ borrows a great feature from Arma 2, the military sim it’s built on: the volume of sounds, including player voice communication, drops off over distance. So, remembering absolutely nothing from the Odyssey, I jog closer to try to name that tune. As I come to a wall, I can see a guy sitting cross-legged on a bridge overlooking a pond. He seems to be the source of the music. It’s “I Don’t Want To Set The World On Fire” by The Ink Spots, also heard in Fallout 3. Seeing that he’s unarmed, I tap F1 to wave my arm. He says hello, and we calmly watch the water, basking in a moment of mutual trust. Then, 39 seconds later, some other guy hits me in the head with a shovel and knocks me unconscious.
The many deaths of andy A mathematical record of Andy Kelly’s 16 DayZ deaths, as seen on bit.ly/dayzdeath Accident/suicide Fall 12.5% Death by world geometry 12.5% Sickness Food poisoning 6.5% Acute Immune Hemolytic Reaction 6.5% Murdered By bandits 50% By his friends (at his request) 6.5% By a zombie 6.5%
DayZ is exactly that: an openworld sandbox where you’ll have memorable, story-generating interactions with strangers, but inevitably be robbed or killed by psychopathic murderers, kidnappers, or bandits. At this alpha stage of release, after its transition from mod to standalone game, it remains one of the most brutal and interesting games on PC. It also retains some of the same aggravating issues that were present in the mod while introducing a few new ones.
The most immediately noticeable difference between the mod and the alpha release is how few zombies there are in the current build. Presumably this limitation is meant to decrease the performance hit caused by populating servers with hundreds of animated corpses, but the low zed count hampers DayZ’s moment-to-moment tension and makes looting—a core aspect of the game—feel effortless if you’re not bumping into other survivors. A few adjustments have made the act of looting less monotonous, however. Chernarus’s 225km2 forestscape has been filled out with hundreds of extra searchable buildings, and the interiors of these houses, offices, and tower blocks do a better job of hiding canned food and equipment in unexpected nooks. The overhauled inventory system also makes managing your loot a more pleasant task—in particular, I like that clothing items such as pants and shirts have discrete storage slots. At this point in the game’s development, I was hoping that movement and some of the basic actions wouldn’t still feel muddled by a combination of clunky input and
◆ Expect to pay $30 ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer Bohemia Interactive ◆ Publisher Bohemia Interactive ◆ Multiplayer Up to 40 ◆ Link dayzgame.com
robotic, uninterruptible animations. Although it has been ameliorated by additions such as the “vault” key doubling as a jump button when you’re moving, operating contextsensitive objects like doors and ladders still means dancing around to find the sweet spot. And although DayZ’s thirst and hunger system has been tweaked, the act of eating and drinking is still rigid. I wish I could hold a single key to eat food, rather than scrolling my mouse wheel, selecting “eat,” and waiting for a canned animation to complete so that I can eat some more. The work Bohemia has done to transform DayZ to a functional alpha is significant, though. Rebuilding Arma 2’s architecture to reduce the hacking that plagued the mod was a massive task, and DayZ as it exists today is better off for the changes made to the inventory, look of the game, and Chernarus itself. But there’s still plenty to be done for DayZ to become the survival game it’s supposed to be, and I hope that planned features will be introduced alongside fixes to fundamental issues such as the rough animations, and eliminating server-hopping as an easy way to grab loot. For now, the still-skeletal parts of DayZ are worth tolerating in exchange for the stories that await you. If you set out with the goal of having interesting interactions with the other, variously helpful and amoral people populating DayZ’s world, rather than playing it like a
combination of Battlefield 4 and Diablo, you’ll find a lot to like.
aLPHa VERDICT PROMISING A story factory, and even with its flaws, one of the better systems-driven sandbox games available.
I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto...
A modified version of Arma 2’s Chernarus map provides a serene backdrop.
Knowing DayZ, skin cancer will be in the next patch.
The undead are better-animated and behaved, but always manageable. There are so few zombies that you’re almost pleased to see one.
Gear both protects you and makes you a target. Landmarks like this radio tower on Green Mountain help you find your way.
DayZ is as brutal and stark as the crumbling tower blocks that dominate its skylines.
Deducing how someone died can help you save your own life.
Shotguns may have been added, but I like my crowbar.
Clementine grows up fast in The Walking DeaD: SeaSon TWo—epiSoDe 1 by Wes Fenlon
need to know What is it?
An emotionally exhausting character drama set in a zombie apocalypse.
The Walking Dead comic
Play it on
2GHz CPU, 3GB RAM, 512MB GPU
The Wolf Among Us Episode 1, 90%
More than any episode so far, this one feels like a prelude.
am Clementine. You are Clementine. In the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead episodic graphic adventure, we are all Clementine. But what kind of Clementine will we be? The Clementine who trusts no one in the unforgiving world of zombies and bullheaded jerks who will inevitably become zombies? Or the Clementine who wants to find a new family, who believes there are still good living people walking among the dead? I want my Clementine to be good. But one episode into season two of The Walking Dead, I’ve already made her a killer, and not just for survival. For vengeance. Every conversation in season two’s first episode, All that Remains, plays a small part in shaping the person Clementine becomes. She’s about 11, now—season two takes place 16 months after season one—and making decisions 11-year-olds shouldn’t have to make. We’re viewing The Walking Dead’s world from an entirely different angle than we did as Lee, and Clementine’s youth frames moral decisions in a notably different fashion.
It’s a new take on The Walking Dead’s moral compass, but the rest of the episode is a return to familiar zombie-infested territory. Season one codified Telltale’s formula for morally ambiguous interactive fiction, and nothing here changes the recipe. Combat quick time events are still the least interesting sections of Telltale’s games, but they’re not as clunky this time around. Morality-bending dialogue is the main hook. Unfortunately, for the first half of this 90-minute episode, there are few people for Clem to talk to, and most of the decisions in the second half feel like groundwork for the rest of the season. I wanted more opportunities to talk to the survivors Clem meets, but we only get teases of the backstory of the new cast.
When dialogue does come into play, it’s clear Telltale put a lot of thought into how Clementine should work as a protagonist. She can play on the sympathy of adults, whimpering that she’s just a helpless kid, or she can turn on the puppy-dog eyes and manipulate them by saying “I can tell you’re nice.”
Tools for survival Clem isn’t strong, but she can use the environment to her advantage
Eat the contents, or use it as a blunt object? Why not both!
Whittle, shank, pry. It’s not a gun, but it’ll do just fine.
Stick them with the pointy end. They won’t step on it, sadly.
Apply directly to forehead for best results.
They can chow down on your human foes as well as on you.
◆ Expect to pay $25 for five episodes ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer Telltale Games ◆ Publisher Telltale ◆ Multiplayer None ◆ Link www.telltalegames.com/walkingdead
But I’m not sure how far to take that manipulation. Do I want to make her jaded and cold? No. Protecting Clementine from walkers is easy; guiding her down the dark paths Telltale offers is trickier. What The Walking Dead does best—as a comic, TV show, and game—is suddenly and violently send everything to hell. Those numbing I-can’t-believe-that-justhappened scenes infect everything else with a silent dread that it could happen again any minute. All that Remains has one of those moments. It shocked me. After 30 minutes I thought I had the direction for the episode figured out, but I was totally blindsided. And I turned Clementine into a killer. It’s a shame the first half of All that Remains is so light on dialogue when character interaction is the beating heart (and guilty conscience) of The Walking Dead. While the second half introduces new characters, I didn’t get to know them; more than any Telltale episode so far, this one feels like a prelude to the good stuff rather than a standalone story. At 90 minutes playing time, All that Remains is a good hour shorter than most of season one’s more selfcontained stories. Consider waiting until episode two has been released before diving in. This first installment proves that Clementine is a compelling protagonist, and I’m eager to see where Telltale’s twisting paths lead. I just hope Clementine’s humanity hasn’t completely eroded by the time I get there.
Sets the stage for some great character development, but there’s not much payoff in this 90-minute episode.
Functioning electricity? There’s always a catch.
Most of our meetings involve us doing sad eyes.
Don’t trust those human bastards.
Clementine’s teeth turn the tide of the battle. “I seem to have lost my way to the Super Bowl, grarrr.”
90 minutes is shorter than we’re used to from Telltale.
QTEs are still a bit a bit too clunky.
It’s hard to track swords on Clouds’ central screen. Throws work well.
Suicide is a valid strategy— you’ll respawn further back. Every pixel counts.
The winner is eaten by the Nidhogg wyrm of Norse legend.
Divekicks disarm and knock down, but you have to get the angle just right.
tug of sword
Nidhogg teaches the complex fighting game a valuable lesson—by ripping its spine out by Nathan Brown
Need to know What is it?
A swordfighting game in which two players fight for the right to be eaten by a giant worm.
Street Fighter II, Bushido Blade
Play it on
1.2GHz CPU, 512MB RAM, DirectX 8 compatible video card
Samurai Gunn, 80%
ighting games have a tutorial problem. With such a wealth of information to dispense, too many either overwhelm newcomers or tell them nothing at all. You can jump in, press a few buttons, and have a good time, but one look at what your opponent is doing shows how little you know. In Nidhogg, when you look at what your opponent’s doing you don’t get disheartened. You learn something. It begins with two pixelated swordsmen in a room. One button attacks, the other jumps. When the first blow is landed you learn this is a game where one hit kills, and an arrow appears at the top of the screen with one word. “Go.” You race off accordingly and learn that your foe respawns further back. Pass him and it transpires that Nidhogg’s stages span five rooms, two on either side of that central starting point. The winner is the
player who reaches the far end first.
You notice your opponent switching their sword between three different heights. You try the input that makes sense—taps of up or down on the controller—and it works. It’s a recurring theme. You instinctively press up and attack to mimic an opponent’s sword throw. You tap down and pick up a sword left behind by an earlier spawn. You wall-run, you sweep, you spine-rip your grounded opponent, and you make all these moves without even thinking about them. Within an hour you’ll have seen all Nidhogg has to offer. You’ll have heard Daedelus’s marvelous electronic soundtrack. You’ll have seen all four very different stages: the tense, near-invisible swordfights in the tall grass of the Wilds, the low ceilings of the Mines, which kill the projectile game. And you’ll have learned the entire moveset without a
◆ Expect to pay $15 ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer Messhof ◆ Publisher Messhof ◆ Multiplayer Two players on or offline ◆ Link www.nidhogggame.com
word of explanatory text. Little details emerge and inform new strategies. Those three stances, for instance, are crucial. The highest blocks projectiles; the lowest is as good as unavoidable under low ceilings; the middle is the most useful for disarming a foe by moving your sword up or down toward them as they attack. This shared, sparse toolset affords a huge variety of playing styles: you can hang back and turtle, use sword throws like hadokens, or simply leg it, the latter requiring that you discard your sword for the sake of faster movement. There’s no time limit. One game might last seconds, the next half-anhour, a joyous to-and-fro of victory snatched from the jaws of defeat with a well-placed sword throw, of frantic melee kills in the final few inches of a room. You can play online, and there’s a decent single-player mode, too. However, Nidhogg is first and foremost a local multiplayer game, made for two players sharing the same sofa space, jostling and laughing and shouting and reveling in playing what is surely the purest fighting game in years, and maybe even the best.
A brilliant marriage of game mechanics, level design, and music that will be played and talked about for years to come.
slice of life
It’s the mad, mad world of Metal Gear risinG: revenGeance—try a slice by Andy Kelly
need to know What is it?
A hyperactive Japanese action game.
Metal Gear Solid, anime
Play it on
2.5GHz CPU, 4GB RAM, 1GB graphics card
DmC: Devil May Cry, 83%
on’t know your Shagohod from your La-Li-Lu-Le-Lo? Then a lot of Metal Gear Rising won’t make sense. It’s an action-based spin-off of Konami’s brilliant Metal Gear Solid stealth series, which has yet to appear on PC beyond ports of the first two games. Mercifully, familiarity with the series’ famously convoluted lore isn’t necessary to enjoy what is one of the most thrilling, theatrical action games on PC. Rising is the PC debut of Osaka’s PlatinumGames, the talented team behind console darlings Bayonetta, Vanquish, and MadWorld. It’s known for its stylish, deep, and absurd fighting games, and it’s about time the team made one for us. It’s not its best—that crown still belongs to lollipop-sucking witch Bayonetta— but it’s a fine example of a genre sorely underserved on PC. You play Raiden, a silver-haired cyborg wielding a futuristic samurai sword that can cut through metal
like it’s spreadable butter. He’s a whirling, robotic dervish of parries, combos, and flurries, all controlled by an elegantly simple combat system. You get two attacks, heavy and light, but you won’t have to memorize endless strings of combos. Instead, the skill lies in parrying. Push in the direction of an enemy as they strike, hit the light attack button, and Raiden will—depending on how precise your timing is— either block, or parry and hit back with a counter. Like the lightning bolts that appear over thugs’ heads in the Arkham games, enemies announce attacks with a flash of red light, giving you a cue to prepare your parry. A yellow light, however, means the attack can’t be parried, and you’ll have to quickly evade it. Nail a counter, or beat up an enemy enough, and you can perform a Zandatsu. I must have done this a few hundred times in my playthrough, and it never gets old. Raiden slices an enemy into ribbons in slow-motion, grabs their spine
How to Zandatsu Pulling off Raiden’s fanciest move
ZAN (“cut”) Soften an enemy up with combos, then enter Blade Mode. Time will slow down and a red square will appear on the screen, highlighting their weak spot.
DATSU (“take”) Now—quickly—you have to precisely
cut through that square and grab your victim’s robo-spine, absorbing its power, before their body hits the ground.
◆ Expect to pay $30 ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer PlatinumGames ◆ Publisher Konami ◆ Multiplayer None ◆ Link www.konami.jp/mgr
before they’ve hit the ground, and absorbs its energy, fully restoring his health. It’s an incredibly satisfying move, and beautifully animated. You can also slice up the environment in Blade Mode, which enables you to chop cars, trees, and other objects into hundreds of tiny pieces. It’s seriously impressive tech, and will add a good hour to your playtime. That’s the core of the combat. It’s fairly basic on paper, but not when you’re being piled on by groups of enemies, all with different timings and attacks. This is where the challenge lies, and it can be an incredibly tough at times— especially fighting the bosses, who are brilliantly over the top. You’ll dance across missiles mid-launch while battling a giant robot, slice tanks in half as they’re thrown at you, and wrestle with a superhuman US senator. It’s totally mental, with that distinct, rarely-seen-on-PC spark of exaggerated personality you mostly only get in Japanese games. The only thing that dulls Raiden’s blade is the camera. It’s atrocious, jerking around erratically when you’re in the thick of a fight. This is a problem when groups of enemies are coming at you from all angles. The world design is also drab, and at odds with the extravagant combat and characters. It looks nice in places, but you have to slog through a lot of sewers and grey warehouses. Those gripes aside, Rising is a welcome sight on PC. Its snappy, responsive combat looks and feels great, and it’s wonderfully insane. Now, can we have Bayonetta next, Platinum?
An effortlessly stylish, elegant fighting game with a very silly sense of humor. More of this sort of thing on PC, please.
You have precise control over the angle of your cuts.
Raiden’s blade can be upgraded. Helicopters? No problem. Slice off their rotors.
Raiden enjoys striking dramatic poses after fights.
You’ll play some big levels, but it’s totally linear.
Metal Gear fans will recognize this giant mech. Grab a cup of tea for the many cutscenes.
Monsoon, one of the many flamboyant bosses. These two-legged mechs inexplicably moo like cows.
All sinister corporations must have a globe hologram.
Raiden’s secret? Organic hair conditioner.
DOWNLOADABLE CONTENT The West Indies sea is about a fifth the size of Black Flag’s ocean.
Adéwalé dresses like Kenway, fights like Kenway, and moves like Kenway. The blunderbuss can take out four enemies at once. Boom!
A really good chance to change subject in the story is wasted.
We had a discussion about diving bells in the office. It was interesting.
AssAssiN’s CrEED iV: FrEEDOm Cry plots a toofamiliar course through troubled waters by Ben Griffin
Need to know What is it?
DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag themed around slavery in the Caribbean.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag
Play it on
Core 2 Duo CPU, 2GB RAM
Assassin’s Creed III, 72%
oes this sound familiar? Commanding a ship in Caribbean combat, you wash overboard and wake on a tropical shore, outfit pristine, lungs implausibly free of saltwater. Freedom Cry starts like Black Flag, and then continues like Black Flag. What’s changed is that you’re playing Trinidadian slave-turnedpirate Adéwalé. Fifteen years after serving as Edward Kenway’s quartermaster, he now captains his own crew as an assassin. Freedom Cry charts his adventures through the plantations, jungles, and sherbertcolored shacks of Port-au-Prince. Slaves are omnipresent. On street corners, men beat them with whips and fists. On stages they’re sold to baying buyers. Chain gangs march down muddy side streets. As a result, Freedom Cry’s tone is markedly more restrained than the rum-guzzling Black Flag, which was probably a
sensible move. It’s the Treasure Island to Assassin’s Creed IV’s Muppet Treasure Island, if you will. Despite its sober approach, it tends to inadvertently trivialize its subject matter. Slaves are essentially currency. Freeing plantation workers by killing overseers, or liberating slave ships by battling convoys, or pick-pocketing the keys to cages, counts towards a quota: filling it unlocks the next mission. As a result, human life feels itemized. And then there are the endless slave spawns. Carrying an injured man to sanctuary simply spawns more down the street, and there’s a repeating motif of an escapee being chased through town by an irate guard. Brilliantly conceived allegory on the perpetual cycle of slavery, or transparent glimpse into gamelengthening busywork? Likely the latter, given this is Assassin’s Creed. The missions themselves feel too
◆ Expect to pay $10 ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer Ubisoft Montreal ◆ Publisher Ubisoft ◆ Multiplayer None ◆ Link assassinscreed.ubi.com
traditional. You’ll use eagle vision to spot glowing men, eavesdrop conspicuously in pubs and synchronize from atop steeples (the music cue this time is a slave chant). Compared to Black Flag, half of which was spent on the open ocean, this is all charted territory. There are a few gems: one sees you sneak through Port-au-Prince in a storm, using fireworks to distract guards before exploding a powder keg under a sentry tower. In another you rescue slaves from a burning ship. Sneakily picking your way through a picturesque cove is always fun, too. Ubisoft at least smartly accelerates progression. Within the hour you’ll have a top-tier vessel, gain access to sleep, rope, and berserk darts, and unlock the machete and blunderbuss to enable some brutal kill moves. Out on the waves, fort-invading, harpooning, and diving for sunken treasure provide decent, if not necessarily different, distractions. For a game that casts you as liberator, Freedom Cry feels oddly restrained by Black Flag’s more antiquated elements, squandering a decent opportunity to bring a fresh angle to one of gaming’s biggest surprises of 2013.
Barely noticeable differences to Black Flag make Freedom Cry an inessential add-on to Assassin’s Creed IV.
Starbound wants you to build houses, travel space, and rob everyone blind by Cassandra Khaw
need to know What is it?
2D side-scrolling, sci-fi sandbox mine-’em-up.
Influenced by Terraria, Minecraft
Play it on
2.4GHz dual core CPU, 4GB RAM, Radeon HD 4850
Alternatively Terraria, 79%
After 80 hours, i’m still finding reasons to gawk.
don’t have the heart to tell my best friend the world is ending. Not after he confessed hopes that someday another player would stumble on our two-Hylotl village and marvel at its architectural splendor. Soon, everything in Starbound, a 2D sci-fi kleptomania sandbox, will be wiped clean. It’s sad, but such is life in Early Access. Players in Starbound are refugees and apostates and anomalies, driven to flee their home planets by a variety of unpleasant circumstances. The game begins with a fuel-exhausted spaceship, a handful of seeds, a sword, some torches, a flashlight, and a futuristic horseshoe capable of excruciatingly slow matter manipulation. And you. From there, anything goes. Like any good sandbox, Starbound doesn’t impose
Souvenirs in space Can you guess which items were “appropriated” and which were not? Stolen
Made Stolen Stolen
restrictions, only loosely structured guidelines and an avenue toward vertical progression. Do you dedicate your existence to ruthlessly urbanizing every last block of your starter planet, or do you only linger as long as necessary to power your continued explorations through the stars? Your story, your rules. It helps that Starbound is just so gosh darn inviting. Each world you visit is procedurally generated, its terrain and inhabitants randomly strung together like intergalactic Mr. Potato Heads. Some will be barren, some will throng with castles and pirate ships and buried labyrinths filled with tiny, unexplained houses. All will be, at least fractionally, different. Similarly, the inhabitants of these worlds range from doe-eyed chimeras to Cthulhian nightmares. The novelty does thin after the first 30 planets or so. Every castle comes with its own king, but even the largest eventually loses its majesty. Especially after regicide becomes a habit. Yet even after 80 hours, I’m still finding reasons to gawk adoringly. Watching the sunlight pour across an alien Mount Fuji as you put the finishing touches to a new home is a thing of beauty. Also, ransacking villages for their walls and pilfering everything and the kitchen sink in the name of home deco are activities that never get old.
While it might seem overwhelming at the outset, Starbound is a simple game that pivots on even simpler ideas. Build. Explore. Click lots. Navigation is accomplished using the A and D keys to move horizontally, S to crouch, and the spacebar to jump. Virtually every
◆ Expect to pay $15 ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer Chucklefish ◆ Publisher Chucklefish ◆ Multiplayer Massively ◆ Link www.playstarbound.com
form of interaction is achieved with a left-click: click to chop wood, click to dig, click (and sometimes hold) to cull local wildlife. Nothing incredibly ambitious here. Presentation-wise, Starbound works a lot harder. The ambient music is mostly unobtrusive yet attractive, tinkling piano keys and chiming bells. The sprites are equally charming. Little nuances abound: falling snow collects on tree lines, puddles form after storms. Type “XD” and your character will giggle obligingly. It’s all very twee, so much so that it can be easy to forget that orange-skinned dinosaurs built of eyeballs are Just Not Right. Starbound is still far from being finished; its performance on different computers can vary and keybindings have yet to be implemented. A warning that bugs and crashes are to be expected squats in the launcher window. But it’s hard not to be excited anyway. Already, the developer is working on integrating community mods, as well as incorporating the mountain of features it’s promised. And what Chucklefish might not succeed at accomplishing, the community will probably do for them. This still-in-development sandbox game is not groundbreaking. In spite of the fact the developer is musing over ideas like radical terraforming via orbital bombardment and space combat, Starbound isn’t really doing anything new. Just a bunch of things that people want, tied together with a cutesy art style and the promise of big, big dreams.
aLPHa VErdICt PRoMIsIng The captivating world and rapid implementation of new features make this a stand-out sandbox.
You know, just strip-mining the planet.
Let’s not discuss how farming is possible in space. “Breaking and entering” takes on a new meaning.
Once in a while, you just want to be a ninja.
Indiana Jones would be proud—almost.
Welcome to Hotel Hylotl! This is what happens when Florans go wild.
Cultist heads are not very intimidating.
Crabsticks are serious business in Starbound.
Return to a time of yore—well, 1993—in Might & Magic X: Legacy by Richard Cobbett
Need to know What is it?
A defiantly old-school turnand grid-based RPG that has its heart firmly in the 90s.
Might and Magic V
Play it on
Quad-core, 6GB RAM, 1GB 3D card
Legend of Grimrock
piritually, Might & Magic X can be summed up by its first real conversation, when the captain of the guard at the first town jokes, “Don’t worry, I won’t send you to go kill rats in a cellar,” and then without irony presents a quest called “Spiders in the Well.” It’s a deliberate and careful throwback to the hack-and-slash RPGs of yore, in a style even its own series hasn’t done since 1993’s Darkside of Xeen—the fifth game, which was hardly cutting-edge even then. That goes to the core. While Legacy isn’t afraid to wield the Unity 3D engine to both create a world and deploy a few special effects, such as volumetric lighting, the action remains turn-based and locked tight to a grid rather than allowing freeform movement. For the most part, this works oddly well. Cities and dungeons are carefully designed, looking good and not feeling too much like shoeboxes.
There are, however, regular reminders of why most games of this style stick to cramped dungeons and locations like forest mazes rather than expansive overworlds, the biggest being that ranged characters often aren’t allowed to take a pop at an enemy standing right in front of them because officially they’re around a corner. Although nominally this is the tenth game in the series, it’s easy to get into the action. No knowledge of the previous games is required, and despite an intro so astoundingly long and overwritten it’s a wonder that the party doesn’t emerge blinking into Might & Magic XI, the story is kept in the background. You’re a team of rookie adventurers taking the ashes of your mentor to a locked down city in the middle of a ludicrously dangerous peninsula in the wake of political reforms that everyone spends far too much time arguing about instead of dealing with all the monsters. A
the confusion of Might & Magic Legacy is a standalone story, but here’s how the series works Might & Magic I-III RPGs, original series
Might & Magic IV-V Turn-based, grid layout
Might & Magic VI-IX
Plus a handful of others, including an online CCG and games on mobile/ console
Continues series of
This is 20% exploration, 70% combat, and the rest fighting over the scraps.
Continues story of
Realtime, free roam 3D
Crusaders Of... Action spin-off
Might & Magic X: Legacy
Card game spin-off
Dark Messiah Of... Action RPG spin-off
Continues styles of
◆ Expect to pay $25 ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer Ubisoft ◆ Publisher Ubisoft ◆ Multiplayer None ◆ Link might-and-magic.ubi.com
smarter party might “accidentally” trip while holding the urn on a windy cliff and go home. But no. Not Heroic enough. While even getting close to that town is a slow business, Legacy’s actual action is surprisingly pacey. The four-man party primarily levels horizontally, having lots of skills but plenty of points to spread between them. This quickly allows for a flexible team where a Ranger can be both an archer and a healer, or a Freemage can take up various magical schools without becoming a master of none. For parity, melee characters get their own “spells” revolving around skills such as taunting and diverting blows. Combat still isn’t usually too tactical outside of boss fights, where bad luck can also screw the party over in a hurry, but Legacy makes carving through armies feel very satisfying. While the killing is occasionally interrupted by a trivial puzzle or conversation popping its head into the action, this is firmly a game of 20 percent exploration, 70 percent combat, and everything else fighting over scraps. As much as it’s weighed down by an obviously low budget and the mechanical sacrifices of jumping back a decade, Legacy displays a love for this style of game and a desire to make one that replicates the best of the genre. The result isn’t likely to do much for anyone raised on a diet of The Elder Scrolls, and even at its best it’s a nostalgia trip. Even so, it’s a great way to relive the good old days.
Retro and proud of it, Might & Magic X: Legacy is a game that understands what made this genre so much fun in the past.
Legacy isn’t afraid to say “Nope, not yet” with a quick ass-kicking.
There’s a default party, ensuring you can’t screw yourself.
You can always see the grid, but Legacy does make it look pretty.
Conversations are quick, but with surprising amounts of personality for a hack-and-slash. Oh god, we just went back in time to the original Unreal engine.
Bosses represent big difficulty spikes.
The party gets poisoned so often, it’s a wonder they’re not immune by Level 3.
The first real boss: tough, and prone to blowing you off his lighthouse roof arena.
Skill plateaus and locked-off vendors keep your party’s power in check.
Bleaker than a rainy day in Norway, The Banner Saga is a trek worth taking by Chris Schilling
need to know What is it?
A turn-based strategy with RPG elements and moral dilemmas.
Game of Thrones, The Oregon Trail, Mass Effect
Play it on
Pretty much anything with 4GB RAM
XCOM: Enemy Within, 85%
People here aren’t living, but surviving, and barely.
o good deed goes unpunished in this crowdfunded passion project from a trio of ex-BioWare developers. The Banner Saga is a Kickstarter game that takes the first part of the word all too literally, repeatedly laying the boot in while you’re at your most vulnerable. It may ostensibly be a turn-based strategy game with light RPG elements and some moral dilemmas, but in your slow march across an inhospitable landscape, it most often resembles The Oregon Trail. Progress is arduous, supplies continually dwindling, and members of your caravan constantly kick the bucket. The main difference between the two is that here you’re more likely to die of pneumonia than dysentery. Such harsh conditions are a perfect fit for this world. Stoic’s semifantastical Norse setting is beautiful, but by golly is it bleak. “The gods are dead” are the first words you’ll see as the story kicks off, and it only gets worse for your band of bedraggled heroes. The sun has stopped moving, leaving the world in a
perpetual half-light, while just about
everywhere you travel is covered in a thick blanket of snow. Meanwhile, a race of armored enemies called the Dredge are massacring anyone and everyone, forcing you to hurriedly abandon each settlement you find. People here aren’t living, but surviving—and barely.
Norse by Norse-west
The narrative shifts between the perspectives of a handful of characters, but whoever you’re currently playing is always the chief decision maker. As you guide a caravan of clansmen, fighters, and the imposing Varl—a race of horned giants who’ve formed an uneasy alliance with humankind—you’ll see your troops trudging wearily along. A counter at the top of the screen shows the days passing; your supplies deplete every time the number ticks upwards. Every so often, your journey will be interrupted by a text prompt, forcing you to make a decision that may or may not have a significant impact on your quest. You might have to mediate in a quarrel between unnamed clansmen,
On the shoulders of giants Four human heroes to watch out for
Ekkill’s Guts ability knocks back enemies, clearing some space on cramped battlefields. Just be careful he doesn’t hit one of your own side.
This late-game recruit arrives with a bundle of points to spend, turning her into your deadliest asset. Her Puncture passive is ideal for finishing off crippled foes.
Your party’s healer. Ensure Eyvind is well-protected and he’ll keep your party alive, while conjuring lightning bolts that damage enemies from a distance.
Far from your strongest warrior, but it’s worth trying to keep Egil alive until the end, as you’ll get an Achievement for doing so. Harder than you think.
choose the punishment for a meadstealing companion, or decide whether or not to allow your group to rest their weary limbs in a suspiciously abandoned and dilapidated village. The beauty of The Banner Saga’s choices is that the consequences are unpredictable. There’s no “Eyvind will remember this” here. You simply won’t know at the time whether the call you’re about to make will be of minor importance in the grand scheme of things, or end up having a calamitous long-term impact on your caravan. What seems like the smart choice can end up biting you on the backside, and Stoic does a devious job at misdirection. At one stage, I spent an hour or so worrying about a particularly volatile addition to the camp, only to discover that I’d been keeping an eye on the wrong man, while a later attempt to raise the morale of the party backfired horribly. And in a world where death is around every corner, it’s no surprise that Stoic’s scriptwriters are as quick to kill off key characters as George R. R. Martin. Likeable party members perish heroically (and sometimes ingloriously), while cannon-fodder characters linger on. Failures can be devastating, and it’s frequently tempting to reload your last save (the game periodically records your progress to allow this). And yet screwing up is kind of the point. You’re not really a hero—in each case you’re a reluctant leader tasked with making impossible choices under extreme pressures. The results may at times seem random, and yet the game’s apparent capriciousness feels strangely honest. Trying to do the right thing doesn’t always work out, and living with your mistakes can be hard, yet you must press on regardless. These are pretty universal truths, and it’s
Hurrah for the return of parallax scrolling! We’ve missed it.
You’ll want to punch the unbearably smug Prince Ludin.
Pausing at these monuments to the gods is oddly comforting. You can set up test battles to try out new characters.
“No, no. These are small, those are far away.”
Winter is comi— oh wait, it’s already here. Nid: silly name, great archer.
No one takes Gunnulf’s Mr Stabby. Gentle giant Ubin is the saga’s narrator.
Eyvind prepares to do his best Gandalf impression.
It’s a shame there’s not more enemy variety.
She’d be a shoo-in for The Hunger Games. You can’t catch him, he’s the ginger beard man.
Sometimes doing nothing is the best choice. Or is it? Even seemingly insignificant encounters flesh out the world.
refreshing to find a game that doesn’t
try to sugar-coat them. These dilemmas aren’t the only interruptions to your journey. Every so often you’ll be thrust into battle, tackling a selection of Dredge (or, less often, human and Varl opponents) in short, grid-based skirmishes. Select your party members—up to six—and you’ll be given a limited space to position them before it all kicks off. Then you’ll take it in turns with your enemy to move each unit, choosing whether to attack or use that character’s special ability. Special abilities cost willpower, a finite resource that can be regained by resting for a turn, or by slaying an enemy. You can also use it to boost your movement range or increase attack power, which opens up a number of tactical possibilities. When attacking, you can opt to target a unit’s armor or its strength. Armor points represent the amount of damage that can be nullified, while the strength bar also acts as a health meter. Reduce the latter and you’ll debilitate them, lessening the impact of their attacks. Get it down to zero and they’ll collapse dramatically to the floor. Even with fewer foes, every other turn will belong to the enemy until there’s only one left, at which point you can mop up the last one standing with whichever team member you choose. Party members can only be promoted to a new level—earning two points to spend on boosting their stats each time—once they’ve slain enough foes, so it often pays to soften enemies up with stronger party members for the less experienced units to earn the kill. The combat is fairly basic in concept, but there are tactical nuances to be found within. Varl fighters take up four squares, enabling you to set up a defensive barrier for archers, yet with two or three in the field, not to mention the larger variants of your statuesque foes, movement can be severely restricted. Abilities can quickly turn the tide of battle: corral enemies into a tight space and a Warhawk’s Tempest attack will let them whirl their sword clockwise through the group, damaging several enemies in a single swipe. The Hunter can mark his prey with a minor blow to his
opponent’s armor, prompting any friendly units within range to immediately launch an attack of their own. Consider, too, the Dredge’s tough outer shells, which deal damage to adjacent allies when you connect with an attack. Maneuver them into a line and the armor-piercing Thread The Needle skill can easily puncture a row of three enemies, leading to a satisfying domino effect. A pity, then, that the stakes aren’t as high during combat as they are elsewhere. Surprisingly, there’s no death here: what looks like a fatal blow only results in an injury to the fallen, and while you’ll need to wait some days for those units to recover before they can fight again, it hardly feels like sufficient punishment for carelessness, particularly in light of the far-reaching consequences to your actions outside battle. Encounters offer a welcome challenge, but the game’s need to keep narrative-crucial characters alive is somewhat at odds with its often punishing nature.
The game occasionally breaks its own rules, too. At one stage I’d run out of supplies entirely, having spent all my renown—Banner Saga’s allpurpose currency—on leveling up my two archers. With morale at rock bottom, and humans and Varl alike dying en route to the next settlement, I was offered an unlikely lifeline when the next narrative quandary centered on the theft of... supplies. Chasing down the guilty parties, I recovered enough of these non-existent goods to make it to the next village. That’s among the most damning evidence of the game’s budgetary constraints; Kickstarter cash can only fund so much, after all. There are signs elsewhere, too: it’s a shame to see character models repeating, particularly when your most recent recruit ends up firing arrows at an enemy doppelganger. And while the Bakshi and Bluth-inspired art is strikingly beautiful, the static dialogue sequences can feel a little flat, no matter how good the writing is—and happily, it’s very good, with just the right dose of dry gallows humor. However much of the money went to Austin Wintory,
◆ Expect to pay $25 ◆ Release Out now ◆ Developer Stoic Games ◆ Publisher Versus Evil ◆ Multiplayer None ◆ Link www.stoicstudio.com
The beaten trek Exploring The Banner Saga’s hostile world 2
A small, secluded town in the foothills of a winding mountain range, home to Varl and some decent supplies. Positively welcoming by The Banner Saga’s usual standards. Weather Cold.
A run-down settlement blasted by fierce, freezing winds, and with a madman in charge. Oddly, still not the most inhospitable place in the world. Weather Very cold.
Home to a group of fishermen-turned-hunters, and an uncommonly friendly Varl with a secret past. Oh, and plenty of Dredge, naturally, to make life more interesting. Weather Extremely cold.
A burgeoning settlement in the hills that doesn’t seem to be quite so burgeoning by the time you arrive. Weather Cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.
on the other hand, the investment was worth it. Rich, evocative, and laden with portent and melancholy, the soundtrack is more than a match for the majesty of the environments. Indeed, there’s a certain quiet grandeur to your party’s march across the parallax-scrolling wastes, dwarfed by the world they inhabit and the enormity of their situation. These non-playable sequences give you time to reflect on events, on decisions you’ve made and allies you’ve lost, while conveying both the passage of time and the sense of journey in a more convincing manner than almost any other game. Perhaps that’s The Banner Saga’s most remarkable feat of all: this saga may be over within a dozen or so hours, yet it still has the weight and feel of an epic.
There are deeper strategy games, but few where you’ll feel quite so invested in the outcome. Recommended.
The game occasionally breaks its own rules.
82 APRil 2014
Open world survival game Rust brings out the best, and worst, in players by Andy Chalk
Need to know What is it?
First-person multiplayer survival game, with crafting, building, PvP and PvE combat
Influenced by Minecraft, DayZ
Play it on
Dual-core CPU, 8GB RAM, DirectX 9.0c video card, broadband internet connection
There’s plenty of cooperation, but it comes cautiously.
y first day on the island did not go well. It was only a few minutes before I stumbled upon a man-made structure and encountered its owner, working diligently to expand his home. “Leave or I kill,” he said, four short words I failed to take seriously, and a few seconds later I was dead. That’s life—and death—in Rust. Rust’s only goal is to survive, and it’s always challenging. You begin with nothing but a rock, a torch, and a couple of bandages, and if you try to spend more than two nights out in the open in that condition, you will die. It’s an intimidating, sink-orswim introduction to the game, but Rust isn’t a forgiving experience. Most of the game world will do its best to kill you and while epic multiplayer battles are rare, ambush murders are not. If somebody puts a few bullets in you, you will die. Yet that fragility, coupled with the nearabsolute freedom offered by an
open-world, no-rules arena, is exactly what makes it work. If you’re serious about staying alive, you’ll want to build some form of shelter. Construction options are limited, but having a relatively safe place to crash and store your stuff can extend your lifespan dramatically. While crafting is neither particularly interesting nor flexible at this early stage of development, better equipment is the key to survival.
Not quite deserted
Alongside animals, there are also deadly zombies and radioactive hotspots that give the game a faint whiff of STALKER. Worse are your fellow players. Well-armed after several hours, I hunted zombies near some radioactive fuel tanks. Quick double-taps from my MP5 dispatched them easily, but while my attention was occupied, a pair of bandits snuck up from behind and easily
survival school Three vital tips to keep you alive for at least an hour
If sundown is approaching, consider quitting for 20 minutes and coming back at dawn. It’s may be a cheesy move, but a night spent without shelter and food is rough.
Don’t start by building a shelter. First collect wood and stone, then craft a hatchet and use it to kill boars for food. Stay away from wolves for now. Wolves are big and bad.
Avoid other players at first—a lot of them want to kill you. Hit F1 and enter “grass.on false” to get an uglier, but clearer view of your surroundings. Don’t be this guy.
◆ Expect to pay $20 ◆ Release Out now via Steam Early Access ◆ Developer Facepunch Studios ◆ Publisher Facepunch Studios ◆ Multiplayer Server dependent, typically 128 ◆ Link www.playrust.com
creamed me with a shotgun. That’s not to say that everyone you meet is paranoid, and there’s plenty of cooperation to be found. But it comes cautiously. There are non-PvP servers, but they remove one of the most exciting parts of the game: random encounters with other human beings. That pervasive uncertainty is a central part of the survival experience, and Rust is vastly diminished without it. Rust is very much a work in progress. You can expect wonky shadows, occasional clipping errors, and the sound effects don’t even pretend to venture beyond minimal. Lag is sometimes a challenge, especially in the heat of battle, and simply finding someplace to play can be a hassle. Official servers tend to be crowded, while unofficial ones can be unreliable. Server wipes happen with major updates, so it’s best not to get too attached to your stuff, and there are plenty of gameplay oddities. For instance, every animal you kill, from boars to bears, provides “chicken breasts” for food. (Amusingly, there are absolutely no chickens in the game.) And yet, Rust is surprisingly playable. The underlying systems feel complete and functional, and recent updates have dramatically improved the performance of the server browser. Rust has a ton of potential, and it’s gameplay is an intense and impressive experience even now.
ALPHA VERDICt An intense, take-noprisoners survival game, Rust’s early access alpha is far from finished, but it’s ready to play.
Steak for supper!
This is bad. This is very bad.
Should’ve turned your flashlight off, buddy.
The player-built Fortress of Corrugated Metal.
geT mOre frOm yOur gaming
Turning off the lights is the best way to wind up security guards.
THE PC GAMER TEAM
I frame Tom Francis in my mind as an alternate reality Gatsby. GettinG to know tom francis at gunpoint
this month Jumped out of a window while doing dodgy work on the side for Intex. Also played Day Z, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Civilization V
hat can you learn about someone through playing their game? I’m familiar with Gunpoint creator Tom Francis the same way that many of you are, through the medium of this magazine and the work he produced for PC Gamer for almost a decade. I’m new here so I’ve never met the man. Gunpoint was therefore a fun opportunity to figure out who critically and commercially successful game developer Tom Francis is, framing him in my mind as an alternate reality gaming Gatsby who not only managed to woo back Daisy, but also bankrupted Tom Buchanan and became president of the United States. Gunpoint tells me that Tom wants
patrols an armed guard who I can only nothing to get in the way of the player. If evade, not kill. I fall foul of this guard many there’s a tutorial in the opening slew of times. Gunpoint’s autosave system lets you quick-paced puzzles, I can’t figure out where zap back to one of three recent timeframes. it is. Tom wants me to learn by doing. By the Stubbornness makes me choose the twotime I’ve figured out how Gunpoint works, I seconds-ago save every single time, just as I don’t even realize I’ve been schooled in it. smash through the second pane of glass. I’m Crosslinking, the founding idea, is something you unlock rather than a concept determined to avoid the AI’s gunfire on my you immediately have to comprehend. Once own terms, you see, which is a really stupid game-within-a-game I’ve made for myself. you’ve also purchased the wirejacking Two seconds, shot dead. Two seconds, ability, you can crosslink switches to any device of a matching color. You then use the shot dead. My desire to escape this guy in a hail of gunfire is similar to the mentality that environment and NPCs to get where you makes a child fetch a hammer to devastate need to go, setting up Mouse Trap-style a banister they bumped their head on. Who’s chains of events to reach objectives. the victory for? The snarling maniac with I’m not bad at Gunpoint, butI’m still too much pride: me. I eventually avoid the not great in instances where I need to jump gunfire and successfully bound out the way I with any kind of precision. The single came, the guard no doubt livid at my escape. gunshot that greets my frequent deaths is Gunpoint makes me want to be slick, even now high on my personal soundboard. when there’s little point One level has two glass being so. floors in the center of a READ ME The game could have four-story building that I released June 2013 been a lot longer. That’s simply want to jump our review N/A the next thing I learn through, and just below buy it Steam, $10 more www.gunpointgame.com about Tom: he knew less the second glass floor
There’s usually an option to be unhelpfully sarcastic in conversations.
Where are my doors? I swear I had doors yesterday.
This is the trickiest level, particularly when the sniper turns up.
It began more like play-by-mail home decorating. winning the game of thrones in starbound When I came back the next day, I discovered an underground passage leading this month Experienced to a medieval castle, meticulously mysterious stealth dungeon decorated with suits of armor and complete creativity, dreaded the next with a musty dungeon. Hours and hours of world wipe. work, from my perspective, had appeared also Played DayZ, Rust, Rogue Legacy spontaneously—the machination of some mad architect who sneaks around at night performing acts of stonemasonry. The architect didn’t stop at the castle, he first time I logged in to my either. The next day I discovered a Starbound server, I built a modest fluorescent-lit laboratory full of gadgets I’d house: a few rooms, a campfire, some crafting equipment, and a blood bank. never seen before. Part of the joy of Starbound is that I had no idea any of this The usual. It was a respectable home, and stuff existed until I poked around in the the next day I was a little sad to see no signs artifacts left by another player. of visitors. But then I found the garden. But one thing was missing, and it was the When I’d rented the server, I’d imagined one thing I could offer to improve on the myself leading dangerous adventures as a work of this prolific builder. Many light years pixelated Captain Kirk, spelunking in away, in a long-forgotten single-player inhospitable planets and seducing green dimension, I had scanned alien women with an object with my 3D promises of a house both READ ME printer. I’m glad I did. I spacious and full of Out now synthesized one and left it campfires. Thanks to work released our review See pg. 68 in a cave, because all this schedules and time zones, buy it Steam, $15 it began more like play-by- more www.starbound.com hard work was hardly mail home decorating. civilized without a toilet.
The last level, but I’ve semicleverly hidden any spoilers.
would be more. He weaves different ideas across the two- or three-hour story, reaches a creative peak, then bows out on a high. He understands the value of pacing. One level requires no crosslinking at all, it’s simply a mad smash-and-grab into somebody’s apartment, evading gunfire from three men in the adjacent building. It’s as functionally important to the game’s structure as any of the more crosslink-centric levels. Then there’s the story. Tom allows you to skip this tale of light murder mystery and corporate intrigue, but I found idiosyncratic substance by following it closely. I also got to choose “**** that” as a dialogue option; the man’s clearly a genius. There’s exactly as much of everything in Gunpoint as you need. What I’ve learned about Tom Francis is that his experience at PC Gamer no doubt let him witness every kind of rookie design error first hand, and thus avoid them in his own work. Gunpoint is a confident debut that puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the team to make equally brilliant games. I hope you like endless runners with aggressive microtransactions.
A friend was relieved by my addition. I am the creepy guy.
I swear one of them moved.
The games we love, right now
Combining a mining laser with drones saves precious time.
This is every sci-fi book cover, ever.
Owen’s impressive attack cruiser shadows my mining frigate.
Fit an afterburner or micro-warp drive to give your mining ship a speed boost.
I’ve decided to venture into more dangerous territory. braving the dangers of low-sec to go space mining in EVE OnlinE AnDy KElly This month Took a mining ship and a Welshman to low-security space in search of precious
minerals. Also Played DayZ
here’s kernite in them-thar asteroids. After spending my entire capsuleer career cowering in high-security space, protected by space-cops, I’ve decided to venture into more dangerous territory to mine for rarer minerals. I’m in a weaponless Venture—an entry-level mining frigate— alongside a friend, Emily, who’s piloting an identical ship. But we have help. Former PC Gamer editor Owen Hill is our bodyguard. He’s in a bird-like Caracal loaded with missile launchers, and hopefully he’ll scare off any pirates. In low-sec—any system with a security rating lower than 0.4—the space cops won’t rush to help if you’re attacked by other players. It’s not as hostile as null-sec, but still dangerous. 80
We jump to low-sec. It’s my first time away warp to the nearest moon—and it’s a good from my starting systems, despite having thing we do. They’re pirates, and when played this character for almost 60 hours, Owen engages them in combat he takes a and I’m nervous. We find an asteroid belt beating and is forced to limp away in defeat. and get to work, harvesting minerals with A narrow escape. mining lasers and probes. Our Ventures stick Owen docks at a nearby station for close while Owen circles us in his Caracal like repairs, then we return to lovely, safe, secure a big metal buzzard. I keep my eye on my high-sec to deposit our spoils. We end up overview for ships entering the belt. with a pretty decent haul, making a few Veteran players who operate exclusively million ISK. Small space-potatoes in the in null-sec will snort with derision at our grand scheme of the EVE economy—and loose change to experienced players—but a caution, but this is a big deal for us. We fine reward for a hard day’s work for lowly mostly play PvE, and have neither the skill carebears like us. points nor the equipment to seriously get It’s testament to EVE’s dynamic and into PvP. We’re the very definition of “carebears”—a derogatory term in EVE unpredictable universe that a short trip to Online for players who avoid conflict, instead mine a few asteroids was so tense. I think it’ll focusing on missions and mining in high-sec. be a while before I work up the courage to Our cargo holds are now stuffed with explore the ruthless Wild West of null-sec. expensive space rocks. The more we mine, You hear amazing tales of political intrigue, the more worried I become espionage, and war in EVE that we’re about to get Online, but for players at READ ME ganked. Then, suddenly, the bottom of the food released May 2003 chain like us, a trip into two ships show up on the our review September 2003, 55% low-sec is excitement overview. In a moment of buy it Steam, $20 enough. sheer panic, Emily and I more www.eveonline.com
Even a dead co-op partner can change the game. Finding cooperative bliss in Spelunky WEs FEnlon this month Lived and died (but mostly died) in Spelunky. Played much better after dying. also played Just Cause 2 Multiplayer
was already dead when the icy chill hit my spine. The Ghost was on its way, and my fellow spelunker was in trouble. He could’ve just ducked out of the final level of the mines, but that would mean leaving behind the Udjat Eye and abandoning any chance of reaching the black market. So he Man, now the coffin’s all sticky. did what any true Spelunky player would do: risk it all for the treasure. We were in bad shape. An arrow trap had into the air and springing from one to the already turned me into a pith helmeted next to clear the Ghost’s head. It was a ghost, and my red-nosed partner was stuck perfect jump. Triumph. near the exit with no easy way back up. He Or so we thought. He was out of rope, and had the key, but not the big chest. A rope got the big chest sat on a ledge in the snake pit, him up a level, but then he just out of reach. Tragedy. was staring the Ghost Desperate to help, I READ ME straight in the face. He’d made a split-second play: released August 8, 2013 have to jump it. with a ghostly puff, I blew our review December 2013, 96% It looked impossible. But the chest off the ledge. My buy it Steam, $15 he went for it anyway, partner grabbed it, more www.spelunkyworld.com tossing two more ropes sprinted under the Ghost,
The best way to a man’s heart is through his ribcage.
and made it to the exit, pausing only to unlock the chest and grab the Eye. Triumph. That moment embodies what I love about Spelunky: if something seems like it should work, it probably will. Everything interacts. That makes co-op dangerous, but deeply rewarding. Even a dead co-op partner can completely change the game with a well-placed breath. Somewhat inevitably, we died pathetically in the jungle five minutes later, but that run still felt like a triumph.
Levels lurch and sway like I’m on some dodgy cocktail. Hurting people in Hotline MiaMi aesthetic intoxicates. Levels lurch and sway like I’m on some dodgy cocktail, and beyond its borders lies an endless stretch of this month Sampled Hotline Miami’s druggy kaleidoscopic color that morphs between delights. seedy hues of pink and blue, meeting each also played Rayman murder with a violent flash. It’s about killing, Legends, World of being killed, then swiftly repeating the cycle. Warplanes Homicidal highs turn to lows turn to highs. It’s metaphorical drug abuse. The end of each stage is like the morning ecently I used this section to vent after a PCP bender. When I “come down,” about house-sitting simulator Gone white suit stained red and murky electronica Home. Hotline Miami is its brainabruptly silenced, I’m forced to confront boiling, pill-popping antithesis. The former myself . This was my brain on drugs. is driven by story, the latter by action—like So, Gone Home is progressive, a game that plunging thumbs into eye sockets and shirks unfashionable violence. Hotline Miami kicking heads until brains fall out. is regressive, and it revels For me, Hotline Miami is in it. In the tutorial a dicey almost a drug itself, READ ME tramp poses a question: plunging players into released October 2012 “Do you like hurting murderous fantasies our review January 2013, 86% people?” Yes, as it fuelled by hysterical buy it Steam, $10 happens. Yes I do. strength. A neon-acid more www.hotlinemiami.com
R I killed them for crimes against interior design.
Free games stuff from the web
1 JuSt CauSe 2: Mp
MOD touR Panau with youR fRiends—and tRash it
whim of the chat-log. During my last visit to iven the havoc a single Scorpio can the Mile High Club—JC2’s blimp-based party wreak across Panau, imagine the zone in the sky—the server collectively impact of a thousand. That’s the idea decided to launch an attack on the place. behind Just Cause 2’s multiplayer mod. It Minutes later, everything from helicopters to opens up the giant island to many hundreds jumbo jets arrived to strafe-fire, bomb and of players, all flying, racing, shooting, crash into it. grappling, and parachuting at once. Structured rules and events do Over the last year, it existed as a exist, but they’re chosen by the single server, playable only server’s owner. Most common during brief test windows. phil says... are race events: contests in Now it’s fully released on “Thankfully selected vehicles across a there aren’t Steam, permanently 1,000 Bolo.” small section of the map. Do accessible, and boasts well, and you’re rewarded multiple servers. Jump into a with money to buy gear from heavily populated world (as the game’s black market. of writing, YouTube star Unless, that is, the server owner NerdCubed’s has become the has set market items as free—in community’s primary choice), and which case, you’re able to equip you’re skydiving into freeform chaos. weapons or spawn vehicles at will. Panau’s guards and citizens have been Thanks to the support of Just Cause 2 removed, so you’re fighting with or against developer Avalanche, the mod is available to other players. The primary spawn points are install directly through Steam. Once a magnet for violence, the airport in downloaded, you’ll find it as a separate entry particular a dysfunctional battleground, in your Steam library. Connect to a server, where a constant barrage of cannons and then press F5 to see a list of activated rocket launchers upsets other players’ plug-ins and commands. PS attempts to commandeer planes or jets. Elsewhere the game flows according to the www.bit.ly/JC2-MP 82
Sigh. I never did get to join the Mile High Club.
2 Spelunky MODS RefResh the Roguelike
erek Yu’s masterpiece of procedural platforming was our favorite game of 2013, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved through these four clever community tweaks. PS
light-ui The UI can occasionally frustrate. Light-UI makes it less obtrusive than ever using smaller icons and a transparent background. www.bit.ly/Spelunky1 Pixel MOD Travel back to 2009 with this graphical degrade pack, which reverts the art style to the non-HD version. www.bit.ly/Spelunky2 ClaSSiC MuSiC PaCk The soundtrack can start to wear a little thin. To mix things up, install this compilation of the original game’s chiptune classics. www.bit.ly/Spelunky3 New Player CharaCterS Community-made playable skins for everyone from Megaman to Fez’s Gomez. www.bit.ly/Spelunky4
3 THief Gold Hd
Guard those textures carefully, or Garrett will swipe them.
MoD GArrEtt stEALs A pOt OF AntI-AGInG crEAM
he characters will still look like weirdly animated, limb flailing nightmares, but this HD texture pack for Thief Gold upgrades nearly everything else. It’s an extensive rework that polishes up the surfaces, lighting, water, and effects in order to make the late ‘90s stealth game look more like something from the mid-2000s. To use it, you’ll need to apply the most recent build of NewDark: the Thief II fan patch from mysterious community tinkerer “Le Corbeau.” The easiest method for installation is to apply TFix 1.18 (www.bit. ly/ThiefFix), which includes NewDark’s latest version. You can choose between the creator’s two packaged config files, which will enable either more realistic, or more cinematic, lighting effects. PS www.bit.ly/ThiefHD
4 TiTan SoulS
FREEWARE A colossAl Achievement mAde in A weekend
itan Souls arose from the ashes of Ludum Dare 28 and its theme of “you only get one.” It’s a top-down cross between Dark Souls and Shadow of the Colossus, filling a compact world with atmosphere. Your quest is to defeat four titans. Doing so will require skill, timing, and just a small amount of puzzle solving. PS www.bit.ly/TitanSouls
You You only get one health point, which means you’ll need to stay nimble and reactive in order to dodge attacks.
ThEM Each titan also has a single health point. You’ll have to discover its weak spot in order to destroy it.
ThE ARRoW You have a single arrow which can be fired in the cardinal directions. Miss, and you’ll have to recover it.
WEBGAME RoAd to nowheRe
espite the Hotline Miami reference, this endless runner features no gore, violence, or pseudophilosophy. It doesn’t even have a phone. What it does have is screen-tilting ambience, an ’80s inspired soundtrack, and a difficulty curve that makes for a compelling high-score chaser. You’re riding a top-down, constantly unfolding road. A mellow voice warns of upcoming hazards. You’ll havae to navigate chicanes, roundabouts, and hairpins, all at a fixed speed that ensures your mistakes won’t go unpunished. For all its challenge, the game feels like it wants you to succeed, making it easy to lose yourself to long sessions of strangely calming navigation. One randomly occurring obstacle can seem impassable. In isolation, neither the roundabout nor the narrowing road are too taxing; combined, they rival Canabalt’s windows for pixel-perfect frustration and, when you finally master them, satisfaction. PS www.bit.ly/HotlineTrail
Free games stuff from the web
Freelance, pixelated Adam Jensen didn’t ask for this.
AccelerAtor WEBGAME Fly Faster
ou’re plunging into a chasm. Not just any chasm, but an abstract tunnel filled with geometric hazards to avoid. The bad news is that you will eventually hit one of these glowing red shapes. The good news is that you’ve the chance to rack up a respectable score along the way. Accelerator is a first-person faller that requires twitch reflexes and split-second decision making. As the name suggests, the primary challenge is your character’s constant acceleration. As you fall, you’re slowly going faster. Life becomes increasingly panicked. Excellent sound design deftly conveys the feeling of speed. The Tron-like pulsing swishes past as you narrowly avoid each obstacle, and builds in pitch and intensity as you go. The pre-jump settings nicely extend the game. Higher difficulty levels introduce new types of obstacle, rather than increase the frequency of existing ones. At medium, that means navigating through branching paths, while hard mode further upsets your composure with randomly curving tunnels that offset your attempts at precision. PS
FREEWARE enjoy isometric immersion in a stealth sim
Each mission comes with performance t’s the year 2030. Nation-states have targets, providing a cash bonus if you dissolved. The megacorps have inherited successfully meet them. The eco-students, the Earth.” in those few introductory for instance, prefer you to be as non-violent as sentences, DataJack tells you all you need to possible, while the more ruthless know about its cyberpunk world of megacorps care little for the lives of freelance espionage and hacking. their competitors’ workforce. Brilliantly expansive and wellcompleting each mission made, it fits all the variety of phil says... “Contains involves exploring the target an immersive sim into its the immersive building, hiding from guards dystopian isometric world. sim essential: in vents, hacking terminals Your first job is to choose a flushable to disable turrets, and job. A list of possible toilets.” sucking up loose credits and contracts is sent to your documents. There are multiple hideout’s computer. Your ways to approach each mission, objective might be to sabotage a depending on your predilection for mainframe, steal sensitive intel, or violence or stealthiness, and hidden —if you’re working for “radical youth bonuses to reward the diligent. PS terrorist organization” ELF—to rob a fast food www.epicbanana.com store. Way to stick it to The Man.
8 K The long road to space travel proves surprisingly literal.
KerbAl Multi PlAyer MOD iNTErNATioNAL spAcE crEATioN
erbal Space Program developer Squad recently confirmed plans for multiplayer for the official launch of the game. But why wait, when a mod can have you playing with friends in the currently available alpha build? Kerbal Multi Player is an admittedly experimental attempt to bolt online support onto the game. With it, you can recreate the Cold War space-race, collaborate on ISS joint creations, or kamikaze a friend’s satellite for fun. You can also speed up time, so that you’re able to engage warp speed even
while your friends are anchored to their primary timeline. Rather than causing a universe-ending paradox (or worse, a Star Trek plot), you can later sync with other players to reconcile the difference. As long as a player is in the server, the universe persists. Over time, that means a persistent and constantly expanding space program, which multiple players can join, explore, and colonize. There’s no server browser, so enter the IP of your chosen universe into the multiplayer menu’s connection box. PS www.bit.ly/KerbalMP
9 Crusader Kings 2
mODS Plot to conquer these new worlds
rusader Kings 2’s Game of Thrones mod rightly hogs the spotlight as its most expansive and detailed total conversion. But you don’t need to be whisked away to a land of dragons, direwolves, and blonde-haired jerks to enjoy some alternate history intrigue. As a sandbox strategy soap opera, CK2’s systems-driven stories are equally compelling with smaller mods. Subtle changes can snowball as your dynasties grow, creating new scenarios that offer a very different challenge to the base game. With no Steam Workshop support, most files are hosted on the Paradox community forum. Register for a free account, and you’ll have access to a constantly expanding library of mods. PS
A detailed total conversion depicting a world in which sun god Sol invictus becomes the object of worship in Rome’s official religion, and where christianity didn’t thrive in the eastern Mediterranean. the upshot of this historical rewrite is bloodier battles, new buildings, traits, and characters, and hundreds of new events. Lux Invicta also bundles other game-improving mods. www.bit.ly/CK2-2
Cs story WeBGame headshot Plot
ormer PC Gamer web editor owen hill has taken time away from his regular job of communitymanaging Mojang’s voracious Minecraft fanbase in order to moonlight as a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive advocate. CS Story is his twine-based text adventure about Dust ii, headshots, and long pushes on A. Sitting at your computer, an hour before your non-gaming friends arrive for a house party, your deceptively simple goal is to pass the time by playing some CounterStrike. Load up the game, and you’re presented with a series of options. Do you play with friends or go it alone? Show off your abilities or lull the enemy into a false sense of security by playing like a jerk? Successfully navigate this tactical battlefield, and you’re rewarded with a stimulating win, which in turn leads to an erudite performance as party host. CS Story is thorough in its “simulation,” to the point of letting you right-click the CS:GO launcher to tinker with properties. You can even choose to “Delete Local content,” at which point the game calls you an idiot, and punishes you with a disastrous party. PS www.bit.ly/CSStory
it’s the year 1066, and in an unprecedented act of feudal revisionism, all emperors and kings have been stripped of their titles, and all vassals have been granted their independence. As a result, wherever you chose to start your campaign, you’ll have much greater freedom to manipulate history. Assuming you can outwit your scheming neighbors, that is, who’ll be making their own power-grabs. With no great superpowers to dominate the map, everybody is in a race to expand, conquer, and consolidate their power. www.bit.ly/CK2-1
CruSaDer kInGS Z
What started as an April Fools’ joke by the cK2 development team has found new life as a challenging invasion mod. it starts like any campaign, but will be permanently changed by a randomly triggered zombie invasion. Starting in ethiopia, the undead quickly infect Africa, before shambling toward europe. You’ll need a large and effective army to survive their threat. www.bit.ly/CK2-3w
machinima RetuRning to the SouRce in CS:GOne HOme i suspect this was only created because the titles of both games merged nicely, but nevertheless CS:GOne Home is a funny and loving mashup of Gone Home and Counter-Strike. Follow a young counter-terrorist as she arrives home, only to find her family gone. Via notes (and guns) left by her sister, she pieces together the drama. PS www.bit.ly/CSGone
Reaching the front porch of her family’s house, Katie gets a prompt to pick up the “good ‘ol christmas chicken.” it turns out to contain a pistol (or “key”) which she uses to repeatedly shoot (or “open”) the front door.
Katie explores the house, reminiscing about her past, remarking on her dad’s books (“they’ve gone all lowpoly!”), and listening to an audiolog of her sister Sam wondering if a ghost knocked over some chairs.
“hey Kate, today me and Lonnie realized that it looks like there’s a second set of stairs and an attic above the house.” it may be smaller than Gone Home’s residence, but those kids are still making implausible discoveries.
I said yes
Sam describes a question posed by Lonnie at the “rebellious ’90s teenagers club.” gleefully, she accepted her friend’s proposal. to be a terrorist. Aw, that’s touching, but it’s not going to go down well with the family.
What’s new in the biggest games
Months of patches bring Battlefield4 back froM the brink by Ben Griffin
ince its November 1 release, Battlefield 4 has been at best inconsistent and at worst inoperable. Gamers can handle a few days of despair—it’s positively expected given the complexity of modern games—but this was different. This READ ME was the most problem-plagued FPS in recent memory, the SimCity first reviewed of shooters. Three months later, January 2014, 84% what’s changed? developer DICE Well, you can actually play the publisher thing now. A stream of patches EA scrambled by a frantic DICE have requires shot down hundreds of glitches: 3GHz CPU, 4GB RAM, 2GB graphics card, crashes, audio cuts, rubberbanding, 30GB HDD space spontaneous teleportation, texture link flickers, random deaths, spotty www.battlefield.com/ matchmaking, and more. battlefield-4 If weeks of having your stats community battlelog. sporadically wiped haven’t scared battlefield.com you off, it’s possible to progress in your class. The revive UI no longer permanently etches itself across the screen, you won’t die with HP left or get stuck inside walls, SLI/Crossfire profiles have been updated, and the game won’t crash when you so much as bring up the scoreboard. While I’m hesitant to throw out a line like “Battlefield 4 is the game it should have been at launch,” it is at the very least functional. So, now that it’s working, how does Battlefield 4 play? Differently enough from Battlefield 3 to send many fleeing back to it. Those who’ve hung on have become somewhat pricklier. Surly sound bites I overheard in a recent session included “Why the hell did i pay $70 to be a beta tester?” and
“Wow, for once Battlefield’s multiplayer is actually worse than single-player.” You’re likely to be reported by opponents whether you’re intentionally glitching or not. Players are paranoid, and who can blame them? Much of their paranoia stems from inconsistent friendly markers. In hardcore they’ll appear and disappear without rhyme or reason, making accidental team-killing rife. Get too many team kills and you’ll more than likely get kicked from the server and
Most servers enforce sniper restrictions, a sure sign DICE got it wrong.
have your points wiped if you reconnect. This leads to hesitant gunfights where it’s hard to discern friend or foe. And then there’s reviving: altered by DICE in an attempt to stop people abusing the medic class. The delay in bringing your teammate back from the dead, coupled with the fact that medics can only revive someone once during a life, means players are left to rot more often. The tone’s more cautious, matches less fun and frantic. Or consider the fact that every class has access to designated long-range rifles, making sniping rampant. It’s triggered an infectious cycle: when someone dies from a remote shot, they’ll respawn as a sniper in order to kill the guy who killed them. Most
Thinly DiCED Three problems with BF4, their effects, and solutions friendly fire (hardcore)
Friendly triangles/markers disappear seemingly at random during the game.
It now takes longer to revive someone, and you can only be revived once.
Players have responded by frantically hitting Q before they shoot, and often die in the process. Others are adopting a “kill it first ask questions later” policy.
Fewer people play as medics, and even less equip the defibrillator in favor of a grenade launcher. This means you get revived less frequently, and the delay means you get killed a lot more when reviving.
In addition to the regular sniper class, every player and class in BF4 can now equip some kind of long-range rifle.
Having no markers on at all would certainly make the game more hardcore. As it is, having them appear intermittently is avoidable, frustrating, and amateur. DICE needs to make this one of its highest priority fixes for hardcore mode.
Rather than make a U-turn, DICE has recently increased the range of defibs, so you can revive someone from a meter away. It’s not enough. Bring back Battlefield 3 revival mechanics and you’ll bring back players.
player servers enforce sniper slot restrictions, a sure sign DICE got it wrong. Or take reloading, a practice which now wastes the entire clip. Or the overly long cooldown for jets’ countermeasures. Or the reactive armor for tanks and LAVs, which seems to provide only a superficial effect. Even the tiniest change has upset the balance. But again, they’re only obvious to Battlefield veterans. The game is ever-evolving. “Resolving the
On servers with no sniper restrictions, it’s less fun to be an infantry player. Players get killed by a sniper, equip a sniper rifle to return the kill, then end up shooting someone else, and so on. SOlUtiON
BF4 has already introduced weapons that you can pick up at strategic points in the field, this should be a sniper’s only access to those weapons. DICE should also look at creating a sniperonly mode and maps.
launch issues is our #1 priority,” wrote DICE general manager Karl Magnus Troedsson on Battlefield’s official blog before Christmas. It’s not much, but DICE recently gave every player a special M1911 pistol scope previously reserved for developers. Think of it as less a gift and more a gesture of goodwill—the team hasn’t taken your cash and left you in the lurch. Over at the official forums (battlelog.battlefield.com/bf4/forum) there’s an “issue tracker” thread, as well as a detailed list of all game, server, and Battlelog updates. Laudable transparency aside, Battlefield 4’s continuing issues raise important questions. Where do we draw the line? Should we stop letting publishers get away with releasing unfinished products? One law firm did just that in December, trying (and failing) to sue EA for misleading about the quality of the game. Or should we be more forgiving, as BF4 executive producer Patrick Bach argues? “You can never have a game like Battlefield, with the complexity of the amount of players, vehicles, bullet trajectory, destruction, etc., and have a perfect netcode that is 100% perfect ... There’s a reason why there aren’t any other games on the market that do what we’re doing: because it’s really, really hard to do that.” Battlefield 4 is getting better all the time. It’s still not problem-free, and ongoing shifts to the dynamic of matches may throw the hardcore, but provided this glitch-filled saga hasn’t soured you and you can stomach the odd technical hiccup, now is the time to enter the war.
Battlefield 4’s attack boats are severely overpowered . Player servers offer a twist. No grenades on this one.
Always fire blindly into dust. You might hit something.
When it works, Battlefield 4 is stunning to behold. I am upside down.
Yeah, BF4 doesn’t work sometimes, but be grateful you’re not dead.
Too complex to work properly? Patrick Bach thinks so.
Sadly, Bully’s chemistry is as boring as the real thing.
Rockstar’s softest and silliest game, with the warmest heart. Play Bully for a less excruciating kind of school reunion by Samuel Roberts
ully starts with the crappy experience of going to a new school and ends with a subculture civil war. Certain media outlets flew off the handle when Rockstar announced it was making a game titled Bully, given its traditional adult subject matter and the context of the story, but the irony is that this is Rockstar’s softest and silliest game, with the warmest heart. The GTA open-world template is borrowed almost in its entirety; even missions and distractions are similarly represented on the map. Instead of matching the earlier San Andreas’s scale, however, Rockstar Vancouver pursued detail and READ ME intimacy: the town of Bullworth feels about the size of an island in first reviewed GTA III. What you get instead is an January 2009, 78% developer environment that shares more Rockstar Vancouver DNA with a Deus Ex hub or Arkham publisher City, where there’s logic behind the Rockstar Games placing of buildings and a more release handcrafted feel to the art 2008 direction. It’s a more experimental approach to open-world design from Rockstar. I see Bully as its passion project, the chance to take commercially proven game mechanics and apply them to the sort of story no other developer would think of telling. 88
throwing bags of marbles at cops, or Your character, troubled teen Jimmy swimming out to a sunken pirate ship in the Hopkins, can’t parachute out of a fighter jet or use a jetpack. The most extreme means of bay. It’s a Goonies-like slice of ’80s movie wonder that adds a touch of magic to an transport is a scooter, and even then the otherwise realistic-feeling locale. That slight worst punishment for running someone extension beyond reality gives Bully a down with it is either mowing the lawn in distinctive identity. detention or being sent back to school. A more obvious treat comes in the way the There’s a lot of motor-mouth dialogue in town adapts to the seasons of the school the cutscenes: the school subcultures are year, introducing relevant NPC and treated as GTA-style gangs, Jimmy’s environmental revisions with reputation in each fluctuating as themed missions to match. circumstances change. All Sam SayS... You’ll see Bullworth strewn adhere to the typical “I learned with pumpkins for one night stereotypes of nerds, jocks, more from only, or transformed into a greasers, prep kids, and so Bully than I did in snowy wonderland at on, with a fragile class Algebra Christmas, which creates a structure that revels in its class.” more personal connection to inherent silliness. its world than anything in GTA’s Bully feels part biographical sprawling cities. and part fantastical to me. Only Bullworth Academy is 25 percent Jimmy and the story’s far more what school was like, then 75 percent more interesting villain, the manipulative fun stuff that I never got to do. I don’t sociopath Gary, come across as characters remember English class being a threewho could be based on real people. In a minute game of spotting anagrams on a scene that’s all too likely, Jimmy is board, for example, though it’s a lot more abandoned at the gates of the school by his entertaining than pretending to do Michael mother, who is distracted by the new Caine’s accent while reading Shakespeare. boyfriend in her life. Gary is the devious mastermind who will cause fights then enjoy Rockstar uses lessons as a progression system for unlocking new weapons and them from the sidelines. The more fanciful side of Bully has Hopkins skills for Jimmy, and some are smartly specific to their subject, such as labeling manning a mounted potato cannon,
Gary slides in and out of the story but remains a bastard.
Prefects are easy to defeat with the firework gun.
I lost this fight deliberately to show that jocks aren’t very nice. Your romantic reputation steadily increases.
Not a plasma cannon, sadly, just a fire extinguisher.
countries on a map in Geography. Others are tired QTE affairs and a bit of a drag. I like that Rockstar tries to make being a school kid fun, and largely succeeds. Bully offers many reminders that you’re playing an adolescent, rather than a cold-hearted GTA killer. One aside that differentiates Bully from GTA more than anything else is that Jimmy falls asleep if he doesn’t go to bed by a certain time and will wake up in his underpants if he’s been robbed. Goodfellas this is not, to be sure. Rockstar doesn’t need adult content to create a compelling narrative arc, it turns out, yet so far Bully remains the only game where the studio has gone without it. The outdated parts of Bully are mostly shared with GTA, from which it inherits camera-spinning shooting and sometimes imprecise melee combat . The latter in particular seems overly simplistic given how much time Jimmy spends punching people in the face. Yet Bully is easily the most refined of its era of Rockstar titles, aided by a consistent difficulty curve. The physics and cutscenes are the obvious indicators of its age: the characters look like crash test dummies with spades for hands. Even if they look like creepy puppets when they talk, I did at least remember many of Bullworth’s students prior to reinstalling. Many of the NPCs walking around Bullworth
The Turf Guide Where the subcultures roam in Bully
have specific names and faces, forming the large ensemble cast of the story. It’s a small touch, but photographing each student creates entries in your yearbook, telling you who they are and which faction they belong to, a hearty attempt to make them feel like a real group of people. The Scholarship Edition released on PC in late 2008—the last Rockstar game to be built in RenderWare before GTA IV arrived on PC just over a month later—is a flawed port. While some of the framerate issues were resolved with a patch, some blatant
Townies These guys don’t go to school any more, instead choosing to hang out—well, loiter— around Bullworth.
Bullies Bullworth’s bullies linger around the school entrance, though later simmer down and can be romanced. Nerds Pitifully, they only have the library, but they’ll attack in a swarm if one of their own is threatened.
Greasers They hang around near a garage. Like an unhinged version of the dancing guys in the film Grease. Preppies The rich kids who Jimmy refers to as “inbred” have their own dorm. They’re like the rich kids in Gossip Girl. Jocks Found on the gridiron and at the gym. Easily the most deserving of a good scooter savaging.
problems with texture pop-up and lighting are unlikely to ever be fixed. It’s on Steam for just $15, though, and I think it’s especially worth playing if you’re only familiar with Rockstar’s more recent output. The approach Rockstar Vancouver took to designing Bully leaves the game feeling bizarrely contemporary. The evolution of open-world design has increasingly been about character rather than just scale. As I unload potatoes at prefects before escaping on a skateboard, I reckon Rockstar worked that out years ago. APRIL 2014
YOUR GUIDE TO
steamos Everything you need to install Valve’s new OS by Wes Fenlon & Cory Banks
teamOS is here, at least in beta form. Valve’s version of Linux, built off of the Debian Wheezy distribution, can be installed by anyone with the time and energy to get their hands dirty. Naturally, we rolled up our sleeves and jumped in. In the following pages, we’ll walk you through the (often confusing) steps to getting SteamOS up and running on your rig. We’ll even give you impressions on quirks in the OS user interface, suggestions on games you can play right now, and the newest information on Valve’s upcoming Steam Machines. We used our custom-built rig below, and recommend not installing this on your normal gaming rig. Valve isn’t kidding when it says this release is beta—don’t install SteamOS on any machine if you’re not prepared to lose all of your data at the drop of a hat.
Parts and Price
Why not visit www.techradar.com to find the latest, best prices.
Cooler Master Elite 120 Mini-ITX
Here’s wHat you need in your rig
Intel Core i5-4430
Corsair Vengeance LP 8GB
EVGA GTX 650 Ti
LG Black 12X BD-ROM
Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB
Intel Stock Cooler
Rosewill Green Series RG430
CPU > Any modern Intel or AMD chip will do—the more powerful, obviously, the better. But make sure your motherboard supports Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). As of this writing, Valve doesn’t support legacy BIOS boards. Videocard > The initial SteamOS release only supports Nvidia GPUs, though AMD and Intel have working Linux drivers. Expect wider GPU support in future releases. Hard Drive > SteamOS requires a 500GB hard drive, even though the initial install only takes roughly 30GB. Unless you have a 1TB drive, you’re stuck with Valve’s custom installer. Memory > Valve says 4GB of RAM will do, but we know better: The price difference is minimal—shoot for 6 or 8GB. Audio > As of this writing, the SteamOS beta release will only support audio playback through HDMI.
Operating System SteamOS
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HOW TO INSTALL
SteamoS In 3 eaSy StepS It may be beta, but the install ain’t that bad
teamOS is freely available in beta form on the Steam website, but Valve’s installation instructions are brief and a tad confusing. We’ve broken down the installation process and explained each step to make things as painless as possible.
Step 1 :
Download and prepare the SteamOS beta Before installing SteamOS, make sure your blank canvas PC is ready. Installing SteamOS will erase the entire machine, so backup or prepare you system appropriately. For the custom installation, grab the 1GB SteamOSInstaller.zip file from Valve’s server at repo.steampowered. com/download/. If your Steam Machine has a 1TB+ HDD, be sure to grab SteamOSImage.zip instead; it has an even easier installation procedure. Now to prepare your 4GB flash drive. Start by formatting it to FAT32 and changing its label to SYSRESTORE. Unzip SteamOSInstaller.zip onto your freshly prepared flash drive and let the files perform their unzipping ritual. No need to do anything fancy, since UEFI will read the contents of the drive.Then move the drive over to your Steam Machine-to-be.
Step 2 :
Plug your flash drive into the Steam Machine and start ‘er up. As the machine boots, press the key that brings up your BIOS boot order (usually a Function key like F8 or F11). If you miss the timing, don’t worry—just reboot and try again. Once you get into the boot menu, select the option to perform a UEFI boot from USB. You may have to enter the UEFI interface and turn off a “Legacy Boot” option, since SteamOS won’t use BIOS. Finally, you’re in the SteamOS installer. Pretty soon, SteamOS is going to take over and do most of the work for you. Once the installer boots, it’ll present you a menu offering two options: Automated and Expert install. Choose automated and watch SteamOS install itself. If you’re installing SteamOSImage.zip, you’ll select “Restore Entire Disk” at this point, instead, and you can ignore step three! Once SteamOS does its thing, you’ll have to login to the Linux desktop to complete the process.
Begin the installation
Step 3 :
It’s Steam time After SteamOS installs, you’ll end up at a Linux login screen asking for a username and password, and a dropdown box asking what type of session you’re going to run. Choose Gnome from that box, then type in “steam” for both username and password. On the desktop, click on Applications and open up the Terminal. Type “steam” into the terminal to run Steam for the first time, accept Valve’s EULA, and download 200MB or so of updates. Once it’s finished updating, log off the steam user account. You’re almost finished. Back on the Linux login screen, login using a different username/password—this time, it’s “desktop” for both. Click Applications again, and open the Terminal. Type in “~/post_logon.sh.” When it prompts you for a password, type “desktop” again. Steam will run through the rest of its installation, reboot, and ask you to
type “y” to confirm its final step, creating a recovery partition. Type “y”—we haven’t come all this way to back out now. Reboot, and login to Steam using your normal Steam account credentials. Now you’re all set. Game on, Linux.
get the pc your games deserve steAmos gAmes Here’s a portion of the more than 300 games available right now—and a few we hope come soon.
AvAilAble now Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs Awesomenauts Bastion Broken Age Counter-Strike: Source Crusader Kings II Don’t Starve Dota 2 Dungeon Defenders Eldritch Euro Truck Simulator 2 Europa Universalis 4 FTL: Faster Than Light Gone Home Half-Life 2 Hotline Miami Kerbal Space Program Left 4 Dead 2 Legend of Grimrock Mark of the Ninja Metro: Last Light Natural Selection 2 Portal Portal 2 Rust Shadowrun Returns Starbound Super Meat Boy
Upcoming* Guacamelee! Gold Edition Joe Danger System Shock 2 XCOM: Enemy Unknown
wishlist Counter-Strike: Global Offensive DayZ Skyrim *Upcoming linux support, according to SteamDB.com
impressions Our thoughts on actually using Valve’s OS
nce we finished installing SteamOS, we got to do the fun stuff: playing games on our Steam Machine. Games with controller
support worked like a dream, but Valve has some organizational work to do to highlight Linux (and not Windows) games in the store and library.
instAll process I’ve been messing with PC hardware for years, but Linux has always scared me a little. Mostly it’s getting down and dirty with the Terminal, speaking in a computer language I’ve never gotten familiar with (I knew MS-DOS better as a 10-year-old than I do now). It was a nice surprise, then, that SteamOS was so easy to install. The only roadblock I hit was booting Steam for the first time. Valve’s guide didn’t mention launching Steam from the Terminal, so I tried to launch it from the Applications menu. Nothing happened. Once I tried the Terminal, everything was back on track, and SteamOS did all the hard work. Not so scary, after all.
store lAyoUt I’ve got beef with the SteamOS store. Here I am playing games on Linux, and the first games I’m greeted with in the store don’t run on Linux at all. Currently about 10 percent of Steam’s 3000+ game library runs on SteamOS (more than twice that many are Mac-compatible, for comparison). So where are they? SteamOS’s storefront doesn’t surface those games in an intuitive way. The row of hot games on the store isn’t filtered by platform, meaning Windows-only games like Assassins Creed IV confuse (and taunt) SteamOS users. There is a category dedicated to Linux games, but there’s no way to sort through a full list of Linux games. SteamOS needs a customized store layout that prioritizes Linux games. I don’t want to pull out my laptop just to peruse Steam’s Linux library.
This was a pleasant surprise. I plugged an Xbox 360 wireless dongle into our Steam Machine and it just worked. No driver tinkering required. Games with full controller support work flawlessly, as does zipping around SteamOS. Partial controller support is trickier. I successfully played Cave Story and Don’t Starve with a controller, but only after using a mouse to navigate menus. Steam’s global keybindings help, but don’t integrate into all game UIs. In Don’t Starve, button prompts show up as generic commands like “Button 0.” For now, most of Steam’s Linux library will require an awkward living room mouse and keyboard setup, either to play a game or enable a gamepad in a game’s menu.
upcoming SteAm mAchineS AlienwARe Price: TBD cPU: Intel CPU RAM: TBD Graphics: Nvidia GPU Storage: TBD our thoughts: So many questions on parts, but the case looks cool.
DiGitAl StoRM bolt ii
cPU: Intel Core i5 4570 RAM: 16GB Graphics: Gigabyte Nvidia GTX 760 Storage: 1TB SSHD our thoughts: Looks like a subwoofer, GPU could be limiting.
cPU: AMD/Intel Core i5 CPU RAM: 8GB Graphics: AMD Radeon R9 270 / Nvidia GTX 760 Storage: 500GB our thoughts: Priced in-line with consoles, and reasonably powerful.
cPU: Intel Core i7 4770K RAM: 16GB Graphics: Nvidia GTX 780 Ti Storage: 1TB HDD & 120GB SSD our thoughts: More of a high-end gaming PC than a Steam Machine.
FAlcon noRthweSt tiki
cPU: Customizable RAM: 8-16GB Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX Titan Storage: Up to 6TB our thoughts: The most expensive option available. Does this belong in your living room?
cPU: Quad Core AMD or Intel RAM: 8GB Graphics: Radeon GCN Graphics Storage: 500GB+ our thoughts: Potentially interesting for the price, but still a lot of questions.
cPU: Intel Core i5 4440 RAM: 8GB Graphics: MSI GeForce GTX 760 OC Storage: 8GB+1TB SSHD our thoughts: Could be interesting, but the price is too high.
cPU: Intel Core i5 RAM: 8GB Graphics: Nvidia GT 760 Storage: 1TB our thoughts: Its viability will depend on its price, but it should be a midrange performer.
cPU: Intel Core i3 4000M RAM: 8GB Graphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 765M Storage: 500GB our thoughts: A grand for a system with an i3? No thanks.
cPU: Intel Core i7 4771 RAM: 16GB Graphics: Nvidia GTX 780 Storage: 1TB SSHD our thoughts: It’s on the high end for price, but you’re getting a beefy rig.
Price: $1,800 - $6,000
Price: $500 and up
Price: $500 and up
GiGAbyte bRix PRo Price: TBD
cPU: Intel Core i7 4770R RAM: 8GB Graphics: Intel Iris Pro 5200 Storage: 1TB our thoughts: Tiny form factor, but Intel graphics will hurt performance.
oRiGin Pc chRonoS Sli-eDition Price: TBD
cPU: Intel Core i7 4770K RAM: TBD Graphics: 2 Nvidia GeForce GTX Titans Storage: TBD our thoughts: It looks like it belongs in your entertainment center, but lots of questions on parts.
Price: $600 cPU: Intel (TBD) RAM: TBD Graphics: Nvidia (TBD) Storage: TBD our thoughts: Small form factor and price, but we don’t know what’s in it.
A box for SteAmoS So far, there aren’t a lot of case options that match Valve’s prototype dimensions— approximately 12 x 12.4 x 2.9 inches, according to beta tester reports. Here are two bare-bones systems to try, and one upcoming empty case design.
ASRock M8 Price: $510 Less a case and more of a bare-bones PC, ASRock’s M8 still fits the bill in terms of size and potential power for your Steam Machine. It comes with a slot-loading optical drive, PSU, and mobo already mounted—add a CPU, RAM, and videocard, and you’re set.
GiGAbyte bRix PRo 4770R
SilveRStone RAven RvZ01
Another bare-bones system, but a legitimate Steam Machine. Until SteamOS is complete, you can buy one yourself, add an SSD, RAM, and OS, and start playing. Its Intel Iris Pro GPU is equivalent to an Nvidia GeForce GTX 650m—not bad for now.
It’s not available yet, but it could be the perfect Steam Machine chassis. The RVZ01 is 15 inches wide, four inches high, and almost 14 inches deep. It’ll fit a 13 inch GPUs, and unlike the other choices, you’re not saddled with predefined hardware.
Price: $100 (estimate)
APRIL 2014 2013
get the pc your games deserve
Rig of the Month Costs climb for the best components
hat a difference a month makes. Last month’s rig was all about performance for the price, but this month, those prices skyrocketed. Component costs for CPUs, motherboards, and our Corsair Vengeance C70 case are all up significantly. Luckily, we know that you get what you pay for with the components we’re using. Knowing that our rig’s price is going up, we’ve decided to upgrade our recommended RAM amount, from 8GB to 16GB. The G.Skill Ripjaws we selected might cost more, but 16GB will give you more stability and speed than our previous 8GB set, and you’ll notice the improvement
what’s in the bOX $165 NEW!
across almost all of your games.
The other change this month is based on both price and preference: we recommend the Roccat Kone Pure gaming mouse for this month’s build. It has an 8200 DPI sensor, lots of customization options with its buttons, and adjustable weight. But really, we’re recommending it this month because it feels so right in our hand. It’s the perfect shape for those who palm-grip their mice— plus the price is nice.
Cory Banks Managing Editor
intel Core i5 4670K This unlocked CpU runs at a stock 3.8Ghz, and overclocks like a champ.
Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD3H An Sli-ready, overclockfriendly mobo with 10 USB 3.0 ports
16GB G.Skill Ripjaws prices have stabilized, and 16GB will feel much better than 8GB.
Corsair Vengeance C70 Six HDD bays, great cable management, and a big, red power button. So rad.
Samsung 840 Pro 128GB SSD/2TB Seagate HDD A fast SSD paired with a dependable 2TB HDD.
Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo One of the most efficient air coolers on the market.
FiTTED March 2014
FiTTED March 2014
FiTTED April 2014
FiTTED March 2014
FiTTED March 2014
FiTTED March 2014
EVGA SuperClocked 770 it doesn’t have the flair of a 780 Ti, but this OC’d card is still a beast.
Corsair TX750 A large modular power supply with plenty of juice to run our rig.
BenQ XL2720T 27” This 1080p panel not only looks great, but runs at 120Hz for smooth gaming.
Cooler Master QuickFire XT A full-size Cherry MX red keyboard that’s inexpensive and stylish.
ROCCAT Kone Pure Core 8200 Dpi, ultracustomizable buttons, and feels great in your hand.
SteelSeries Siberia V2 A top-notch pair of headphones that have great audio quality.
FiTTED March 2014
FiTTED March 2014
FiTTED March 2014
FiTTED February 2014
FiTTED April 2014
FiTTED February 2014
upgrades and alternatives
Razer DeathAdder: Do you use your mouse with a claw-like grip? Razer’s 6400 DPI
flagship mouse is a great upgrade for those with larger hands..
R9 290X: AMD’s flagship video card has Titan-like performance and is $500 cheaper, but it’s
10-15 percent slower than a GTX 780 Ti.
1TB Samsung 840 EVO: We’d say that 2TB is more than enough for most people, but
we’d probably end up eating our words in a year—you can never have enough storage.
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