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  1. One of the surprise standouts at E3 this year was the indie time-looping point-and-click adventure 12 Minutes. In this stylish thriller, players are cast as a nameless everyman. Sitting down with his wife at the beginning of the game he gets some big news: they’re having a baby. But minutes later, a cop bursts through the door with an arrest warrant for her, and the startling accusation that she murdered her own father years earlier.And then you walk back in through your front door. The rules of the time loop will be recognisable to anyone who has seen Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow or Russian Doll. You die, the loop restarts. Pass out or fall asleep, and the loop restarts. Fail to solve the core mystery in the eponymous 12 (real-time) minutes, and the loop restarts. It’s the work, largely, of one person: developer Luis Antonio, previously best known for 2014’s The Witness, for which he was on art duties. Antonio actually credits Witness director and indie games star Jonathan Blow for one of the key insights that led to the creation of 12 Minutes. “I grew up with adventure games. But Jonathan Blow hates them, because he feels like the design of those games are trial and error. For him, good game design means you’re able to make a plan and execute it, and be completely aware of why it failed, so you have a way to deal with it,” he says. A classic point-and-click puzzle might see you wandering an area, attempting to use every item with every object until some unexpected pairing progresses the scenario: just when you learn the logic of the puzzle, you move on to the next. But in 12 Minutes, as you work through the time loop over and over again, you come to understand the logic of the game world better and better, anticipating what’s coming next in the story and making the most of your precious seconds. Seeing a cop burst through the front door in one loop might inspire you to lock it in the next; laying the table for dinner before you are asked might save precious seconds if you want to have a conversation with your wife about what’s about to happen. “When I started, I wanted it to be a full day of 24 hours,” Antonio says. “But then I realised that there was no way I could show the full consequences of all your actions over such a long period of time.” Twelve minutes, by contrast, is long enough for a player to genuinely know, beat by beat, what will happen in the next play through – and hopefully be able to alter it. “Whats interesting about the time loop is the knowledge that you accumulate,” Antonio says. “This game is about how you as a player use that knowledge.” It doesn’t hold your hand: there are no written-down objectives, and no helpful disembodied voice will remind you of what you need to do next. It’s just you, a mystery, one cramped apartment and three people.
  2. The Command & Conquer series moved along in a new direction with the release of Generals. Gone were the crazy mad scientist stories with cheesy actors and live action cutscenes. They were replaced by in-game cutscenes and a "real world" setting pitting the US and China up against a common terrorist foe called the GLA. While the weapons are still wacky in some cases, the situations almost have a present-day feel considering the war on terror that insists on happening. Generals was a breath of fresh air that the series needed with exciting gameplay, big weapons, plenty of strategy, and a lot of well designed missions. The expansion, Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour is a big one adding more units, more scenarios, and more fun that fans of the parent title will have a hard time not enjoying. First off, you've been seeing this whole 30 new units campaign going on, and really, that's some marketing BS. There aren't 30 new units to play with. There are new units on each side and some modified versions of other units that can be used when playing as one of the specialized Generals such as the Emperor Tank, that's basically a more powerful version of the Overlord. Yes, technically they're a bit different, but the ad campaign has been a bit misleading on that account. It's like saying the blue zombie and the red zombie in Diablo II were really different creatures. Regardless of this, Zero Hour is a damn fun game that adds a lot of gameplay and hours even if there aren't really 30 totally unique new units in the game. From a graphics and sound stand point, Zero Hour remains true to Generals with slick visuals in terms of texture, lighting, and effects. Superweapons continue to impress and the new heat wave effect for the US microwave tanks is a pretty good one, even if it can make things a bit confusing on the battlefield occasionally when you have a few of them in your army. Sound is equally good with nice sound effects for combat and ambient sounds (although some of the cities seem to have an awful lot of loud angry cats running around) as well as the same half rock, half symphonic score playing in the background of your battles. Voice acting still makes me laugh in a lot of cases and its still sometimes difficult to tell whether I'm laughing for the right reasons. As far as additions to the game experience go, there's a whole lot of new stuff to see here, and a lot of it is way the hell more challenging than the first game, which as one of the developers recently pointed out, several members of the press complained a bit about, including myself. Well they certainly showed me... The game is broken up into single and multiplayer with single player broken up into three sections. Players can choose from skirmish (which remains unchanged), campaign, and Generals' Challenge. The campaign breaks up the three sides once again with five good missions apiece. Some of them are certainly more challenging than others, but all of them (except for one of the US missions) made me happy, which is actually unusual for an RTS. As with the parent title, you can complete the campaigns in any order, but the "story" works best when you play through in the order they're given to you (US, GLA, then China). The story isn't really a story so much as a chance to see the conflict unfold from all three sides. Each of the missions is begun with a live action newscast cut in with some in-game engine cutscenes done in the style of various news organizations from around the world. The US is reported by BNN (I'm guessing this is the British News Network or some such thing), while the GLA and China have their own specific news shows with different hosts. These little briefings set up the coming conflict and give a little recap of what just happened in the previous mission as well as how the outcome is affecting the situation in various parts of the world (although most of this conflict is centered around Europe and the Mediterranean). They're all done pretty well and keep with the theme, which I liked quite a bit. You'll also get one of the in-game cutscenes to start off most of the levels as well with fancy camerawork for some pretty good scenes. I guess finding a cinematographer from Hollywood did some good. I give a thumbs up to the new campaigns and their creativity. These campaigns also show off the new units on each side, such as the microwave tank and the Chinese Helix helicopter. It also gives a chance to try out some of the new powers such as the surprise attack of the GLA. This nifty new General ability will let you pop a gunless tunnel exit for your tunnel network anywhere that you've explored on the map, which will let your units pop into the back of an enemy base if you've happened to look there with a radar van. is probably the Generals' Challenge mode. Now, when I play RTSs, I usually can get a grip and win on the first try in most of the missions given. This was most definitely not the case when playing against many of the Generals in this mode. In fact, I just plain couldn't win some of the matches by the time I had to write this review. While they're all doable (at least on normal difficulty, hard is maddening), they'll take some time, effort, and patience to win. The Generals' Challenges are set up almost like a match in Street Fighter, giving you a loading screen with each General's portrait and a little quip from the opposing General about how your penis is small and you don't stand a chance in hell because you're such a sissy. I tell you what, there's nothing more motivating to kicking the computer's ass then having it constantly insult you. You begin not caring because it's a computer program, start to grow angry with them when you lose, and suddenly find that you're taking the losses personally. They're all sadistic jerks and will relentlessly give you crap, which strangely enough is damn entertaining, although I wish they had more to say. Hearing the same thing over and over about how General Kwai's tanks are testing my flanks even though I'm stomping his base into the ground is a little odd. Still, they will comment when you destroy specific structures of theirs that they want as well as comment on structures that you build while making sure to mention that it won't last very long. Each of the Generals (there're three for each faction) has a specialization and will use it relentlessly against you. You can pick any of the nine Generals to play with and use their special armies as well. You will have to play on the opposing General's home territory, which is conducive to their victory. General Granger (the master of air superiority) doesn't have a lot of ground units available to him, but his home map sets you on the other side of a river, which is a huge pain if you happen to be playing with General Kwai, who's all about tanks. Each General will give you an opening taunt and then sits back to let you build some basic defenses. There will be a couple of warnings before they attack, and then you had better have your stuff together because when they start, they don't mess around. Superweapons, laser tanks, aircraft, nukes... everything is fair game as long as it's in their arsenal. And considering you're also using a specialized General that won't have everything in the normal faction lineup to build, you had better learn your strengths, and fast. For example, General Alexander specializes in weapons of mass destruction and will therefore get bonuses such as lower costs for Particle Cannons and good defenses since she can't build any tanks and will rely heavily on using these big weapons to slow down the enemy attacks enough to muster ground forces for the final assault. One of the really cool things is that once you've completed the cycle with one of these Generals, you'll be able to use it online in multiplayer games along with all of their bonuses and disadvantages. They make for some interesting games... So yes I liked Zero Hour a lot, but there are still some problems with it that can be pretty damn annoying. Problem number one is the pathfinding AI. It still suffers from clogging at choke points and getting places slowly. I really wish that formations had been a part of this series, either preset or custom would have been good. As it is, directing your units can be a pain in the ass. I've also experienced problems with units not responding to enemy fire as they should. Long ranged units such as the Inferno Cannon will just sit there while a Rocket Buggy peppers your base defenses. You'll have to actually tell them to attack the units, which are well within range. There were also some really strange bugs that need to be fixed in some of the maps. One in particular can actually be devastating to your attacking units on General Townes' pentagon base. Each of the ramps into the base has some invisible marker object above the ramp. All of your units that can shoot into the air will zero in on this indestructible invisible object and shoot the hell out of it while all of the real units left in the base attack your army. It does this for each of the ramps and can really be a problem if you don't manage where you want your units to attack. Other than the little bugs that can be worked around until they're patched and some wonky AI issues, Command & Conquer: Generals Zero Hour is an excellent expansion pack. It adds a lot of new fun for gamers that have already played the hell out of the original game. The campaign is usually enough addition for an expansion pack as it is. The extra work the team did on the Generals' Challenge mode is awesome. The value is certainly there and fans of the series should have no problem sinking into the game and having a blast.
  3. Wow!"We must have uttered this single word to ourselves on 100 different occasions during the time we spent playing through Ubi Soft's masterful new action-adventure, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. This breathtaking 3D sequel to creator Jordan Mechner's classic titles is very faithful to its predecessors and simultaneously new and innovative in remarkably creative ways. It bears some resemblance to other outstanding adventure games such as Ico and yes, even Zelda, but mostly it's a spectacular extension -- in, fact, the evolution of -- the Prince of Persia franchise. It's also one of the very best titles of the year. It was almost 15 years ago that the original Prince of Persia shipped and dazzled players. Here was a smart and stylized action-adventure game during a period of relatively primitive, shallow software. This title featured elegant and challenging environmental puzzles, deadly traps, brutal swordplay and astonishing acrobatics. It had an intriguing premise, a Persian Prince on a quest to rescue his princess from the evil Vizier Jaffar and with only an hour to do it -- a time clock counted down to zero during the entire quest. Fun and intuitive, it defined a genre and became a classic. Ubi Soft's Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time the 3D grandson of the original, is every bit as clever, as well made, as wholly entertaining and enjoyable -- and then some. This long-in-development sequel not only retains the established play mechanics and charm of its 2D predecessor, but it actually betters them -- and by a considerable amount. A commendable accomplishment given that the first is considered by many to be one of the greatest videogames ever created.The title features a very intelligent, thoughtful presentation. Prince's story is told through a variety of crisp, ambient full-motion video cut-scenes and witty in-game dialogue. The character talks to himself, yes, and he even acknowledges this oddity sometimes, which is amusing. This direct method of storytelling works tremendously well because it never breaks us from the action. Plus, because the story often unravels from the very lips of our hero, we always know what he's thinking and feeling and it makes him more real and more likable. Prince, as it turns out, is not the cliché hero. He has his own agenda. He's proud, if not conceited. He wants to please his father. And it's this ambition that starts all of the trouble. The game begins in medieval Persia shortly after the Prince and the king have defeated the Maharajah and looted his palace. When the Prince takes a mysterious dagger he accidentally unleashes the Sands of Time, an evil force that infests the kingdom and transforms its inhabitants into demonic beings. The character's quest is, ultimately, to set right his own stupid mistake and reverse the dark magic. No easy task. The quest seems just as insurmountable from a purely gameplay perspective. Prince will travel through the entirety of the palace, a huge, hulking thing that stretches up, down, and all around. He'll use his wits, his acrobatics, and his sword, avoid traps and kill enemies, engage in high-rise platforming, balance on beams and swing on poles, climb and hang, dangle and flip, shimmy and slide, run, summersault and fight, fall and rewind, slow time and… fall in love? Well, he does meet a beautiful princess along the way and an intriguing sub-story unfolds. As to just what happens, our lips are sealed. If you buy something through this post, IGN may get a share of the sale. For more, learn more. The control and play mechanics that define this adventure are the absolute epitome of intuitiveness. Prince is moved tightly around with the analog stick and can jump or roll depending upon his situation. He can also run on and up walls with the right shoulder and eventually slow and rewind time with the left. These acrobatic and magical moves are seemingly complicated, but are mani[CENSORED]ted so effortlessly that we wonder why other developers haven't figured out the formula. Certainly the overly clunky Tomb Raider, which feels positively robotic by comparison, could have benefited from this superb control implementation and execution. It's this phenomenal sense of freedom that surrounds movement and the way in which it can be used to interact with the wholly giant, but still linear 3D world that makes the experience so exceptional. Prince can run across a wall, reach its end, jump from it onto a ladder, slide down to a ledge, shimmy across it, leap outward onto a post and then to a pole, swing and flip outward, bounce back and forth between two structures, land swiftly on the ground and keep running, and the entire amazing sequence can be executed easily and with little practice. Meanwhile, malfunctioned processes in other games feel smooth and intuitive in this one. Just as Lara Croft struggles to move a crate, Prince can easily push it in any direction. Just as Kain can only shimmy to the end of a corner, Ubisoft's warrior can go around it and continue onward. It's all so good that it makes almost everything else out there feel archaic and wrong. As ever, the puzzles in Sands of Time are always environmental based and usually involve getting Prince from Point A to Point B. It's important to remember that Point A might be the ground floor and Point B the highest palace peak. There are some thrilling challenges in place and a great degree of satisfaction gained upon successfully completing them. The puzzles, sometimes downright intense, are almost always logical; they make sense. And because of that they can be understood and solved in a logical manner, which again is refreshing when so many adventure games throw logic directly out of the window -- ahem, Resident Evil. Prince might be required to move a series of mirrors around a room to reflect beams of light in a particular path or he might simply have to figure out how to get across an abyss without dying. Both are engaging for different reasons, neither less important. The puzzle elements seamlessly mingle with the control and are perfectly brilliant throughout the entire adventure. When Prince is not leaping from walls or dodging floor spikes, he can usually be found in battle with a small variety of relentless enemies. Ubi Soft has worked hard to make sure the battle system performs and it shows. Prince can wield one of several different powerful swords he obtains throughout his adventure, and he can strike at enemies with it, dodge, leap over them and swipe, jump from walls and slice, and more. The battles are certainly daunting and usually engrossing but a couple of minor drawbacks keep them from the superior polish that the rest of the game exhumes. The first is the camera, which shoots the action cinematically and without flaw during the exploration scenarios, but can be cumbersome in battle. It may not showcase the fights from the appropriate angle, or it may run into a wall and stick. This doesn't happen very often, but occasionally. Beside, the camera can be manually zoomed back to shoot the action from afar, but this can cause other vision barriers. The other is that these duels with enemies can become too routine -- too predictable. There is a formula to them, and a noticeable one. They arrive always after long bouts of exploration and puzzle solving and they can seem like a chore by comparison. And y et, the battle system in place is still more refined than most. Prince can get through most of the game in slow motion and even rewind time. These two abilities arrive as welcomed additions to the original title, which often forced us into unavoidably dangerous situations and then made us retry again and again after failing. In Sands of Time if the hero accidentally takes a fall to his death, all we need to do is hold the left shoulder button and the unfortunate mistake can be rewound on the fly -- the only sti[CENSORED]tion being that we haven't wasted all of our Sand power (the Prince can find and refill this magic throughout the world). This addition makes what could be a frustrating experience far less so, and it also allows us to be more daring and more experimental in our methods of puzzle solving and platforming. The Sands of Time delivers a respectable play length, especially if the closest comparative product is the all-too-short Ico. It took us almost 15 hours to beat the game the first time through. Some will be able to complete it in less time and others will spend significantly more with the adventure. The bulk of the offering is unparalleled in design, enthralling and completely encapsulating, but the very end seems anticlimactic -- not poor -- when positioned next to the rest of the experience. In an effort to extend replay value and to give long-time fans of the franchise something extra to cheer about, the PlayStation 2 version of Sands of Time also features the original game in all of its classic emulated glory. It's an excellent unlockable, if for nothing more than nostalgia purposes, and the original game is still enjoyable. Meanwhile, the disc also includes a single level from one of the classic Prince games reborn in full 3D -- another intriguing extra. Sometimes a game has a superb art style and other times it has pioneering technology. Very few games have both, but The Sands of Time is one of them. The title, developed out of Ubisoft's Montreal studio, is a real visual stunner. Again we're reminded of Ico, with its stretching architecture and saturated, hazy style, but really the game is just the perfect 3D realization of the long-standing Persia franchise. The Sands of Time drops us into a rich, vivid, detailed world engulfed by a gargantuan palace that seems to spread outward in every direction. The play locales are huge. Ubi has done a fine job of providing different locations and environments within the context of this overworld, as it were. There are underground ice caverns, water-filled dungeons, vegetation-engulfed courtyards, nerve-breaking high-rise platforms and much more, and all of them are brought to life with realistic geometry, ambient lighting, and animated interactive objects. Buildings explode, bridges collapse, and all of that good stuff. There are also subtle extras that make big differences like dripping water, light beams that shine through windows, pretty reflections and transparencies, and more. And don't even get us started on how fantastic the rewinding or slowing of time looks because there are not enough words. Character models do not have the most polygons we've ever seen, but the developer has worked well with the limitations and as a result Prince, his mysterious female companion, and the many enemies encountered throughout the adventure appear to be more detailed than they actually are. This is a feat of expert artistry and impressive texture application mixed with what has to be some of the most fluid, believable animation in a videogame. This is not an understatement. Moving Price through the world is partly so enjoyable because of his silky smooth motion. Whether he's flipping through the air or running on walls, it looks gorgeous. Indeed, we could state that just as the original Persia took videogame animation to new levels of realism, so does this sequel. The camera system, cumbersome in early demos of the game, has been polished up considerably with the final version so that the action is shot cinematically from the appropriate angle. It's a very dynamic setup that works, for the most part, with very little trouble. In some cases, the camera will follow behind the character's back as he zips over a wall. In others, it will actually shoot the action from the far end so that it appears the hero is running toward the view screen. We also have full freedom of the camera with the left analog stick. Visibility can be blocked in battles, however, which is a minor annoyance. The Sands of Time runs at 30 frames per second with the occasional -- but still unfortunate -- dip. It sadly doesn't support a 16x9 widescreen mode. However, even with these tiny drawbacks the game is incredible looking -- call it awe-inspiring, even. Impressive. From the moody intro music to the fitting Middle Eastern-influenced in-game melodies, the tunes in the game sound great. Ubisoft has added in occasional guitar riffs and modern drumbeats to give the old-style soundtrack an updated edge and this too works very well. Voice dialogue is well-acted and crisp, not to mention modest and playful. In one scene, as the hero bickers with the princess, he says to himself in disbelief, "She thinks this is a game." There is quite a lot of dialogue in the game and most of it takes place during actual gameplay as Prince talks to himself while exploring. The title features excellent quality sound effects that will boom in full surround sound. Whether it's the clank of a sword, the crumbling of a wall, the deep hum and follow-up bang of rewinding time or the growl of an enemy, it's clear and crisp and it may or may not echo realistically depending upon the size and depth of an environment. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an outstanding game -- a dazzling, masterful achievement. It has, just as Super Mario 64 did with Nintendo's classic franchise, taken the 2D mechanics of the Persia universe and applied them into the 3D realm with no sacrifices -- only enhancements. That is, to put it bluntly, a hell of a thing. Thanks to wholly intuitive control, stunning atmosphere and satisfyingly clever environmental puzzles, the title easily ranks as one of my favorite adventure offerings of all time. Even with the still fun, but slightly unpolished combat system.
  4. It was a lengthy, arduous duel but, when that last squeeze of nitrous cannoned my Porsche 911 GT3 RS police cruiser into the back of the fugitive Nissan 370Z Coupe, I got my reward. The hapless Nissan flipped skyward, smashing into a nearside guardrail in a cinematic slow-motion spasm of broken glass and crumpled metal. Need For Speed Hot Pursuit delivers moments of vehicular conflict and channeled road-rage for engrossing cops-vs-speeders combative driving (for the first time since 2005's NFS: Most Wanted), but hits some potholes along the way. The single-player features full career modes for both cops and scofflaw street racers, and allows you to alternate between them at will as you compete to generate bounty points to increase your Wanted Level (or Police Rank) and unlock new cars, events and weapons. But between the spike strips, EMPs, and roadblocks it's a challenge to keep your high-speed ride moving forward. These momentum-killers can be a pain at times—especially unanticipated spike strip deployments—but they do reinforce the chaotic nature of illegal street racing. It's all part of a structured and surprisingly addictive adversarial system where you push your chosen ride to its limits in a flat-out effort to win races or stop speeders from endangering public safety (ironically by smashing into them at high speed).Not so hot With full licensing from such manufacturers as Audi, Aston Martin and Koenigsegg, developers Criterion (of Burnout fame) have assembled an impressive real-world stable—it's the prime draw of the game. Sadly, none of these machines feature a proper cockpit view (an unconscionable downgrade from last year's NFS: Shift) and the simplistic, tail-happy physics modeling only delivers a token challenge. Hot Pursuit is a poor partner for that pricey force-feedback steering wheel—your on-screen Alfa or Mercedes will respond just as well to a basic Xbox 360 Windows gamepad. Despite the lack in hardcore driving depth, Hot Pursuit's fictional Seacrest County scenery offers a postcard-pretty if exclusively rural backdrop, and the dynamic lighting and wet-weather effects inject welcome atmosphere. You may not believe you're driving a real McLaren F1 or Maserati GranCabrio, but you'll have a nice time faking it. Hot Pursuit's revamped interface puts a lot of its energy into helping you brag to your friends. The Autolog GUI immerses you in a Facebook-style suite of connected features where you can navigate to your single-player career map; post photos and comments on your “Wall” or connect directly through to your friends' games to compare stats, exchange pictures and perform other social networking activities. You can also connect with up to eight players (friends and/or strangers) for a hiccup-free online multiplayer contest—including Race, Hot Pursuit or 1v1 Interceptor modes. EA might be using these features as a way of keeping second-hand sales down, but they're smart additions that keep the multiplayer interesting. As a long-time NfS player I'm not wild about some of Criterion's shortcuts—specifically reduced handling fidelity and MIA features like cockpit artwork and replays—but there is still considerable substance beneath Hot Pursuit's pearlescent paint job. Once you chase down your first errant speeder with a 200-mph Lamborghini Gallardo police interceptor (or lose that cop with a well-timed shortcut), you'll likely feel the love too.
  5. Mark-x


    The first one to lose his mind is the plague doctor. His crow-faced mask wobbles as his sanity snaps, and he starts to pour abuse on his comrades. As the party fights unholy monsters in the crypts beneath a swamp, the chaos and his shouting break the rest. An armored paladin falls dead from a heart attack. Another chokes on a cloud of spores thrown by a monstrous, sentient fungus. The mad plague doctor runs alone out of the dark. He’s sent to the sanitarium. Like all veterans of bloody conflict, he’ll never be the person he was before. In Darkest Dungeon, this disaster is known as “Week 3.” Every week goes about as well. Dungeon diving and tomb raiding have been staples of PC gaming for decades, but Darkest Dungeon is the first time I felt how awful this quest must be for the people involved. In Darkest Dungeon, explorers don’t just have to bandage their wounds and sharpen their axes—their biggest vulnerability is their minds.After getting bored drinking and fornicating his way through the family fortune, your dear father decided to investigate rumors of wondrous magic buried deep beneath the ancestral home. But he and his workmen dug too greedily and awoke an ancient evil, sending the countryside into ruin. Just before he sends a musket ball through his brain, dear old dad sends you a letter: come home, rebuild the local village, and defeat the evil. Bang. Splat. Once the road to town is reopened, you recruit heroes and send them into the dungeons four at a time. When (if) they return, they are damaged, stressed out, and hopefully a bit richer. While in town they can drink, gamble, pray—whatever they need to get their heads sorted out so they can walk back into the long dark. One half of Darkest Dungeon is managing this growing town, opening and upgrading blacksmith shops and taverns to give your heroes an edge in the fight. The other half is the real meat and potatoes: leading sidescrolling parties of four heroes in turn-based combat against otherworldly horrors. Entering a dungeon brings up a map showing a simple floorplan: a few rooms connected by hallways. There’s no need to explore, and most levels ask you to explore the entire level anyway. The map’s real purpose is to show you how much of the level remains. If things are going poorly and you still have half a dozen rooms to clear, it’s probably time to wave the white flag and get out. When your party of maniacs runs up against a squad of horrors, a short, turn-based battle starts. Combatants take turns using abilities to attack, heal, or cast spells. Especially at the beginning of the game, I found the few characters and abilities available made these battles more of a slog. Combat gets more fun as more character types arrive in town and new abilities get unlocked. Battles are always tense, though, and I found myself dreading them as expeditions grew longer and more dangerous. It’s hard enough keeping everyone alive, but battles put adventurers under a lot of stress, too. Seeing a friend die or barely surviving a critical attack has a tendency to make people freak out. When characters crack, they take on random debilitating traits like “abusive” or “afraid.” This is the well-executed balancing act of Darkest Dungeon: I love trying to keep people healthy and sane. It’s easy to do one or the other, but that’s not enough. Your heroes can die just as easily from a heart attack as from a sword. I also enjoyed tinkering with character classes in different party positions. The order of the heroes is important, with heavily armored tanks taking the front spot and spell-casters, archers, and healers holding in the back. Most melee attacks can only be aimed at the front ranks, and some spells can only be cast from the middle of a group. The most interesting classes are those in the middle. I enjoyed experimenting with characters who could fight in a melee role from one spot, but a support role from another. During one of my early expeditions, I had poured through character sheets to find the perfect set of four heroes and assigned them in the perfect order. In the team’s first battle, an enemy summoner opened a portal to hell. A massive tentacle reached through it and grabbed my healer, shoving her to the front of the party and flipping my careful plan right on its ass. Darkest Dungeon’s greatest delight is finding new ways to screw you. Calling Darkest Dungeon merely “Lovecraftian” is a disservice to the mythology developer Red Hook has built here. (It’s also an undue compliment to H. P. Lovecraft’s one-note writing.) Both the heroes (occultists, Amazonians, thieves, paladins, plague doctors, lepers, bounty hunters, rogues) and the enemies (skeletons, zombies, ghosts, enthralled souls, fish-people, mushroom-monsters, spiders, maggots) draw from a huge sampling of source material, and I love its unexpected variety. Darkest Dungeon is exceptional for how carefully-built and deliberate all its parts are. Every sound effect, every splash of color, and every character and ability all work to create an environment inspired by low fantasy novels and pulpy weird-horror magazines. When the Vestal, an acolyte of a Roman goddess of purifying fire, became racked with fear, she would cry out for her god’s protection in the darkness. When the hound master lost his mind to stress, he became bitter and withdrawn, commenting that his bumbling companions lacked proper training. I love that Darkest Dungeon takes inspiration from so many sources, yet uses all of those pieces to create character classes that serve a clever, foreboding fiction. There’s an important distinction, though, between the character classes and the individuals. The classes are interesting and unique, but the individuals are just meat for the grinder. The worst thing about Darkest Dungeon is coming to grips with the idea that there can be no perfection. As a habitual save-scummer, this was hard for me. The auto-save feature is always on, so every mistake, every critical hit or critical miss, is permanent. Every death is permadeath.The mission ended in disgrace when four able-bodied adventurers died in an unprecedented quadruple heart attack. This can be especially frustrating in early missions, when the slow trickle of heroes and their low-level abilities don’t always give you the tools you need to handle the pain coming your way. After an easy first mission, I consistently lost people, abandoned missions, or wrote off entire expeditions in the early weeks. During one very frustrating expedition, my healer kept everyone in tip-top health, but I had no way to manage stress. The mission ended in disgrace when four completely able-bodied adventurers died in an unprecedented quadruple heart attack. I’ve played a lot of permadeath strategy games, but I’ve never experienced a squad wipe due to acute mental distress before. One of the reasons I love Darkest Dungeon is that measuring the mental toll of adventuring feels so overdue. Game violence has been consequence-free for a long time, but that’s changing. The new Tomb Raider games show Lara Croft dealing with profound mental trauma, for example, and games like Viscera Cleanup Detail poke at shooters’ carefree bodycount. Maybe it’s even part of a growing cultural awareness of the cost of violence. With thousands of new veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, PTSD has become a household word. I think it’s fine to avoid the complex topic in a videogame, but walking into the subject directly is gripping where an artful evasion is the norm. This isn’t to say that Darkest Dungeon makes any kind of statement about veteran care or the cost of real war, but I do think these themes are engaging. Battling demons in a dungeon would really mess people up, and that’s not often acknowledged through game design in such a pronounced way. The more I played, the more I grew detached from the heroes in my roster. I even refused to rename or invest in the veterans of multiple tours—exactly the opposite of my squads in XCOM, which were all customized and named for family and friends. Becoming attached would make it more stressful to send them on another ill-conceived quest for trinkets and coin, and even more disappointing when they came back broken and despondent. When the cost is measured in sanity and blood, the most powerful lesson Darkest Dungeon taught me about adventuring is that it isn’t always worth doing.
  6. Recently dethroned captain Sarfaraz Ahmed’s central contract will not be downgraded, the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) clarified on Saturday. Sarfaraz was sacked from captaincy on Friday, which gave berth to concerns that his central contract could also see be moved lower to the current Category A he enjoys. However, the PCB moved to dismiss those concerns today, saying that demotion of Sarfaraz’s central contract is not on the agenda. “Sarfaraz Ahmed will continue to remain in Category A,” a PCB spokesperson said. It is pertinent to mention here that Sarfaraz, Yasir Shah and Babar Azam are the three players currently in Category A of PCB’s centrally contracted players. One player who has been demoted, however, is Wahab Riaz. The veteran pacer has been moved from Category B to C as he has decided to keep himself available for limited-overs cricket only.
  7. League Of Legends Edition Song



  8. Can You Add Fortnite Chapter 2 Matches ?
  9. A rush of excitement every time I booted up a new game in the Death Drive Mk II. The fictitious game console essentially acts as the level select in Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes curious to see what developer Grasshopper Manufacture had cooked up next. But after watching each of its seven games’ charmingly nonsensical opening cutscenes, the ensuing action rarely surprised and too frequently turned tedious.There are moments where renowned designer Suda51’s brilliant touch is on display, but this cobbled together collection of disjointed parts never quite hits its stride. In typical Suda51 fashion, Travis Strikes Again has an off the wall story. Taking place years after the events of the first game, Travis has moved to a camper in the woods to spend his days playing the Death Drive Mk II, an elusive and dangerous system with a dark backstory. Travis’ retirement gets interrupted by the father of Bad Girl, one of the assassins Travis killed in the original, before both are absorbed into the Death Drive itself. Each time you enter the Death Drive, it’s advertised as jumping into an entirely new game. And while their themes have nothing to do with one another and the worlds don’t look alike, the vast gameplay similarities between them make this more of a gimmick than anything else. Instead of being distinct experiences, they wind up feeling like different levels of one incomplete whole. Like previous No More Heroes games, Travis Strikes Again has a fixed camera angle that changes position depending on the scenario but shifts it to a top-down or side-scrolling perspective, depending on the game you are in. This locked angle feels weird in 2019, but it actually works pretty well. As each level is influenced by early 3D-era games, the environments and characters lack detail. It might look slightly better than No More Heroes 2, but that came out nine years ago. The frequently zoomed out camera angles make the already dry levels look even more uninteresting. Your health and other UI necessities are relegated to the sides of the screen, which has large bars cropping the play area down into a 4:3 format. My guess is that Grasshopper wanted to mimic the old CRT TV look the Death Drive system would have used. It’s a jarring choice at first, but I got used to it quickly and eventually forgot the bars were even there. The first game world you enter, Electric Thunder Tiger II, is a PS1-style platformer with an over the head camera angle that’s light on platforming elements and heavy on hack and slash action. It started out novel, but it wasn’t long before I learned the loop of each world. You enter a new area, forcefields go up to block your path, and literal video game bugs that look like strange variations of regular bugs spawn from beneath the ground in waves. This happens a lot. In every level. Over and over again. Travis’ trusty Beam Katana has light, heavy, and charge attacks, but combat is mostly mindless hack and slash action, as the AI is neither smart nor particularly imposing. Raising the difficulty level makes the bugs harder to takedown, but it doesn’t make them any more intelligent. The Beam Katana has lost some of its luster in its move from the Wii to Switch. Where the Wiimote (and Move controller in the PS3 port) allowed for location-based attacks with motion controls, the button controls make combat less interesting and more formulaic. Recharging the Beam Katana is still done via motion controls by shaking the Joy-Con, Pro controller, or the console itself if playing in handheld mode. Thankfully, this requires only a very light shake due to the Joy-Con’s sensitive rumble feature. You can dodge roll when you need to get to safety or avoid enemy attacks, but I rarely felt the need to other than to recharge my weapon. Outside of hacking and slashing, skill chips are scattered throughout each game, with 24 in total, that can be assigned to the four face buttons. These spice up the gameplay, adding timed bombs, electric bursts, and a sweet ability that lets you fling a poor bug into other enemies like a bowling ball. My favorite was the V2 chip, which turns Travis into a spinning force of destruction, allowing you to chop through large groups of bugs in rapid succession. You also gain experience throughout, which can be manually used to increase Travis’ (or Bad Man’s) level to boost his health and attack. I often forgot to apply the experience points regularly, though it never made much of a difference. Even with the different skills, the combat gets stale fairly quickly. I must have slaughtered thousands of generic bug-things in the 11 hours it took me to beat Travis Strikes Again. And the drab environments –from unimaginative buildings to simplistic woodlands to winding paths that don’t look like anything but walls and plain floors – fail to make familiar encounters feel fresh again. Even when the perspective changes to a sidescroller, like in Coffee and Doughnuts (a game about collecting coffee and doughnuts), the core concept remains the same. Some of the games you play in the Death Drive Mk II feature different mechanics, but they are more window dressing than anything else. In Life is Destroy, you play from a top-down perspective in a suburban neighborhood. Hitting markers with your Beam Katana turns segments of the street in order to let you reach your destination. That puzzle mechanic is neat, and as the second game in the bunch I thought it might lead to more diversity of mechanics. But the brunt of your time in Life is Destroy is spent clearing out houses from the same bug enemies you saw in Electric Thunder Tiger II. I felt similar tinges of disappointment when playing Golden Dragon GP and Killer Marathon. The former has several arcade drag racing sequences with rudimentary visuals that are actually pretty fun. But to carry onto the next race, you have to hack your way through a boring series of labyrinth floors. Killer Marathon, meanwhile, lasts less than ten minutes as a vector graphics space shooter (like Asteroids) and ends up feeling like a throwaway idea. Boss fights are equally underwhelming. Each of the games has a mid-boss and a final boss. The mid-boss is always a large creature called the Sheepman, just a different color, and the final bosses often just feel like giant versions of regular enemies due to their propensity to be dumb. Since all of these games were created by the same fictitious designer, the similarities between them aren’t too surprising. But once you’ve slashed your way through one of the seven game worlds — which last 1-2 hours each, with the exception of Killer Marathon — you’ve basically played them all. Without spoiling anything, longtime Suda51 fans will be excited to see that one of the worlds connects to a previous Grasshopper Manufacture title. It still follows the same formula as the other Death Drive titles, but it does have more interesting features and a better story arc than the others. All of the games can either be played solo or in local co-op with a friend controlling Bad Man. You can also switch freely between each character at any time, though each has the same basic moves and abilities (save for a few character-specific skills). Co-op is a welcome addition, even if it doesn’t make the fights any less repetitive. In between each Death Drive game, Travis has to hop on his motorcycle at camp to go find the next one. In a welcome change of pace, these sequences play out as chapters of a visual novel also called Travis Strikes Back. Using classic green visuals and text against a black background like old school PC adventure games, these brief, five to ten minute breaks from the action hold most of Suda51’s brand of humor and storytelling. I enjoyed the self-deprecating writing, even if it’s a bit disappointing that these sequences lack voice acting outside of a few specific cutscenes, instead confining dialogue to text boxes with annoying gibberish sounds. As a fan of Suda51’s self-referential and fourth wall breaking writing, the visual novel has the goods. In one exchange, there’s a discussion about how no one who bought an action game would be happy with the visual novel. Well, I’m happy this was included because it’s the best source of quirky, Suda51 style writing in the whole package. In one chapter narrated by Travis, he comes across a horse while searching for Dracula and names it Epona, of course. At camp, you can also purchase new t-shirts to wear inside the games. Grasshopper Manufacture partnered with a bunch of studios to include apparel with logos from great indies such as Dead Cells, Hyper Light Drifter, Golf Story, and Hollow Knight. While this could’ve been a cool cosmetic feature, it’s really hard to actually see the shirts while playing due to the camera frequently being so far away. Travis’ and Bad Man’s jackets further obscure the designs. Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes is a low point for the action franchise. While each of the game worlds try to introduce new mechanics, they all devolve into predictable fights with waves of bland enemies. Slicing through them with the Beam Katana isn’t as satisfying as before because of the mostly top-down perspective. Well-written visual novel sections offer some classic Suda51 humor, but it’s not enough to elevate Travis Strikes Again to more than just a monotonous, disjointed hack and slash game.
  10. In the game you are Thrall and you begin locked in a dungeon, awaiting execution. Obviously you mustn't let that happen and must escape. But how? You can use your mouse cursor to find things to to interact with, either looking at them, eating them or touching/picking them up. Classic point-and-click stuff. What's immediately apparent is how complete the game looks and feels - it even has voice acting by Clancy Brown (The Kurgan in Highlander) and Peter Cullen (the voice of Optimus Prime from Transformers). That's because Warcraft Adventures: Lord of the Clans was almost completed.Here was a game announced for a late 1997 release but would never see the light of day because, during the process for development, Monkey Island 3 and Grim Fandango shifted the adventure goal-posts. Blizzard delayed in order to try and improve what it had but, for a number of reasons, eventually conceded in May 1998 that it wouldn't have the best game out there. And therefore Warcraft Adventures was never released. For reference: Warcraft 1 came out in 1994, Warcraft 2 in 1995, and Warcraft 2 expansion Beyond the Dark Portal in 1996. The third Warcraft game didn't arrive until 2002, though there was a edition of Warcraft 2 in 1999.
  11. Mark-x

    [Review] WATCH DOGS

    I'm racing a stolen motorcycle through a sprawling cityscape, cops wailing behind me in pursuit, when I suddenly smash into a car, shoot through the air like a missile, and slam face-first into a wall. Nothing new—I've done this many times, in many games. While I'm sailing through the air, however, my smartphone informs me the driver of the car I've struck is Martin Huntley, age 39, who works as a telemarketer, makes $24,000 a year, and is into autoerotic asphyxiation. OK. That part's new. There's no shortage of the familiar in Ubisoft's third-person open-world action game Watch Dogs, beginning with our protagonist, Aiden Pearce. He's got a few days of beard stubble, speaks in a whispery growl, and has zero sense of humor. He's haunted by, and feels responsible for, a tragedy in his past, and he's out for revenge—or is it redemption? To find those responsible for his misery, Aiden needs to uncover a shadowy conspiracy, secret organizations, organized crime, and government corruption, and will employ the help of—get this—an eccentric cast of oddball characters, some with secrets of their own. There is one new and interesting thing about Aiden, however: he's got a really, really cool phone.I have a lot of issues with Watch Dogs, but Aiden's phone is owed a lot of credit for how much I enjoyed it. In profile mode, the phone identifies citizens around me and allows me to hack into their phones with a keypress, downloading bank information and letting me listen in on their phone calls and read their text messages. And, of course, it tells me their secrets. Miles Renner is late with child support payments. Conner Eggers is on probation. Bill Woods is affiliated with a racist organization. Think of everything you've ever typed into an email, text message, or search engine—yes, even in incognito mode, weirdo—and then think about some mopey, stubble-faced man in a stupid futuristic coat, standing on the opposite streetcorner, reading all about it.Hacking people is just the beginning. My phone has access to ctOS, an omnipresent computer network that manages the entire city of Chicago. I can change traffic lights to cause accidents ahead of me (useful if I'm pursuing someone) or behind me (handy if I'm being chased). The doors of city parking garages can be opened and closed and drawbridges raised and lowered for quick escapes. After a few skill upgrades, I can blow up steam pipes buried beneath the streets, raise barricades and tire spikes, disrupt radio transmissions, cause massive blackouts, and even disable helicopters. Not only are these abilities a lot of fun, they're absolutely necessary: Aiden's is constantly being chased by both crooks and cops, and he can't fire a gun while driving. Where the magical smartphone truly shines, however, is during the infiltration of secure locations crawling with armed guards. No need to rush in, just scout the perimeter until you spot an external security camera on the side of a nearby building. Accessing it with your phone allows you to "hop" into the camera and look through its lens. If you spot another security camera with the camera you're controlling, you can project yourself into that one, and so on, forming a chain of digital leaps Aiden refers to as "riding the cameras." It's not just wall-mounted security cameras, either: you can jump into cameras built into laptops and even a camera someone is carrying with them. These line-of-sight infiltration puzzles are wickedly fun. Riding cameras allows you to cross streets, zoom around corners, travel down hallways, see into secure areas, and traverse entire buildings, top to bottom. While in a camera, you can also hack anything you can see. Spot a computerized lock and you can open it, peer at a server and you can infiltrate it, find an elevator and you can activate it. The result of all this camera-riding and goon abuse makes me feel like the electronic ghost of Batman: swooping silently between vantage points, peering down at moronic henchmen, picking off enemies one by one. Back to those armed mercenaries patrolling the building: many of them are hackable as well. If they have a phone, you can distract them by sending a loud blast of music from their speaker, or disable it, preventing them from calling for backup. The best is when they're carrying an explosive device, which you can trigger, giving them just a few seconds to frantically dig it out of their pocket and get rid of it. Sometimes they're too slow and perish in the explosion, and sometimes they're successful, lobbing the bomb away but still causing a general panic. (One time, wonderfully, a guard threw it directly at the feet of specific bad guy I was there to rub out, saving me a lot of work.) If they don't have explosives on them, feel free to overload a nearby junction box: they explode nicely too. The result of all this camera-riding and goon abuse makes me feel like the electronic ghost of Batman: swooping silently between vantage points, peering down at moronic henchmen, picking off enemies one by one. There are entire buildings you can infiltrate and escape from, all while standing safely outside on a street corner, looking like just another dude absorbed with his phone. Isn't it refreshing to hear about hacking that doesn't require a pipe-based minigame? Now, let's talk about hacking that requires a pipe-based minigame. Some servers require a puzzle-solving session called intrusion, in which you must direct a stream of blue hacking energy (water) to an endpoint by rotating nodes (pipes). It's actually sort of enjoyable, though it gets repetitive and naturally becomes more complex the deeper into the game you go, occasionally including multiple levels and timers that reset your progress. Remote hacking and camera riding gets you a lot of places, but many missions require a personal touch, by which I mean stealthily sneaking through buildings, shooting a thousand men in the face with guns, and driving at top speed all over the city. Stealth first: Aiden is nimble while moving from cover to cover and gifted in the ways of parkour and silent takedowns, not unlike some assassins I could name. I found the gunplay mostly satisfying: mouse-aiming felt natural without being too easy, the bigger guns had a reasonable amount of recoil (except for the full-auto shotgun, which somehow has none), and while Aiden doesn't have access to a rocket launcher, the single-shot grenade launcher got me out of more jams than I can count. There are plenty of ways to increase weapon damage and precision on the combat skill tree, and Aiden has the slow-motion bullet-time ability that all true heroes are born with these days. Enemy AI isn't fantastic, but they do put together rushes and flanking maneuvers if you stay in one spot for too long, meaning you can't just sit there waiting for heads to pop out one-by-one. Less satisfying is the driving, which I found fairly awkward with keyboard and mouse. I eventually switched to my wireless 360 controller during the driving portions, swapping back to mouse and keyboard for everything else. On the plus side, the game detects what you're using when you're using it, instantly updating any on-screen prompts to reflect your control scheme. More evidence of the game's design for console: the minimap is ridiculously huge and the notifications are scenery-blotting. Also, brace yourself for yet another irritating checkpoint save system. Did you enjoy that lengthy phone call at the start of the mission so much you want to hear it again? Interested in re-killing those first twenty goons before getting to the boss goon who killed you? Want to restart the driving mission standing a hundred feet from the nearest car? If not, I'd suggest never, ever failing a mission. Chicago itself feels a bit bigger than GTA IV's Liberty City, and downtown, the docks, the projects, and the suburban areas are all seamlessly connected (the only loading screens you'll encounter are while fast-traveling). I found the city attractive if not particularly memorable, perhaps because there are no planes or choppers to pilot over it, nor infinite parachutes to leap off its buildings with. Speaking of buildings, they are mostly facades, with the exception of mission-based buildings, stores, and the occasional enterable skyscraper lobby. As far as the citizens go, they're not as loud, profane, or obnoxious as those in GTA or Saint's Row, which makes them considerably less fun to terrorize with explosions or reckless driving. You're discouraged against tormenting them anyway, as killing or injuring citizens (not to mention the police) damages your reputation and makes them more likely to call the cops on you. Luckily, there are plenty of enjoyable diversions, activities, and side-quests to distract you from the semi-blandness of Chicago and its residents, and almost all of them involve hacking of some sort. I loved solving the ctOS tower puzzles, which unlock new locations and hideouts (as in Assassin's Creed games and Far Cry 3). You get to Camera-hop up and around buildings, solve environmental puzzles, and perform a bit no-pressure parkour, easily making it one of the most enjoyable activities of the game. There's also plenty of extra work in Watch Dogs for the eager vigilante. Notifications pop up (a little too often for my tastes) alerting you to upcoming crimes in the area. Some hunting around will reveal either the potential crook or possible victim, and you can tail them, covertly witness the crime, and then chase down and punish the offender. Other activities are scattered around the city and feature a mish-mash of camera-based infiltration and observation, device hacking, combat, stealth, high-speed driving, and sometimes all of the above. There are also games like chess and poker (you can use a camera to sneak a look at an opponent's cards and monitor his stress levels), parkour challenges and auto races, and if you're looking for straight-up city destruction, you can take a "digital trip," allowing you to take a virtual skyscraper-scaling spider tank on a rampage, which makes up for the lack of actual, driveable tanks in the game and lets you blow up cops without damaging your reputation. Good fun. There are also mysteries to solve: codes that can only be viewed from certain cameras, a serial killer stalking the po[CENSORED]ce, and audio files to collect and use to piece together additional stories. And, of course, you can unlock new vehicles, buy new guns, and visit clothing stores to purchase slightly different versions of your stupid coat. There's genuinely a lot to do in Watch Dogs, dozens of hours worth, along with a main storyline that takes a little over twenty hours to complete. With so much to do I was a little worried I wouldn't have time to check out Watch Dog's multiplayer modes, but that problem was solved for me when I was notified that multiplayer was, in fact, checking me out. Another player was in my game—in my single-player game—hacking into my data. In this one-on-one hacking game, you'll need to locate the intruder with your phone (they're disguised as a normal citizen) and kill them before they finish their download and slip back out of your game. Suddenly realizing another human player is in your game is wonderfully unsettling, especially since they've potentially been there for several minutes before you were ever alerted. Shadowing you. Watching you. Thematically, it's perfect, what with all the spying you do in Watch Dogs, and it's especially fun when you're the invader. In one heart-pounding match, I sat hunched behind the wheel of a parked car in a busy part of town, watching my mark circle the area again and again, frantically scanning for me among the NPCs. My hack slowly climbed to 99%—so close!—before he finally spotted me and ran toward my car. I gunned the engine and screeched away into traffic, his gunshots thunking into my hood, and lost him after jumping a drawbridge, safely returning to my game with most—not all—of his data. Incredible fun. There are group activities too, like races, as well as some co-op play, but I think the one-on-one hacking and tailing challenges are far more interesting. If you don't like the idea of players entering your game unannounced, or if you just don't want to be disturbed by invitations to join in multiplayer shenanigans, you can always play in offline mode. I found little to like in Watch Dogs' story, however. Aiden's gloominess and introspection are immediately tiresome, and the most enjoyable character, a fixer named Jordi, gets almost no screen time. There's a sex slave auction scene that seems to serve no purpose but to provide another woman for Aiden to rescue. She is immediately forgotten, though saving her opens human trafficking side missions: complete ten of them and you'll unlock a new car. With so much thought put into Watch Dogs' enjoyable hacking systems and creative multiplayer modes, it's disappointing to discover that Ubisoft's storytelling hasn't made any advancements. Technically, Watch Dogs gets a pass. I ran it mostly on medium settings (my specs: Intel Core i7 @ 2.80 GHz, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 Ti) and got a steady, medium-looking performance, with the only noticeable framerate drops occurring while driving. There's a standard number of video options to fine tune, but no FOV slider, though I thought the FOV was fine as is. I don't recall encountering any bugs or glitches—the game never crashed or froze—and as much as I was dreading it, Uplay worked fine. At times, Watch Dogs can seem like a game we've played before, just another open-world city to speed through in a series of stolen cars, another crowd of hoods and hitmen to add to your body count, another moody, growling protagonist to endure in cutscenes. When it deviates from the familiar, however, it really soars: hacking the city of Chicago and all its cameras, utilities, and communications is freeing and fun, and invading the games of unsuspecting players is an unusual and welcome thrill.'
  12. Anthem is a deceptive game. From the first moment I stepped into its world and started meeting its characters, I was stunned by how gorgeous everything and everyone is. The jungles of Bastion are jaw-dropping, an alien landscape full of fantastic vistas and wondrous ruins. Likewise, Anthem's characters are alluring at first glance. When I first met them, I was fascinated by how lifelike their expressions were, and the voice acting for most of the main characters is charming and expressive. They're a likeable group of people that I was excited to get to know. That's the problem with Anthem: It coasts entirely on the momentum of its stunning first impression. Once that new game smell began to fade, I started to see Anthem as a derivative, buggy, and at times exasperatingly soulless world that fails to weave BioWare's unique storytelling with a co-op RPG shooter. That's the problem with Anthem: It coasts entirely on the momentum of its stunning first impression. On a hostile, alien planet, the human race has etched out a meager survival thanks to the noble efforts of a loose guild of exosuit-wearing warriors called Freelancers. A long time ago, a mysterious alien race shaped the planet by harnessing the Anthem of Creation, a mystical energy that permeates everything. Then those "Shapers" disappeared and left all their Anthem-infused power tools still running, which causes all sorts of apocalyptic accidents that Freelancers are tasked with preventing—or trying to, at least. It all sounds exciting, but Anthem's story feels half-finished and disjointed to the point that even its charming cast of characters can't save it. Fort Tarsis, my home base that I return to after missions, is a narrative prison where the story and characters are locked away from everything else, our conversations having all the intimacy of phone calls through glass. Most of these characters never physically accompany me on missions and are always standing in the same spot. They feel like charismatic quest givers in an MMO—all that's missing is the golden exclamation mark above their heads. I never really get the sense that we're spending quality time or enduring hardships together, which makes these regular insights into their lives predictable and too easily won. When I should have felt a resolve to protect them, I was mostly indifferent—which is more than I can say about Anthem's villains, who are given so little screen time that I barely understand their mission, let alone their motivations. As mission after mission blends together, I rarely have a clear understanding of what's happening or why it matters. The story provides a never-ending supply of MacGuffins to chase—Shaper relics, ancient suits of armor, mysterious rituals. Anthem is so full of mysticism and ambiguity that it feels like an excuse to not adhere to the logic of its own world. Fort Tarsis is also filled with secondary characters who have isolated stories I uncover bit by bit each time I visit. These residents feel superfluous and our exchanges are often awkward and hamfisted, like the time I pretended to be a delusional mother's dead son to help her reconcile his death. Yeah, I was confused too. Talking to these Fort Tarsis locals doesn't open up interesting avenues in the main story or change how I interact with the settlement in any meaningful way. It makes me long for BioWare games of old when choices I made had consequences. I'd ignore all this to focus on combat, but after every mission I'm dumped back into Fort Tarsis even if the first thing I'm going to do is turn around and start another mission. Quest givers are cruelly scattered to each of its corners, forcing me to slowly walk its unchanging streets hundreds of times just to pick up quests, turn around, and immediately walk back. The entire settlement feels like a waste of time, and that's exacerbated by Anthem's incredibly long load times. Even on an SSD, loading screens can take upwards of 50 seconds, and I often have to wait through several back to back loads just to get where I'm going. It's common for missions to be interrupted by loading screens between zones and when I respawn, and there's even a short loading screen just to access The Forge where I can change my gear. The biggest issue is that Anthem has incredibly long load times. A day one patch has reportedly fixed load times on "older drives," but on my Crucial MX200 SSD loading into the open world can still take 50 seconds. What's worse, Anthem is structured so that you often go through several loading screens in succession, like at the end of missions. (A patch has fixed this.) Things are only marginally better once I hop in my javelin and head into the open world. The jungles of Bastion are ridiculously pretty and soaring through them with my squad before each mission is sublime, but the missions themselves are boring and repetitive. Whether I'm doing a story mission, a randomized contract, or one of Anthem's Strongholds (20-minute dungeons that work like Strikes in Destiny 2), there are maybe half a dozen mission objectives that Anthem cycles between again and again and again. It doesn't matter if I'm silencing a Shaper relic that could destroy the world or looking for a lost scientist, I know that at some point I'm going to have to defend a specific point for 30 seconds or use the radar on my HUD to find hidden objects and then bring them somewhere. Nearly every mission follows the exact same structure: fly a few minutes to a location, complete the objective, and repeat that process two more times until the mission is over. Though Anthem's world feels large at first, by the end of the campaign I had fought in the same handful of arenas and caves plenty of times. And that's when Anthem's missions aren't glitching out or breaking entirely. Though BioWare's day one patch promises to fix some of these issues, I'll believe it when I see it. I've had roughly a dozen missions fail to work correctly, forcing my party to abandon ship and start over from the beginning because an objective wouldn't update or an enemy wouldn't spawn. Missions that task me with shutting down the highly volatile Shaper relics are especially disappointing. Characters back in Fort Tarsis regaled me with crazy tales about Shaper relics inverting gravity or teleporting people into alternate dimensions—all cool stuff that I'd love to experience. I never do. The first Shaper relic I silenced summoned ice dogs. Ice dogs. I've silenced dozens more since then and it's always just an excuse to summon some mundane enemies to kill—as if I haven't done enough of that already. It's a good thing that Anthem's combat is mostly enjoyable, at least at lower difficulties. Each javelin is like a typical RPG class, with three types of abilities you can augment as you loot more gear. I'm particularly fond of the Storm, who channels the elements into explosive area-of-effect spells that can obliterate entire packs of enemies. Every javelin is fun to play, though, and their abilities erupt with all the flash and force of a nuclear bomb, making for some spectacular moments of pure carnage. The heart of Anthem's combat is the combo system, which requires that teams work together to first afflict enemies with a status effect from one ability, called a 'primer', before hitting them with a 'detonator' ability that triggers a combo and deals massive damage. It's a lot of fun to pull off—not least because the ka-ching! sound effect that indicates a successful combo is so goddamn satisfying. Layering these abilities is necessary to efficiently deal with enemies on higher difficulties, so it's baffling that Anthem leaves the combo system almost entirely unexplained except for an entry in the tutorial section of the in-game encyclopedia. If I went into Anthem without knowing anything about it, I might not even realize it exists. That lack of clarity extends to Anthem's entire loot system. Gear has boring, aimless stats that are often incomprehensible. A day one patch has made stats slightly more readable, but I'm often left guessing at their meaning. None of them can be adjusted, however—if you find a gun you like, but the stats are no good, your only option is to go looking for another version of the same gun. There's not even a screen that shows the cumulative total of my javelin's various stats. Designing a build is so cumbersome, it makes me wonder why gear even has stat modifiers in the first place. Honestly, it doesn't matter anyway. I was 34 hours into Anthem before I found a piece of loot that actually excited me. It's a Masterwork-tier light machine gun that makes me detonate a combo on nearby primed enemies when I reload. Until that point, even the "Epic" gear I had received was just a linear power increase with more boring modifiers like "+1% Heavy Pistol Damage." Anthem's loot is so shallow it could've just been a skill tree. Now that I'm deep into Anthem's endgame, the gear is getting more exciting at the cost of combat being more aggravating. Calling it an endgame might be giving Anthem too much credit, since the only thing that changes is that I have more challenging missions (that are still repetitive) and two new Strongholds—one of which is actually just the last story mission. The biggest difference is the addition of Grandmaster difficulties, three extra tiers of difficulty that scale up enemy health and damage to absurd degrees but offer a greater chance to earn exceptionally powerful gear like my Masterwork-tier machine gun. Playing on these difficulties really begins to expose the deep cracks in Anthem's combat and approach to endgame. On lower difficulties, fighting is enjoyable because I can be hyper-aggressive and fly around diving at enemies like a robo-hawk. But on Grandmaster, enemies are so fatal that even a single hit can knock me into a downed state where my team has to revive me. That kind of challenge requires a level of precision that Anthem just doesn't have, and it's made me acutely aware of how janky combat is. Enemies will pop in and out of existence constantly or be locked into animations long after I killed them—I've even had mini-bosses vanish into thin air midway through a fight. Sometimes my ultimate ability meter appears fully charged but actually isn't, causing me to charge headlong into a group of enemies foolishly jamming a key that isn't doing anything. Leeroy Jenkins would be proud. And while the shooting sounds punchy, there's often this minute sense of delay between shooting an enemy and damaging them that's off putting. It feels mushy. Enemies rarely telegraph their deadlier attacks, which means I'm constantly being one-shotted by hits I didn't even see—or worse, attacks I did see and dodged but that killed me anyway. This all but spoils the fantasy of being in a killer, sexy exosuit (a sexosuit, if you will). Instead of flying around like Iron Man laying waste to my enemies, I'm hiding behind rocks scared to stick my head out in case some untelegraphed, unseen attack is going to flatten me instantly. Grandmaster difficulty just doesn't play to Anthem's strengths, making the whole endgame feel sluggish and dull.

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