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48 PAGES OF INDIE GAMES! ooblets intO the breach WanDersong fez night in the WooDs & MOre

Th e

The

2018 PREVIEW

PLUS!

WYnncRafT Turn Minecraft

inTo an mmo

42 gaMes that make this an exceptional year for pc gaming

Issue 314

INSIDE

the histOry Of iOn stOrM austin 100 games challenge the siMs 4

Do ub le go fea rg tu eo re us : far mb ar att tis ler ts’ De sk tai etc leD hb oo ks re ve al eD

OO th blet ea s rt Of ind ie

HAR DWAR E

BUYeR’S GUIDe build a brilliant PC at any budget


#314 FEBRUARY 2018 Future Publishing Ltd Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA Tel 01225 442244 Email pcgamer@futurenet.com Web www.pcgamer.com

ta lk to PC GaMER

EDITORIAL Global Editor in Chief Tim Clark Editor in Chief Samuel Roberts Editor Phil Savage Deputy Editor Philippa Warr Art Editor John Strike Production Editor Drew Sleep Web Editor Tom Senior Section Editor Andy Kelly Staff Writer Joe Donnelly

Have your say! Email us at letters@ pcgamer.com

CONTRIBUTORS Writing Kimberley Ballard, Fraser Brown, Ed Chester, Alex Donaldson, Tom Hatfield, Alyssa Hatmaker, Rick Lane, Daniella Lucas, Xalavier Nelson Jr., Chris Schilling, Zak Storey, Tom Sykes, Chris Thursten, Austin Wood, Steven Wright Art Catherine Kirkpatrick, David Lyttleton Production Rachel Terzian PHOTOGRAPHY Future Photography Studio: Olly Curtis All copyrights and trademarks are recognised and respected ADvERTISING Tel 01225 442244 Media packs are available on request Advertising Director Tom Parkinson, tom.parkingson@futurenet.com Commercial Director Clare Dove, clare.dove@futurenet.com Account Director Jeff Jones, jeff.jones@futurenet.com Account Manager Kevin Stoddart, kevin.stoddart@futurenet.com INTERNATIONAL PC Gamer is available for licensing. Contact the International department to discuss partnership opportunities International Licensing Director Matt Ellis, matt.ellis@futurenet.com PRINT SUBSCRIPTIONS & BACk ISSUES Web www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk Email contact@myfavouritemagazines.co.uk Tel 0344 848 2852 International +44 (0) 344 848 2852 CIRCULATION Head of Newstrade Tim Mathers PRODUCTION Head of Production US & Uk Mark Constance Production Project Manager Clare Scott Advertising Production Manager Joanne Crosby Digital Editions Controller Jason Hudson Production Manager Fran Twentyman Editorial Operations Assistant Steve Wright MANAGEMENT Managing Director Aaron Asadi Commercial Finance Director Dan Jotcham Editorial Director Paul Newman Head of Art & Design Rodney Dive Group Editor in Chief, Games Tony Mott Senior Art Editor, Games Warren Brown We are committed to only using magazine paper which is derived from responsibly managed, certified forestry and chlorine-free manufacture. The paper in this magazine was sourced and produced from sustainable managed forests, conforming to strict environmental and socioeconomic standards. The manufacturing paper mill holds full FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certification and accreditation. All contents © 2018 Future Publishing Limited or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be used, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. Future Publishing Limited (company number 2008885) is registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Future cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price of products/services referred to in this publication. Apps and websites mentioned in this publication are not under our control. We are not responsible for their contents or any other changes or updates to them. This magazine is fully independent and not affiliated in any way with the companies mentioned herein. If you submit material to us, you warrant that you own the material and/or have the necessary rights/permissions to supply the material and you automatically grant Future and its licensees a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in any/all issues and/or editions of publications, in any format published worldwide and on associated websites, social media channels and associated products. Any material you submit is sent at your own risk and, although every care is taken, neither Future nor its employees, agents, subcontractors or licensees shall be liable for loss or damage. We assume all unsolicited material is for publication unless otherwise stated, and reserve the right to edit, amend, adapt all submissions.

ISSN 1470169 NEXT ISSUE ON SALE: 08 Februrary

Future plc is a public company Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne quoted on the London Stock Non-executive chairman Peter Allen Exchange (symbol: FUTR). Chief financial officer Penny Ladkin-Brand www.futureplc.com Tel +44 (0)1225 442 244

Creative bloc I floated the idea of doing an indie issue months ago. My plan was to celebrate the diversity, creativity and spirit of indie games old and new. When I emerged, blinking, out of last issue’s deadline, Pip’s inbox was already full of indie artists happy to share their process, and John had created the issue’s beautiful cover art. That’s the power of the indie spirit: it encourages creativity and fosters imagination. You’ll find indie games – and we include in that games which have a publisher, that nevertheless feel indie in spirit – throughout the mag. Just look for The Indie Issue logo.

PHIl SaVaGE EDITOR

phil.savage@futurenet.com @Octaeder

The PC Gamer team PHIlIPPa WaRR

RICk laNE

JoHN StRIkE

Specialist in Indie, sleep deprivation

Specialist in Retro, immersive sims

Specialist in Art, covers

Twitter @philippawarr

Twitter @Rick_Lane

This month Wrote two indie features, and still managed to squeeze in a midnight Star Wars screening.

This month Told the other half of the Ion Storm story: the half that involves one of the best games of all time.

This month Created this issue’s amazing cover – an indie city filled with some of the starring characters of the issue’s features, previews and regulars.

FEBRUARY 2018

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Contents

#314

FEBRUARY 2018

SubScribe to Check out our digital bundle! See p44

46

Monitor

08 THE TOP STORY

WarGames returns as an interactive series, from the maker of Her Story.

10 THE SPY

Is a new Devil May Cry in the works? The Spy thinks ‘maybe’.

12 INSIDE DEVELOPMENT

The importance of a good camera.

14 SPECIAL REPORT

How Return to Lordran brings new life to Dark Souls.

Previews

18 Phantom Doctrine 22 Into the Breach 24 Wandersong 28 Tala 30 Tracks 31 Chuchel

Features 36 2018 Preview

Our round-up of the most exciting games of the coming year.

46 Ooblets

We talk to the creators of this charming farm battler.

52 Inside the Sketchbook

An insight into the art of creation, as indie artists open their sketchbooks.

60 Ion Storm, Part II

The second half of our Ion Storm history. This month: Austin.

gET YOuR FREE gIFT

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FEBRUARY 2018

Turn to page 34

36

46

52

From Pillars of Eternity II to Untitled Goose Game, we round up the 42 games that will make this an exceptional year for PC gamers, whatever your taste.

Pokémon meets Stardew Valley meets Harvest Moon. Pip speaks to the developers of Ooblets about the creation of their charming farm battler.

Take a peek at the drawing boards and sketchbooks of five amazing indie artists.

2018 preview

OOBLeTS

inSide The indie SkeTchBOOk


52

Reviews 76 Seven: The Days Long Gone 80 Shadowhand 82 Injustice 2 84 Okami HD 88 Battlerite 90 World of Final Fantasy FREE gAMES 92 Haunted Cities Volume 2 93 Midnight Scenes 93 Faith THEY’RE BACK 94 Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine 95 Defcon 95 Shadowgrounds 95 Teleglitch 95 Day of Defeat: Source

36

Hardware

98 gROuP TEST 104 REVIEWS 106 BuYER’S guIDE

60

Extra Life

112 NOW PLAYINg

Phil takes on Cuphead. And wins?

116 MOD SPOTLIgHT Turning Minecraft into an MMO.

118 DIARY

98

Operation Baby reaches a conclusion.

122 REINSTALL

The mysterious world of Fez.

126 WHY I LOVE

Night in the Woods’ arcade minigame.

128 MuST PLAY

Andy’s favourite indie games.

122

60

122

98

The rise and fall of Ion Storm Austin, the creators of one of our favourite PC games: Deus Ex.

In this month’s Reinstall, Andy returns to the charming and mysterious Fez. Does the puzzle platformer live up to the hype it generated at release?

Ed Chester puts seven mice to the test, and not in a harrowing blood-sports kind of way.

The hiSTOrY OF FeZ iOn STOrM

wireLeSS Mice rATed 118 JANUARY 2018

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O P I N I O N

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G A M E S

THE PC GamER viEw Of THE wORld Imagine the TV series Mr Robot, but with a young adult fiction twist.

THE TOP STORY

WARGAMES IS BACK

H

The next project from the creator of her stOry

er Story is one of our favourite games, and we were eager to find out what its creator, Sam Barlow, would come up with next. One of those projects is #WarGames, a reboot of the classic 1983 movie. “It’s an experimental interactive series,” says Barlow. “It’s not a conventional choose-your-own adventure story.” In the movie, high school student David Lightman unwittingly hacks into a computer system that controls an arsenal of nuclear weapons and almost triggers World War 3. But this series will take the story in a different, more contemporary direction, following a group of hackers who get tangled up in a conspiracy. “We started writing it under Obama,” says Barlow. “But I think its message is more relevant now. It took longer than planned, because once we got into it, MGM and Eko

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February 2018

decided to let me have a whole series.” The protagonist is Kelly, a hacker played by Jess Nurse who “represents the breadth of modern hacker culture and its humanity”. One of Barlow’s goals was creating a hero who is likeable and not a nihilist. He wants the series to have a sense of fun. “I was thrilled to take some of the questions raised by the original movie and ask them again in a world where technology has fundamentally changed our lives,” says Barlow. “To do that interactively felt like a perfect marriage of form and content. As viewers help steer Kelly’s story, I hope they

One Of BarlOw’s gOals was creating a herO whO is likeaBle and nOt a nihilist

will fall in love with her as much as the #WarGames team did.” Barlow praises the show’s stellar cast, but with a particular focus on Jess Nurse, who he describes as “the heart and brain” of the project.

STREAM TEAM

#WarGames is produced by Eko, a company that specialises in interactive shows. It’s already released a choose-your-ownadventure called That Moment When, but #WarGames marks its leap into a more dramatic take on the concept. And with the popularity of shows like Mr Robot, it’s a good time to tell this kind of story. #WarGames will be available to watch on Eko’s website and “a range of unannounced partner platforms”, which hopefully means Steam. Although not strictly a game, it’s interesting to see Barlow experimenting with storytelling in another medium. The series will be released sometime next year. Andy Kelly


THE TOP STORY

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THE SPY

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highs & lOws

Sam Barlow directs Jess Nurse on the set of #WarGames.

THE MONTH IN PC GAMING

hIGhS Okami

Capcom’s painterly epic is the closest thing we have to Zelda on PC. It’s 11 years old, but it hasn’t aged a day.

Death Stranding

Freed from his Konami shackles, Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima’s imagination is running wild in his bizarre new project.

Euro Truck Simulator 2

Four years after release, our favourite trucker sim’s recreation of Europe is still growing. Now you can truck around Italy.

Monster hunter: World

The co-op monster-hunting series is finally making its way to PC, and it seems like it might be good, too.

Soulcalibur 6

Bandai Namco’s delightfully absurd fighting game series is back, and this time it will be on PC.

LED overload

PC gaming peripherals are starting to look like gaudy fairground rides. Cool it with the coloured lights, yeah?

Virtual reality

The VR revolution is long overdue. Honestly, we still prefer playing games on a flat screen anyway.

Loot boxes

A grotty little feature that isn’t showing any signs of going away because, ultimately, they turn a profit.

Battle royale

By the end of 2018 we won’t be able to move for hastily developed Battlegrounds clones on Steam.

LOWS

Kelly is a hacker, but uses her skills to be a force for good.

February 2018

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the top story

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THE SPY

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INsIDe DeVeLopMeNt

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T H E S P Y

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specIaL report

w h o wat c h e s t h e s p y ? teddy could conceal an explosive in amongst the fluff of a paw.

mixtape madness

he Spy is having a rough month. Filled with post-festive regret, thanks to an extensive investigation of how many second helpings of pudding are possible to house in a secret agent’s tummy, The Spy’s favourite Vantablack catsuit is now only zippable to the paunch. To cap it all, The Spy is also staring down a barrage of Valentine’s Day missives. Always on the move to prevent discovery, sacks of fanmail pursue The Spy from continent to continent, up mountains and into ocean trenches. The sight of a postal worker doggy paddling past a hydrothermal vent, delivering magazine subscriptions to giant tube worms and towing The Spy’s adoring bundles of correspondence in a waterproof satchel is a testament to the determination of a postal service under siege by electronic mail. Valentine’s Day is a particular source of stress for The Spy as every greeting card is signed ‘?’. Any truffle could be a biotracking device, any romantic mixtape could be a coded message from a deep cover informant, any barnacle-encrusted

And so, The Spy must spend January and February dissecting chocolate boxes and listening for hidden meaning in Boyzone medleys. Current testing indicates the mail received thus far is broadly benign, although mounting evidence suggests a shadowy figure going by the codename ‘Ed Sheeran’ is attempting to make contact. So far one of the verses is revealing itself to be a passphrase hidden in plain sight: “I will be loving you ’til we’re 70 and baby my heart could still fall as hard at 23” – so 7023. Perhaps a PIN

shoulder just for you to cry upon,” seems to The Spy to be confirmation that Devil May Cry V exists. Later in that same message Sheeran notes, “I’ll go back to where I’m rescuing a stranger,” which indicates at least one escort mission and some inopportune checkpointing. Probably. Elsewhere on this mighty mixtape (in an ostentatiously unromantic rap track) The Spy notes, “I’m battling for respect and I don’t know if I have it,” which is Sheeran’s way of addressing the conflicting reports around Battlefield games in development. “Blowing up globally,” confirms Dice Sweden is progressing from World War 1 to World War 2 while, “It’s onto the next saga” pins Bad Company 3 as a Dice LA project. The Spy is still pondering the significance of “stars burst out on the scene like an Opal Fruit”. It’s probably a sponsored sci-fi reboot. The last of Sheeran’s tips comes in the form of Tomb Raider news. The Spy wishes this part was discovered through a series of clever deductions on The Spy’s part but, alas, Ed Sheeran merely sent a singing telegram with the news, “There’s a new Tomb Raider coming and they’ve called it Shadow of the Tomb Raider.” Then Beyonce rose out of a brine pool and led a troupe of polychaete worms through the Single Ladies dance while the Ed Sheeran telegram vanished in a puff of clonal polyps. Did The Spy mention that Valentine’s Day diving projects also involve bouts of hydrogen narcosis? Spy Out. The Spy

The lasT of sheeran’s Tips comes in The form of Tomb RaideR news

The Spy’s Zune playlists are a total mess now.

code? “People fall in love in mysterious ways – maybe just the touch of a hand” – it must be a touchscreen device. BUT WHERE, ED SHEERAN? WHERE? Does the Spy need to visit the Lego House? Or is it the Castle On The Hill? Does the Galway Girl conceal a safe about her person? Truly, being a secret agent in January is the absolute worst. Combing through the rest of this mystery fellow’s discography has yielded several other treasures. First and foremost, “Offered up my

This month in… 2008 IssUe 185, March 2008

oN the coVer S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky

IN the charts Mika – Grace Kelly

Tom Francis managed to wiggle Team Fortress 2 into the magazine not once but twice this issue. First up was a peep at the game’s upcoming developments. He followed that with a feature stuffed with tips and tricks for excelling at each character. Cast your mind back to a time when you didn’t know that bumping into a teammate would reveal them as a spy.

1

10

FEBRUARY 2017

Alec Meer tries to explain The Club to an imaginary nun during his review of said game. She’s not into it, bans him from the convent and the game gets 66%.

2

See Through The Specs offers a deep dive by Adam Oxford into whether the games industry is telling the whole truth about the technical requirements for running games. Illustrated by photos of the magazine team indulging in what we can only refer to as “shenanigans” it also offers a heartwarming reminder that games have been demanding we update DirectX for at least a decade.

3


INSIDE DEVELOPMENT

MAKING GAMES IS HARD ABOVE: A Hat in Time’s algorithmic solution to calculating the best camera angle at any time is essential for its sandbox 3D platforming.

Camera Conundrums Why game cameras are complicated

RIGHT: Brigador’s developers pulled the camera back twice as far as they planned to further the sensation of controlling huge mechs and tanks. FAR RIGHT: Trent Polack is applying his experience tuning cameras in games like Starhawk to make the co-op sandbox mech piloting of Steel Hunters work.

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FEBRUARY 2018


THE TOP STORY

A

t the most basic level and regardless of perspective (first-person, third-person, isometric, etc),” begins developer Trent Polack, “a camera system is the player’s eyeballs in a game world. It is the single most defining system by which a player interacts with a game.” And with over a decade of experience in the industry, Polack would know. Before you can figure out a game’s control scheme (which is often cameradependent), or even gain a sense of investment in a game’s world, you need to be able to see. In isometric real-time tactics game Brigador, solving this issue proved far more complicated than the developers expected. Jack Monahan, one of Brigador’s developers, recounted the difficulties of creating levels and assets within this perspective. “An area ‘behind’ (from the camera’s perspective) of a city block might have for example twice the amount of sidewalk space you’d expect, so that the player can comfortably navigate the area without losing sight of their vehicle or bumping into scenery a lot,” Monahan says. “It’s a bit like how it’s not very fun to run through realistically sized doors in third-person games, so door widths are almost twice as wide, and hallways tend to be grandiose so the camera isn’t bumping into things.” Isometric games don’t typically share the immersive nature of the in-your-face first-person camera, or the player-avatar kinship used for a third-person camera. Their primary advantage is found in giving players information the player character would not themselves have, making the speed and lethality of Hotline Miami or the tactical sneaking of Metal Gear Solid possible. Early in development, the Brigador team pulled back the in-game camera twice as far they originally planned. “If you effectively can’t see more than 30 feet in front of you, you don’t feel very powerful,” says Monahan. “You can’t make informed decisions about what to do with enemies until you’re right on top of them. So the distance of the camera from the scene in Brigador had to be carefully calibrated for the kind of vehicles, weapons and engagement distance presented in the game.” By pulling their camera further back, the team made players feel more aware of the world around them, and more tactically competent. Liam Welton, game director at Failbetter Games, found similar success by modifying the zoom level of the top-down camera in Sunless Skies. “We knew the feeling of being docked and the feeling of cruising in open waters (or skies) should feel different, so we punch the camera out when you’re travelling at speed,” Welton says. “This means that as you come in to dock, you get a closer look at the detail in the artwork. This effect is more pronounced in Sunless Skies, partly because the art is more beautiful than ever and partly because we wanted to create a greater contrast between the huge vistas you see while you sail in the open. As there is no ocean beneath you in Sunless Skies, we’re using various tricks to try and create the sense of colossal, dizzying depth beneath you.”

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THE SPY

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INSIDE DEVELOPMENT

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SPECIAL REPORT

to be invisible – particularly in a genre where camera complications are notorious. “The journey we went on to create A Hat in Time’s camera is a long one,” lead designer Jonas Kaerlev tells me. “We started with the simplest kind of camera, which is just pulling it back from behind the character. However, this resulted in a lot of hard cuts whenever the camera hit geometry, and hard cuts are bad due to being severely disorienting. Instead, we rewrote the camera from scratch and made it into an algorithmic approach, which allowed us to feed different info into the algorithm to observe the results. We could calculate where the camera would end up if the player moved the camera 360 degrees. Using these calculations, we could blend the camera position and orientation to their predicted location.” Although Gears for Breakfast found this worked well for its title, it came with a cost. Calculating the ideal position for A Hat in Time’s camera uses about 2ms of every 16ms, 60fps refresh cycle. While most of this piece focuses on developers conveying feeling to players without having obtrusive cameras, Polack still believes that there are boundaries to push – that ignoring opportunities to thoughtfully manipulate a game’s camera means losing out on the ability to communicate the unique atmosphere of a world. When you begin to factor in accessibility options, cameras reveal themselves to be an example of a seemingly small element, where each tweak can be meaningful to someone on the other end of the screen. Xalavier Nelson Jr.

“the single most defining system by which a player interacts with a game”

In the case of 3D platformer A Hat in Time, the developers had to revise the foundation of their camera system several times over, to get a result explicitly designed

It takes a lot of work to make a workIng Camera

EASY: 2D CAmErAS

mEDIUm: F I r S t- P E r S o n C A m E r A S

HArD: tHIrD-PErSon CAmErAS

ImPoSSIBLE: ISomEtrIC CAmErAS

In this environment, small tweaks to a side-on or top-down viewpoint, like screen-shake, reducing screen zoom or screen vignetting can have major effects.

Third and first-person cameras are fairly similar. The primary difference is considering level geometry. The camera absolutely can not be allowed to collide with objects.

disclaimer As a professional developer, I am on friendly and/or working terms with parties mentioned in this piece.

Collision Course

Camera Types

Since these cameras approximate a player’s eyes, positioning a camera is relatively simple. However, creating immersive first-person animations is expensive.

Give your game an isometric camera if you want to come to hate their bastard-hard balance between a god’s-eye perspective and a semi-detached world presence!

FEBRUARY 2018

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speci a l rep o rt

Your old foes await, and they’re just as prickly as ever.

what is RetuRn to LoRdRan? Faced with ever-diminishing player counts – largely due to a long-standing technical issue that requires a connectivity mod to fix – enthusiasts of the original Dark Souls decided to take matters into their own hands. Using forums and subreddits they promoted an influx of new blood for the game’s starved multiplayer systems. And though it began as a lark a few years ago, both organisers and players alike attest to its continued success as an annualised event.

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P C G I n v e s t I G at e s

RetuRn to LoRdRan Why fans of the original Dark SoulS are teaming up to revive their favourite game

L

ordran, the dusky, desolate world of the original Dark Souls, is a famously punitive place. The gruelling atmosphere extends to the game’s optional multiplayer, which enables other players to ‘invade’ your game and ambush you for your hard-earned resources. Now, just over six years after the game’s debut, franchise fans turn to the community to give both returning veterans and fresh blood the same sense of unease and competition that they experienced back at launch. “What originally prompted the event was the celebration of /r/darksouls hitting 100,000 subscribers,” says Cody, also known as e_0, a moderator of the Dark Souls subreddit, and the organiser of the event. “A user by the name of JoeDaddy92 suggested that we host a ‘Restart Day’, that would encourage massive online play – similar to Return to the Nexus, in a way.” Return to the Nexus was an event that came about in 2013, when YouTuber Peeve Peeverson put out a call for players to dust off their PS3s and pop in Demon’s Souls, the predecessor to Dark Souls. Many of the collectibles in Demon’s Souls are locked behind a cryptic system where the playerbase’s behaviour can affect things like enemy difficulty or even prompt special events. It lent the game to a community-driven revival event.

FEBRUARY 2018

According to Cody, the first Global Restart Day for Dark Souls occurred in 2016. “The first major hurdle with Global Restart Day was getting everyone excited for such an event,” they say. “That’s not to say it didn’t catch the attention of people on Reddit, as it did, but that was the problem: it only caught the attention of people on Reddit.”

getting started

This led to the moderator “practically begging” Facebook page administrators and other gatekeepers of the community to give it a chance. This year, they hosted the kickoff stream for the event – a process that they describe as “difficult”. Streaming anxiety, carving out prep time and reaching out to content creators are just some of the challenges. It’s easy to see how this sort of event could foment stress – there’s a reason that community management is a paid position at many companies. Still, speaking with participants, the effort is definitely appreciated. That’s because for many fans of Hidetaka Miyazaki’s work, the multiplayer components of Dark Souls make an indelible contribution to the tone and themes of the game, and the lack of activity in the community robs any new players of that experience. Return to Lordran offers a way for them to restore an essential part of the ‘launch’ Dark Souls experience.


tHe top storY

typical invader behaviour.

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dicing with death skirt the Worst pvp danger in dark souls

1 d o n’ t daw d l e

the first Dark Souls is infamous for its irregular hitboxes which can result in some incredibly questionable-looking backstab attacks. If it seems like someone’s trying to roll behind you, they’re trying to bait you into a glitch stab.

3 bring friends

4 f e a r n at u r e

griefers love to hang around the undead Burg, waiting in ambush for unsuspecting newbies. If you’re waltzing through for the first time, calling in a few friendly players to help might give you the edge you need to survive.

While you can play offline and opt out of these encounters, Miyazaki designed several areas of the game as invasion hotspots, building multiplayer covenants and rewards to encourage such behaviour. Your actions towards NPCs can label you a sinner, marking you for invasion by a certain covenant in a specific area of the game. When there are no players to invade, the effect of your misdeeds can end up diminished. “[I participated] to help bring the amazing launch experience to new players, particularly by slaughtering them during invasions,” says Jason, or Red_Eye_Stone, another moderator of the Dark Souls subreddit. “The optional multiplayer aspect of the game is what has kept me coming back year after year. The game comes alive when you share the experience with others.” KillerKram concurs. “A few of my friends picked up Dark Souls in a sale and I told them about this event. They are currently trying to get through it with me as a guide. Having invasions and such is cool for reminding them that Dark Souls is a dangerous and unforgiving place.

2 n o ta k e y b ac k si e s

the ancient, iconic city of anor londo may offer some of the most picturesque views in all of lordran, but it’s a haven for high-level PvP combat. unless you’re a truly hardcore player, it’s perhaps best to blitz through this ex-metropolis.

tricky trees combined with an abundance of hiding places make Darkroot garden an invader’s paradise. the forest hunter covenant allows for multiple attackers, so it’s best to level up before you explore the area fully.

Image credit: Mikael Bang Andersen

Invaders love to lurk around bonfires and pits.

Several players reported that some griefers took the brutality to an unfair level, standing in front of doorways to block their host’s progress, or using unbalanced strategies or builds designed to punish new players, or even just cheating outright. Some players feel that griefing is only a minor issue. “Most of the players are here because of their love of the game, so griefing is rare,” says ThomasWright542. Others found that it was limited to specific areas. “My friends needed me to speedrun them through the Undead Burg because we kept getting invaded by people who were either cheating or had postgame setups against people who had only like two hours of experience in the game,” says KillerKram. “After getting out of the intro areas, the invasions got more fair and more unexpected.” For many, though, Return to Lordran is a way to grant new players the same Dark Souls experience that these veterans so enjoyed over half a decade ago, and for most, that’s enough for them. “I am beyond excited for next year’s Return to Lordran,” says Cody. “I can’t give away too many details, but Bandai Namco themselves may or may not have gotten into contact with me about [the next] event, and we may have a few tricks up our sleeves. Only time will tell, but hopefully we’ll all be seeing some crazy stuff [this] year.” Steven T. Wright

“I actuallY fInD the InvaSIonS a lot more faIr DurIng thIS event than normal tImeS”

griefing period

“I went through as a cleric for the first time, and it was a cool experience to not just be a damage dealer but to really tank and heal,” KillerKram adds. “I actually find the invasions a lot more fair during this event than during normal times.”

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EVENT The PC Gamer Weekender 2018

Seven reasons to be excited for the PC Gamer Weekender

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Play neW anD uPCominG GameS Some of the biggest games of 2018 are coming to the PC Gamer Weekender, and you can play them first! Throughout the show floor you’ll find hands-on demos of exciting new games, including co-op shooter Vermintide II, kung-fu RPG Biomutant, tactical strategy Frozen Synapse 2, and X-COM creator Julian Gollop’s Phoenix Point. February 2018

n February 17-18, we return to the Olympia London for the third annual PC Gamer Weekender. After the great reception to last year’s event, we’ve been hard at work to make this the best Weekender ever. There’s going to be loads to do, from games to developer sessions to a board games room. Here are seven excellent reasons to join us this February. For the latest updates on the event, and to book your tickets, head to weekender.pcgamer.com.

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DeveloPer talkS 2

Throughout the weekend, our stages will host live keynote talks from some of your favourite developers, including the creators of Phoenix Point and Biomutant on the Developer stage, and Civilization developer Firaxis on the PC Gamer stage. It’s here where you can learn more about the games you love, direct from the people that make them.


HarDWare WorkSHoPS Led by our team of hardware experts, our PC workshops will help you get the most out of your machine. Our in-depth sessions will teach you how to build a PC that’s perfect for gaming, which upgrades to prioritise, and what common mistakes you should avoid as you go digging into your rig’s innards.

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ClaSSiC ComPetition

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This year, we’re launching The arcade – new for 2018’s show. here you’ll be able to play classic games with friends, including Metal Slug X, Street Fighter II: Champion edition, Pac-Man, and Streets of Rage. We’ll also have a range of PC classics. Last year, the PC Gamer team spent most of the show playing Jedi Outcast.

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Get into GameS also new to this year’s Weekender are our Get Into Games workshops. If you’re looking to start your career in the games industry, our experts will be on hand to give you the information and advice you need. We’ll also have publishers and recruiters giving talks on what it takes to be a designer or programmer.

meet tHe team 7

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eSPortS aCaDemy Want to take your competitive gaming to the next level? Check out the OMen by hP Bootcamp, our dedicated esports academy. Learn first hand from esports pros and understand the games you love in a whole new way. Our Bootcamp sessions will help you maximise your training, teamwork and strategy.

You’ll also get to meet the PC Gamer team. We’ll be hanging out on the show floor, hosting talks, playing games and trying to hunt down the best chicken wings in proximity of the Olympia. Plus, we’ll be holding an informal meet up on Saturday at the hand & Flower. We’d love to see you there!

Book your tiCketS TO The PC GaMeR WeekenDeR aT:

weekender.pcgamer.com/tickets February 2017

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pREviEW The Phantom Doctrine

need to know RELEASE 2018

DEvELopER CreativeForge Games

pubLiShER Good Shepherd Entertainment

coolest features. When you gather intel, either through missions or interrogations, you get to place it on one of these boards, making connections with other data to reveal missions.

The PhanTom DocTrine

INTEL INSIDE

Tactical espionage action heremin is the codename of an enemy agent, and she’s my prisoner. I’ve interrogated her several times, revealing intel that will unlock new missions. But I have another trick up my sleeve. I brainwash her, planting a trigger phrase in her mind that, when spoken, will force her to switch sides. Then I release her and she rejoins the ranks of the enemy.

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Later, on one of those missions she helped me discover, I encounter her out in the field. Before she has a chance to attack me, I use the trigger phrase and she joins my agents as an ally. It’s a deeply satisfying moment, and an example of the systems that make this espionage game so compelling. I could have just executed Theremin after I received the information that I needed, but this option, while more expensive, is ultimately a lot more useful to me in the long run. It’s worth noting that the same can happen to one of your agents, even if it’s someone you trust. The enemy, a sinister global conspiracy, has the same resources as you – more, in fact – and you’re just as susceptible to spying and trickery as they are. Don’t be surprised if your top agent, who has bravely completed a dozen missions for you, suddenly defects. The Phantom Doctrine is XCOM by way of a John Le Carré novel. Set in 1983 during the Cold War, it’s a world of paranoia, political tension and subterfuge, where you find yourself going up against a shady cabal with seemingly limitless power. You control a small group of agents and must piece together intel to uncover and thwart the conspiracy’s evil plans. You know those corkboards people have in films where they have photos, documents and newspaper clippings linked by strings? I’ve always loved those, and they’re one of Phantom Doctrine’s 18

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LiNK www.bit.ly/phantomdoctrine

pl ayed it

You have to read through documents, looking for suspicious phrases and names that might be codenames for places or agents. When you find a few of these, and they match, you’ll reveal the location of the next mission. It really makes you feel like you’re doing some legwork as a spy, earning these discoveries rather than just being handed them. On a world map you can send your agents on missions that happen off-screen and take a certain amount of time, whether it’s kidnapping someone or scouting an enemy installation. Through these you’ll earn currency to research new technology, intel for your corkboard, and maybe even new agents to join your ranks. When you have enough intel, you can take the fight directly to the conspiracy by indulging in some turn-based espionage. This is when it’s impossible not to draw an XCOM comparison. It has the same three-quarter camera angle, features like overwatch and entering buildings, and even the way characters move feels similar. But ultimately it’s a very different game, with a focus on sneaking over shooting. You can still kill everyone, but it’ll just make your life a lot more difficult. You’re a spy, remember, and the game is tuned with that in mind. I’m here to prevent a terrorist attack, which is actually based on real historical events. The downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in September 1983 by the Soviets was a major scandal, and Phantom Doctrine weaves its own story around this event. It’s a way of making the setting feel more real, but the game still takes liberties with the history to tell its own story. My agents are attempting to stop the disaster by disrupting a conspiracy-controlled comms dish.

The PhanTom DocTrine is Xcom by way of a John Le carré noveL


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pREviEW The Phantom Doctrine

Underground car parks, a spy thriller staple.

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If you’re spotted, all hell breaks loose.


The enemy agent who I brainwashed.

It’s in this mission where my sleeper agent showed up, and now she’s on my side, which makes things a little easier. It also helps that one of my agents is disguised as a Soviet soldier, and can freely wander around the map without being spotted – at least not by regular grunts. An agent like Theremin would have seen through his disguise had I not brainwashed her. So not only do I have an extra agent to command, but my disguised guy can stroll around completely unchallenged, poking his nose into any room he pleases. Missions have safe zones where you can explore without attracting the attention of guards, giving you space to plan your next move. Guards follow patrol routes, meaning you can learn and exploit them: in my case, waiting for a window to slip into a security room and unlock a door for my disguised soldier in the enemy facility. Having your agents working in sync like this, aiding each other remotely, is a big part of the game.

One of my agents turns on me. They’ve been implanted with a trigger phrase, just like Theremin, and I suddenly find myself on the back foot. Soviet soldiers are pouring into the level and I have no choice but to evac. You can try and get everyone out, or you can leave some agents behind at the risk of them being captured and joining the enemy. I disable the comms dish and manage to get a couple of agents out, leaving one behind, unconscious. I’m told that, in the full game, I’ll be able to mount a rescue mission and try and get her back. But for now she’s at the mercy of the conspiracy. I can imagine these decisions being even tougher when you’ve spent time with these agents and grown fond of them. And I love the idea of a cherished agent suddenly turning on you after being secretly brainwashed by the enemy. This unpredictability is one of the most exciting things about The Phantom Doctrine, and taps directly into its paranoid spy thriller vibe.

SILENT SCOPE

The more missions an agent goes on, the higher a stat called Heat will be, to the point where they can no longer work for you. For a cost, you can change their appearance, sex, and even make them a false passport and they’ll become available again. Being able to tweak your agents’ look adds a lot of customisation to the game, which extends to a vast array of perks and abilities that’ll change the way they operate when they’re in the field. One of your agents is considered the ‘main character’, and their presence will be required in story missions. These elaborate missions, of which there are around 20, are bookended with cutscenes, and they will tell a running story as you play. There are dozens of optional missions to embark on, earning you additional currency, agents, and tech, but the developer promises you can stick rigidly to the critical path and still have a good time. The Phantom Doctrine is one of the most interesting strategy games I’ve played on PC for a while, and I love how it fuses XCOM-style turn-based combat with careful stealth. The mood is great too, with an understated, stylish atmosphere that’s more Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy than James Bond. It’s a hugely ambitious game and I’m looking forward to it turning me into a paranoid wreck, worried all my best agents are secretly working for the enemy and are going to stick a knife in my back. Andy Kelly

Before you start a level you can place support units, including a spotter to reveal enemy positions and a sniper. I make use of the sniper when my route to the communications control room is blocked by a guard patrolling a narrow corridor. I wait till he’s near a window and use the sniper to kill him quickly and quietly. There are noisier options too, like an agent on a nearby rooftop with a grenade launcher who can make short work of bunched-up enemies. Using heavy firepower like that isn’t exactly in the spy’s manual, and it’s going to raise an alarm or two when things start exploding. When you screw up the stealth, combat begins. Enemy reinforcements start to arrive, and they can even periodically pummel the map with missiles fired from a hovering chopper. It’s here where The Phantom Doctrine feels the most like XCOM, with a percentage chance to hit an enemy and half- and full-cover options. But there are some neat twists, like a customisable overwatch that lets you focus in one direction with added accuracy, or sacrifice some precision for a wider radius.

A sniper could take out that guy by the window.

having your agenTs working in sync is a big ParT of The game

FRESH FACE

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PREVIEW Into the Breach

SUrvivor SerieS

need to know RELEASE “When it’s finished”

DEVELOPER Subset Games

PUBLISHER In-house

LINK www.subsetgames.com

Into the Breach

Your squad consists of three units – the initial lineup is a tank, an artillery cannon and a mech. Each does something different. The artillery, for instance, fires a mortar that not only does damage on a direct hit, but also pushes away any enemies on the surrounding tiles.

Pl ayed it

Bitesize tactical terror from the creator of FTL rom the creator of FTL: Faster Than Light, Into The Breach condenses down XCOM-style turn-based combat into bitesize chunks. Rather than long, drawn out missions, each skirmish lasts around five turns, as you attempt to protect a settlement from an onslaught of giant killer bugs. It’s a game about short, incredibly intense missions that each require experimentation and forward thinking in order to achieve victory. The small-scale scope might make it sound limited, but there’s an incredible depth of options. The specific rules

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RatheR than long, dRawn out missions, each skiRmish lasts just fouR tuRns around each system – be it a weapon’s effect, an enemy’s behaviour or an environmental hazard – means there’s always plenty to think about, and the need to protect a settlement’s buildings means you always feel like you’re fending off catastrophe. The year has barely got going, but PC Gamer’s Samuel Roberts is already declaring this a 2018 Game of the Year contender. Phil Savage

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Powered UP

You lose power if a building is destroyed. Power is a persistent resource, and, if it runs out, the aliens will invade en masse, ending the game. Should that happen, you can send just one of your characters back in time – saving their upgrades for your next attempt.

February 2018


tUrnaboUt

Enemies queue up attacks each turn, but don’t execute until after you’ve had your go. This bug is planning to shoot my tank, but won’t get the chance if I use my artillery strike to push him in the water. You can even force enemies to accidentally attack one another.

obStrUction

You’ll encounter just a few aliens when you titanfall onto the map, but more emerge each turn. You can block this by covering their tunnels – either with one of your units, or by pushing an alien onto it. Whoever’s stood there will take damage at the end of the turn.

February 2018

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PREVIEW Wandersong Hopefully that’s not a mating call you’re harmonising with.

Awkwardly, ghosts prefer sheet music.

Inevitably there’s a jam session.

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need to know RELEASE Early 2018

DEVELoPER Dumb and Fat Games

PubLIShER In-house

Wandersong Come alive with the sound of music in this bardic adventure ou retrieve the great sword, but are ambushed by a terrible foe. You raise the sword above your head, swing… and miss. Sorry, but you’re no hero. You’re a bard – one not blessed with the physical attributes necessary to wield a giant, badass sword. Helpless, you revert to your preferred means of attack: song.

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Not everyone is as happy-go-lucky.

LINK www.wanderso.ng

find myself frequently distracted from whatever grand objective I’ve been asked to complete – instead caught up in the moment and the sheer fun of making the world dance. It’s a great sign when a game’s core interaction feels so effortlessly pleasurable. And it’s used for more than just amusing yourself. Harmonise with a bird, for example, and it’ll fly up to you and even boost your next jump, letting you reach new areas.

The Bard’s Tale

Soon after waking from your apocalyptic dream, you travel to a nearby village, where you’re told about the ghosts haunting some of the local houses. Conveniently, the ghosts can be defeated by song, by matching the notes they wail at you. Such musical challenges are incredibly forgiving, even if you’re tone Fortunately, your foe is no terrifying beast, deaf. Notes are conveyed not just by but rather the messenger of the goddess sound, but also through position and Eya, who’s messing with you in your colour. When a ghost wails, it moves in a dreams. This is how Wandersong begins, specific direction, one that maps to the subverting traditional fantasy by revelling location of that note in your note wheel. in the fact that its lead character is kind of In a later sequence, you sing to make a a doofus. Which isn’t to say there’s no flower grow in the direction of your wheel. peril. The messenger, who digs your While music is the method, the tunes, informs you that Eya plans to results of your actions are broad in pl ayed birth a new universe – a process that i t scope, giving Wandersong plenty of would destroy the current one. You opportunities to iterate on its main wake up with a quest, of sorts. idea to surprising effect. Yet, despite The dialogue is irreverent and knowing, being a 2D side-scroller, such platforming reminiscent of Sword & Sworcery EP. But and puzzling sections play second fiddle while some characters verge on ironic to the story – at least initially. You’ll meet detachment, Wandersong is notable for increasingly weird, mystical figures on how it revels it its own jubilance. Holding your journey to learn the song that will down the left-mouse button brings up a save the world, from the witch who can’t wheel of different colours. Select a colour, deal with your constant singing, to the and the bard sings its corresponding note. grouchy cat spirit who’s pretty miffed you As you sing, the background music gets just woke him from his hundred-year louder and swells with new instruments, slumber. There’s even a system for and the world bops and changes colour in branching dialogue, your choices picked response to your tune. It’s a simple, from the note wheel and delivered in the effective system that encourages you to form of a song, of course. sing for singing’s sake. Wandersong is a delightful mix of story Simply wandering through an and music – crammed full of charm, environment feels joyful, as you belt out humour and infectious enthusiasm. I’m tuneful ditties along the way. As I play, I intrigued to see where the story will go, how the singing will be incorporated into later puzzles, and whether its quirky cast will start to grate after the first couple of hours that I’ve played. Already this is one of my most anticipated indie games of the coming year. Phil Savage

Simply wandering through an environment feelS joyful

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PREVIEW Tala Tala’s unique look stems from its creator playing around in Photoshop

need TO KnOw RELEASE 2018

DEVELoPER The Garden Well

PubLIShER In-house

LINK www.thegardenwell.games

TA L A A little girl searches for her mentor in the deep, dark woods f you grew up in the countryside, or spent childhood holidays with your head buried in books of fairytales, you’ll understand the enchantment of forests. Flowers curl around your feet, birds peek at you from their nests, and bushes rustle with the sound of small creatures. This affinity with nature spills through Tala, the first release from videogames artist and animator Matthew Petrak.

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FIRST LOOK

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Set in a tiny world, a girl called Tala ventures into the woods to find her guardian, the Town Warden, meeting characters and solving puzzles along the way. It sounds like a story you’d find in an Enid Blyton novel or on television alongside shows like The Box of Delights. Tala’s storybook vibe is enhanced by the combination of old-fashioned animation and nature photography. While Tala and her companions are hand-drawn, the game’s backdrops have been crafted from photographs taken in the woods and February 2018

in the shadow of mountains. Every shot was captured by Petrak in nature parks around Melbourne, including Wilsons Promontory, the grand peaks of the Grampians, and the Dandenong Ranges. “Two of my passions are animation and nature, so it felt natural to combine the two,” says Petrak. “I was actually playing around with the style as early as 2012, where I was bored in Photoshop one day and started drawing over some stock images.” Alongside the quirky animation, Tala features a non-verbal dialogue system. This means that communication between Tala and other characters is expressed through little thought bubble images. To continue on her quest, Tala must also solve a variety of environmental puzzles.

the game’s backdrops have been crafted from photographs

“Each chapter has an overall goal, so the player will be exploring and solving puzzles to collect what they need to achieve that,” says Petrak. “Your first major objective is to repair the town’s old plane. Some little sprouts might be using a machine belt – well, it’s more like a rubber band – as a skipping rope and they’ll let you have it if you play hide and seek with them and find them all.”

Picture Perfect It’s a charming idea, and one that Petrak is handling himself. In early 2017 he created his own microstudio, The Garden Well, and Tala marks its debut release. “I’ve only been playing at making games for a couple of years, and without Unity and the plugin Adventure Creator, Tala wouldn’t exist outside of a Photoshopped mock-up,” he says. “If you want to make a game on your own you really have to play to your strengths. Drawing backgrounds isn’t a strong suit of mine, so I take photos instead. Those little decisions make creating the game more feasible, and really define what Tala is.” Kimberley Ballard


PREVIEW Tracks – The Train Set Game As driver, you get to pick directions at junctions.

need to know RELEASE TBA

DEVELoPER Whoop Group

PubLIShER Excalibur Games

LINK www.excalibur-publishing.com

Tracks – The Train seT Game Riding the wooden rails rain delays take many forms. I’ve known leaves on the line, snow on the line, another train on the line and, once, bandits on the line who had just robbed a post office. The current hold-up for my Tracks passengers, though, is because I am building a route to a station with no fewer than five jumps.

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Tracks – The Train Set Game is a sandbox game where you build fantastical wooden railways. There’s the draw of nostalgia – I’ve been remembering my own Brio bits which I’d assemble around furniture. There’s also the pleasure of building a little railway then switching perspective to actually drive the train around. The meat of the game is in designing these courses, placing platforms to gather passengers, adding stations where you can drop them off and peppering the rest of the space with decorations and props. With time to sink into the game, I abandoned the tutorial-ish apartment FEBRUARY 2018

scenario and the prebuilt scenes and struck out into a plain nighttime area. I started with a simple circuit and then built up from there, experimenting with all of the objects in the toybox inventory. There are streetlamps which I peppered along the track, cafe-style seating which I plonked near a station, implying it was a gathering spot. I found terrain blocks which acted as viewpoints after I added benches towards the edges. Trees and fountains fleshed out that area into a park while rows of houses marked out streets at floor-level. It was around this point that I started messing with fireworks. My track became a bright, noisy nuisance with a trigger activating every few feet. Fireworks are one-use, though, so if I wanted to repeat a

It was around thIs poInt that I started messIng wIth fIreworks

display while taking a party to a churchthemed station I’d need to re-lay them all.

Off the rails Tracks’ Early Access proposition is adorable but it doesn’t quite have enough options to tempt me into new saves with different designs or challenges. I also ran into bugs where my train clipped through a corkscrew piece of track and clattered to the floor, I couldn’t always manipulate segments correctly and the plain surroundings made it hard to tell where you were about to lay track in 3D space. Objectives weren’t always clear, either. I thought I’d fulfilled that five-jump challenge via a section of track with five gaps where the train would drop down, and only realised the game hadn’t counted some of those jumps. Without an obvious way to reset that objective I’d need to go back to an earlier save. I also got a bit travel sick after riding the train in first person. So it’s a little bare bones, but it’s building steam. The basic shape is there and nothing stands out as a problem that transcends Early Access. Choo choo! Philippa Warr


PREVIEW Chuchel retro

You’ll find references to arcade classics, like Pac-Man and Space Invaders, all with a Chuchel twist.

naMing

It’s not quite a direct translation but ‘chuchel’ means something like ‘dust bunny’.

Morning

Your first puzzle is waking the sleeping Chuchel. Expect a barrage of angrily thrown slippers.

CHUCHEL A hairy, angry, laugh-out-loud quest for cherries

Bright bizarre worlds conspire against cherry collectors.

First Look

need to know RELEASE Early 2018

DEVELoPER Amanita Design

PubLIShER In-house

LINK www.chuchel.net

he Czech studio behind Machinarium, Botanicula and the Samorost series has been hard at work on Chuchel, a gorgeously odd adventure starring an animated ball of household dust and grime in hot pursuit of a stolen cherry.

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Plot-wise it reminds me of the adventures of Ice Age’s squirrel, Scrat, but tonally it’s far closer to surreal kids cartoons. The main character encapsulates the joy and crankiness of a three-year-old in each interaction, delivering genuine belly laughs as it takes you by surprise time and time again. Philippa Warr February 2018

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THE BIGGEST PC GAMES OF

2018 Here’s why 2018 will be a great year for PC gamers. By Andy Kelly, Phil Savage & Philippa Warr 36

February 2018


F E AT U R E The Biggest PC Games of 2018

PillARs oF ETERniTy ii: DEADFiRE he Watcher is back, this time hunting the god Eothas across the Deadfire, an island chain where you’ll encounter pirates and erupting volcanoes. You can navigate these islands on your ship, the Defiant, recruiting a crew to help you take Eothas down. But there’ll be plenty of time to sail away from the critical path, and developer Obsidian is promising unexplored islands and other secrets to discover on the high fantasy seas.

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dECISIOnS yOu MAdE In THE dyrwOOd wIll CArry OvEr

Skull & BoneS

This open world sail-’em-up comes from Ubisoft Singapore, developer of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s naval battles. As a pirate captain you’ll recruit a crew, upgrade your ship and head onto the high seas to plunder loot.

Edér, Aloth, and Pallegina will return for this adventure, but there are new faces too, including an aumaua ranger called Maia, and Serafen, an orlan pirate. And if you import your save from the first game, some of the decisions you made in the Dyrwood will carry over. So if you screwed someone over, don’t be surprised if they turn up looking for revenge. As you explore the Deadfire archipelago you’ll get swept up in conflicts between locals, pirates and ambitious trading companies looking to exploit the region, which will result in you having to wrestle with some typically tough moral quandaries. Obsidian has also used its crowdfunded $4 million to improve the look of the game with enhanced lighting and shadow effects, as well as a new dynamic weather system. We will have a lot more information on Deadfire very soon, and we’re hoping it lives up to the 92%-scoring original.

Spelunky 2

It exists and it’s coming to PC. That’s about all we know about the sequel to our favourite game of 2013. The announcement teaser reveals that you play as the offspring of Spelunky’s red-nosed hero, and it hints at a Moon level.

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2018 PrEvIEw

BATTlETEch

BiomUTAnT

hadowrun Returns developer Harebrained Schemes steps away from cyberpunk fantasy in favour of a different future; this one of an endless war between noble houses. In BattleTech, you play as a mercenary in charge of a squad of mechs, hired by the warring houses for a variety of missions. The turn-based combat draws upon BattleTech’s board game origins, but it’s the economic metagame that makes it feel fresh. As a merc, your job isn’t to win the war: it’s to make money. Sometimes that makes retreat a better option than getting your squad killed, or even coming home victorious but in need of repairs.

escribed by developer Experiment 101 as a “postapocalyptic kung-fu fable RPG”, Biomutant is an intriguing open world game starring a lead character who can recode their DNA to change their appearance and reveal new powers. You’ll be able to traverse its colourful setting via jet skis, mechs and hot air balloons, and it features combat that mixes martial arts and gunplay. As you travel the world you’ll meet martial arts masters who will teach you new moves, and the crumbling remains of the old world provide the radioactive soup you need to unlock abilities including telekinesis and levitation.

WARhAmmER: VERminTiDE ii

ni no KUni ii: REVEnAnT KingDom

he sequel to 2015’s surprise co-op hit, Vermintide II will offer yet more rodent riots for you and three of your friends to quell. In addition to the Skaven of the first game, the Left 4 Dead-style shooter will also pit you against the forces of Chaos – corrupted humanoid enemies made of tentacles and teeth. It’s not just the number of baddies that’s grown, however, but also the amount of things you’ll be able to do to them, thanks to the planned Steam Workshop support and a new contracts system that will offer special, one-off challenges with their own unique loot drops.

he first Ni no Kuni was a collaboration between legendary Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli and developer Level 5. But while the Spirited Away creator isn’t involved in the sequel, Revenant Kingdom still has that distinctive Ghibli feel. It’s a sweeping JRPG in the classic mould, with a world map, a wealth of quests and a battle system that makes use of timing-based attacks and elemental magic. And Ghibli fans will be delighted to hear that Joe Hisaishi, composer of some of the studio’s most memorable music, will be providing a new score for the sequel. We’re glad to see this one on PC.

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Shenmue III

This crowdfunded sequel to the ambitious, flawed and beloved Shenmue series is helmed by original creator Yu Suzuki. It continues the story of Ryo Hazuki, a young martial artist on a quest for revenge in the mountains of Guilin, China.

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outer WIldS

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The sun is going to explode in 20 minutes, and you have to decide what to do with your last moments. But when you die you get to start again, this time with the knowledge you learned in your previous life. Until you die again 20 minutes later.

G W e n t: t h e W I t c h e r card Game

The minigame you lost hours to in The Witcher III is now its own standalone title. But it’s been redesigned with competitive play in mind, and has more depth than its more limited Wild Hunt counterpart.

SunleSS SkIeS

Queen Victoria has packed up her things and run away to space – and she’s taken the British Empire with her. As a ship captain of this relocated realm, you’ll explore the heavens, finding strange, new stories and battling for survival.


The basic tactics should be familiar, but this sequel has a lot of new ideas.

FRozEn synAPsE 2 he original Frozen Synapse delighted with its deeply tactical simultaneous turn-based combat. For the sequel, developer Mode 7 is doing more than just adding new unit types – it’s also creating a new sandbox campaign. Frozen Synapse 2 is set in a procedurally generated city that’s under threat from a mysterious force. Within the city, various factions each have a different response to the force and its frequent incursions. Some want to study it, others to worship it, and others to harness it as a weapon.

And then there’s you. You’re free to do pretty much whatever you want. You can work for factions. You can work against factions. You can steal for them, kill for them and betray them. You can funnel money into a faction of bakers to fund their grudge against a faction of delivery workers. The breadth of options should lead to fascinating emergent stories. It’s an exciting progression of an X-COM: Apocalypse-style campaign, and it’s all underpinned by Frozen Synapse’s tried-and-tested combat system. This could be 2018’s best strategy game.

darkSIderS III

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Taking control of Fury, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, this chunky action game sees you hunting a group of demons called the Seven Deadly Sins. Fury uses whips and magic in combat and the setting is an apocalyptic Earth.

a Way out

Designed by Josef Fares, the Swedish filmmaker-turneddeveloper behind Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, this prison break story has a co-op focus. Its two heroes have to work together to break out of jail and escape to freedom.

This isometric adventure stars a fox who looks suspiciously like a certain green tunic-wearing Nintendo elf. But that’s fine. Developer Andrew Shouldice promises a wilderness and spooky ruins to explore, and terrible creatures to fight.

THE BrEAdTH OF OPTIOnS SHOuld lEAd TO SOME FASCInATInG STOrIES

tropIco 6

The never-ending strategy series, which sees you playing as a ruthless despot, is back, this time under the dictatorship of a new developer. New features include intimidating countries with commando units and building bridges.

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You know it’s a post-apocalyptic wasteland when dogs are broken.

mETRo EXoDUs he third Metro game looks like an exciting combination of the series’ atmospheric action, and a more STALKER-esque sandbox. It’s not open world, per se, but will feature nonlinear levels that offer what the development team is calling sandbox survival.

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Both previous Metro games have had sequences where you leave the relative safety of the underground to explore the deadly world above. But in Exodus, you’ll

the creW 2

Forget about stupid reality, where being in a car means you can’t, at the touch of a button, be in a plane (or a boat) instead. The Crew 2 takes open world racing to the next level by letting you switch between vehicle types on the fly.

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be trekking across Russia on a journey that will span multiple seasons. This last fact is particularly intriguing. Previously, the Metro series has been locked in a permanent winter, as befitting a bleak story about a nuclear hell. Exodus will let you experience Russia in post-apocalyptic summer. The changing environments will also bring new enemies and challenges. The sandbox sections will be interspersed with more linear sections. This is good news. Metro has some of the best action pacing outside of Half-Life, and it would be a shame to lose that entirely.

overland

A beautiful roguelike that takes the form of a roadtrip across a ruined continent – specifically North America, after it’s been overrun by insectoid monsters. Overland is a survival game that promises hard choices as you manage your limited resources.

vampyr

Exodus wIll lET yOu ExPErIEnCE ruSSIA In POSTAPOCAlyPTIC SuMMEr

From the creator of Life Is Strange comes a story about a newly turned vampiric doctor prowling London in the early 20th century. It’s ambitious: a branching RPG in which you’re free to kill any and every character in the game.

mIneko’S nIGht market

Mineko is starting a new life on a mysterious island full of cats. In Mineko’s Night Market, you’ll manage her daily activities – foraging, crafting, eating delicacies, discovering secrets and selling wares at the market.


2018 PrEvIEw

sysTEm shocK

FAR cRy 5

f you missed out on the first System Shock, this is your chance to play it with enhanced graphics and other improvements designed to make it more fun. And, as a bonus, it’s being written by legendary RPG scribe Chris Avellone. As well as improving the visuals, the maze-like levels are being redesigned (and expanded) too, although developer Night Dive is keen to stay faithful to the feel and flow of the game it’s based on. They consider it a ‘faithful reboot’ rather than a remaster, which is good news for anyone who’s tried and failed to get into the increasingly archaic original.

doomsday cult has taken over a slice of rural Montana, and it’s your job to drive them out. But thousands of zealot followers, and a variety of aggressive wildlife, will do their best to stop you as you explore a vast, varied open world by land, sea, and air. This time, rather than play as a prescribed character like Far Cry 3’s Jason Brody, you create your own. You’re a rookie deputy sheriff who finds themselves attracting the attention of the Father, the cult’s eccentric leader. And with the roads blocked and no phone signal to speak off, your only hope of escape is taking him and his devoted lieutenants down.

innERsPAcE

shAPE oF ThE WoRlD

nnerSpace offers the chance to explore a universe of inside-out planets. Instead of trotting around on the outside surface of a globe, you’ll be flying around the spaces within or using your little glider to dive into the oceans which bound those inner skies. The purpose of your journey is to act as cartographer, charting the strange territory and collecting relics of extinct civilisations, gradually poking into the secrets of the Inverse as you swoop and soar. Some of those secrets will also unlock new airframes, giving unique abilities to aid in your exploration.

hape of the World lets you explore and play with a dreamy landscape which changes in response to your actions. In terms of the mood, it offers a similar environmental delight as you’d find in Proteus, although with a very different aesthetic. You find yourself wandering towards landmarks, planting seeds, flying through the tree canopy, chasing creatures, speeding along undulating walkways, always wondering,“What’s over there?” And everywhere you go, seemingly barren terrain rises up to meet and engulf you with life.

I

I

me tal Ge ar SurvIve

This is a co-op survival game in which you and your friends fight against zombies with crystalline heads. An odd choice for Konami’s first Metal Gear after Hideo Kojima’s exit, perhaps, but Samuel enjoyed what he played at last year’s E3.

SuBnautIca

Crash-landing on an alien waterworld, you have to use the tools in your escape pod to create a new life for yourself. Build submersibles and underwater bases, and harvest bizarre sealife to craft food and other life-saving supplies.

A

S

a place For the unWIllInG

Think The Last Express set in a city. A Place for the Unwilling is an adventure game in which you have 21 days to uncover the mystery of your friend’s suicide. What you choose to do – and when – is crucial.

anno 1800

After some dalliances with futuristic colony creation, the series goes back to the past for Anno 1800. It’s the dawn of the industrial age, and you’ll need to balance trade, politics and rapid technological growth as you work to build a lasting empire.

February 2018

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2018 PrEvIEw

WARgRooVE

sURViVing mARs

ostalgia for the simplified turn-based tactics games of the recent past (think Advance Wars) has led Starbound dev, Chucklefish, to revisit the genre with Wargroove. More than a dozen commanders, each with their own campaign for you to explore if you fancy some singleplayer, can lead knights, archers and an array of other specialised units into battle. Beyond the bloodshed you’d expect from armed warfare, there’s gold to manage, buildings to capture and occupy, and territory to conquer. Chucklefish is icing this particular cake with charming visuals, extensive mod tools and plenty of scope for custom campaigns.

eveloped by the team behind Tropico 3 through to Tropico 5, this science fiction city builder sees you colonising Mars. Claim a plot of land on the Red Planet and grow your colony from a small settlement to an off-world metropolis. As well as managing your colony, you’ll also have to see to the individual needs of your colonists. If you work your scientists too hard, they might end up drinking their sorrows away in the local bar and becoming alcoholics. And to keep things interesting, your research tree will be randomised every time you play, meaning no two games of Surviving Mars will ever be the same.

oRi AnD ThE Will oF ThE WisPs

JURAssic WoRlD EVolUTion

ri and the Blind Forest married Studio Ghibli-style visuals with rock-solid platforming for a truly stunning experience. Ori and the Will of the Wisps appears to offer more of that melancholic fantasy world, potentially set in the immediate aftermath of the first game. With details thin on the ground at the time of writing, we’re left to predict another tight Metroidvania platformer starring the cat-like Ori and, perhaps, Ku, the little indigo-coloured owlet from the E3 teaser trailer. Expect at least one involuntary bout of uncontrollable sobbing judging by the emotional tenor of said trailer.

theme park management sim with the added danger of dinosaurs. It’s being developed by Frontier, creator of Elite Dangerous, and will see you following in the footsteps of John Hammond as you try and build the world’s greatest dinosaur-themed amusement park. And, like the films, there’s the constant threat of something going wrong. You’ll be able to build your park across different islands in the series’ famous Muertes Archipelago, and if the dinosaurs don’t cause chaos, the unpredictable weather will. The last thing you want in a park full of dinos is a storm knocking down a wall or uprooting an electric fence.

n

O

kInGdom come: delIverance

This medieval RPG forgoes fantasy in favour of a tale of war and corruption in the Holy Roman Empire. You play as a blacksmith’s son on a quest of revenge – navigating this world with a mix diplomacy and force.

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February 2018

WytchWood

A crafting adventure set in a world of folklore and fairytale. As the witch of the woods, you get to grow eerie ingredients for your concoctions and use the resulting spells and curses to mete out allegorical justice to the selfish and wicked.

GrIFtlandS

d

A

An RPG about negotiation – for money, loyalty and sometimes for your life – as you journey through a world full of lucrative opportunities. There are plenty of ways to resolve each problem, depending on how morally flexible you want to be.

FInal FantaSy X v

There’s some stuff about kingdoms and crystals and gods – this is a Final Fantasy game, after all. But at its heart Final Fantasy XV is a road trip, as four lads travel the country to meet new people, hunt dangerous monsters and take selfies.


“Now, my brothers, let us conquer these sacred lands of Didcot.”

A ToTAl WAR sAgA: ThRonEs oF BRiTAnniA t’s not a new historical Total War, but it’s close. Total War Saga is Creative Assembly’s spin-off series, which focuses in on a specific time and place. For the first game, Thrones of Britannia, the time is 878AD and the place is the British Isles. Alfred the Great has repelled the Viking invasion at the battle of Edington, but Norse warlords have settled across the country. As one of ten factions, you’ll sign treaties, build settlements and, of course, wage war to claim the Isles.

As usual with the main Total War series, the action will be a mix of turn-based strategy and real-time battles. The difference for Total War Saga is that the specificity of the setting gives Creative Assembly the opportunity to create an incredibly detailed campaign map. Its version of the British Isles will, according to the marketing, be 23 times bigger than the version of the British Isles that appeared in Total War: Attila. The increased detail means, for example, that Creative Assembly can use accurate height data in its battlefields.

monSter hunter World

untItled GooSe Game

I

The first Monster Hunter game to be released on PC in the West. World is an action RPG about slaying big monsters, and using their materials to secure better equipment to help tackle even bigger monsters.

FroStpunk

From the creator of This War Is Mine comes Frostpunk, a city-building game about morality and survival. You must manage the infrastructure and inhabitants of a steam-powered city that’s all that protects its citizens from a frozen world.

You are a terrible goose, causing misery for a groundskeeper in this slapstick game of mischief. Move objects, hide in bushes and honk to complete a checklist of antisocial activities, from stealing the old man’s keys to having a picnic.

THE ACTIOn wIll BE A MIx OF Turn-BASEd And rEAl-TIME BATTlES

mount & Blade: Bannerlord

The much anticipated sequel to Mount & Blade: Warband, Bannerlord smushes RPG, strategy and economic management together and pours the resulting paste into a big medieval sandbox.

February 2018

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45


F E at u r E Ooblets

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February 2018


Growing the gorgeous farm battler, OOblets. By Philippa Warr

oblets is beautiful. It’s billed as a game somewhere between Harvest Moon, Pokémon and Animal Crossing, so a farm builder and a battler where you make a home and build a squad of creatures – the titular ooblets. It’s not playable yet

O

but gifs and screenshots from development keep popping up, offering glimpses of cute critters and bright, happy scenes. I’m too curious to wait for a hands-on so I email Glumberland – the tiny team of Rebecca Cordingley and Ben Wasser – to find out how the game is progressing. February 2018

47


F E at u r E Ooblets To explain how work on the game divides up, Rebecca is the sole programmer and main artist for Ooblets. “95% of what you’re seeing in the game is her work,” says Wasser. His own role is as game designer, writer and “person who bugs Rebecca to make gifs (aka our entire marketing strategy)”. The idea for Ooblets came from a desire to play a farming game with more RPG elements. “We had an idea that you could tie things like farm production to the requirements for unlocking creature moves,” explains Wasser. “Eventually we came up with more and more ways to weave everything together, like that you plant ooblet seeds to grow ooblets instead of capturing them in the wild and that location progression is tied to both battles and getting resources together.” Those ooblets include Shrumbo, a cheery pot-bellied fungus with a yellow cap, and Clickyclaws, a bell-shaped grump. Those are perhaps the best-known of the ooblets but I have a soft spot for Radlad, a spindly radish topped with a green leaf, and Dumbirb, a bird creature with a big blue head. The games which inspired Ooblets tend to have their own tight systems but tying those elements together, getting them to feed into one another, means opening them up a bit, adding a bit more freedom or ‘give’ to the experience. In terms of how that manifests in the game right now, Wasser says that the player will split their time farming, interacting with townspeople, exploring Oob, building a little team of ooblets, and battling “in a friendly way”. To my mind there’s a common thread of cultivation there, either with farm crops, with relationships or with small creatures. “When we started, not much of the game was comparable to Animal Crossing, but over time we’ve embraced a lot more of the customisation and collection aspects,” says Wasser. “There’s an element of escapism in farming, building and town-based games that we’re drawn to. Building out the world of Oob has been really fun and we want players to feel like they’re a part of both the existing world and also its development.

Focal points

Given that emphasis on self-directed play, I ask what happens if you want to focus on farming or on training ooblets. Could you treat Ooblets entirely as a farming game? Or as a battler if crops aren’t your thing? “It’s a difficult balance between providing a core progression, connecting the gameplay elements and letting people play their own way,” says Wasser. “We’re aiming to let people focus on what they like best, but the general progress is tied to a mixture of all aspects of the game. Since it’s a laid-back game, we’re hoping that the progression won’t be ‘core’ to the gameplay. “There are parts of the game that you’ll need to participate in to advance, like farming and battling, but there are ways to make different elements more or less challenging for yourself. We’re treating the overarching story as secondary to the mechanics, so progression through the game should be more about exploring and advancing at your own pace than feeling rushed to complete the game.” Peering a bit closer at the farming, I remember that automated processes were mentioned a while ago. I mention automated farms to Wasser and he explains how that idea has been rejigged. There is still a degree of automation but not to the extent of industrial farming. “In an ideal scenario, any automation that the player sets up will enable them to spend more time doing other stuff in the game,” he says. “We actually have had to scale back a lot of our plans for farm automation, so it might not be as much of a balancing act anyway. At one point I had imagined a sort of sprawling Factorio-inspired farm automation progression, but as our release window swiftly approaches things like that have been pushed further and further towards the chopping block.” Farming and town-building games, like Animal Crossing, have been part of my gaming library for years so the talk of chilled out planting and progressing has the pull of cosy familiarity. Those games tend to be where I hide out from real world stressors. Battlers are less familiar territory. I managed to be

there’s a common thread of cultivation

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February 2018

TOP: You can also customise your house with furniture and decor options. ABOVE: A little troupe of ooblets trailing along behind. ABOVE RIGHT: Farming lets you grow ooblets as well as food to feed your little friends.


exactly the wrong age to get properly captivated by Pokémon, preferring the cartoon to the game itself. But as Wasser explains that part of Ooblets we end up in the more familiar RPG language of tanks and healers instead of evolutions and elements. “The plan is that each ooblet has a functional type, ranging from healers to tanks to weirder things like something I wrote down called a ‘targeted defensive mage’,” he says. “They won’t be called names like that in-game and likely won’t even have categories since there will probably only be one or two ooblets of each type. “Your party can form battle teams of up to three ooblets that you’ll pick in relation to your opponent’s team. The current system lets you choose just one move per turn (across your entire team, not for each ooblet), and the moves have cooldowns. You’ll be using status effects, buffs and debuffs along with attacks and healing moves to provide strategy to everything. From what we’ve implemented so far, it’s promising, but we’ll see if it all works out and make changes to make it as fun as we can.”

cute combat

Ooblets is currently intended as a single-player game so those battles are not going to be versus real-life friends, but against non-player characters. The structure of the game there is more fluid at the moment – a work-inprogress with a basic outline. “The current plan is to structure difficulty along the physical locations you’re exploring,” says Cordingley. “But plans have been known to change.” The structure of battles and the way difficulty works also depends on what happens after a player has finished the meat of the game. “We’ll probably need to work out some sort of adaptive battle difficulty curve in some part of the game eventually to let people continue to have compelling battles after they’ve completed the main progression and want to keep

OOblet entOurage Here’s a peek at the battle buddies you can grow and gather

Bristlebud

chickadingding

clickyclaws

derble

dooziedug

dumbirb

fleeble

fripp

Glanter

Gloopylonglegs

Grebun

Gullysplot

lumpstump

marshling

moogy

Pantsabear

Petula

Plob

radlad

shrumbo

snurfler

tamlin

unnyhunny

Whirlitzer

Wigglewip

February 2018

49


levelling up their ooblets, but we honestly haven’t gotten that far yet in development,” says Cordingley. The ooblets and your player character both reside on Oob, rather than Earth, and the setting is a mixture of country village and curious alien life. When looking through gifs of character selection it was a nice surprise to note that character creation doesn’t ask you to pick a gender, you just apply the outfits, hair and other options that you fancy to a base model and create a sense of your character that way. I was curious as to where else Glumberland might be quietly setting aside or reassessing the standard videogame approach. “We’ve set out to throw as many standard concepts out the window as we can,” says Wasser. “Ooblets doesn’t take place on Earth, so we’ve got a lot of freedom to build a society and world around our own whims and interests. There’s no way to get around all the influences of society and reality, so we try to weave them in from an outsider perspective and mess with them subtly where we can. “We also don’t make any super strict rules for ourselves,” Wasser continues. “People ask us whether ooblets are plant-based since they’re grown from seeds in the ground, and the answer is that sometimes they’re based off plants, sometimes they’re based off jellyfish, and sometimes they’re just bears wearing pants. In everything we do in Ooblets, we’re free to infuse our own random interests and dumb ideas, and I think that’s what a lot of people like about it.” One thought I keep drifting back to with Ooblets is inextricably linked to how often it pops up in my timeline on Twitter or on my more general internet travels. The cute gifs and colourful screenshots lend themselves incredibly well to being shared. Cordingley cites influences including The Wind Waker, Steven Universe, Gravity Falls, Adventure Time and Studio Ghibli – “Anything where we’re immersed in these really cheerful, 50

February 2018

cosy, not-quite-Earth worlds makes us feel good, and that’s something that we want to translate to Ooblets.” Excitement and buzz can also breed less salubrious conditions for a game. One potential problem I’ve seen other projects deal with is feature creep as more and more people weigh in with opinions or crowdfunding cash.

grand designs

With Ooblets specifically, the pitch knits the systems of Animal Crossing, Harvest Moon and Pokémon together, mostly via the work of one person. That means there were so many elements in play from an early stage. From my outsider perspective it’s

actually less about feature creep and more about how you keep the game to a manageable scale from the start. “We don’t!” is Wasser’s unexpected answer. “This game is way too big for such a small team, and the only reason we’ve gotten so far along on it is Rebecca’s insane abilities and speed at programming and art. Before we started working on the game, we knew it was way bigger than we were prepared to make for our first game, but the reactions we got to it and the opportunities that opened up made it something that we just had to do.” That’s not to say the team aren’t mindful of what’s actually possible: “We’ve had to cut a lot of things we would have liked (like co-op) for the

Fighting Fungi Take a closer look at Shrumbo’s move set bOOst rOOst

Freeze FrOOm

gentle annOy

Crumble CrOp

description: Three ego boost target: Any ally cooldown: none

description: Four ego damage target: Any opponent cooldown: Two turns

description: Gives target stage fright for two turns target: Any opponent cooldown: Three turns

description: Clears all positive and negative status effects target: All opponents cooldown: Four turns


F E at u r E Ooblets sake of actually finishing the game some time this century, but it’s still a monumental task.” Cordingley has been working at the centre of that attention. “It’s been a little distracting and overwhelming but it’s also probably what has made it possible for us to make the game,” she says. “We have the added pressure of having to keep people interested and not being old news, which I think isn’t too hard, in theory, but when you’re trying to also actively make the game, communication and marketing adds a lot of overhead.” With that in mind, Ooblets has been a little quieter of late. “We’ve been frantically trying to get systemscomplete,” says Cordingley. “I’m hoping we’ll have more time soon to get back to inundating the internet with gifs.” Another issue popularity can bring is that of managing fans’ expectations so they don’t end up excited for a wildly divergent imagined game – a Bizarro Ooblets of sorts. This is where Cordingley and Wasser are trying to use online platforms both to create transparency about what Ooblets is, and to forge a connection with the people interested in playing. “We try to be as open as possible with development and our plans, and make it easy for people to talk to us directly on things like Discord, Patreon, and Twitter,” says Cordingley. “We try to use our dev vlogs to show people what we’re actually like in person (for better or worse) so they’ll know we’re just a

couple humans and not just a means to the end of playing a game. “It’s really easy to forget that there are people doing their best at stuff behind the scenes of everything, so the more we can keep the game’s news and progress in our own voice, the more people will hopefully think of Ooblets as Rebecca and Ben’s game and less like some faceless commercial product that they want to tear apart at the first opportunity.” When talking about Ooblets there’s another game which comes up a lot: Stardew Valley. I never quite clicked with Stardew Valley and am secretly thankful because it’s the sort of game I can end up pouring hundreds of hours into. But between Stardew Valley, the various Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon games, the mobile and handheld Pokémon titles of various flavours – even the evolutionary cultivation game from Harvest Moon’s Yasuhiro Wada, Birthdays the Beginning – the space Ooblets is entering isn’t so much crowded as replete with games which already feel like ‘home’ to players. Cordingley is optimistic that Ooblets can stand out, and sees the benefit of more attention being paid to that space. “I think in most cases it helps us that more people are interested in these sorts of games,” she says. “Ooblets has a lot of personality and unique attributes that we think will set it apart in people’s minds. Hopefully we can express that enough before release to get people to give it a chance.”

“it’s Been a little distractinG and overWhelminG”

TOP: Bright, cosy spaces like this exemplify the general mood of Ooblets – cheery and friendly. RIGHT: You can sell excess crops to fellow villagers by setting up a little shop.

February 2018

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Peeking into the sketchbooks of five fantastic indie artists. By Philippa Warr

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GROWBOT Glorious colours and messy sketchbooks rowbot is the first game by illustrator Lisa Evans. A point-and-click adventure about a robot saving her home from a dark crystalline force, Growbot takes the adorable fantasy worlds of Evans’ static art and translates them into a space station you can play with, full of plants and aliens. “I love creating detailed images, the kind where you can discover little hidden characters and subplots,” says Evans. “Part of the incentive to make a game was to indulge in this by allowing players to click around the images and explore them a lot more deeply.” Although there’s a shared aesthetic between her illustrations and her game, the move from book spreads to playable spaces meant Evans had to rethink how someone interacts with the scene. “When I’m designing a spread for a children’s book, my focus is on how the reader’s eye will move across the page, how the image will tell part of the story, and how it will work with the text. In Growbot, I’m thinking about the player’s movement, how it feels to move around a scene, how I can draw attention to interactive elements and puzzle solutions, and how I can work around the UI and different screen resolutions.” Growbot started life as four images which now serve as the backdrop for the first four rooms in the game. “It was only after I’d finished those images that I even started up Unity for the first time and started trying to get the artwork in the game,” she says. “I’m visually motivated, so it helped to have near-finished artwork as motivation during those early

1. The images are packed with beautiful detail, texture and colour. 2. Growbot started life as Zenbot, so earlier images show a different design for main character, Nara. 3. A sketched growbot design contrasts with the in-game version. 4. Evans’ sketchbooks are brim with ideas – this one is a cloud machine.

weeks struggling with collision paths and walk cycles and cameras and every single element of making it into something interactive.” While creating the elements of the game there’s a lot of iteration on paper. “I keep a lot of messy sketchbooks,” she says. “I draw thumbnails of a scene or puzzle over and over until something decent takes form, it can take a long time. I usually then leave the design for a while to let my unconscious work on it. If I’m lucky, when I come back I can develop the design further. “I think time helps in creative processes. The thumbnails help a lot,

too, as they remove the focus from trying to make something pretty and onto shape, function and design.” Aside from the music, Growbot is a solo project. “I love the freedom that comes from doing things myself,” explains Evans. “Working in print for so long, the work I was creating was always for a company, a publisher, an art director and working in games has given me the opportunity to create essentially my dream project. That’s so rare and I feel extremely lucky to be able to work on it.” And on the flip side? “The challenges are the same as always: money and time!“

Evans had to rEthink how somEonE intEracts with thE scEnE

3

4

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The hotel lobby, complete with signage and walls.

THE NORWOOD SUITE A D&D-style map expands into a surreal world orking under the name Cosmo D, Greg Heffernan creates rich, surreal spaces full of oddities which reward your attention and exploration. Off-Peak and The Norwood Suite are both densely packed with characters and objects to consider but never spill into feeling crowded. The overall effect is that of a finely balanced collage. The Norwood Suite is focused around internationally-celebrated pianist Peter Norwood who, you discover, vanished in 1983, leaving his mansion to be transformed into an odd hotel. It’s this building which you explore, teasing out its secrets and enjoying how the cocktail of influences (from urban romanticism of Wong Kar-wai, and the ‘living buildings’ and strange characters of early Jeunet and Caro movies) has come together. “My first thought was to make this hotel feel like a big, cosy hunting lodge, at once familiar and relatable,” says Heffernan. “Then I appropriated mundane hotel features, like the bar, sitting rooms, relaxation couches and identifiable rooms, like a meeting hall, kitchen, ballroom/theatre, and dining room.” Logical layouts gradually developed into weirder room arrangements the further into development Heffernan got. For example, a set of giant bowling pins populate what was a straightforward dining room, acting as a puzzle clue, but also playing Norwood’s theme as a sound sculpture you can bump into. “It all started with a graph map, not unlike what someone would

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1. The early map of the ground floor showing how the hotel first fit together. 2. A peep at the hotel model showing an exterior view. In the game it nestles at the top of a winding road past giant heads and a turtle swimming through a tunnel.

draw in a D&D campaign,” says Heffernan. The outline of that space is the one sketch Heffernan sends me – the rest of the images offer glimpses of how the layering and refining process works. “From there, I whiteboxed the game world and slowly kept adding/ deleting details.” One of the big challenges for Heffernan was knowing when to fill space and when to leave it blank. “At first everything was a lot more open but that openness made the hotel feel

overwhelming,” says Heffernan. “Robert Yang encouraged me to temper my wilder impulses, dial back the lighting, carve up the lobby with walls, create multilayered floors.” One of the challenges of art in independent games is related to this last point – the risk of losing yourself down a rabbit hole. Self-restraint is vital. “That’s why working independently, it’s good to have people to bounce ideas off, playtest and give unfiltered feedback.”

“my first thought was to makE this hotEl fEEl likE a big, cosy lodgE”

1

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1

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GOROGOA Architectural motifs repeat and connect rior to its December release, Gorogoa had been in development longer than I’d been working as a games journalist. It’s a tile-based puzzle story, but that description doesn’t do the intricacy and balance of the game justice – with each repositioned tile you create new scenes which interweave and interact to move your character along.

design. They’re beautiful to look through. Some remind me of classical architecture reference folios with archways laid out clearly and cleanly next to complex decorative motifs. Others are figure studies in poses reminiscent of graveyard statues. In order for the scenes to flow into one another, many of these motifs serve dual or even triple purposes. Chimney pots become the bases of towers as you realign the corresponding picture tiles. A doorway which previously offered an exit from a cupboard becomes an entrance to a rooftop.

many motifs sErvE dual or EvEn triplE purposEs

The game started life as an interactive comic, says designer Jason Roberts, “Then it evolved in my mind and became somehow crossed with a card game, maybe because cards can also be pictures inside a rectangular frame – like loose comic panels. “What if the panels in a comic were the cards or tiles used in a game? What if instead of the panels being static images, each was an interactive scene, each like a separate window running its own game? What if the scenes on the cards could escape their frames, so that aligning or stacking cards would cause the images on them to flow together?” Most of this planning happened in Roberts’ head. The sketches crept in once he had settled on the current

1. Intricate patterns fit the multiple purposes of objects. 2. The more surreal and fantastical sketches sit alongside simpler elements. 3. A train passenger takes on the look of a classical statue. 4. The panels coalesce as details match up then diverge again.

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“The last puzzle I designed, and the one freshest in my mind, involves a rock that falls through multiple scenes like a pachinko machine,” says Roberts. “I thought it was a simple concept for a puzzle, but making the scenes fit together seamlessly while also feeling like organic parts of the world was very challenging. “The lighting, shapes and colours had to match across scenes, some of which were interiors and some exteriors, some small in scale and some huge. In order to make everything align I had to invent narrative and cultural justifications for each connecting part of the scene. I added scaffolding and banners to the outside of a building to make it fit better with another scene and provide visual clues, but there had to be a reason for those elements. A museum damaged in a war, reopening while still under repairs.” He adds, “It’s not uncommon for the visual problem of designing a puzzle to push back into the story and design of the world.”

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F E AT U R E Indie artwork

HOLLOW KNIGHT Sketching a surreal insect wonderland he beautiful gloom of Team Cherry’s subterranean metroidvania, Hollow Knight, is rooted in lead artist Ari Gibson’s animation work. You’ll find a similar, dusky colour palette in Gibson’s jazz noir short film, The Cat Piano, and a music video he made for The Audreys’ track Sometimes The Stars offers echoes of the game’s trams, fog and Victorian lamp posts. The end result is what Gibson describes as “a surreal insect wonderland”. Surprisingly, given the richness of Hollow Knight’s world, the main intent was that the art be quick. “We’re overflowing with stories and ideas and we want to create them all,” explains Gibson. “Keeping the art simple means we can say, ‘Yes!’ to all the fun and crazy concepts that hit us along the way, especially when so

many of the best ideas appear mid-development.” With that speed in mind, there isn’t supposed to be a big change from the designs in Gibson’s gorgeous sketchbooks to the finished game assets. “No fancy concept art – no time!” he says. ”No long iterative processes. Our boss design discussions go for about 10-15mins max, then we’re off and making!” He shares a visual discussion of the first boss you encounter – a beefy grump called the False Knight. You can see glimpses of the discussion on the opposite page. “William [Pellen – the other half of Team Cherry] and I both draw out the basic ideas, then start to create the final character. Our sketches are messy, and often terrible, but they get the ideas out quickly. You then just squint a bit at the drawings to come up with the final look in your head.” Not everything came as quickly, though. “There’s a lush corner of the

A sketch and finished version of a Hollow Knight promo image. Main details are fixed early on.

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game’s world, called Greenpath,” says Gibson. “It’s quite a nice space now, but for the longest time it was just too green! Oppressively green. I couldn’t work out how to fix it. I spent far too long creating new enemies, packing them in there, thinking the variety would help the green fatigue. “Eventually, after listening to me complaining at length, William came up with a simple solution: Tint the area’s fog blue. That one-minute change fixed the whole thing. More colour variance; much easier on the eyes. Players quite enjoy it now, so good save by William!” Given Team Cherry is a two-person team (with input from a couple of collaborators) ‘art’ isn’t a distinct role. “William and I design, doodle and conceive everything together. After that, we split the remaining processes,” explains Gibson. “It’s quite hard to speak about art in isolation from our other tasks. In our practice, everything is just one big knot of ‘game development’. Creating the look of an NPC; building a scene around that character; writing its

dialogue; recording a voice. It’s all one process from idea to finish, with everything happening in tandem.” He adds, “Maybe it’s more accurate to say: ‘There’s art and creativity in almost every process of game making.’” That sentiment is reflected in the games that Team Cherry is excited by. “Many of the games that excite us the most have the simplest art. Undertale is a great recent example, as is Stardew Valley. Equally, Cuphead is a great game with impressive art, but Cuphead is exciting because beyond the art it also plays darn well.” Gibson is keen to point out that being an independent developer doesn’t necessarily make for more interesting artwork. “Many published games from 2017 have fresh, fantastic styles, so the publisher-studio relationship doesn’t obviously diminish artistic quality. Narratively, things may be different though. Indies seem free to explore a much broader range of stories and themes, whereas large publishers really, really dig science fiction and fantasy.” As for its own inspirations, Team Cherry cites gaming classics like Zelda, Castlevania, Mega Man, Super Mario and others as influential, but ideas also comes from further afield. “Both William and I read those Dune books whilst making the game (the fourth book is about a giant wormman, and we desperately wanted to read about that! It was exactly as absurd and entertaining as you’d expect). “In children’s books, I remember that Dark Is Rising series being pretty entrancing – particularly that first book. Seaside settings are just the best.” He adds, “I’m also quite partial to the Rupert Bear stories. Great adventures and great fashion sense, for a bear.”

“many of thE gamEs that ExcitE us thE most havE thE simplEst art”

1. Early ideas for the City of Tears (left) and the final level style (right). 2. The Distant Village is largely unchanged in its final form. 3. Excerpts of Gibson and Pellen’s False Knight visual discussion.

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SACRAMENTO

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A sojourn into a living sketchbook elphine Fourneau’s Sacramento offers players a beautiful visit to a vivid, watercolour world – what she describes as “a living sketchbook, in which you can visit strange places distorted by memory”. The inspiration came directly from a watercolour drawing Fourneau made while spending two days on a train travelling across the USA from Chicago to San Francisco.

can’t really remember any details because I couldn’t spend enough time in each place to notice them. In San Francisco, we also visited the conservatory of flowers, which was a very dream-like experience.” After returning home the mood of a particular drawing, done on the train not far from Sacramento, stood out. From there, Fourneau started to play around in Unity, “trying to give life to these memories”. Fourneau’s output covers a broad range, but here she was focusing on specific qualities of watercolour – a feeling of lightness and a chance to play with blank spaces. “I like when games make use of traditional art techniques and even

“i likE whEn gamEs makE usE of traditional art tEchniquEs”

“I spent time chilling, looking at the various landscapes, reading, doing watercolors,” she remembers. “I now only have fuzzy memories about the trip and the different stops we did. I

1. The field of pinwheels before dusk sets in. 2. A pinwheel plant as it appears in Fourneau’s sketches. 3. The vivid greens make lily pads stand out in this image and the game. 4. As the day progresses the world becomes more saturated with colour.

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more generally the idea of erasing borders between the different fields of creation,” she says. “Then, I usually like to work with a limited color palette, it makes the work easier and the overall look of a project more consistent. So pretty quickly I chose this analogous colour scheme from blue to purple/pink. I felt comfortable with it, and it was pretty fitting to reach the dreamy/ fuzzy look I was looking for.” Fourneau prefers to work quickly, encouraging herself with results rather than lingering. In Sacramento, this manifested as a series of separate pictures which were gradually integrated into the main scene. “The game really has this ‘collection’ of memories structure, with all these independent places. At the beginning the space was quite empty, but I kept filling small areas one after another, kinda like I would do with my sketchbook!” I ask whether she has a favourite route through the space. “I like to start by visiting the greenhouse to be sure I don’t miss it before it closes. Then I usually go through the waterfalls and stare at the fishes for a few seconds. I like to finish the game on the beach with all the pinwheels and the sunset.”

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This is the watercolour sketch which inspired the whole game. The restricted colour palette you see here is maintained across Sacramento.

The tree shapes in this sketch populate the arrival area in the game.

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F E at u r E

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F E at u r E

The history of

ION STORM P A R T

I I

Powered by a singular vision, Ion Storm AUStIn created one of the best games of all time. But the story almost turned out very differently. By Rick Lane

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F E at u r E The History of Ion Storm

J

ordan Thomas was working as a script doctor at Psygnosis when he heard that Ion Storm Austin was hiring. The studio had just released Deus Ex, and was expanding from one development team to two. “They were hiring a cabal of the very best game designers in the world,” Thomas says. He wanted to be one of them. There was one problem: Thomas had little game design experience. So he created an Unreal Engine level, designed to resemble a mission from Thief, and sent it to Ion Storm. The studio was impressed and granted him an interview, but didn’t give him a job. “I think they wisely realised that my confidence did not match my physical experience,” Thomas says. He was told to get some. Thomas got a job working for Aspyr on the PC videogame tie-in for Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, remaining there for seven months. When that project shipped in late 2001, he applied to Ion Storm Austin again and was granted another interview. The process commenced with a series of phone interviews that included studio head Warren Spector and the design lead of Thief: Deadly Shadows, Randy Smith. “I had placed massive flash cards on the wall with all of these terms which I had looked up and dissected with interviews from all of them, trying to understand the specific Looking Glass language that they were all so steeped in,” Thomas says. “So this very spartan apartment that I was in at the time was covered in reference as large as I could make it so that while walking around on the phone I could say like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right, I have something smart to say about that random-ass word.’” The phone interviews were followed by a written test, in which Thomas had to provide a design document for a level. Thomas pitched a level set in a spooky asylum, and Ion Storm liked it. The company flew Thomas out for another interview, where he was assessed again by Spector and Randy Smith. Following this were several design tests, from sketching out a level blueprint on a whiteboard, to designing a system for a game that wasn’t to Thomas’s tastes, such as “a system for a game that is based on doing taxes for a person who has never done them before”. This was what it took to become employed at Ion Storm Austin. “I never felt so tested in my life,” Thomas says. He got the job, and was assigned to work on Thief: Deadly Shadows – the third and final game from what was widely considered the best development studio in the world at the time. Internally, however, Ion Storm Austin had always been a house of cards, where wild ambition and high-minded ideas battled against the harsh realities 62

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of game development. By the time Thomas joined the studio, the cards were already tumbling.

The FiFTh ParTner

Had it not been for the intervention of John Romero, Deus Ex would have become a Command & Conquer game. In 1997, Warren Spector left Looking Glass “when I realised the continued existence of the Austin Studio was going to jeopardise the existence of Looking Glass overall”. Despite creating Thief and System Shock, Looking Glass was struggling and could no longer sustain a second studio so far removed from its original office in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “I didn’t want to be responsible for that,” says Spector. “I told Paul Neurath, the founder of Looking Glass, that I’d be fine. I’ll find another deal.” Spector took with him a design document he’d been toying with since his days at Origin Systems. The working title was ‘Troubleshooter’. “I wanted to make a game where players got to solve problems the way they wanted to. Fighting, sneaking, talking, doing whatever they wanted,” Spector says. “And so I dusted that off, and kind of adapted it to a Command & Conquer setting and was going to do the Command & Conquer RPG. I was close to signing a contract when I got a call from John Romero.” Romero asked Spector to join Ion Storm as its fifth partner (the other four being Romero, Tom Hall, Todd Porter, and Jerry O’Flaherty). “I really wanted him to join Ion Storm so he could make the game of his dreams. It didn’t matter to me what kind of game it was because it was going to be great – it’s Warren,” says Romero. Spector replied, “It’s too late, I can’t, I’m working on this Command & Conquer thing.” Romero told him not to sign anything. He said he would make the 200-mile drive from Dallas to Austin and change Spector’s mind. This is exactly what he did. “I told him he could hire a team, make whatever he likes, have as much money as it took, and take as long as he needed,” Romero says. It was an offer Spector couldn’t refuse. But he had a condition. He would join Ion Storm as the fifth partner, but he refused to work in Dallas. In fact, he refused to work anywhere but Austin. “In Texas there’s four major cities. There’s Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, and the only one I would ever consider living in is Austin,” Spector says. “When [Romero] came down that day to try to convince me, part of the deal was, I’m not moving, I’m not going to work in Dallas, and he was okay with that.”

GaTherinG The STorm

With Romero’s support, Spector began building the Ion Storm Austin studio. The initial team comprised six members, all of whom Spector transferred from Looking Glass Austin. This included Chris Norden, who was lead programmer and eventually assistant director of Deus Ex. In the early days, even before taking on those two roles, he wore multiple hats at the studio. “I guess, in today’s terms, I would’ve been the CTO,” says Norden. “I was also part-HR. We had to do hiring, I had to do reviews. I had to set up the IT infrastructure. I had to hire contractors, I had to do security. I mean, you name it and I did it.” Meanwhile, Spector was beginning to work on the paper document for Deus Ex. Spector’s concept of a game where you can choose from fighting, stealth, hacking and talking to create solutions to problems is a well-told story. But what was the clarifying moment when the Troubleshooter design document turned into Deus Ex? “On all of my projects, I think about what questions do I want the game to ask?” Spector says. “And the first one that came to mind for me on what became Deus Ex was, ‘What would happen if you


01 The third game in the Thief trilogy, Deadly Shadows concluded the story of Garrett. 02 Deadly Shadows introduced an openly traversable city between the game’s main missions. 03 Ion Storm’s Thief employed real-time shadow rendering. 04 Warren Spector enjoys a drink at E3 1999.

“I told hIm he could hIre a team [and] make whatever he lIkes” 01

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F E at u r E The History of the Ion Storm

every game Ion storm made had engIne problems

01 The Deus Ex booth at E3 1999. 02 Deus Ex’s cyberpunk-infused cityscapes were wildly innovative at the time.

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03 Deus Ex let you talk to any character in the world, although not all of them had much to say to you.


F E at u r E The History of Ion Storm

compete with each other. Harvey Smith was lead designer of what Spector thought of as the Looking Glass design team, while another designer named Bob White led what Spector termed the Ultima roleplaying team. “So I had this immersive simulation group and this traditional roleplaying group,” Spector says, “and I was standing in the middle thinking, ‘I can not just mediate, I can actually exploit the tension between those two to come up with something completely new.’ Something that wasn’t pure Looking Glass-style immersive simulation, but wasn’t pure roleplaying game in the Origin sense.” Yet rather than resulting in a merging of ideas, the structure caused confusion about what the game was supposed to be about. “They were each in charge of different parts of the world and they had their own ideas about how they wanted the gameplay to work,” Norden explains. “So sometimes they’d come to us with conflicting requests.” Everything the designers dreamed up had to be implemented by Norden and his programming team, and Spector, Smith and White all had a lot of ideas. “Warren had this massive [idea]… he’s like, ‘I want the player to be able to do anything they want, and solve any puzzle in any way,’” says Norden. “And we’re like, ‘Uh, yeah, that’s not really possible. We can do a lot, we can give the player a lot of choice. But infinite choice? No.’” Nevertheless, Norden and his team endeavoured to ensure that Deus Ex was as emergent as they could make it. “We tried to create the emergent behaviour by creating a ton of interactable objects in the world, and all the objects had to have interactable properties, and all the properties were linked to the real world,” he says. “Everything had weight, everything had friction, all the surfaces had different properties associated with them. So we wanted you to be able to, at least, pick things up, move them around, destroy them, maybe stack them, maybe climb them.” The advantage of this was it meant players could do things that were unique to their game; a phenomenon that would happen even during testing. “Someone would come in and say, ‘Hey I was doing this cool thing on my playthrough and this thing happened, what the hell, how did you make that happen?’ And I was like, ‘Well I didn’t, it was just a random lucky thing.’”

took James Bond, a guy who believes in right and wrong, and throw him into a world that’s all shades of grey, where nothing is good, nothing is evil, it’s all shades of grey.’ That was a critical moment.” The concepting phase of Deus Ex lasted many months, all the while the studio was growing and taking shape. One of Spector’s key hires was the 30-year-old Harvey Smith, who Spector had previously worked with at Origin during the development of System Shock. “[Warren Spector] was like, ‘Well, we’re gonna try to do another one of those games, it’s gonna be set in the modern world, what do you think?’” says Smith. “And so I pitched mission documents back, and game system ideas, some of which never got used in the game, but still they were on target enough that Warren was really excited.” Spector made Smith one of two lead designers on Deus Ex. Ion Storm Austin’s approach to game development was heavily influenced by Spector’s experience at Origin Systems, and the design philosophies of Looking Glass luminaries, like Doug Church, who would appear from time to time at Ion Storm Austin and ‘camp out’ in Spector’s office. “They were all hugely influenced by Doug Church’s paper ‘Formal Abstract Design Tools’,” says Jordan Thomas, “which was a high-minded idea about teaching designers to speak the same way so that they could plug into any team, and stop using slang which is useful only to a particular bubble of culture.” Harvey Smith, who worked with Church at Origin, describes talking to him as being “like drinking from a firehose”. In a similar fashion, Ion Storm Austin produced not only design documents for its games, but manifestos for how Spector and co. believed games should be designed as a whole. “We had our giant gameplay bible. Bazillions of pages that we tried to kind of follow, but they were living documents and they changed,” says Norden. “It was like, design is important, engineering is important, art is important, audio design is extremely important. But the player ultimately needs to be doing what they want to do. They need to be having fun. They need to be in control.” When the concept phase was over, Spector stepped back into a supervisory role. “I am not an implementation guy,” he says. “Once we get past the concept phase and we know what game we want to make, I leave implementation to other people.” Implementing Deus Ex would prove to be far more complicated than anybody anticipated, constantly teetering on the brink of disaster.

enGine Trouble

Every game Ion Storm made was beleaguered by engine problems, and Deus Ex was no different. The nature of those problems, however, wasn’t exactly the same. In a break with Ion Storm tradition, Austin moved away from id’s Quake technology and licensed Tim Sweeney’s Unreal Engine. There were several reasons for this, including a better toolset, less restrictive geometry rendering and more personal support. “id’s engine licensing at the time was really simple. They basically gave you a CD with the source on it and that was it,” Norden says. “They didn’t

inFiniTe ChoiCe

Ion Storm’s slogan – ‘Design is Law’ – stipulated that game design should come above technical innovation. It was conjured by Romero during the founding of the company, but Ion Storm Austin took it to heart, perhaps a little too much. At the outset Spector created two separate design teams for Deus Ex, and he had those teams

ThROugh The LOOkINg gLASS From foundation to closure, here are the key dates in the life of Ion Storm Austin.

June 1997 Looking Glass Austin closes its doors.

March 1998 Austin hires 20 additional staff, including Harvey Smith.

September 1997 Spector joins Ion Storm and founds the Austin studio.

May 2000 Daikatana launches, Looking Glass Studios closes.

August 1999 Deus Ex hits Alpha and is given six months of extra development time.

June 2001 Anachronox Launches, Eidos closes Ion Storm Dallas.

June 2000 Deus Ex launches to critical acclaim, Chris Norden leaves Ion Storm Austin.

May 2004 Thief: Deadly Shadows launches.

December 2003 Deus Ex: Invisible War releases in time for the Holiday period.

February 2005 Eidos closes Ion Storm Austin.

November 2004 A fatigued Warren Spector leaves Ion Storm Austin.

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F E at u r E The History of Ion Storm

over the years that we were in development, said, ‘Why don’t you just make a shooter?”’ Eidos had good reason to be concerned. After three years and millions of dollars of investment, so far Ion Storm had put out one game, Dominion: Storm Over Gift 3, which both sold and reviewed terribly. Meanwhile, its other three projects were severely behind. In addition, due to a combination of those delays and misguided marketing from Ion Storm Dallas, by 2000 the public opinion of Ion Storm had turned from enthusiastic to openly hostile. Even though they were sheltered in Austin, the Deus Ex team felt the heat of this ire. “It was interesting and tough to be part of the ‘John Romero is going to make you his bitch’ company’,” says Spector. “And the Dallas office, they were spending money in ways that I would not have spent money, and the projects were all running late or they were projects we shouldn’t have started at all.” Indeed, there were worries that Deus Ex would flop purely on account of the widespread eagerness to see the hubris of Ion Storm blow up in its face. “We were like, ‘Oh crap, we’ve got brand image issues now,’” says Norden. “‘Are we gonna be doomed to failure because of this logo on our box?’” At the same time, not everyone at the Dallas studio was happy with how things were panning out at Austin. Jerry O’Flaherty, who was the art director for Ion Storm as a whole, had sent several artists down to Austin to work on Deus Ex. “These artists would report back to Jerry about various goings-on within the studio,” says Romero. O’Flaherty was close friends with another of Ion Storm’s founders, Todd Porter, and according to Romero, Porter didn’t like what he heard about how things were ”We’re dead” progressing at Ion Storm Austin. “This led Todd to call for Deus Ex was in development for almost four years, and for the cancellation of the game, or him wanting to go down three-and-a-half of those years it seemed like it would to straighten things out.” never come together. Spector’s vision for the game’s story Romero, however, acted as a buffer between Austin was enormous, to the point where he had to be tackled on and the more sceptical voices within Dallas. “I told Todd it. “Harvey and one of the designers who I’ve worked to leave them be, and we would not be cancelling the with for many years, guy named Steve Powers, came to game, ever,” Romero says. “I had to put my foot down me and said, ‘We can’t tell this story, there’s no way we’re several times during the Deus Ex timeline. I had the gonna do the Russo-Mexican alliance sending an Army utmost confidence in Warren and Harvey.” across the Texas border and invading. We’re not gonna do Meanwhile, although some individuals within Eidos that, we’re not gonna have thousands of prisoners in a had their doubts, the publisher never stepped in to take FEMA camp in the Southwest getting freed by our hero.’” control of the situation. In fact, when Deus Ex hit Alpha in Meanwhile, the external feedback Austin received was August 1999, Eidos gave Austin six extra months to finish not good. Looking Glass developers, like Doug Church, the game. It made all the difference. Harvey Smith’s Marc LeBlanc and Rob Fermier, all came to Austin to redesigned skill system significantly improved the game, playtest the game. “They came in and they would tell us, while the rest of that time was spent “tuning and ‘Man, this sucks. This skill system is terrible, what are you tweaking and finding the fun”, as Spector puts it. thinking?’” Spector says. The game’s publisher, Eidos, In the end, Deus Ex released on 17 June 2000, just were still supportive of Austin, but also confused by what three weeks after Eidos published Daikatana. For Ion the game was supposed to be. “Lots of people at Eidos, Storm Austin, it was a strange time. Internet journalism was still in its infancy, so the developers had to wait LAM-entAtions a month or so for the reviews to come in. Spector was nervous. The core idea of an didn’t realise was it was just “There was a day when we were immersive sim is that the enough of a collision rating nearing the end where I put my head player is able to use the for people to create ladders down on my desk and I just said out game’s systems creatively. with. So they would put a loud, ‘If people compare our combat But it can be hard to decide LAM on the wall, jump on it, to Half-Life, we’re dead. If they where to set the limits. put another LAM on the wall, compare our stealth to Thief, we’re Norden remembers the Deus jump on that, and they could dead. If they compare our roleplaying Ex’s Lightweight Attack climb to places that we never elements to Neverwinter Nights Munitions, or LAMS; intended,” he says. “We were (which was the big RPG at that time), explosive proximity mines like, ‘Oh crap people are we’re dead. But if they get to decide that could be stuck to walls. breaking things,’ and getting how much fighting or sneaking or “They had a very small to areas they shouldn’t be RPG-ing they get to do, we’re gonna collision rating. Well what we getting to.” rule the world.’” really do support or anything. So I went up and met with Tim, and talked to him, and talked to the guys there, and they were just really cool.” The problem, however, was that Norden and his team were taking an engine and trying to make it do things it wasn’t designed to. “Deus Ex was a very dialogue-heavy game,” Norden states. “And Unreal was a shooter, right? So those things don’t mix. Theirs was no dialogue. There was no talking in shooters. So we had to create basically an entire conversation system and the tools that go with it.” Even seemingly simple things, like being able to carry more than one pistol, had to be manually coded because the engine wasn’t designed for it. “I might be carrying five pistols in my inventory because I put all my points into pistols,” says Harvey Smith. “I’ll have one for silenced play, and I have one for rapid fire, and I have one for fighting robots – just as an example, that’s three different pistols. Unreal didn’t have the concept of that, it only had the concept of, ‘Do you have the pistol, yes or no?’” Another problem was the game’s core systems were coded in UnrealScript, which was slow to compile. Every time Norden made a change to the script it had to be recompiled, which in a game as complicated as Deus Ex is a constant process. “I wrote very rude comments in the code like, ‘Why the eff is this so slow? Dammit Tim,’ says Norden. “And we stupidly didn’t strip the script code out before we shipped. So people just decompiled it and our comments were on display for everybody. So I feel really bad about that to this day.” Luckily for Norden, Tim Sweeney saw the funny side of it.

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eIdos had good reason to be concerned 01 Norden (second left) poses with several other Deus Ex developers in front of a cutout of JC Denton.

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02 During development, Spector worried about Deus Ex’s gunplay being compared to pure shooters, like Half-Life.

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01 In a change from previous games, Deadly Shadows had the option to play from a third-person viewpoint. 02 Ion Storm attempted to make Thief ’s lockpicking more immersive. Whether it worked or not is up for debate.

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“none of your choIces had any real consequences” 02

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F E at u r E The History of Ion Storm

exPanSion

Deus Ex was a resounding success both critically and commercially ¬ the only game developed by Ion Storm that managed both. “We had one incredibly bad review. A guy named Tom Chick just, I dunno if he hated me, but he sure hated Deus Ex, wow!” Spector says. “But other than that, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive.” The success also secured the future of Ion Storm Austin, which by this point was owned directly by Eidos. “It was never a question that we wouldn’t do a sequel. Eidos wanted it,” Spector says. Meanwhile, shortly after the release of Thief II: The Metal Age, and on the same day that Daikatana released in North America, Looking Glass Studios closed its doors. “I got a call from someone at Eidos saying, ‘We have the rights to do a new Thief game, we’re going to do a new Thief game, and we’re going to let another developer do the next Thief game,’” Spector says. “I said, ‘Oh no you’re not. We’re doing that here at Ion Storm.’” Spector hired many of Looking Glass’s staff, and the company began working on both Deus Ex: Invisible War and Thief: Deadly Shadows simultaneously. Because the company had effectively doubled in size, Spector decided to take on a more managerial role, and let other people oversee each game’s development. Harvey Smith was selected to direct the second Deus Ex, while Randy Smith (no-relation to Harvey) was hired to oversee Thief. Chris Norden left Ion Storm Austin almost immediately after Deus Ex was completed. Spector decided that he would not interfere with the direction of either game, and let both designers make the decisions they wanted to make. It’s a decision that he now regrets. “I probably should have given those guys more direction, and not let them make some mistakes that I saw them making.”

ChoiCeS and ConSequenCeS

For the sequel to Deus Ex, Smith wanted to retain the multifaceted approach that players could adopt in play, but ensure that the experience was uniform across the entire game. “Looking at the missions for Deus Ex, some of them were kinda just all over the place. Not all of them were like science fiction dystopia … and some of them were pretty far afield. Some of them were more RPG, some were less RPG,” Smith says. As part of this plan, Smith designed the game with a much stronger, more vivid aesthetic, moving the game much farther in the future and imbuing it with a far more overt cyberpunk theme. This was one change that Spector saw as problematic, but decided not to bring up. “I wouldn’t have moved Invisible War so far in the future. I

think part of Deus Ex is it’s a world that’s recognisable as our own,” he says. “I wouldn’t have put the player character in a purple jumpsuit. I mean, it’s a trivial point, but it just looked goofy.” Another issue was that Smith wanted to expand upon the narrative choices from the original Deus Ex, letting players switch between factions at will and having no forced failure states. “What it meant was none of your choices actually had any real consequences. If you can always change your mind, your choices are really weakened,” Spector says. The main problems for Invisible War (and, for that matter, Deadly Shadows) did not stem from design, but technology. Deus Ex was designed from the ground up as a PC game. Both Invisible War and Thief III were designed specifically for the Xbox, with the PC version approached as a port of the Xbox version. None of the Ion Storm team had much experience designing for console, and so they were disappointed to find the Xbox had a fraction of the power of a PC at the time. “The maps had to get so small a lot of our gameplay didn’t work,” Spector says. “It was kind of a surprise to us and there wasn’t much we could do about it.” Although today Invisible War is viewed as a disappointment, at the time of its release it reviewed fairly well and to date has sold more copies than the original Deus Ex. Although the project was a difficult one, Smith believes there are still good things about the game. “The Antarctic mission that was kind of a call-out to The Thing, one of my favourite movies,” he says, as an example. “Starting off in an apartment, finding out it’s a lab is a very Philip K. Dick move that we wanted to make. The Black Market Augmentations and how they work, along with the other biomods, so you can put together a bunch of drones and stuff. There were lots of little things along the way that we liked.”

Cradle To Grave

Perhaps because of the immediate comparison with Deus Ex, Invisible War is often viewed as the game that got away from Ion Storm Austin. But in terms of what the developers had planned, the game that came out most compromised from under Spector’s watch was Thief: Deadly Shadows. As a lifelong Thief fan, hearing about elements of the game which never made it out of Ion Storm Austin is agonising. Originally, Deadly Shadows was meant to be twice as long. Every level designer was given two levels to design for the game, but early in development they were all asked to scrap one of those levels. Jordan Thomas’s two missions were the Cradle, which made it into the game, and the Grave, which didn’t. “The Grave was specifically a massive sort of death-processing facility FAking it owned by the Hammerite faction,” says Thomas. “And it was going to “The way I did that was Sometimes the best way to double down on the idea of religious putting a pane of glass in the create an effect isn’t always notions of death and the cycle of the window and checking the box the most obvious. This was soul leaving the body, and sort of that says ‘be reflective’ and especially the case 20 years delve into some of the Victorian ago, when the tools designers for it to be really, really fast, reuses of corpses.” with a movement time of were using were far more In addition, the freely explorable zero… moving that one out of idiosyncratic. Harvey Smith city Deadly Shadows introduced was the world, or into the void of cites an example from Deus intended to be many times larger the map, and moving from Ex, after JC Denton has been than it appeared in the final game. imprisoned. He wanted the the void of the map another Thomas states that Emil Pagliarulo, cell to have a two-way mirror sheet of glass that was the designer who created Thief II’s that turned from reflective to identical, one that didn’t have famous ‘Life of the Party’ mission had transparent in a cutscene. ‘Be Reflective’ checked.” “a legendary build-out of what the February 2018

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F E at u r E The History of Ion Storm

work equivalent of the seven-year itch – “I just get itchy, you know, to do something different” – and dissatisfaction at the kinds of games Eidos was publishing. “I remember going to E3 one year, right around the time I left, right before I left,” he says. “There were things like, ‘This time you get to kill with a meat hook, and here’s the game of kids killing cops, and here’s a racing game where the idea isn’t to win the race, it’s to create the biggest explosions.’ And, I just looked around, and I was showing Invisible War and Deadly Shadows, and I just said, ‘One of these things is not like the others.’” Despite Spector’s departure, and the disappointment at the critical reception of Deadly Shadows and Invisible War, there was no sense that the studio’s life was nearing its end. The studio regrouped and formed designs teams for both Deus Ex 3 and Thief 4. In an echo of the company’s early years, there were two competing pitches for Deus Ex 3, one of which was Thomas’s own. “We built a crazy ambitious text only version of a narrative web, which you’ve seen in a lot of other games since, the notion of the procedural story,” he says. “It was ludicrous, but very inspiring at the time, and felt like the great dragon that everyone wanted to slay.” Slowly, though, Ion Storm Austin began to bleed employees, leaking staff to other companies such as Midway Austin. Then, in 2005, Eidos announced a major layoff. “I was in the room where people, we had to decide The GreaT God Player how many, but which ones got the seats to stay,” says Ion Storm Dallas may have been notorious for its Thomas. “And it was just, it made you wonder why arrogance, but there was more than sufficient hubris to go anyone ever assembles for any field of human endeavour.” around at Ion Storm Austin too. It just emerged in a The remaining employees kept going, but by this point different form. From its Looking Glass genetics, Austin most of them were just “punching a clock”, as Thomas inherited the culture of the auteur, that blend of artiste describes it. Then, about a year into preproduction on and academic that dedicated itself heart, mind and soul to Deus Ex 3, the final layoff came, and Ion Storm shut its the idea they were chasing, and where the ends justified doors for good. Thomas, however, was kept on by Eidos the means. “I’ve called it a culture of intellectual for a few extra months, so he could finish the design Darwinism,” says Thomas. “It was like a court case, an document for his version of Deus Ex. “I’ve never known ongoing, months long court case in which everyone was why they wanted that and I’ve no idea what they did with the player’s advocate, and they were going to bring 100% it, but I did so.” It was an ironic end for the studio. For of their rigour to bear on the argument, because the great years Ion Storm Austin had built a cult around the idea, god player deserved it.” and it took on such power that in the end Eidos perceived This design philosophy led to an atmosphere that that was where all the value lay. could at times be exclusionary. “It led to quieter people, Perhaps the strangest thing about Ion Storm as a who are, if any degree of removal away from a whole is how its studios were simultaneously so heterosexual white male, to be less likely to say anything,” completely different and so very similar. Both companies Thomas says. It was also an atmosphere of perfectionism. were driven by sky-high ambitions, Dallas in your face So when reviews of Invisible War and Deadly Shadows and larger than life, Austin intellectual and innovative. hovered in the low-80s, the effect on team morale was Both companies held design as a talisman, and found devastating. “We were groomed to believe that you were themselves mired in technological problems. Dallas was 90-plus on Metacritic or you are nothing,” he adds. demonised while Austin was evangelised, and yet both Shortly after the release of Deadly Shadows, Warren suffered from personality clashes, management foul-ups, Spector left the company. He attributes this partly to the and an inflated sense of self-worth. Harvey Smith sums up these strange and shifting contrasts. “There the CrAdLe were very volatile extroverts in Dallas, and Warren’s group tended to The mission that Jordan writer on Deadly Shadows. “I be very volatile introverts and nerds.” Thomas pitched in his started working with Randy He recalls an example from one of interview became Robbing and Terri Brosius to figure Ion Storm’s release parties, where the the Cradle, arguably the most out how this building had company rented a boat on a lake. “We celebrated mission in the moved from an orphanage, invited the people from Dallas down game. It saw Garrett explore with the ideals of care for the with us,” he says. “A lot of the Dallas Shalebridge Cradle ; a true sort of forgotten of the guys just got drunk on the boat. And condemned asylum that, in a city: these poor children, to a lot of our people were on the inside grim twist, had previously then allow adult patients in at of the boat because the sun was been used as an orphanage. some point, because all sorts frying our pale skin. And we were – The building’s additional of reasons of poor planning, literally people broke out board layer of history came from and kind of economic decay,” games, and we were playing Terri Brosius, who was a Thomas remembers. board games on this party boat.” geometry of the docks might have been. And it was almost 100% scrapped by the time we finished”. The reason behind this ruthless cutting down was partly to do with the console focus. But equally significant was that the studio went against its own mantra, and began designing its own technology. For both Invisible War and Deadly Shadows, Ion Storm Austin created a custom renderer that could project real-time shadows from every character and object. “It was a combination of videogame technological sort-of one-upmanship early on, combined with an imagined notion that real-time shadows would lead to dynamism in gameplay scenarios that Thief II couldn’t deliver,” Thomas says. “The fantasy of what we would do when the shadow of a pillar would truly move, and you could stay inside that shadow as the guard with the torch crossed through a room with thick enough columns, it sounded really good on paper.” But the combination of this advanced renderer (which beat Doom 3 for real-time shadows by about a year) and the limited power of the Xbox meant that huge swathes of the game had to be cut down to get it in. “It ended up being one of the decisions that most of the team felt was a massive mistake,” Thomas says. “The city sections, good gravy, we reduced those to almost nothing.”

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01

02

01 The Deus Ex development team.

03

02 Invisible War combined the skill and augment upgrades from the first game into the biomod system, a decision that upset some players.

“you were 90-plus on metacrItIc or nothIng�

03 The prioritisation of Xbox meant that environments had to be limited in size, which made including the same range of approaches difficult. 04 A key development drive for Invisible War was to maintain the feeling of a first-person shooter.

04

February 2018

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NETWORK

CH A LLEN GE

PLAY 100 GAMES IN 2018 Clear your backlog and expand your horizons. Here’s what the team played this month HiGH SCHOOL DrAmA

ArCHiTECTurAL uNfurLiNG

SEriES Of TriALS

Phil Savage Editor

Philippa Warr Deputy Editor

Andy Kelly Section Editor

I dId Manage To check ouT a couple of ShorT ThIngS

WITh My reMaInIng TIMe I reTurned To The lIon’S Song

IT’S aS WeIrd aS IT SoundS, BuT I’M glad I Took a gaMBle on IT

W

e’re only a few weeks into this challenge, and already I’m falling behind. Still, I did manage to check out a couple of short things in the quieter moments of making this issue. For instance, Kitty Horrorshow’s Wolfgirls in Love: a cool, experimental Twine game about two werewolves out on the town. The action is told in short, clipped sentences meant to convey instinctual feelings rather than conscious thought. I’m also two episodes into Known Unknowns, a short, episodic adventure about high school drama, journalism and ghosts. I’m digging it a lot, but also struggling with how difficult it is to stop your character from making obviously bad choices as she desperately attempts to fix her relationship with her former best friend. This, at least, feels true to high school. Finally, like Andy, I’ve started on the gorgeous Okami HD.

THE TOP 5

R

eleased last year, and bought by almost no one, Trackless is a wonderfully imaginative puzzle game. In it you embark on a series of trials in a mysterious world, feeding verbs into a text parser in order to solve puzzles. It’s as weird as it sounds, but I’m glad I took a gamble on it. Okami HD is the long overdue PC version of Hideki Kamiya’s masterpiece. It’s Zelda by way of Japanese folklore, with a lush painterly art style and a story straight out of a Ghibli film. I reviewed this back in 2006, but I’m enjoying it just as much now. And SOMA’s new Safe Mode is the perfect excuse to revisit Frictional’s mind-bending sci-fi horror. Playing hide-and-seek with monsters only got in the way of the story, which I think is one of the best ever told by a videogame. The chance to bypass them entirely is very welcome indeed.

Indie games you can finish in under an hour

1

2

Murder dog IV: TrIal of The Murder dog You – a murder dog – are on trial in the Hague. Bad dog.

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purred on by our art feature I’ve been playing or revisiting the four of those five games which are currently out. Sacramento is a tiny, vibrant dreamy world and contrasts well with The Norwood Suite, which sprawls and tangles, but has a similar dreamy quality. Gorogoa and Hollow Knight are both elegant, but where Hollow Knight is about action and exploration, Gorogoa tends towards architectural unfurling. With my remaining time I returned to The Lion’s Song – an episodic game whose strands intertwine – picking through the first three episodes to tease out those connections and see how they changed my understanding of the story. Oh, and I’ve been snacking on Slime Rancher (or rather, letting its lovely music play in the background while I work) and Wunderdoktor – those patients won’t wean themselves off patent medicine without me!

FEBRUARY 2018

SlaVe of god Visit a nightclub in Increpare’s psychedelic game of emotional highs and pixelated piss.

3

SaMoroST A surreal point-and-click adventure game starring a little gnome in a strange world.

4

Burly Men aT Sea A branching adventure starring three heavily bearded fishermen on a mythical trip.

5

graVITy Bone A funny first-person adventure that’s the precursor to Thirty Flights of Loving.


NETWORK

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WEEK 1

2018

Game 25

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C H A L L EN G E

Game 23

WEEK 16

Play 100 Games in 2018

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Game 100

Don’t want to deface your mag? Print this page by downloading the pdf at www.bit.ly/pcgchallenge FEBRUARY 2018

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REVIEW

HOw we review

We review each game on its own merits, and try to match it to a reviewer who’s a passionate expert in the field. The main aim of reviews is to help you make buying decisions.

alpHas & betas

This means we’ll review any released alpha, beta or otherwise unfinished game that you can currently buy. For these games, we won’t assign a score, but we will tell you whether they’re worth your time in their current state.

dOwnlOadable cOntent

DLC might be hours-long new missions for a game, or it might be a single new item. Either way, if we think you want to know about it, we’ll review it.

tHey’re back

Whenever there’s a bargain or re-release of a significant game, our expert will revisit it and tell you whether it holds up today. With jokes.

Our scOring system explained 00%-09% Broken or offensively bad; absolutely no value. Example Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude 10%-19% We might be able to find one nice thing to say about it, but still not worth anyone’s time or money. Example Gettysburg: Armored Warfare 20%-29% Completely falls short of its goals. Very few redeeming qualities. Examples Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse 30%-39% An entirely clumsy or derivative effort. There’s little to no reason to play this game over a similar, better one. Examples Trials of the Blood Dragon 40%-49% Flawed and disappointing. Examples Aliens: Colonial Marines 50%-59% Mediocre. Other games probably do it better, or its unique qualities aren’t executed well. Examples Primordia, Homefront: The Revolution 60%-69% There’s something to like here, but it can only be recommended with major caveats. Examples No Man’s Sky, Ghost Recon: Wildlands 70%-79% A good game that’s worth playing. We like it. Examples Life is Strange, Planet Coaster 80%-89% A great game with exceptional moments or features, and touches of brilliance. We love it. Examples Overwatch, Mass Effect: Andromeda

Free at last Regular readers may have noticed the recent absence of our regular Extra Life column, the Top 10 Free Downloads. Here’s why: we’re rolling free games coverage into the review section. Our reason, simply put, is that the old system did a disservice to free games – treating them as a curio, and not a vibrant and vital part of PC gaming. They deserve to be part of the same conversation as paid-for games, and now they are. Elsewhere this issue, Fraser takes on the incredibly ambitious and somewhat janky Seven: The Days Long Gone. I’m a sucker for slightly broken games that shoot for the moon, so this sounds very much my thing. Other highlights include console classic Okami, now finally on PC in remastered form, and hardcore PvP brawler Battlerite. World of Final Fantasy fares less well, which will disappoint fans of cute-looking things.

90%-94% A compelling recommendation for most PC gamers. Important to PC gaming, and likely ahead of its time. Examples Forza Horizon 3, Dishonored 2 95%-96% Far and away one of the best games we’ve ever played. We recommend it to the entire world. Examples Half-Life 2, Kerbal Space Program

PHIL SAVAGE EDITOR

phil.savage@futurenet.com

97%-100% Advances the human species. Boosts the immune systems of nearby children and small animals. The Editor’s Choice award is granted in addition to the score, at the discretion of the PC Gamer staff. It represents exceptional quality or innovation. Find out more www.bit.ly/pcgreviews

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FEBRUARY 2018

LEt uS know wHAt you tHInk

Email us via letters@ pcgamer.com with your reactions, or simply tweet us your thoughts @PCGamer


84

82

76

Free games

92 Haunted Cities Volume 2 93 Midnight Scenes 93 Faith

contents 76 80 82 84 88 90

Seven: The Days Long Gone Shadowhand Injustice 2 Okami HD Battlerite World of Final Fantasy

tHey’re back

94 95 95 95 95

Warhammer 40K: Space Marine DEFCON Shadowgrounds Teleglitch Day of Defeat: Source

this month’s master thieves...

FrASEr Brown

PHILIPPA wArr

Specialist in Stealth, stealing

Specialist in Indie, duels

Currently playing Seven: The Days Long Gone

Currently playing Shadowhand

This month Tried to overcome guards, security systems and bugs.

This month Expensed crates of smoke bombs and wig powder. “For deadline,” apparently.

CHrIS SCHILLInG Specialist in Retro, dogs Currently playing Okami HD This month Encountered myths, legends and incredibly slow text speeds.

dAnIELLA LuCAS

tom SykES

A n dy k E L Ly

CHrIS tHurStEn

Specialist in JRPG, fox hate

Specialist in Horror, not paying

Specialist in Travelling

Specialist in Retro, Warhammer

Currently playing World of Final Fantasy

Currently playing Haunted Cities Volume 2

Currently playing Fez

Currently playing Space Marine

This month Was too busy with trips to review anything. Find him in Extra Life instead.

This month They’re Back is brought to you by the numbers 40,000 and seven out of ten.

This month Discovered that there is such a thing as too much cute, and it’s named Tama.

This month Took charge of our first free game reviews, the cheapskate.

FEBRUARY 2018

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rEviEW Seven: The Days Long Gone

ThIef’s ParadIse SeveN: the dayS LoNg goNe squeezes Thief into a post-apocalyptic isometric RPG. By Fraser Brown

S

even: The Days Long Gone is a smorgasbord of genres and settings colliding to create something uniquely unusual. A real-time isometric RPG, a stealth sandbox, a post-apocalyptic sci-fi universe with just enough mysticism to make it fantasyadjacent – there’s a lot to digest. It almost tries to be too many things, spinning all of these different plates, but developer Fool’s Theory manages to stop them from coming crashing down. Most of the time.

Technomagi, artefact hunters turned At its heart, though, it’s a game about authoritarian police force. Exploring being a sticky-fingered thief. the compound, you might come Specifically, a sticky-fingered thief across a route to the roof and a known as Teriel. A master crook, Teriel finds himself shunted off to the skylight to drop in from. From there it’s a matter of slowly and stealthily prison island of Peh to be a god-like reaching the treasure. emperor’s newest If you’ve got a undercover agent. His Technomagi uniform Instead of mission: search for an however, it ancient hidden levelling up, handy, might be as simple as spaceship. Oh yes, and you beef up walking in the front he’s been bonded to a Teriel with door. Or you could daemon, an entirely eschew caution extradimensional being skill chips and rush in with who serves as an swords, energy guns advisor, guide and the and magic, slaughtering (or knocking emperor’s representative. In Seven, a thief is not a class – it’s out) everyone in your path. Throw in traps, poisonous gas, cloaks, Teriel’s career. So it’s not a set of explosives and hacking and your specific abilities, nor does it limit the options expand again. ways in which his myriad objectives None of these paths are restricted may be completed. Most missions, whether they’re incidental sidequests by character builds or experience, either. The moment you land on the or one of the core objectives, offer up island, you’re largely able to do a multitude of tempting paths to everything you can do even 30 hours venture down. Say there’s an object needing to be in, though not necessarily as effectively. Teriel’s been around the pinched, but it’s locked inside a block, so he’s perfectly capable of compound and guarded by

Need to KNow What is it? A stealthy isometric RPG set on a prison island. EXPECt tO PaY £28 DEvElOPEr Fool’s Theory PublishEr IMGN.PRO rEviEWED On Intel i5-3570K, 8GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 970, Windows 10 MultiPlaYEr None link www.sevengame.com/en

P r i S o N P o L i t i c S Get to know Peh’s Factions

techNomagi

Originally created by the emperor to hunt down artefacts of the ancients, the tech-obsessed Technomagi are the law on Peh. They’re perpetually unfriendly and annoyingly vigilant.

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February 2018

BiomaNcerS

On the surface, the Biomancers are healers who have turned biological science into magic. They’re zealots, however, and willing to go to any lengths to advance their knowledge.

gaNgS

Criminal gangs have carved off small slices of Peh for themselves. They’ve got a ‘don’t bother us and we won’t bother you’ attitude. Kill an NPC right in front of them and they won’t care.

throwing punches, slitting throats, climbing in windows and unlocking safes. New skills and fancy gear that you can steal, craft or buy still help a lot, of course.

Get chipped

Character progression isn’t tied to abstract concepts like experience points. Instead of levelling up, you beef up Teriel with skill chips and upgrades. These technological augmentations are scattered all over the island – the more you explore, the more skills you’ll unlock. A chip is just a platform, informing what types of skills and upgrades you’ll be able to slot in. Installing them costs nectar, however, and it’s an extremely rare resource. Conveniently, whenever you remove one of them, you recoup its nectar costs. So you can choose whether to use stealth, violence or magic, but you’ll always need to be an explorer. What a relief, then, that Peh is such a compelling frontier. It’s an island that revels in the bizarre. Intimidating military outposts sit next to cyberpunk slums and swampy villages that wouldn’t look out of place in a fantasy romp. And it’s a melting pot of weirdos and ne’er-dowells, full of criminals, rebels, adventurers, zealots and mages. Walking across the island is like stepping into a new universe every mile. Yet it feels surprisingly cohesive, like structured chaos. Environmental storytelling and the occasional lore dump reveal the strange logic of Peh. It’s a vertical slice of the greater world: a version of our Earth in a far-flung era, set after a golden age and an apocalypse. All that’s left on Earth is the remnants of humanity, those left behind when the ‘ancients’ fled to the stars. The claim that you can walk from one end of a game’s world to the other right from the start has become incredibly trite, but Seven turns it from a marketing talking point into a seductive challenge. See, the entire island is split up into seven zones,


Why wouldn’t you worship a magical microwave?

It might be a huge slum, but it’s a striking one.

Even in the far future, the ancient art of pole dancing persists.

Even in disguise, NPCs can become suspicious of you. If you’re averse to having your lungs melted, keep a gas mask on you.

February 2018

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Toxic gas mines are very, very handy.

The purple stuff is tech rot, and it’s bad news.

Just one more jump to the fast travel station. Master thieves don’t have time for vertigo.

Is there a giant at the top of this thing?

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February 2018

Orange jumpsuits are timeless.


rEviEW Seven: The Days Long Gone

each with a corresponding visa. If you try to get through a zone gate without a visa – which are grafted onto DNA – then you’re going to get fried. And buying a visa is both pretty costly and also sort of like rewarding The Man for being awful. So travelling across the zones becomes an exercise in stealth and guile as you try to get through without using the gate and, more importantly, without getting caught.

Smooth moveS

i N f i Lt r at i o N P r i m e r How to get into secure areas undetected

1 SteaL a diSguiSe

3 uSe magic

2 BreaK iN

4 KiLL everythiNg

Dispatching a member of a faction nets you their togs, letting you walk right past security cameras and enemies. Just don’t act all suspicious.

Pick locks, hack terminals and clamber through windows, but watch out for patrols. Make too much noise and they’ll come to investigate.

Though it’s an isometric RPG, traversal in Seven has more in common with Assassin’s Creed than given area, but the controls could be Baldur’s Gate. Teriel’s nimbler than a tighter, too, especially when you are cat, and climbing up to the rooftops in combat. They are just a little loose and beyond is almost as simple as and feel little too wild, even if you’re walking down the street. The sprint locked onto a target, when there are button doubles as a climbing button obstacles and pitfalls scattered so it’s effortless, but it’s also a pain in around everywhere. the arse on those occasions where With its heaving masses of you’re trying to chase someone but reactive NPC crowds, very eager instead climb on top of some barrels. guards and complicated multilevel It’s very odd seeing these acrobatic shenanigans in an isometric RPG, but settlements, preparing for the worst is just common sense. Think you’re now I’m also wondering why we alone in an alley with your mark? don’t see it more. It makes every Think again: there’s at least five building relevant: a potential bridge people watching you from above, and to a new area or a way to escape the whoops, one of them has just alerted fuzz. There’s no wasted real estate. the Technomagi. Better run. Or better The perspective is obviously a yet, leave some traps behind you and perfect fit for stealth, too. The enjoy the carnage. top-down view makes it much easier to plot Whenever I hit Slow travel routes, especially given the ineffectiveness of up the nearest Unfortunately, Seven the map and the joins the list of fast travel generally mad layout of extremely ambitious station, it’s a open-world games that the island’s haphazard settlements, and it total crapshoot are plagued by some lends the game a rather serious bugs. stronger tactical air, I’ve not encountered giving you more tools to plan for anything game-breaking yet, though heists and ambushes. There’s a at least one of them has shattered my Detective Mode-style view as well, patience. Seven employs an which highlights objects of interest, unconventional fast travel system lets you track NPCs and expands that, if it wasn’t completely your vision. With the multitude of unreliable, I’d be quite enamoured secret items and the sometimes with. Fast travel is limited to a cargo erratic guard patrols, it’s a tool that transport network that’s off limits to sees a great deal of use. everyone but the Technomagi. To use Despite this tactical layer, Seven is the fast travel stations, then, requires far from a precise game. I stopped breaking into Technomagi outposts keeping track of how many times my and hacking your way into the plans went south and fell apart after network. It’s for this reason that I the first couple of hours. I fell of rarely went anywhere without a full ledges, got pushed off roofs, rolled Technomagi uniform in my inventory. into acid and got cornered by hordes It’s a great system that turns of angry axe-wielding cops – if unlocking fast travel nodes into an something could go wrong, it went achievement. The convenience is a wrong. It’s equal parts stressful and hard-won reward, not something exhilarating. A lot of that’s down to that’s just doled out. Or it would be if how much stuff is going on in any it didn’t stop working all the time.

You can make yourself invisible, bend time to your will and even summon ominous black holes – though that might be overkill.

You could throw caution to the wind here, but you’ll live a lot longer if you move from bush to crate, quietly assassinating everyone.

Whenever I hit up the nearest fast travel station, it’s a total crapshoot. Maybe I’ll be on my way in seconds, but it’s just as likely that I’ll be told by the map that I haven’t unlocked my destination. Saving and reloading usually fixes it, but it’s not a given. The island’s not so large that fast travel is a necessity, but it’s definitely a boon. Similarly, interactive objects, like buttons, will occasionally stop working for no reason. Even the prompt vanishes. Again, saving and loading tends to sort the issue, but it’s an annoying rigmarole when all you want to do it open a bloody door. They’re the most common bugs, but by no means the only ones. There are broken quests and quests that don’t properly update (but can still be completed), attacks that sometimes go through enemies, clipping that can be exploited by both players and enemies – it’s enough to indicate that Seven needed quite a bit more playtesting. There are rough edges, then. Some big ones. Yet Seven is still an impressive game, even for a standout year that’s been full of them. And it’s been a bit of a surprise, coming out at the tail end of the 2017 like a dark horse. There’s nothing else quite like it, but it still feels a little familiar, drawing as it does so many classic stealth and RPG romps. It’s like a missing link between immersive sims like Deus Ex and RPGs like Ultima VII or Divinity: Original Sin II – weird and liberating and driven by players whims. A patch or two wouldn’t go amiss, though. vErDiCt A brilliant stealth sandbox and unconventional RPG in one very ambitious, but buggy, package. February 2018

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rEviEW Shadowhand

WIthIn an ace Battle solitaire is an uncomfy experience in ShadowhaNd. By Philippa Warr

R

egency Solitaire was one of my games of the year in 2015. It’s a Jane Austen-style love story through which you progress by playing hands of the card game, solitaire. Shadowhand is a prequel of sorts, following the adventures of one of the characters in her youthful highwaywoman days. The big difference with Shadowhand is that some rounds of solitaire now play out as turn-based duels. Duelling uses these same Shadowhand uses a deck of cards with suits like guns, oak trees, swords principles but you take turns with an AI character. Runs of cards charge up and cups replacing the traditional your weapons, and some suits can be four, and numbered 0-9. Each hand used to speed up particular weapon gives you an arrangement of cards charges. This is true for you and the dealt out and a little draw deck. You AI, so you need to pay use the revealed card more attention to the from the draw deck to Instead of an individual cards, remove cards from the sometimes making dealt pile by creating absorbing what would be a runs of numbers. pleasure, it terrible choice in the Longer runs trigger kept turning regular hands of combos which multiply solitaire, sacrificing the gold you earn from into a grind your own run of cards a hand and power in order to make life weapons during duels. harder for the opponent. Helping to counter solitaire’s Additionally, gear and the like can traditional problem where you’re at be equipped for these duels, and the mercy of card draw are passive outfits can be cobbled together to and active abilities. I tend to play boost defence and other useful stats. with the active options Charging For example, I have a Luxuriant Stallion (removes two random Beard, which gives me a 10% chance playable cards), Screaming Skull to resist stuns. (removes one specific playable card) Shadowhand is ambitious, but as and Stand and Deliver (converts one the game progressed I found it card to loot). Having that much card frustrating. The combat sadly exposes removal means I can just brute force the weaknesses inherent in solitaire, my way past troublesome cards.

Need to KNow What is it? A combat-centric riff on the classic card game, solitaire. EXPECt tO PaY £12 DEvElOPEr Grey Alien Games PublishEr Positech Games rEviEWED On Windows 10, 16GB RAM, Intel Core i7-5820k, GeForce GTX 970 MultiPlaYEr None link positech.co.uk/ shadowhand/

t h e h i g h w ay d r e S S c o d e Clothing maketh the surprisingly deadly gentlewoman

1 Bl ue xa ur rd i a N t

This coppery chin thatch is so thick it can absorb the impact of cudgels – it provides a 10 per cent chance to resist stuns.

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2 tK oe rf fcehei eSft r i p e

This particular neck scarf gives a 30 per cent chance to deflect wig powder and snuff (plus it helps with the secret identity thing).

3 teal cloaK

This cloak is useful for guarding against wildlife. A mighty 40% chance to deflect dogs, leeches and rats is situationally useful.

4 BB oo hd iecmei a N

Its fabric is sturdy enough to help against knife attacks. Use in situations where bleeding effects are whittling down health.

rather than glossing them or celebrating them.

Drawing a blank

Out of combat you might retry a level multiple times, but restarts are part of a gentle cycle. If one hand didn’t work out, you just deal a new hand and off you go again. Maybe you rejig your abilities, but generally you just play as many rounds as it takes to get the result you want. In combat, the experience feels very different. Card draw going against you can feel bitter and, combined with weapons and effects, can make some fights feel downright miserable. One duel saw me play one turn, then the enemy got a run of combos and stuns which left me powerless as my health went from 96 to 16. At that point there was no point completing the fight, so I restarted. There’s also something deeply frustrating about switching from regular solitaire’s lovely combos to fights where it’s better to leave awkward non-consecutive cards on the board to prevent an enemy picking up their own combo. Respeccing my character for each enemy was a finicky, boring experience. It could be improved if you could create loadouts – one to deal with fire, one to deal with piercing damage and so on. As it is, you need to go through outfit and weapon options each time and swap items individually. You can’t even filter them by the effect you’re after. This all obscures the charm of the features Shadowhand retains from Regency Solitaire and, instead of being an absorbing pleasure, the game kept turning into a grind. That, in turn, recast the light storytelling as a rather convoluted but shallow plot that I lost track of during long boss fights. vErDiCt An ambitious and novel game, but one which unfortunately exposes and compounds the weaknesses of solitaire.

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Watch out for unsporting attacks.

Leave nights out before someone draws their sword.

In non-highwaywoman life there are parties to attend.

Effective outfits aren’t always chic.

February 2018

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rEviEW Injustice 2

Biff! Pow! fatality! For the single-player fighting enthusiast, INjustIce 2 is best-in-class. By Alex Donaldson

I

t wasn’t that surprising when it was announced that Injustice 2 was going to have a delayed PC release. Developer NetherRealm Studios’ last PC effort was Mortal Kombat X, a game with an utterly disastrous PC port at launch. Skipping the PC for a while made some kind of sense, even if it was disappointing – and now, months later, the wait has paid off nicely, delivering a well-made version of an excellent game for PC players.

This sense of ease carries through For the uninitiated, Injustice is what to the rest of the port. It is locked at happens when you take the brutalthe 60fps that’s vital for fighting feeling melee of Mortal Kombat and games and it runs like a dream both combine it with DC’s finest on a GTX 970 at 1080p resolution superheroes. There are 36 characters and on a heftier GTX 1080ti at 4K. to toy around with, ranging from the Ultrawide aspect ratios properly famous, like are fully supported, and the movie Justice Pretty much a handy benchmark League crew, down to can autodetect the lesser-known likes everything you tool your system and judge of Blue Beetle and do in Injustice 2 if you’re ready for Captain Cold. earns you some online play. Everybody has a range Aside from its of normal and special sort of reward roster, the main moves that fit their strength of Injustice 2 comic book ability set isn’t its core one-on-one battles but in well-balanced combat designed its depth of content. Where Street first and foremost to be played with Fighter V has struggled to provide friends either online or locally. solo players with things to do Injustice 2 supports that well, Injustice 2 has a ludicrous amount of incidentally. PC fighters can be very content. There’s a lavishly produced hit-and-miss with controller and story mode that does a significantly arcade stick support. Injustice 2 was better job of telling a Batman vs one of the good ones: whatever stick Superman story than the movie, but or controller I threw at it worked that’s just scratching the surface. without any fuss. There’s keyboard The standout solo offering is support, too, and this is as seamless Multiverse mode, which uses the with a controller as it is on console, comic book Infinite Crisis lore as a which is more than can be said for base for challenges that rotate with a many other fighter ports.

Need to KNow What is it? DC Superheroes duke it out in arcade fighter combat. EXPECt tO PaY £40 DEvElOPEr NetherRealm Studios, QLOC PublishEr WB Games rEviEWED On Nvidia 1080ti, i7-6700, 32GB RAM (and 970, i5-6600, 16GB) MultiPlaYEr One-on-one online, with rotating lobbies and tournaments link www.injustice.com

H o ly c r o s s o v e r , B at m a N Universe-hopping DLC for fans everywhere One advantage of Injustice 2 ’s delayed PC release is that much of its DLC is already available. The biggest additions are new guest characters – non-DC Comics favourites added to the game as downloadable extras for a little more dough.

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suB-Zero aNd raIdeN

These Mortal Kombat guests bring their unique ice and thunder powers with them, but you sadly won’t be able to rip out Batman’s spine.

February 2018

HellBoy

A giant stone fist to smash folk to mush with makes Hellboy a perfect fit for Injustice’s combat.

tHe teeNage mutaNt NINja turtles

They crossed over with the Batman comics in 2015, and the foursome has stumbled its way into Injustice 2.

variety of rewards. There’s also a full tutorial and training suite.

GearinG up

Pretty much everything you do in Injustice 2 earns you some sort of reward. Experience is gained, meters fill up, and there’s a constant sense of compelling progression. Despite having loot boxes Injustice 2’s console release didn’t trigger outrage, and that’s because it’s handled well. It’s all about earning new gear – custom armour for each member of the cast. All gear has a unique look and also carries buffs. Some might impact stats like health or strength, while others offer bonus experience and the like. There’s an enormous amount of loot catering to every DC niche, so if you want Batman Beyond Batman or classic Harley Quinn all you have to do is grind it out and earn it. These stats and changes can be taken into many of Injustice 2’s modes, but crucially for ranked matches all of the buffs are turned off – it becomes cosmetic gear for bragging rights only. Online was where Mortal Kombat X grievously suffered, but it seems the lesson has been learned: aside from the briefest of hiccups around Multiverse mode, getting into an Injustice 2 match has been a breeze. Once in, it works fabulously. The days of waiting ten minutes for a laggy match of Mortal Kombat now feel blissfully distant. In fact, my only real criticisms are of obtuse menus, comparatively long loads and the generally grimy style of the game. NetherRealm’s heavyfeeling combat isn’t the best in the genre, but it fits this kind of game perfectly. It sure knows how to make an accessible, fun fighting game with lots to do, no matter your skill level. vErDiCt A great port of a brilliant, entertaining fighter with a staggering amount of content beyond multiplayer brawling.

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Characters even smack each other about a bit on character select.

The base designs are cool, but the customisation is sublime.

Characters run from famous down to ‘…who?’ territory.

Expect to see a lot of Harley online.

Most stages – like the Batcave – are full of Easter eggs for fans.

February 2018

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rEviEW Okami HD

SumI-ace A cult favourite finally arrives on PC, but does oKami Hd deserve its classic status? By Chris Schilling

Y

es, you can skip the intro. If you’ve played Okami before, you’ll know it’s a slow starter – and even if you haven’t, you may well have heard as much. Essentially, it’s 15 minutes or so of scene-setting, literally unfurling across a paper scroll that seems to stretch on forever. Yet the languid storytelling is a patience test: if you can sit through it without fidgeting, then you’re perfectly qualified for the sweeping, serenely-paced saga that follows. At the risk of invoking Alan Partridge, been blighted by the return of an ancient malevolent demon, and, as a Okami is a deep bath of a game, an white wolf inspirited by the sun adventure to sink into and luxuriate goddess Amaterasu, you’re asked to in. It’s not a game you can play in sort things out and restore Nippon to bitesized pieces, but rather one to clear long evenings and weekends for, its former glory. The results of your to stock up on snacks efforts are so joyous and drinks and settle It’s a competent you’ll want to clear up down with for the last bit of duration. It’s arguably port – albeit every malingering evil. With indulgent to a fault: without many the help of a divine you’ll probably be bells or brush, you can ready for it to be over physically paint over comfortably before it whistles the bad stuff in the actually ends, but in a world: bold strokes and way that’s in keeping with the game’s generosity of spirit: if swirls of ink produce cascades of in the end it gives you a bit too much, cherry blossoms and rushing waves of blooms that race across the ground surely that’s better than not enough? like an unstoppable wave, the camera And goodness, it’s still beautiful. struggling to keep pace as tainted The HD treatment means it looks a territory suddenly flourishes with little crisper than the soft focus new, colourful life. original, but it mostly serves as a On PC, Okami feels similarly reminder that gorgeous, distinctive refreshed. It’s a competent port – art design will always outlast albeit without many bells or whistles attempts at photorealism. This – that runs at a locked 30fps, which folkloric vision of Nippon is a world suits the game but will no doubt of thick, inky lines and great washes disappoint some. Beyond that, it of colour. At first, however, they’re offers a range of resolutions, up to murky and muted: the land has

Scroll creditS

amater aSu

An intelligent wolf with a lazy streak – she has a tendency to nod off during longer NPC speeches.

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What is it? A long, leisurely action adventure starring a wolf with godly powers. EXPECt tO PaY £16 DEvElOPEr Clover Studio/ Hexadrive PublishEr Capcom rEviEWED On Intel Core i5-4440, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 645 MultiPlaYEr None link www.okami-game.com

Introducing Okami’s central cast

iSSuN

A garrulous artist who can be brusque and rude to others: Kamiya’s Twitter account in miniature, basically.

february 2018

Need to KNow

SuSaNo

This bellicose but likeable drunkard is anxious about his apparent inability to live up to his warrior lineage.

Sa K u ya

A tree spirit whose appearances belie her importance: she summons Amaterasu in the first place.

waK a

This flute-playing swordsman challenges Amaterasu throughout her journey.

4K, but not much else besides. You can choose between the original 4:3 aspect ratio and a widescreen presentation, and while load times are short, there’s an option to enable the loading screen minigames that weren’t included in earlier ports.

Broad StrokeS

Mouse controls prove a perfect fit for Amaterasu’s Celestial Brush. Stretch your pinky down to the Ctrl key and you’ll pull up a piece of parchment; click the left button to press the bristles against it and then you can easily sweep it across or around, or in graceful loops. (Or, if you’re me, an awkward, lumpy approximation of a loop – the kind that would cause Sonic the Hedgehog a serious injury were he to attempt to speed around it). It can be fussy when it comes to recognising your daubings, actually: it’s doubly annoying when your insect-sized ally, Issun, chides you when you’ve done the right thing, but not quite precisely enough for the game’s liking. But it’s forgiving enough that mistakes are rarely costly. Using WASD for movement is an acceptable trade-off; there’s controller support here, but drawing doesn’t feel as intuitive with a pad. The real benefits come during combat, where the immediacy of the brush controls means you can call upon its deific powers much more often. An ink meter ensures that you can’t just use it for every attack, but it’s more fun to mix things up anyway. With two of a steadily growing range of celestial weapons bound to each mouse button, you can whip enemies with a close-range melee attack to send them sprawling, before following up with a volley of fire from range and then pulling out the brush to cleave them in two as a final flourish. If you’re more of an explorer than a fighter, don’t worry: combat is rarely a roadblock, and many encounters are optional. Sure, some opponents require specific techniques to defeat: one beast


Cor. Even the save points are pretty.

Kamiya spices up the mythology with a bit of slapstick humour.

Flames: also beautiful. But deadly, of course. Now that’s what you call a low-hanging sun.

These dogs might look cute, but you’ll have to fight them to earn their trust.

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NOPE. A wonderfully creepy bit involving an elderly couple will give you the shivers.

This digging interlude is easy, but a pleasant change of pace.

No game with a fishing minigame can ever be truly bad. Okami’s is a good’un.

Regular enemies are at once slightly nightmarish and kind of goofy.

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Feed the birds, 500 yen a bag...


rEviEW Okami HD

requires you to wear it down before it collapses, ready for its protective shell to be opened up with your Bloom ability so you can happily pound on its weak point. But plenty of others will eventually yield to relatively crude tactics if you’re more of a button-masher. Then again, scrapping with style is incentivised, with a ranking for each encounter – from a wilting sapling to a sakura tree in full blossom – determining your post-battle cash reward and encouraging you to finish quickly without taking damage. Some brush abilities do feel slightly overpowered. Conjure a large cherry bomb next to just about any opponent and you’re laughing, but the sheer breadth of abilities makes you more likely to experiment: drawing dots to produce a wall of thin trees gives you a breather in the tougher battles. Pulling up a menu to use health top-ups or consumables that grant temporary buffs feels like a clunky throwback, but if you’re careful enough you’ll rarely need to use these. And during the sporadic boss fights, you might welcome the brief reprieve while you heal up or shuffle your attacking options.

Strength of the wolf

dr aw four Another quartet of artful games max aNd tHe curSe of BrotHerHood

A powerful magic marker lets you draw fireballs, water spouts and vines to get around in this robust puzzle platformer.

Pa S S Pa r t o u t: tHe StarviNg artiSt

This indie curio gives you a simple paint package to scribble pictures you can sell in order to fund a costly diet of baguettes and wine.

l ayerS of fe ar

A decent but somewhat uneven horror game, in which an unhinged artist attempts to paint his magnum opus while confronting his own personal demons.

liNe rider

Draw slopes, ramps and loops to give a small boy the sleigh ride of his life in this frighteningly moreish freebie. Check out the community creations: they’re insane.

These encounters are expertly staged, exploring all corners of Nippon. And away from the critical path, there’s with creative touches that make the plenty to find, with dozens of rustic monstrous, imposing guardians so vignettes that expertly blend light much more than just a longer health and dark: these are places haunted by bar to slowly whittle down. One can be hooked onto hovering blossoms to ghosts of the past (and unsettled by a clear and very present danger) but hold it in place, while a multiheaded the villagers and townsfolk you meet behemoth requires you to pour sake are frequently funny and memorable. down its necks to get it sleepily There’s plenty of toing and froing drunk. With clear tells, incoming should you choose to attacks can be dodged tackle those side without too much It’s a little quests, and though effort, while weapons that double as shields more flexible Amaterasu moves at a clip when she give you extra than old-school fair reaches full speed – an protection in a pinch. Zelda games odd but charming With a dodge and a touch requires her to leap that allow you to in places gradually build avoid blows with room momentum – the to spare, they’re as segmented nature of the world makes forgiving as Hideki Kamiya-directed boss fights are ever likely to get: some backtracking less enjoyable. There is a fast travel system, though in might take a while, but the outcome keeping with Okami’s desire to let is never really in doubt. Still, it’s only everything unfold at a measured right that you should feel powerful, pace, it discourages you from using it even in the face of an opponent the too often by making you pay for the size of a pagoda; you are, after all, privilege. You’ll have to stump up the blessed with the power of a god. yen for a special coin, which can be The ease of combat – and the dropped into a body of water to ability to sprint away from create a vortex, letting you warp to encounters in the overworld – similar points across Nippon. encourages you to spend more time

If it’s rare to encounter a game that follows the rituals and routines of Japanese myth, Okami also follows some more conventional rhythms. In a structural sense it’s similar to a Zelda game – or at least a Zelda game prior to Breath of the Wild – with a large, open hub linking smaller, more labyrinthine areas, many of which yield new abilities that in turn unlock more of the world. Okami’s dungeons aren’t as intricate as its closest inspiration, and its puzzle solutions are often alarmingly simple, though often the joy is in the details: the tactile process of drawing water from a pool to fill a sake barrel, for example, or a lift mechanism that sucks up bombs – the explosion sending you rocketing up to the next floor. There are silly and exciting setpieces: you might have to dig through rocks to find a water source against the clock, or prevent a log from plunging down a waterfall by tethering it to flowers on the riverbank as it hurtles along. It’s a little more flexible than old-school Zelda games in places, and by the latter stages you’ll have enough powers that there’s often more than one way to deal with a situation. If a treasure chest is protected by licking flames and there are no pools nearby, you can produce a swirl of wind to blow them out instead.

MaSterpiece

Not to get too soppy about it, but there’s something in the way Okami directly involves you in the telling of its story – essentially casting you as an artist retelling a fable in the strokes of your brushwork – that feels strangely magical. There’s a sense of wonder in even the simplest interactions, whether it’s gentle dabs of ink producing stars to complete constellations, a crescent to accelerate nightfall, or a snaking line traced to a floating bloom to spirit Amaterasu upward. It’s there, too, in its quieter moments, like the idyllic animation that plays out when you feed a wild animal, the camera lazily circling as they chow down while Amaterasu peacefully sits and watches. Like the intro, you can skip it. But why would you want to? vErDiCt Occasionally languid to the point of lethargy, Okami is a gorgeous and unforgettable adventure all the same. february 2018

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rEviEW Battlerite

THE RITE STUFF BAttLeRIte gets to the heart of what makes MOBAs great. By Chris Thursten

B

attlerite gathers up the best parts of MOBA, free-to-play and competitive game design and frames them in the most flattering light that it can muster. This game of close-fought, tightly crafted arena combat isn’t just one of the best team action games to be released this year, it is a goodwill ambassador for a corner of PC gaming that doesn’t always make the best first impression to newcomers.

Need to KNow What is it? Competitive arena combat game with a MOBA-style skill system. EXPECt tO PaY Nothing

teams fight over a small arena with a This spiritual successor to Stunlock’s wide-open area in the centre. Die and Bloodline Champions has the DEvElOPEr Stunlock Studios you’re booted back to the benches; top-down perspective and hotbar teams score a point by wiping out action of a MOBA, sans the PublishEr In-house their opponent, and matches are experience and gold-farming typically played first-to-three. To strategic layer that makes games like rEviEWED On encourage strategic Dota 2 and League of Intel Core i7-6700K, 16GB RAM, GeForce play, an orb periodically Legends so complex. If Battlerite also spawns in the centre of GTX 980, Windows 10 you’re among the map that grants comparatively small MultiPlaYEr mutes all your the Online, up to six players bonus health and number of people who matchmade energy to the team that have invested serious link partners by takes it down: an time into MMO PvP www.battlerite.com effective condensation then you’ll find familiar default of the Baron Nashor or elements here. Again, Roshan mechanic from however, Battlerite League of Legends or Dota 2 that strips away chaff and adds depth. encourages a really rapid-fire This cast of warriors, mages and, sequence of strategic plays, feints, err, time-bending goat-things has counterattacks and gambits. been designed for balance and When the match timer expires, a competitive variety. Despite the PUBG-style ‘Death Zone’ begins to prevalence of stuns, silences, zoning effects and ultimate powers, Battlerite contract around the edges of the map, draws many of its best ideas from the funnelling the survivors into that zone in the centre. Fighting one-onworld of fighting games. You don’t have a mana bar: you generate energy through the use of powers, and this can be cashed in to trigger your best abilities or souped-up ‘EX’ versions of your regular powers. This is an Prime cuts from Battlerite’s roster elegant way to create a competitive environment where every player has loads of room to express their skill. The right EX ability, triggered at the right time, can have more impact than a hastily triggered ult. There are moments of fighting-game-style drama in the micro-pauses between plays, the kind of intricate FRe YA AShKA PeARL competitive minutiae that should A frontline warrior A fireman who relies A caster with the make the hairs on the back of your who manipulates on carefully aimed ability to create neck stand up if you’ve ever cared electricity to stuns and dashes to enemy-repelling counter attacks, stay alive while bubbles of water. It about getting good at a game. repel opponents, dealing loads of takes skill to deal Battlerite’s principle mode, grant herself shields damage from range. damage with her two-on-two or three-on-three and deal bonus Vulnerable up close, slow-charging elimination, is designed to allow this damage to foes. if you can catch him. ranged attack. intricate combat system to shine. Two

G L A d I At o R S , R e A d Y

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two at the end of a long series, employing every trick and combo you’ve learned to cling on to a hope of victory, is genuinely exhilarating.

antitoxin

If you’re the sort to get frustrated or upset by a loss, Battlerite isn’t going to fix that. However, there is a decent tutorial, a practice mode and co-op bot matches to help you develop your confidence. Battlerite also mutes all of your matchmade partners by default, turning typically toxic chat into something that you have to opt in to, rather than out of. This is a smart bandaid on a problem that no game this competitive has yet successfully solved, and don’t worry: Battlerite’s combat is fast and reactionary enough that you don’t really need to chat with your teammates to do well. This is also an example of free-to-play done right. There are loot boxes, but they’re of the benign cosmetic sort and you’ll unlock plenty of them for free through regular play. Crucially, Stunlock also offers the option to pay a one-off fee to unlock all current and future characters. This recontextualises free-to-play as a demo version, ensuring that the matchmaking is populated but allowing you to opt out of the microtransaction economy for less than the cost of a full-price game. Battlerite is a really impressive, complete-feeling experience that deftly dodges the problems that trail after its genre and its business model. It’s an indie game wading into territory that has proved perilous to bigger-budget endeavours, and making a success of it. Most importantly, though, it’s a game that gets to the heart of why it’s fun to team up with your friends and make tiny wizards fight one another. vErDiCt Deep but accessible, Battlerite is packed with smart decisions and reliably creates great competitive moments.

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Even support characters have some deadly tricks.

Good ult usage can end a fight fast.

Poison frogman Croak is very strong.

The MVP award lets you know if you actually helped or not.

Winning that fifth game in a round feels great.

February 2018

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rEviEW World of Final Fantasy

HaTs off Wear a chocobo on your head in world of fiNal faNtasy. By Daniella Lucas

E

ver wanted to know what would happen if Pokémon and Final Fantasy had a baby? If you swap Pokémon for hats, then that’s essentially what you get from World of Final Fantasy. This turn-based RPG features cutesy Final Fantasy monsters to catch and wear on your head in battle, while you slowly unravel a deeper plot. You play as amnesiac twins Reynn and Lann, who journey across Grymoire – a world where everyone looks like Funko Pops.

Need to KNow What is it? A Final Fantasy spin-off RPG where you catch living Funko Pop-style creatures and balance them on your head

EXPECt tO PaY dungeon full of icy enemies then The twins also happen to have weird £30 you’ll want to add a fire-based arm tattoos that let them tame DEvElOPEr partner to your stack, and of course cactuars, moogles and all sorts of Square Enix you’ll want to balance your party famous Final Fantasy monsters – PublishEr with something that can heal. here called Mirages – to do their In-house It’s an inventive way to add a layer bidding in battle. As you wander the of strategy to a fight – world you’ll find rEviEWED On i7-7700, 16 GB RAM, you can even choose to yourself in famous GeForce GTX 1070, There’s a lot unstack so only one of locations from the Windows 10 you takes a hit instead series, meeting here for MultiPlaYEr the whole group, characters from the diehard series of None though there is also a game and uncovering a fans to get risk of something plot that’s far darker link www. meaner than you than the characters’ behind worldoffinalfantasy. knocking you flat on jokey banter implies. com your arse, leaving you You’re also ‘helped’ by weak before you can regroup. The an annoying floating fox creature most fun I had with World of Final called Tama during your travels. Its Fantasy was when fiddling around inability to string a grammatically with my setups and taking them correct sentence together is meant to into battle to see if a chocobo chick be cute and quirky, but instead I and a mechanical Claw will found myself wanting to launch it complement each other. into the sun. It’s so annoying that it almost ruins the entire game for me. The twist on traditional turnbased combat is where this game shines. While the siblings are pretty strong individually, they get even Tips for keeping on top of toppling stronger depending on which of your adorable little Mirage friends you abilities add up decide to plop on your head. They If each Mirage in a form a stack as all of your health and stack has a similar spell, stats pool together, like Power such as Fire and Fira, then they can combine for a Rangers morphing into that giant stronger attack. robot thing, fighting as one. Reyn and Lann can also change size doN’t themselves, so they have two types of overcompeNsate Resistances stack, but be stacks at their disposal: in their ‘Jiant’ careful as they can cancel form they can don two monsters on each other out. You don’t their heads, but as smaller ‘Lilikins’ want to mix fire and ice. they can ride larger beasts, such as a Behemoth or even Magitek Armor, overworld extras with just a single critter above. Mirages can help outside of Your abilities change depending battle. Some scout out items on what you’re stacked with, and and others act as noble they can be tailored for the situation. steeds to ride around. If, for example, you’re entering a cold

s e c r e t s t o s ta c K i N g

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February 2018

Final Fan service

You add Mirages to your party by throwing a prism at them after meeting certain battle conditions. You can level-up and evolve them into bigger, tougher monster pals by unlocking abilities over time. As you progress you’ll even find Champion characters from other Final Fantasy games who will join you for brief, powerful attacks much in the same way a summon works. There’s a lot here for die-hard series fans to get behind, but once you get past the 10-15 hour mark that variety seems to peak and battles become repetitive. While the port works fine on my PC (some Steam users are reporting problems with AMD cards), it’s lacking in options. You also can’t adjust options in the game: if you want to change resolution, for instance, you have to right-click the game in your Steam library to launch a config menu. It doesn’t support mouse control, and you can’t reassign the awkward keyboard setup. You’re better off using a controller. On paper, this is very much my jam. It’s a love letter to all things Final Fantasy with character designs so cute that I want to squeeze everything to death while spending all of my money on the merchandise. But the bizarre overreliance on convoluted naming conventions and a billion menu layers does a real disservice to the core of the game. The world itself is lovely – it’s a Final Fantasy toyland that makes you feel like you’re comically stomping around a model village. The music is glorious, too, touching on some classic Final Fantasy themes, but there are too many annoyances in the way to properly enjoy any of it. Though if someone is willing to punt Tama into a bog, I’ll give it another ten points. vErDiCt Cute, with a battle system that has depth, but ultimately too annoying to want to spend any time with.

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Areas are small and limited, but they have their charms. You’ll encounter more impressive Mirages later in the game.

Dungeons can include basic puzzles.

You can be big or small in the overworld.

It’s hard to take Champions seriously when they look this cute.

February 2018

91


FrEE GaMEs rEviEW Haunted Cities Volume 2

Gloompuke’s medieval world is full of talking animals. You just know those notes are going to be cryptic.

Indie devs have mastered the PlayStation aesthetic.

Most Haunted

K

Take a spooky stroll through HAUNted CItIeS VoLUMe 2. By Tom Sykes

itty Horrorshow makes some of the best first-person exploration games, creating moody worlds that feature elements of horror, roleplaying and adventure gaming. You might be familiar with her VHS horror story Anatomy, but now Horrorshow has released her second compilation. There are four experiences in Haunted Cities Volume 2, with each game taking you to a fascinating universe operating under its own set of rules. There’s a great horror game waiting First up is the cheerily-titled to be made from this malevolent Gloompuke, a medieval fantasy adventure that reminded me of Might environment, but at the moment it’s & Magic and Ravenloft, if their worlds pure atmosphere. You’re free to comb over every inch of the monastery, were compressed to the size of a reading cryptic notes and examining football field and populated by bizarre artefacts anthropomorphic without the threat of NPCs spouting surreal Horrorshow is being hassled. dialogue. With its I’m less fond of deliberately oldat her best Roads, a higher-fidelity fashioned controls, its when she archipelago based chunky low-poly explores around a series of environments and its low-res sprites and survival horror pathways, which curve in and around a piece textures, Gloompuke of poetry projected harkens back to what onto the sky. Horrorshow is at her was probably the CRPG’s heyday. best when she explores survival This curated slice of CRPG focuses horror, something you’ll be able to do on setting instead, dropping the yourself with the final and best game player into a world with interesting in the bundle, Scarlet Bough. sights lying around every corner. With obvious nods to Silent Hill, The second game, Monastery, is a darker adventure set in an abandoned Scarlet Bough drops you into a foggy, low-definition city where something priory, mainly notable for the horrible has happened, and where terrifically eerie copse that resides in something horrible obviously soon the centre of the circular structure. 92

February 2018

Need to KNow What is it? A collection of strange worlds that evoke the aesthetic and atmosphere of ’90s videogames. EXPECt tO PaY Nothing DEvElOPEr Horrorshow PublishEr In-house rEviEWED On AMD A4-6300z, GeForce GT 610, 6GB RAM MultiPlaYEr None link bit.ly/HauntedCities2

will. Your job is to explore the oppressive location, collecting odd trinkets and reading hastily scribbled notes that won’t instil you with much confidence that you’ll survive.

Misty eyes

As I walked toward a set of ruins, listening to the Akira Yamaoka-esque soundtrack, I was transported back to the late ’90s, when I was an acneridden adolescent playing Silent Hill on a CRT TV. I can’t tell if it’s just nostalgia, or whether low-res assets, an abundance of fog and effective sound design are three ingredients that conjure up one hell of an electric atmosphere, but I had a blast exploring this cursed place. Like many of Horrorshow’s games, Haunted Cities uses the style and limitations of a bygone era to tell new stories that feel comfortingly like old stories, and to explore brave new worlds unburdened by the demands of modern technology. Roll on Volume 3. vErDiCt A game (well, a collection of four games) for fans of the early 3D era, who are happy with a bit of aimless wandering.

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HigHway to Hell MIDNIGHT SCENES puts you in the zone. By Tom Sykes

I

t might be lacking in the sort of big, ironic finale that helped to characterise The Twilight Zone, but in every other respect this gorgeous adventure game is a fitting tribute to Rod Serling’s classic sci-fi anthology series. The shortform Midnight Scenes: The Highway puts you in the role of motorist Claire, who is stopped one night on a deserted highway by a collapsed pole and a big puddle of electrified water. Not wanting to be fried alive, Claire gets out and decides to investigate the surrounding area, where she finds an abandoned farmhouse and, well, some unexpected things. The first thing I should point out is the exquisite pixel art. Midnight Scenes is the work of Thimbleweed Park and The Curious Expedition artist Octavi Navarro. Navarro’s eye for detail brings this small

cross-section of rural America to life, while faithfully evoking the aesthetic of the original, black-and-white Twilight Zone. As with the show, the narrator only sticks their beak in for the very beginning and end of the game, leaving the rest of Midnight Scenes to play out in an entirely wordless fashion. This works well given the high detail level of the environment and Claire’s expressive animation, and it even makes narrative sense, as she fails to come across anyone that could really carry a conversation during the game. It’ll be over before you’ve finished your cup of tea, but you should still find the time to sit down with Navarro’s slick, eerie adventure, which is surely the best gaming homage to The Twilight Zone since Alan Wake’s brilliantly campy Night Springs skits.

80

This is a little like a miniThimbleweed Park episode. There are only a few usable items.

NEED To kNow EXPECT TO PAY Nothing

DEvElOPEr Octavi Navarro

i’m a believer

PublishEr In-house

You have to find the house before you can begin to clear it out.

Have FAITH in this indie horror. By Tom Sykes

Y

ou don’t need photorealistic environments, a motioncaptured poltergeist and cheap jump scares to frighten people – a pixel art adventure can do the job just as well. Faith is the best horror title we never had on the Commodore 64: a deceptively simple top-down game that has a few tricks up its sleeve with regards to its creepy villain. You play as a young priest who travels to a cursed woodland house, in order to exorcise the murderous spirit residing within. Along the way, you’ll battle freaky demons, and cleanse the spirits from possessed items in order to piece together a surprisingly detailed backstory. With a limited colour palette and tiny sprites, developer Airdorf has created a stark world that’s nonetheless rich with pixelated menace. The artwork might look

simple, but the animation is occasionally incredible, in particular when the violent spirit you’re there to investigate makes their memorable debut appearance. From that point on, Faith is a tense game of cat and mouse, if at times a frustrating one. Checkpoints help to minimise the pain of dying, but does the game really need to restart from before unskippable cutscenes? (Impressive as those cutscenes may be.) Thankfully, the frustration passes, as the majority of Faith’s encounters are fair, inventive and well designed. The game culminates in one of a handful of endings, which depend on actions taken (or not taken) at the close of the story. There’s a confidence to that story and to the world it inhabits that reminds me of Slender and Five Nights at Freddy’s, and I’m curious to see what Airdorf comes up with next.

79

The animation in this scene is magnificent.

NEED To kNow EXPECT TO PAY Nothing

DEvElOPEr Airdorf

PublishEr In-house

February 2018

93


thEY’rE baCk old gaMeS reviSited by Chris thursten Who attaches Mark Strong’s bum-cloth? A mystery.

Mark Strong doesn’t care a jot for this explosion. For sentient fungus, Orks really bleed.

Shoulderpads: the waist-high cover you carry with you.

SHOPPING AT PRIMARCH

S

Delight in the averageness of warhammer 40,000: Space mariNe

pace Marine is the best game there is about being the chunkiest Mark Strong you can imagine, blowing up hordes of blocky green sarf Londoners across a brown sci-fi expanse. That may read as insincere, but it isn’t. Honestly, Warhammer 40,000 games have a tendency to be as average as it gets, and Space Marine is the most average of them all, and somehow this makes it brilliant in the exact way that anything you buy for four quid has the capacity to be brilliant.

developers spread across the Pro tip: don’t spend more than about American Midwest. four quid on Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine isn’t an Epic or id Space Marine. If your Steam client is game, however: it’s made by Relic. reading ‘£20’ then you’ve likely This is a mixed blessing because, on encountered the game in a rare the one hand, Relic is the able group interval between sales. Wait five of Canadians behind minutes and try again. Dawn of War, the only This is a halfMashing Orks Warhammer 40,000 decade-old attempt to game series to achieve wrangle Warhammer is a reliably at 40,000 into the Gears entertaining above-averageness least twice. On the of War template, which way to spend other hand, Relic is a obviously works strategy game perfectly because some time developer and it shows: almost every sci-fi there are good ideas in action game ever made, Space Marine but an equivalent not least Gears of War, owes Games amount of jank – button prompts that Workshop a deep and unpayable don’t register and lopsided level debt. Warhammer was approaching design and a not-quite-right worldbuilding like a videogame approach to gunsmanship that before videogame worldbuilding was oscillates between striking exactitude a thing, smiling proudly as vast and limp ineffectiveness. It’s average, shoulderpads and waist-high cover you know? It is a strident piece of and guns that sound like earthquakes baroque art that proclaims, ‘SEVEN flew the nest and took up roost on the desks and in the minds of shooter OUT OF TEN’. 94

February 2018

Need to KNow What is it? The best boots-on-theground 40K game, which isn’t saying a lot. EXPECt tO PaY Probably about £4 DEvElOPEr Relic PublishEr Sega rEviEWED On Intel Core i7-6700K, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 980, Windows 10 MultiPlaYEr Yep, though private co-op is your best bet link www.spacemarine.com

ASTARTE ME UP

Here’s the thing, though: it doesn’t really matter because mashing Orks is a reliably entertaining way to spend some time and this universe is a reliably entertaining place in which to do it. Your titular Space Marine dives into a world at endless war with a placid expression on his face, a gold skull on his shoulderpad, and a workmanlike attitude to Ork removal in his heart. You fire boltguns from the hip and combo chainsword sweeps into boots to the face into gory takedowns and you do it over and over again. You already know whether you’re going to spend four quid on this game because you already know whether you’ve got a bit of Warhammer 40,000 in your blood, or at the very least in an attic at your parents’ house. Go on. Revel in it. There’s no shame here. Do forward rolls in power armour and punch a Traitor Astartes in the horns. Treat yourself to £4 worth of an okay time. vErDiCt In the grim hunkness of a CGI recreation of Mark Strong, there is only phwoar. The rest of it is just okay, though.

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rEviEW

ON DEF EARS

If you’re ready for me, boy…

Unfortunately, deFcoN remains relevant

D

efcon is dark and more than a little grim but there’s nothing of the far future here: in fact, the tonal gulf between Mark Strong’s Big Day Out and the quiet terror of thermonuclear war is so vast that I regret embarking on this segue in the first place. Oh well – it’s too late now. You can’t pluck an in-flight ICBM out of the air, and you can’t change an intro once it’s written. Those are, regrettably, the rules. When it came out, Introversion’s nuclear strategy simulator was evocative but a little retro: its minimalist art recalls Wargames and the computer interfaces of the ’80s. Its doomsday clock subject matter riffed on the paranoias of the Cold War, a war that historians will one day definitely unilaterally agree ended in 1989. Or ‘Big Fire Minus Thirty’, as it will be known to the

wandering gasoline-whisperers of the Northern MAGAwastes. To the point, though: Defcon is still brilliant. It’s a rare strategy game that manages to make you feel something, let alone match robust design with a message. The cold mathematics of the thing – figuring out where to position your subs, when to switch your silos from civilian-protecting missile defence to civilianendangering missile offence – is chilling and challenging. The silence, punctuated by stifled sobs and the echoing thumps of distant detonations, gets into your bones. It scales, too. At the fastest speed setting Defcon is something between speed chess and Missile Command. At the slowest – real time – it supports a day-spanning rumination for you and your friends. All it needs to achieve full pertinence is a built-in Twitter client.

88

…you better push the button and let me know.

Need to KNow EXPECt tO PaY £7

DEvElOPEr Introversion

Pictured: the ground. Also, shadows

PublishEr In-house

Not all heroes wear capes or have bodies.

Another moonbase adventure ends in tragedy.

ShadowGroUNdS

teLeGLitch

T

L

his opens with a long cutscene where a man who sounds unfortunately like Microsoft Sam explains the moon Ganymede to you slowly over a soundtrack that soars as high as MIDI can soar, which isn’t far. This is a weird choice for a game that is functionally a sort-of modern go at Smash TV, but Shadowgrounds’ cinematic ambitions (read: it would like to be a bit like the popular motion picture Aliens, please) are a reliable source of both unintentional humour and momentum-sapping breaks in the monster-clicking. Hasn’t aged brilliantly, all things considered: as a species, humans are now good at making Smash TV, and there are better Smash TVs to be smashed.

55

ike this, for example. Sometime between 2006 and 2013 we, or specifically I suppose the people who made Teleglitch, determined that less is more. This is also a shooter where you’re alone on a far away space moon where the alien experiments done gone real bad, but Teleglitch treats this as set dressing only. It has you stuffing explosives into pipes to craft makeshift rocket launchers to clear away clumps of gribblemonsters as you progress through randomly-generated levels. You have to start over when you die, but there’s an all-over sense of retro craft that makes perseverance worthwhile. Also, it’s got nice RGB separation effects, and these will never, ever, look dated.

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daY oF deFeat: SoUrce

F

orget loot crates in Normandy: this is WW2 as we experienced it back in my day, which is to say loud, lethal and always in the company of a man who is just a M1 Garand floating next to some text that says ‘ERROR’. Don’t laugh: ERROR took a bullet for me, and the sad thing was that no one knew he had died because a) he was already bright red and b) he was a big block of text. Also, at the time I had zoned out while trying to figure out how to switch my gigantic network performance overlay off. Real war, kids.

75

February 2018

95


104 reVIeWs

Is the GTX 1070 Ti an even better version of the best graphics card?

106 98 group test

BuYer’s guIDe

Get the best PC parts for your build no matter your budget.

No, not killer drones. Here we round up the best wireless mice.

A wireless mouse? That’s pretty handy. I said ‘handy’. Get it?

FEBRUARY 2018

97


UPGRADE

group test By Ed Chester

ww

wireless mice Set your mouse free

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February 2018


HArDwAre Group Test

Q&A Wired or wireless? Wireless is more convenient and performance is good enough now for most gamers. However, wired mice still have a slight advantage – they are endlessly reliable, and they’re cheaper, too. But what about batteries? Every now and then you have to charge wireless mice or swap batteries over. However, several wireless mice now allow you to plug in a cable when needed, which also has the advantage of switching to a wired connection. Moreover, the latest mice from Logitech can also charge wirelessly using the Logitech PowerPlay mousemat.

Dictionary

O

ver the years, wireless mice have got a lot better, so much so that the latest models offer exceptional performance. Many prefer the reliability of wired mice, but for most users wireless models are now good enough. What’s more, many wireless mice now offer the best of both worlds, with you able to plug in a cable when needed. It’s therefore intriguing to note that several of

the big names in peripherals don’t currently offer a wireless mouse solution. Still, Logitech and Razer are doing their best to hold up the wireless end, with both companies offering several models ¬ in fact they make five of the seven models on test here. We’ve put all seven mice on this test through their paces, looking at performance and features as well as that allimportant convenience that is the hallmark of a wireless mouse.

DPI – Dots per inch is the standard method by which the sensitivity of a mouse is measured. The higher the DPI, the further the cursor will move on your screen. Reporting/polling rate – This is how frequently a mouse will report its position to the computer, measured in hertz (Hz). The faster it is, the more accurate. Latency – The potential delay in a signal being received and sent on to the computer, as compared to a direct wired connection. The best wireless mice have a latency of just a millisecond.

February 2018

99


HArDwAre Group Test

1

2

3

roccAt leADr www.roccat.com £130

logitecH g403 ProDigy wireless www.logitech.com £80

Wireless mice with their own charging docks may be uncommon, but they’re certainly not unique to the Razer Mamba series. The Roccat Leadr also has such a feature and more besides. A lot more, in fact.

Logitech’s G403 mouse is the company’s attempt at making a mouse that has all the performance but none of the extras, making it affordable but free from compromise. And largely it has succeeded.

1

This mouse is packed with goodies, including no less than eight extra buttons. These include a tilt switch behind the scroll wheel, a button below where the thumb rests and an analogue paddle. The only problem is that, despite Roccat’s best efforts to position them so that they don’t get in the way, it is easy to knock all these extra buttons. In particular, the analogue switch frequently changed weapons in the heat of battle. You can just disable the offending buttons, but there’s no point having all these extras if you can’t ever use them all. That said, this mouse’s dock is quite something. It’s very large and prominently presents your mouse as though it were a work of art. The dock also includes a charging indicator and illuminated Roccat logo, so it certainly isn’t subtle. All told, this is an excellent, feature-packed mouse for a very competitive price. Its ergonomics aren’t the best but its optical sensor is excellent and overall performance is top-notch.

80%

100

February 2018

2

At Logitech’s list price of £99.99, it’s a bit close to other mice that have far more features, but with it currently available for around £80, it’s great value. The mouse can be used in a wired mode. You’ll need to unplug the receiver to use a cable, but at least the option’s there. There are also a couple of RGB lighting zones, and its onboard memory means you can take presets with you on the go. The best thing, though, is that its ergonomics and performance are excellent. The simple, right-handed design with its thick rubberised sides sits effortlessly in the hand, suits a variety of grips and the mouse is light at just 107 grams. The six extra buttons are also perfectly placed. The mouse’s PMW3366 optical sensor is fantastic, delivering near flawless performance. If you’re just after a high-performance wireless mouse for the least outlay, the G403 is the one to get – or opt for the G703 which is identical, but includes PowerPlay and so is a touch more expensive.

90%


4

logitecH g903

Asus rog sPAtHA

www.logitech.com £130

www.asus.com £130

This is Logitech’s new first-class gaming mouse. It includes a bunch of features, including an ambidextrous design and a freewheeling scroll. However, its headline feature is the inclusion of Logitech’s PowerPlay tech.

The Asus ROG Spatha is bursting with features. In the box you also get a dock and stand, cables, interchangeable button switches, a mini torx screwdriver for dismantling the mouse and a case to store it all in.

3

This integrates wireless charging right into a mousemat, meaning the mouse is always charging. This works really well, though the impact on long-term battery remains to be seen. Also, the PowerPlay mat costs an extra £125 which is quite an investment. Otherwise, the G903 has lots going for it, though you wouldn’t know just from looking: its ambidextrous design doesn’t look comfortable. In use, however, the G903 works well, and the secret is its interchangeable buttons. You get back and forward buttons on both sides of the mouse, but whereas this usually makes such mice awkward to hold, here you can take out the buttons from whichever side you’re not using and insert a cover. Its other features work well, too, such as the two DPI buttons behind the scroll wheel. I’m less keen on the tiltable scroll wheel, but the fantastic optical sensor pulls things back. There isn’t a feature that makes the G903 shine – other than PowerPlay – but it’s still a versatile option.

80%

4

The default switches are rated for 20 million clicks and require a 60 gf (gram force) to activate, while the alternate pair require a 75 gf. They’re only rated to a million clicks, though, which suggests Asus knows most people won’t swap them. The mouse itself has six extra buttons, as well as your usual left, right, back, forward and middle. Four of these are positioned where your thumb rests, which brings us to a major frustration. That positioning means there’s basically no room to rest your thumb, making it awkward to lift and move the mouse without accidentally hitting a button. This is made worse by the device’s large size and its heavy build, measuring 135x90x43mm and weighing 179 grams. These ergonomic issues rather kill the Spatha’s chances, and the choice of a laser sensor further reduces its appeal for some gamers. If, for some reason, the ergonomics do work for you and you do prefer a laser sensor, it offers good performance and value.

70%

February 2018

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5

rAzer mAmbA

rAzer AtHeris

www.razer.com £150

www.razer.com £55

The Mamba has been one of the most desirable mice on the market ever since the first version arrived nearly ten years ago. And after all these years, it remains one of the best you can get.

The Atheris is a real surprise package from Razer. This tiny wireless device packs in all the core technology that you’d hope for but at a fraction of the price of most wireless mice. It’s the cheapest one on this test.

5

Its key appeal is in the charging dock. While several mice offer wired and wireless functionality, few also have a dock on which to rest and charge it. This makes using the Mamba that much more convenient as it quickly becomes a habit that you just dock the mouse after every use. Its wired option only comes into play for very long gaming sessions, or if you just prefer to game in a wired mode. It also helps that the Mamba looks great, although it isn’t quite as nice as some of Razer’s wired mice when it comes to ergonomics. It’s just a touch more compact and the top surface isn’t quite as grippy as some. The biggest problem with this mouse, though, is its laser sensor. It’s good for tracking on a variety of surfaces but isn’t as good as optical for providing smooth and stable tracking on fabric mousemats. The tiltable scroll wheel is also unnecessary for a gaming mouse. If you can get past this, though, then the Mamba remains an excellent wireless mouse.

80%

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February 2018

6

Part of the reason it manages to be so cheap is that it uses disposable AA batteries rather than rechargeables, but nonetheless it’s impressive stuff. What’s also worth noting is how well put together it is. Pry open the top and you can access the battery compartment wherein you’ll also find the stowage location for the tiny USB wireless adapter. This clever system means you can toss the mouse into a bag without fear of losing the adapter. And if the need does arise, the Atheris can also be used in Bluetooth mode. Running off disposable batteries also allows this mouse to last a whopping 12-and-a-half days of use before it runs dry. Of course, there are compromises, the most obvious of which is the small size. Such a cramped design means it isn’t as comfortable as large mice for long sessions. Also, although ambidextrous in design, you only get back/forward buttons on the left side of the device. Overall, though, this is one of the finest travel gaming mice you can buy.

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HArDwAre Group Test

stACKeD up PRICE (£)

DPI (dots per inch)

WEIGHT (grams)

1

Roccat Leadr 130 12,000 134

6 2

Logitech G403 80

7

12,000 107

3

Logitech G903 130 12,000 110

4

Asus ROG Spatha 130 8,200 179

5

Razer Mamba 150 16,000 133

6

Razer Atheris 55 7,200 66

Razer Lancehead

7

rAzer lAnceHeAD www.razer.com £125

125 16,000

Sensor Type

Buttons

Weight system

Wired/Wireless

1

Optical

14

No

Wired/Wireless

2

Optical

6

yes

Wired/Wireless

3

Optical

11

yes

Wired/Wireless

4

Laser

12

No

Wired/Wireless

5

75%

esseNtIALs

Laser

9

No

Wired/Wireless

6

7

While it has many similarities, there are several key differences. For a start, unlike the G903, this mouse looks great. The silver version isn’t as nice as black, but it’s still much classier than Logitech’s offering. The ergonomics and button layout are a bit more familiar and approachable, too. You get a normal lightweight scroll wheel and DPI buttons that are in line, rather than next to each other. However, you don’t get the removable buttons of the G903 so you’ll just have to disable, via software, the buttons on the side you don’t use. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it uses a laser sensor, where optical is still the gamers choice. This alone would put many off getting this over the G903, though some users do still prefer laser, particularly if you use a hard mousemat or if you use your mouse on a tabletop. There’s not enough here to push the Lancehead to the top. It’s good for left-handed Razer fans but the G903 or the Mamba are better for right-handed users.

111

Optical

6

No

Wireless

7

The Lancehead is Razer’s newest wireless mouse and it’s a competitor to the Logitech G903. Like that mouse, it has an ambidextrous design, and crucially it lacks the charging dock that makes the Razer Mamba more pricey.

Laser

9

No

Wired/Wireless

February 2018

103


UPGRADE

REVIEWS

The very best in gaming hardware, reviewed

1

1440P VAlue?

2

ASuS DeSIGn

3

OVeRClOCKInG HeADROOm

4

4K?

Expect average framerates of around 70 in most titles, with 40 fps in more demanding games such as Tomb Raider and Total War: Attila.

With a bit of a push you can easily get a 220 MHz overclock on the core, bringing its scores up to around 10 per cent higher than a stock GTX 1080.

By Zak Storey

Asus’s DCIII cooling design is a fantastically quiet solution for the GTX 1070 Ti, and its overall build also looks classy as hell.

Although it’s certainly possible to achieve 4K resolutions with some AA tweaking, the GTX 1070 Ti doesn’t quite hit the mark for 4K gaming just yet.

Asus ROG stRix Gtx 1070 ti A8G www.asus.com £500 GRAPHICS CARD

This is the world’s most confusing graphics card. A seemingly nonsensical reaction to the Vega 56, AMD’s only competitive gaming GPU right now (unless you’re into mining), the GTX 1070 Ti doesn’t make much sense. It’s a card that’s simultaneously amazing, yet annoying. The difference between a GTX 1060 6GB and 3GB is 128 CUDA cores. The difference between a GTX 1080 and a GTX 1070 Ti is 128 CUDA cores and a drop down from GDDR5X to GDDR5. So why does the 1070 Ti warrant a new designation when the 3GB 1060 doesn’t? Good question. You can’t beat the GTX 1060 3GB for price to performance. The fps difference between the two is, on average, a meagre 5%. The 1070 Ti follows the same trend. At 1440p, the difference between the cards ranges from

0-4 fps across our four test titles. That’s ridiculous given the £80 difference in price. What you’re getting with the GTX 1070 Ti is a discounted 1080 under a new badge, with slightly cheaper memory. On top of that Nvidia gets to pitch it as a new product, and at the same time, it nibbles at that last smidge of market share that AMD’s Vega 56 currently holds.

90%

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LithOGRAphy: 16nm FinFET / tRAnsistOR COunt: 12 Billion / CuDA CORes: 2432 / CORe/BOOst CLOCk: 1607/1683 mHz / MeMORy CApACity: 8GB GDDR5 / DispLAy COnneCtORs: DisplaypoRT 1.4, HDmi 2.0(B)


hARDWARe Reviews

ROUND-UP

MeDiOn eRAzeR x7851 www.medion.com £1,150 It’s great to see Medion really push into the gaming sector. The Erazer brand promises fantastic value for your money, but does it actually hit the mark? To be short, yes, it does. Our sample unit here is the slightly aged X7851, packing a Core i7-7700HQ, 16GB of DDR4, a 256GB SSD, 1TB HDD and a GTX 1060 6GB graphics card at its heart. It’s actually a fairly accurate representation of a mid-range rig at the moment. Combine those innards with the 17-inch IPS screen and a £1,150 price tag, and well, it speaks for itself. The build quality of the Erazer X7851 is good. It’s not exemplary, but the soft-touch finish is a nice addition to its design. The one thing I wish it had was a more slimline design, however, especially when it comes to its distracting bezel. sCReen size: 17-incH / nAtive ResOLutiOn: 1920x1080 / Gpu: nViDia GTx 1060 6GB / MeMORy: 16GB DDR4 / stORAGe: 256GB ssD, 1TB HDD

GAmInG lAPTOP

Asus Rt-AC86u www.asus.com £220 There’s nothing quite like having a decent home router. Asus’s RTAC86U is perfect for anyone looking for that additional customisation. From smart bandwidth management to VPN setup, your own personal AI Cloud, 5 GHz dual bands and more, the RT-AC86U makes the whole affair % easy and painless.

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86% RAzeR BLACkWiDOW te ChROMA v2 yeLLOW sWitCh www.razerzone.com £160 Man, this keyboard is good. Razer’s yellow switch lacks the clack of its standard switch in favour of a more subtle cherry red-like linear click instead. Combine that with the stunning RGB lighting and a fantastically comfortable wrist rest and there’s little % to fault here.

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vieWsOniC xG GAMinG xG2530 www.viewsonic.com £420 mOnITOR

First-person shooters are fast-paced dens of destruction. Splitsecond reactions can mean the difference between life and death. I tend to advocate higher refresh rate screens for the enjoyment factor. However, once you get above 165Hz it becomes less about enjoyment, and more about response. The XG2530 is an FPS-targeted monitor, packed with tech and designed to reduce latency and offer perfect smoothness.

Does it work? Well, there’s no delay, and the colour reproduction is impressive, even for a TN panel. If you live and breathe shooters, the XG2530 is perfect for you. sCReen size: 25” / pAneL teCh: Tn /

91%

nAtive Res: 1920x1080 / RefResh RAte: 240Hz / RespOnse RAte: 1ms GTG / COnneCtiOns: 1x DisplaypoRT, 2x HDmi (2.0 & 1.4)

Asus ROG stRix x370-i GAMinG www.asus.com £185 The X370-I gaming may be pricey, but it’s one hell of a well-built Ryzen board. Packing some intuitive engineering into a raised M.2 PCIe SSD/audio hub, the design aspect is impeccable. Ryzen demands strong VRM solutions, and this ITX king doesn’t miss the mark, providing solid overclocks % in the tiny form factor.

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your next PC

BUYER’S GUIDE Build the best PC for your budget

ADVANCED

MID-RANGE

BUDGET

KEY Budget build

Mid-range build

Advanced build

PC gaming is for everyone. Pick the parts you want to build a new, well-rounded PC for a good price.

You want to run every new game at 1080p 60fps. This recommended build will see you through.

You’re looking for the best PC on the market and superior components. But you still want to spend smart.

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HARDWARE

Motherboard ProCeSSor GraPhICS Card

GeForce GTX 1060 3GB

Fury Black 8GB @2400

EVGA £224 Its prices are haywire due to cryptocurrency mining, but this is still the best deal you can get right now.

PoWer SuPPLy SSd

HyperX £99 DDR4 packs higher speeds, better energy efficiency and larger capacities. 8GB is still perfect for most games, too.

SSDNow UV400 120GB

EVGA £53 It may be cheap, but this 500W PSU is more than enough to handle any budget build. This rig only draws 269W at maximum load, too.

hdd CaSe

Neos

dISPLay

Kingston £59 Kingston’s 120GB UV400 is a fantastic OS solution that will speed up your rig beyond what a standard hard drive can handle.

WD Blue 1TB 7200rpm

Asus VE247H

Western Digital £40 One terabyte of old-fashioned hard storage is the perfect home for all of your media, backups and storage-hungry games.

Bitfenix £39 The Neos provides decent airflow, good support for 3.5-inch hard drives, and a fairly painless build experience.

Keyboard

Asus £129 1080p resolution, 60fps – it’s a monitor made for PC gamers. Coupled with the GTX 1060, playing on this will be silky smooth.

K30

Rival 100

ControLLer

T O TA L £1,008

Intel £109 Intel’s new Coffee Lake processors add an additional two cores to the lineup. Think of this as a Core i5 processor, but cheaper.

500BQ

headSet

Enjoy 1080p gaming without breaking the bank

Core i3-8100

MSI £106 What better place to start than with MSI’s Z370-A Pro. With plenty of expandability, it’s perfect for any entry rig.

MouSe

BUDGET BUILD

Z370-A Pro

MeMory

Buyer’s Guide

Corsair £30 It may not be mechanical, but it’s still a classy act for any would-be gamer looking to build themselves a sweet entry-level rig.

SteelSeries £30 SteelSeries’ Rival lineup is ideal for those looking to get a quality gaming mouse at a respectable price.

HyperX Cloud

Kingston £60 Our favourite gaming headset, and it happens to be as cheap as plenty of inferior cans. A good buy for any gaming rig.

Xbox 360 Wired Controller

Microsoft £30 The king of controllers, and cheap at the price. When you’re button-mashing, this USB device won’t let you down.

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HARDWARE

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Motherboard ProCeSSor GraPhICS Card CooLer

Kraken X31

MeMory

Fury 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 @2666

PoWer SuPPLy

RMx 650W

SSd

850 EVO 250GB

hdd

WD Blue 1TB 7200RPM

CaSe

Eclipse P400S TG

dISPLay

T O TA L £ 1 , 74 2

GTX 1070 SC Gaming ACX

Q2778VQE

Keyboard

Our recommended build for playing the latest games

Core i5-8400

Alloy FPS Cherry MX Blue

MouSe

MID-RANGE BUILD

Z370 Tomahawk

Castor

headSet

Buyer’s Guide

HyperX Cloud

MSI £134 This is a nice-looking bit of kit at a good price. Couple that with two M.2 slots, and it’s the perfect place to house that Core i5.

Intel £190 Intel’s latest boasts six of its Coffee Lake cores, with great single-core performance. It even gives last-gen’s i7 a run for its money.

EVGA £410 Trying to balance prices, we’ve opted to drop down to an SC Gaming card. Don’t worry, you only lose out on a very minor overclock.

NZXT £74 To get the most out of a good CPU you need a cooler to match. The Kraken X31 is powerful, quiet and great for overclocks.

HyperX £180 16GB of DDR4 RAM is more than enough for your gaming needs, and these sticks are also great for overclocking.

Corsair £100 There’s nothing like having a quality power supply. Get a decent cable kit for this one and you can easily spice up your rig.

Samsung £87 Samsung retains its top spot on the SSD pile with the fantastically priced, very speedy 850 EVO. Still the best price/performance.

Western Digital £40 SSDs are great, but they’re still far from cheap. This 1TB HDD will hold as many games as you will need.

Phanteks £84 The clean lines, intuitive build features and fantastic price cements the Eclipse as our mid-range case of choice.

AOC £240 This entry-level 1440p monitor is perfect for those looking to upgrade from 1080p. It’s cheap and still looks sleek.

HyperX £96 This crisp keyboard from HyperX ticks all the right boxes. It may lack RGB, but those clicky keys will keep you happy for years.

Mionix £47 The Castor is a dream to use and supportive like a glove. With clutter-free software and an optical sensor, it’s hard to go wrong.

Kingston £60 Even for our medium build, we still recommend this decently priced headset. There’s nothing better for the money.


HARDWARE

Motherboard ProCeSSor GraPhICS Card CooLer

Kraken X62

MeMory

Vengeance LED RGB 32GB - 3200

PoWer SuPPLy

HX750i 80 Plus Platinum

SSd

960 Evo 250GB M2 PCIe SSD

hdd

MX300 1.1TB SSD

CaSe

Enthoo Evolv ATX TG

dISPLay

T O TA L £3,627

GTX 1080 Ti Strix

AGON AG271QG

Keyboard

Go above and beyond with a PC powerful enough to end worlds

Ryzen 7 1800X

K70 LUX RGB

MouSe

ADVANCED BUILD

Crosshair VI Hero

Rival 700

headSet

Buyer’s Guide

ATH-AG1X

Asus £221 The best Ryzen board out now. It provides a stable backbone for any early adopter looking to join the red core revolution.

AMD £290 The 1800X, combined with 32GB of 3200 MT/s, dominates both single and multi-core tasks with ease.

Asus £780 This is the height of efficiency. Silent and well equipped to dissipate heat, the 1080 Ti GPU will power any title you throw at it.

NZXT £140 The Kraken is the culmination of three of our favourite things: an infinity mirror, a 280mm radiator and slick braided cooling.

Corsair £410 Ryzen is the one processor that does benefit hugely from higher frequency memory. This kit is perfect for any would-be video expert.

Corsair £132 Modular, custom cable kits, and a platinum efficiency rating. What’s not to love about this Corsair PSU? Nothing, that’s what.

Samsung £117 A cost-effective OS drive delivering sequential read and write speeds of 3200MB/s and 1500MB/s respectively.

Crucial £262 At 1TB, this SSD from Crucial is fantastic value, and more than big enough for all of your AAA gaming titles.

Phanteks £154 The 5mm thick aluminium panels resonate with svelte professionalism, and the interior makes building inside this a dream.

AOC £617 It’s £200 cheaper than Asus’s PG279QG, and we can’t tell why. 165Hz, IPS, G-Sync, 4ms response... this is the perfect screen.

Corsair £155 Even when money is no object it’s hard to argue against Corsair’s latest K70. A no-fuss, solid piece of aluminium craftsmanship.

SteelSeries £80 Swappable sensors, back plates, 3D printed rear guards and an OLED display. The most comfortable, adaptive mouse we’ve used.

Audio-technica £269 What’s life without a nice set of cans? The ATH-AG1X set is the pinnacle of headphones, and it’s super comfy to boot.

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© 2017 blizzard entertainment, Inc. all trademarks referenced herein are the properties of their respective owners.

Attention required: Best esports players only Showcase your Overwatch talent and join the world’s best at the OMEN by HP bOOtcaMP

A

re you an Overwatch enthusiast? Are you keen to go toe-to-toe with the esports pros and show your skills? Do you have a team of friends ready to take it to the next level? Well, now is your chance.

OMEN by HP, as proud sponsors of the Overwatch League, have paired up with ESL and some of the top UK esports talent to bring you the OMEN by HP Bootcamp at the PC Gamer Weekender 2018. This event shows what it takes to become a professional esports player. With a focus on Blizzard’s fast-firing shooter Overwatch, dedicated sessions will cover practice, fitness, nutrition, game strategy, communication and leadership. The OMEN by HP Bootcamp is a surefire way to become the best gamer you can be. Take your gaming to the next level by learning from the biggest names in esports. It’s not just about you – it’s about your team. And what better way to test your ability than to enter the OMEN by 110

February 2018

HP Overwatch Competition, where you’ll have the opportunity to win a once-in-a-lifetime prize and free tickets to the best PC Gamer Weekender ever. The competition requires you and your team to enter the esports qualifier on the ESL Play platform, and to do what you do best – play Overwatch. The OMEN by HP Bootcamp will help you understand Overwatch’s different hero classes, learn about the pros and cons of Support, DPS, Tank and Defence. You’ll even have the chance to see a professional gamer in action – observing how they perform and operate under pressure. Think you’ve got what it takes? Enter the competition or sign up for the Weekender now. Sign up for the OMEN by HP Bootcamp at the PC Gamer Weekender 2018 by visiting the official Weekender site: weekender.pcgamer.com/bootcamp

Check out the best of OMEN by HP products designed for esports success in this direction: hp.com/go/omenbyhp


SPONSORED

tHE bEst EsPOrts HardwarE

OMEN X by HP Desktop Get the best in esports hardware with OMEN by HP. Designed from the ground up for PC gamers, the OMEN by HP Desktop packs a powerful punch – supporting up to two Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti graphics cards, the latest Intel Core X-series processors and up to 64GB of DDR4 RAM. These formidable specs combined with ample hardware slots, an incredible PSU and OMEN by HP’s revolutionary cooling ensures you’ll be running the biggest, most demanding 4K and VR games at the framerates needed to stay competitive. With an easily upgradable custom case, this juggernaut can be evolved to suit whatever the future of PC gaming may hold. Don’t just participate. Dominate.

bE a wINNEr

OMEN BY HP COMPETITION: 3v3 LOCKOUT ELIMINATION/QUALIFIER How do you enter? Easy. Put yourself/your team forward and enter the esports qualifier on the ESL Play platform. You need to win the qualifier to be able come to the event. The qualifier will be on 20th January. Even if you don’t enter or win, you can check out all the action via the OMEN by HP Europe, ESL and PC Gamer Twitch channels. Remember, it’s a 3v3 elimination so invite your team for the wildest gaming experience of their lives.

YOU CAN WIN: One OMEN by HP Desktop PC and a full set of OMEN accessories - including a keyboard, mouse, headset and mouse mat. Travel and accommodation for PC Gamer Weekender at Olympia London on February 17-18. A chance to meet and play alongside the top Overwatch Pro Gamers and Influencers.

esl.pm/omenbootcamp Terms & Conditions apply. Sign-ups close 20th Jan, 18:30 GMT. The competition will run Saturday, 20th Jan at 19:00 GMT onwards, and into Sunday, 21st Jan, depending on sign-ups. For more information visit esl.pm/omenbootcamp.

February 2018

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ExTrA LIfE CONTINUED ADVENTURES IN GAMING

Gaze upon my competence!

“As the editor of PC Gamer, it is vital that people think I am good at games” Fooling myself in CuPHEAD. p until now I have been avoiding Cuphead. It’s hard, and that makes it dangerous. If you have been on the internet at all, you’ll know that it is not acceptable to be bad at difficult videogames. Die recklessly in Dota, and you will be chased out of your home. Mistime your ult in Overwatch, and you will be excommunicated by the head of the church.

U

We must hide the sin of mediocrity behind a facade of stoic capability. Case in point: a games journalist posted a video of himself being bad at Cuphead’s tutorial, and it generated a 2,666 comment Reddit thread and multiple op-eds asking if people who 112

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PHIL SAVAGE THIS MONTH Lived up to low expectations. ALSO PLAYED Assassins Creed Origins, Okami HD

write about games are allowed to be bad at them. This isn’t a joke, except in the existential sense. The writer apologised for his crime, and now probably lies screaming as imaginary crows peck at him from a prison of his own mind. Or something. Naturally, as the editor of PC Gamer, it is vital that people think I am good at videogames. No doubt our parent company would launch an official inquiry if they ever discovered

that I’m playing through Divinity: Original Sin II on its easiest mode. It would, of course, be easier to not play and write about Cuphead. But it looks stylish and fun, and more importantly I’m already three paragraphs deep into this write-up. There’s no backing out now. I head into the tutorial. It’s fine. Maybe this won’t be so bad? I head into a level – a boss fight against a blue slime. He jumps in predictable patterns. (So far so good.) Then he grows an arm and punches me in the face. (Less good.) Then he

Learning attack patterns isn’t easy when attacks come from every direction


N O w P L AY I N g The gaMes we LOve righT nOw

Short answer? No.

The progress bar is a nice touch.

The Beast hungers.

“This is the infinity plus two truck” Becoming a veteran road warrior in CONVOY. grows to double his size and murders me. (Actively bad.) I die repeatedly as I learn to avoid his many tricks, but each time I’m getting closer. Eventually it happens: he dies. I win! I get a ‘B’ rating, denoting my basic competence. Over the next couple of hours, I make my way through multiple bosses. I even beat the field full of angry vegetables on my first attempt – albeit largely because I’d already attempted that level numerous times at a press event. I am getting Bs all over the place. My adequacy is supreme.

FlOwer pOwer

And then I meet the flower. It throws seeds, which grow into small enemies that jump from the bottom of the level, or fly through the air like heat-seeking missiles. It throws projectiles and extends its head out across the screen. I can’t make any headway – learning attack patterns isn’t easy when those attacks come from every direction. Eventually I admit defeat, ending my streak by quitting the game. I have failed, and that’s fine. Is Cuphead difficult? Sure. But there’s no punishment for dying. It’s streamlined and effortless – you try again and again, slowly making progress until you win. The sad thing about the online obsession with being good is it inevitably misses the point. You’re meant to bad at Cuphead. And then you play it and get better. Or get annoyed at a flower and quit.

Tom H AT fIELd THIS MONTH Was awaited in Valhalla. ALSO PLAYED

Watch Dogs 2, Stellaris

fter a few hours in Mad Max-y, FTL: Faster Than Light-like Convoy, I’ve found my true love. It’s not any of the missiles, railguns or lasers that you can adorn your trucks with, it’s the purest form of vehicular combat: ramming.

A

My weapon of choice is the Gila Mk. II AE. It’s the largest possible size of truck, making it better at shoving smaller trucks around. I remove the guns and add a buzzsaw, which means it counts as one size larger for the purposes of ramming. It is now the largest truck in the game plus one. Then I add a chainsaw, which does the same. This is the infinity plus two truck. The Gilabeast. Immediately I start bullying smaller trucks, which is all trucks. Ramming my full weight into them means I can shove them wherever I want, preferably into an oncoming building, which is instant death. Fancy hovercrafts tricked out with lasers and energy shields are defenceless against what is essentially a spiky brick with an engine attached.

I’m curious: what if I don’t have an obstacle to ram an enemy into? I manoeuvre up alongside the smallest car, approximately one fifth of the size of the Gilabeast, and gently tap against its bumper. Every single piece of armour on the enemy vehicle is instantly shredded to pieces and smoke starts coming out of its engine. A couple more light taps and the car explodes in a fireball. I wonder where I can purchase some silver spray paint.

Beast MOde

As I sidle up to ram yet another car out of existence it speeds up and pulls away. Suddenly smaller cars are running from me, desperate to get out of ramming range. One truck even swerves into a building to avoid me, apparently deciding a collision with a brick wall was better than meeting the Beast. I retaliate by souping up my engines. The cowards will not escape. The Gilabeast is so effective that I breeze through combat, for the first time completing the main quest. At this point, I discover another thing that Convoy has in common with FTL: an extremely difficult end boss that doesn’t follow the standard rules. A huge hovercraft, nine cars large, flies overhead. “Witness me!” I scream as it promptly lands on the Gilabeast, killing it instantly. Goodnight sweet prince. Maybe guns weren’t quite such a bad idea after all. february 2018

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N O w P L AY I N g The gaMes we LOve righT nOw Well, that’s brunch sorted

It’s hard to keep your cool in the kitchen with a sleeve on fire

“I empathise with Mina, but most of all I empathise with her love of food” Learning how to slice, dice and perfectly sear a wild bull in BATTLE CHEf BrIgADE. ina is the kind of protagonist many girls will empathise with. She frequently falls into bed with all her clothes on, always seems to have messy hair, and is too shy to point out to her innkeeper that, no, actually, she isn’t a young lad. She’s also fed up with living with her parents in the middle of nowhere and dreams of making something of herself in the big city.

M

I empathise with Mina, but most of all I empathise with her love for food. After stealing money from her parents and running away to the kingdom of Victusia, she enters a tournament to win a place among the Chef Brigade, a group of noble warriors who rid the land of monsters then turn them into dishes. To win battles, you have to wow the judges with your refined palette and masterful use of ingredients. Battle Chef Brigade is unabashedly carnivorous. A lot of the game is spent hunting a variety of beasts with knives and magic before transporting their tasty hides back to the kitchen. One of my favourite things is watching the monster you’ve just killed instantly transform into 114

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KImbErLEy bALLArd THIS MONTH Gnawed on ribs while trying not to dirty her party dress. ALSO PLAYED

Tokyo Dark

ready-to-cook pieces of meat and fish. You feel a little bad hurting the Cheepchis (flying chickens that are very fluffy and fat) but the annoying Squickle (blue squid) deserve to be served up on a bed of fresh greens for nibbling on your ankles. I’m not too invested in the storyline, where Mina and the Brigade set out to cure a mutation that’s affecting the monsters. I just want to beat everyone in the kitchen colosseum. The food is marvellous to look at, if a little weird. I present the judges with a plate of Squickle tentacle garnished with a Cheepchi breast and eggs medley; a noodle soup thickened with a chopped

you watch the monster transform into ready-tocook pieces of meat

dragon heart; and stir-fried, seasoned Baurun ribs.

MastercheF

One of the judges hails my vermicelli dish as pure and beautifully complex, which is exactly how I’d describe myself. To celebrate I go to the market and buy some things to improve the range of flavours in my food, including a bag of earthy herbs specifically for a green-skinned judge who coos every time I cook. Being a puzzle game, there’s more to Battle Chef Brigade than being a culinary whiz. Battles are all about lining up elemental flavour gems according to the taste preferences of your judges, and incorporating a key ingredient chosen by the grand master. Sometimes you have to make three dishes at once for judges with different palates, or find a fruit that only grows on mountains. It’s stressful, especially if you don’t have the right utensils – or you waste time wondering if you should add some bone to your broth, or perhaps make a sauce from Cheepchi eggs. I’m enjoying Battle Chef Brigade, but I just have one important question: does it make me a bad person that I really want to eat dragon heart now?


ExTrA LIfE NOW PLAYING

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MOD SPOTLIgHT

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MuST PL AY

“All three characters have the same problem: realising their potential” Looking for inspiration in THE LION’S SONg. eveloped by a small team based in Vienna, The Lion’s song is one of the most interesting and unique games I’ve played. On the surface it’s a fairly standard point-andclick, with a focus on storytelling over puzzles. But it’s the subject matter that makes it stand out. It’s a game about inspiration, trying to make something of yourself and overcoming self doubt.

D

It’s a profoundly ambitious concept for a game, but developer Mi’pu’mi makes it work with strong characters, beautiful art, and confident writing. The first episode focuses on Wilma, a composer with writer’s block, desperately trying to impress her peers in the Vienna music scene. This is the simplest episode, and feels more like a proof of concept compared to the others, but it establishes the game’s tone perfectly. In the second chapter we shift to Franz, a painter trying to make a name for himself. The best device in this episode is how the game visualises Franz’s knack for teasing out his subjects’ true self. Silhouettes dance around them, revealing secret

dO the Maths

A n d y K E L Ly THIS MONTH Tried composing, painting and maths. ALSO PLAYED

Pyre, Fez

facets of their personality. But it’s up to you to interpret these correctly. It’s possible to end up with a painting that reveals no hidden truths at all, and you’ll have to watch Franz deal with the repercussions of that. The third episode follows Emma, a brilliant mathematician who, being a woman in the 1900s, is struggling to be taken seriously by the city’s scholars. Whether it’s music, art or maths, all three characters have the same problem: realising their potential. I love how this theme ties the whole series together, giving you different perspectives on a single, very human struggle.

i honestLy think it’s one of the best narrativefocused games on pc

The final chapter is the shortest: an emotional epilogue that gives some closure to each character’s story. I won’t say more, because it’s best if you experience it yourself, but I was caught off guard by the ending. You can finish The Lion’s Song in around three hours, not counting going back to try other decisions, and it’s the perfect length for its story. When you finish a chapter the decisions other players made are revealed, giving you a sense of the points in each episode where it’s possible to alter the course of the story through your actions. So there’s some replay value in there, although personally I prefer to just live with the choices I made the first time. The Lion’s Song slipped under most people’s radar. I only found about it recently, despite the first two episodes being released in 2016. I’m glad I took the time to play it, because I honestly think it’s one of the best narrative-focused games on PC, deserving of the same praise as indie darlings like Her Story and Firewatch. Although, admittedly, a game about struggling artists in Vienna will be a bit of a hard sell for some people.

Franz pays Freud a visit.

Emotions run high.

A storm inspires Wilma.

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MOD SPOTLIGHT MAjor Mods, AnAlysed

You’re sure to find cool scenery along the coast.

Wynncraft A full-fat Minecraft MMO. By Austin Wood reaking blocks is just about the only thing you can’t do in Wynncraft, a total conversion Minecraft mod that turns the sandbox building game into a fantasy MMORPG. Nevertheless, I’m continually floored by all you can do, from striking out on dialoguerich quests to forming parties and exploring dungeons.

B

Each village has its own look.

A sinister hellscape blackens the bottom of the map.

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Before I can get to that, I’ve got to choose a class. My old Minecraft avatar was a riff on the iconic creeper, and those buggers never failed to sneak up on me, so I decide to play as an assassin, passing up archer, mage and warrior. I choose one of the ten servers, enter a silly character name and load into the tutorial quest. A passing shepherd suggests I kill some pigs, but I’m too entranced by my

newfound menus to listen to his blatant prejudice against the harmless porcine mobs. Excuse me, I have a skill tree? With actual skills, no less. I was expecting abilities like ‘hit things’ and ‘hit things slightly harder,’ but by alternating mouse buttons – in this case, right-left-right – I cast an AoE spell with absurd range that instantly validates my choice of class. Those pigs never saw it coming. I can even upgrade skills – for instance, strengthening my AoE spell with burn damage and a slowing effect. My assassin class also lets me unlock invisibility, a smoke bomb and a conical explosion, each with its own unique mouse button combination. I bumble my way through the rest of the tutorial – ignoring a chattering guard, hoovering up common-grade leather armour, and nicking emeralds for pocket change – and come out in


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The Wynncraft mod pack does wonders for the nighttime sky.

One day I’ll make it to Legendary Island.

the middle of nowhere. I don’t know where to go next, so I open the world map hoping to get my bearings, but this has the opposite effect. Wynncraft is enormous. The tutorial mountains are mere specks on one of two huge continents separated by an island-peppered ocean. The world is tens of thousands of blocks across and replete with roads and settlements. Reeling, I

looting a pair of uncommon-grade platelegs in the process. I pay a villager to identify my shiny new pants, which gives a small boost to my dexterity, thereby increasing the lightning damage dealt by my trusty AoE. With my pockets lined with quest rewards, I also splurge on a couple of teleportation scrolls, which can take me to any city that I’ve reached on foot.

can rewrite the game’s rules. I kill skeletons to collect tokens needed to open a door, parkour across a canyon, kill ghosts to collect more tokens and open the boss room, where I am promptly flattened by a necromancer. I respawn near Ragni missing a few items and emeralds, and I immediately want to try again. Wanderlust sets in on my way back to the dungeon, and I happen upon a merchant peering into a glowing chasm. He tells me there’s a well of souls at the bottom, and that something’s got the souls in a tizzy. It sounds like there’s a new pair of pants in it for me, so I dive in. Unexpectedly, the merchant’s innocuous request sports dungeonrivalling depth. Until now, most of my questing consisted of idly barking, “Yes!” at the flagged NPCs, but purifying this chasm is no easy task. Technically, all I have to do is reach the bottom, but there’s an army of skeleton archers in the way, not to mention dozens of traps. Which sums up my experience with Wynncraft as a whole, really. The deeper I go, the more it surprises me.

Gone cavin’

I cast an aoE spEll wIth absurd rangE whIch Instantly valIdatEs my choIcE of class zoom in and see that the closest city is Ragni, so I head east. This time I actually listen to the guards, who point me to a bank where I open an Ender Chestpowered account. I can only store eight items, but by collecting more emeralds I can unlock more storage space, which seems like a useful goal. Quests and dungeons are the best ways to earn money, and because I feel very under-geared, I start with the former. My first quest, ‘Cook Assistant’, is a reference to RuneScape, which, interestingly, Wynncraft’s makers cite as a major design influence. This version of the cake-baking quest is also easy, so I soon start another, more challenging quest: make it to Detlas, the next town over. I brave a spider-infested forest to get there, chugging health potions as I go and

After a few more quests and levels, I net some legendary gear with decent stat rolls and decide that I’m now ready for my first dungeon. Apparently, I managed to kill a dungeon guardian in my quest-athon, and with his key in hand I’m able to waltz right into the Decrepit Sewers, the first of nine dungeons. It’s clear I’ve once again underestimated Wynncraft. Far from the mob spawner-lined caves that I was gearing up for, dungeons are flavourful, multistage challenges enhanced by custom enemies and mechanics made possible by Minecraft’s command blocks, which

D u n g e o n s Inside Wynncraft’s best Pve activities

1 Jump

Jump puzzles are a mainstay of Wynncraft’s many dungeons.

2 explore

Dungeon rooms benefit from communitysourced builds.

3 fight

One dungeon has a ship, which zombies try to board as you ride it.

4 Boss

To beat one boss, you summon heroes to help as you hold off trash mobs.

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THE SIMS 4 PA r t i i Raising a digital human child the PC Gamer way. What could go wrong? By Philippa Warr

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THE RULES

1

Obtain one digital human baby without attracting suspicion.

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Raise baby to completion without having it confiscated.

3

Celebrate a job well done. Buy a World’s Best Mum mug for self.

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n the haze of days which pass after ExcellentChild joins the household, everyone becomes zombified. Loretta and Katrina are ships in the night, passing by one another on the way to work, on the way to bed, or on the way to fumbling through the pixellation of a nappy change.

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Truth be told, I don’t remember much of what I did in that chunk of time. There doesn’t seem to be much to gain from interacting with the baby beyond keeping it alive so I don’t. Nappy dealt with? Fed? Soothed? Fine. Job done. I feel vaguely like I should be strapping him or her to me in one of those papoose things and carting them round a museum, telling them about dinosaurs while they’re asleep or frantically Googling things with the phrase, “Is this normal?” appended to each one. There’s also less laundry than I remember with my young relatives and the fact Katrina has been able to have a bath uninterrupted definitely underlines that this is a fictional baby situation. A bath! A whole bath! We trundle along for a couple of weeks with the baby behaving much in the manner of a loud pot plant. Both adults keep their jobs ticking over so there are points where no one is in the house to care for the child. I tense up the first time this happens, aware I might be setting myself up for a social services visit. I decide to treat this particular child as a learning experience, just in case it gets confiscated. A proof of concept child. Instead of being repossessed, though, the child goes to daycare. Apparently daycare is free? What kind of crazy universe even is this? The baby continues to mooch off Katrina and Loretta but I dare not turn aging back on in case Katrina dies. I am staring down the barrel of a permababy future until I

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investigate my options. I learn that ‘age up’ is an action. Congrats, Loretta and Katrina, you now own a toddler! A few days later I realise that the toddler doesn’t have a bed to sleep in, toys to play with or, well, anything else. I sell another round of fruit and vegetables then get to work. Toddlers have all the best things so I just design my own best bedroom. Toys, colourful furniture, cloud lights, wall decals, pictures of dinosaurs, a chair in the shape of a bear… I consider giving the adults a nicer living space but a) I have spent all the money on the toddler, and b) they are too exhausted to appreciate anything nice anyway.

bathtime blues

Actually, they’re too tired to feed ExcellentChild and I get a warning that the child is going to be taken away if this continues. I hire a nanny and assume that will fix things. ExcellentChild runs to the bathroom and splashes around in the toilet. My cat used to do that and my cat lived to be about 88 in cat years so I assume the child is fine. Having farmed out some of the adults’ responsibilities, I decide to start getting them involved in the child’s upbringing. Disciplining and teaching are applied enthusiastically but sporadically so I give up on that and settle for a more achievable goal: giving the child a bath. The child is listed as ‘grungy’ thanks the accumulating muck of playtimes and dinners so I task Loretta’s with bathing them. It won’t take. I try Katrina. Nothing. No bubble baths are forthcoming. I realign the bath unit. Nothing. I try queuing up actions. Nothing. I get Katrina to try and teach the child to wash their own face in case that counts as a flannel wash. Nothing. My child is stinky and messy, then they top it off by soiling themselves. I hope that daycare will take care of

My child is stinky And Messy, then they toP it off by soiling theMselves

A spot of family time in the garden with our beloved potatoes.

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When your child leaves home, buy a slip and slide.


DIARY PERSONAL ADVENTURES IN GAMES

D R E a M W E D D I n g Planning needn’t be a hassle if you follow these handy tips

1 THE faSHIon

Ensure your partner recognises you by wearing the exact same thing you have worn since you met them.

2 THE gUESTS

Simplify the guest list by refusing to get to know neighbours, colleagues and friends of friends.

the problem. I mean, what kind of daycare would take delivery of a child looking like they lived in a dumpster and not at least give them a dab with a sponge? The child is returned to me as filthy as they left. But then a miracle! Loretta is finally able to bathe her! I rejoice at the sight of a woman in a llama suit exhaustedly staring at a sudsy child. Less rejoicing happened when the child exited the bath and the needs bar for hygiene was exactly as low as it was pre-wash. A second bath fixed the problem but also broke the bath. Children are the worst. In an effort to fix the hygiene issue I start to potty train ExcellentChild. I also demand that she be subject to flashcards and all manner of other skill-boosting activities. The more she knows, the more autonomous she will become. That’s the theory, and I force Katrina to retire from her job in order to raise this child efficiently. One flaw becomes apparent. Flash cards do not teach interpersonal skills. A second, related, flaw then emerges. Katrina is not happy being permanently affixed to a toddler. I’m not fond of Katrina so her sadness goes on longer than it should. In fact, I ignore it up to the point where a notification pops up and cheerily informs me that Katrina and the toddler actively despise each other.

3 THE fooD anD DRInk 4 THE EnTERTaInMEnT

Fail to get a gold rating by picking a venue with no in-built catering facilities and just dropping furniture on the lawn.

growth spurt

There is no point in providing music or games because your guests will fall asleep on some benches near the public toilets.

The next few hours are spent trying to repair that relationship. Hugs are given, toys are played with, food and baths are applied liberally. In making the toddler more autonomous, and using her options to ask for help or to babble about dinosaurs I’m finding her far more tolerable but not exciting. I could force-age her and see what happens, but that won’t fix my dislike of Katrina. I can’t help reminisce about my solitary gardening days. It’s about this time that the Cats and Dogs expansion comes out. A cat will fix everything… The household falls in love with Mr Wiggles. He is a much-loved and pampered pet. He has a far nicer set of furniture than I’ve scraped together for Katrina and Loretta, plus you can perk him up just by waggling a laser pointer. Cats are so much easier than people. I feel like I’ve done as much as I can for ExcellentChild. I let her finish playing with Mr Wiggles while I set up a birthday cake on the table. One of the adults helps her puff out the candles and she goes from toddler to child! But there’s no sense in wasting a useful birthday cake. She blows out the candles again and again. In a final act of stupendous parenting, I rehouse my now

Bathtime is an ongoing soapy struggle.

Mr Wiggles keeps cat tradition alive and sleeps anywhere but his bed.

Nothing weird going on behind the bushes. Move along.


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Apparently my child poops empathy.

adult daughter with a dude called Johnny Zest who I vaguely remember because he delivered the cat. ExcellentChild joins Nina and Dina Caliente in the ranks of children who phone the house to try and pop round or hang out with their awful parents. She, like Nina and Dina, will be ghosted for the foreseeable future. I turn her bedroom into a gym, expand the cat’s living space by making the gym smaller and install a pool in the bedroom. Katrina is still around and seems happier now that ExcellentChild has left home. Maybe there’s still a chance for her and Loretta? I sell another round of fruit and veg and figure it’s finally time to organise their wedding! They head to the park to get married. I feel like that’ll be a nice outdoor space for Loretta, and I remember seeing a well-lit area which I took to be a kind of pavilion or band stand which would make a nice venue. I hire a bartender, a caterer and then remember I forgot to make any friends. The only guests will have to be ExcellentChild and Johnny Zest.

the house for further options. There’s a broken dollhouse, a fridge full of cake, a romantic garden nook and a bedroom swimming pool... Katrina clambers into the pool wearing her bathing costume and hat. I casually sell the ladder and sit back. She clambers back out and goes to make dinner. What chicanery is this? Apparently Sims can exit pools without ladders! I put Katrina back in the water and investigate the build mode options. A small wall should solve this. Katrina swims length after length of the pool. Her needs are turning red but not as fast as I’d like so to prevent Loretta being distressed by her drowning wife I plant some shrubs along the wall. Eventually my plan works and Katrina is no more. Loretta is distraught. This is the same Loretta who happily went to bed in the same room that her wife was drowning in the night before but whatever. The Grim Reaper swings a scythe over Katrina’s remains. He also does a spot of cleaning up as Loretta struggles to perform basic household tasks. I hadn’t counted on her actually grieving. Neither had Mr Wiggles who runs away. I consider asking ExcellentChild for help but it occurs to me that she doesn’t know Katrina is dead. I suppose I could answer one of her many calls. I cancel the call instead because breaking bad news will be a faff. With Mr Wiggles gone and Loretta distressed there’s not actually much to do in my house. ExcellentChild phones again and I close the whole game down. Why have a mildly awkward conversation when I could just leave forever? And anyway, ExcellentChild survived to adulthood which means my job is done. Operation Baby was a complete success!

uPon Arriving At the PArk i reAlise the PAvilion is just A well-lit toilet

traditional endings

Upon arriving at the park I realise the pavilion is just a well-lit public toilet. I’d been using the no-wall view and just saw a plain wooden floor. I’m not one for changing plans once I’ve made them, so the toilet-wedding stays. It’s a splendid occasion marred only by me forgetting I needed a bar and kitchen for the caterer, thus the park is now home to a bunch of incongruous furniture. I’m already cross with Katrina again by the time we get home so I try to get Loretta to woohoo her to death. Unfortunately they just both keep napping afterwards and thus Katrina manages to survive the honeymoon. I search

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r e i n s ta l l Old games, new perspectives

A clever, stunningly beautiful puzzle-platformer

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Gomez leaves the safety of his 2D village.

FEZ Revisiting the perspective-shifting platformer. By andy Kelly s you amble around Fez’s opening village, with its blue skies, gently swaying pixel grass and fluttering butterflies, it’s hard to believe the creation of this place involved so much stress and turmoil. Severe delays, loss of funding, legal disputes, multiple redesigns and other problems plagued the game’s development – as shown in the fantastic 2012 documentary Indie Game: The Movie. But you don’t feel any of that when you play it. The atmosphere is serene, the pace is gentle, and it’s just a nice place to exist in.

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Fez released on Xbox 360 in 2012 amid a lot of noise about its troubled development, the divisive opinions of outspoken designer Phil Fish, and

whether it lived up to the hype or not. So it’s nice to return to Fez now the dust has settled and appreciate it for what it is: a clever, stunningly beautiful puzzle-platformer with a neat open-world structure and one of the best musical scores that’s ever accompanied a videogame. Composer Rich Vreeland, better known as Disasterpeace, doesn’t get enough credit for establishing Fez’s unique ambience. His score is delicate and atmospheric, like a Chopin nocturne colliding with the dreamy, sweeping synths of a Vangelis movie score – although he admits to only listening to the Blade Runner composer after hearing people frequently make the comparison. It’s one of the few game scores I listen to regularly, standing on its own as a remarkable album of electronic music.

Fez’s world is a varied one, and the score reflects this. The music is chirpy and upbeat in those leafy, blue-skied levels, but when you delve into crumbling temples and underground caverns, it takes on an eerie, enigmatic quality. Ico is one of Fish’s favourite games and Fez shares its knack for making its world feel ancient and mysterious. The arcane puzzles, alien languages and idiosyncratic architecture make Fez’s world a beguiling one, giving you the feeling of being a trespasser in some forbidden, forgotten place, eager to decrypt and unlock its history and many secrets. The influences don’t end with Ico. Fish considers Fez to be a direct reflection of him, an extension of his ego: particularly the formative games he played growing up in Montreal. In Indie Game: The Movie he talks about getting a NES for Christmas with Tetris, Mario and Zelda: three

nEEd to know releaseD 1 May 2013

DeVelOPer Polytron Corporation

PUBlisHer Trapdoor Inc

linK www.fezgame.com

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r e i n s ta l l Old games, new perspectives

You have to put this vast cube back together.

There are lots of different moods and colours.

Grab those small cubes to make a big ’un.

games whose imprint is felt throughout Fez; look closely at any level and you’ll see that the structures and objects are made up of tetrominoes. But Fez’s brilliance lies in how it uses these familiar influences to create something genuinely new and distinctive, rather than just dining out on nostalgia. The central gimmick is, of course, shifting perspective. Using a magical fez, hero Gomez can turn his 2D world temporarily 3D, twirling it around to solve puzzles and navigate the often vast, sprawling levels. The bespoke Trixel engine is still really impressive, looking like flat pixel art until you alter your perspective, revealing an intricate threedimensional world. And it’s a wonderfully versatile system, offering an abundance of clever puzzles and platforming challenges. Fez squeezes an incredible amount of variety and surprises out of this one seemingly simple concept.

FREE BIRD

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But the order in which you do this is entirely up to you. It’s nicely liberating, and encourages exploration. Look at the map and you’ll see a blank area connected to your current location, indicating there’s an entrance somewhere – and likely a hidden one. The world is a complex labyrinth that can be confusing to navigate at times, but is a delight to pick away at, uncovering new areas and mining them for cubes. Some cubes are complete, while others have been shattered into pieces that you’ll find scattered around the level, usually hidden in

cracks and crevices that you can only see by changing perspective. And there are some neat one-shot gimmicks too, like using levers to raise and lower water, and sections where your dimension-altering powers are limited. Fez was years in the making, and it’s clear why. There’s so much in it, so many ideas and so much imagination. “It’s like a volumetric Metroidvania,” Fish told Official Xbox Magazine in 2012. “Rooms connect in every direction. I structured it like the first Legend of Zelda in the sense that you can play

t R I F o R C E the key ingredients of Fez

SupER MaRIo

The precise platforming of Mario is evident in Fez, although it’s a lot simpler, with no enemies or power-ups.

tEtRIS

Tetris blocks are everywhere in Fez, from the world itself to the strange languages you have to decipher.

ZElda

The sprawling open world structure and backtracking when you find a certain item in Fez recall the Zelda series.


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The village elder gifts Gomez his magic fez.

Fez is Full oF secrets, and it’s best iF you Find them without using a guide these areas in any order. There isn’t really a critical path or a right way to do things. It’s just: here’s this world, it’s full of nooks and crannies and secrets, now go explore.” Fez is light on story, but the idea is that its digital world is fragmented, breaking down, and you’re trying to make it stable by collecting cubes. It pulls some neat tricks with fake-out glitches and crashes, and sometimes a level will be polluted with fractures that suck Gomez into a void when touched, making navigation much trickier. It’s funny too, with irreverent dialogue, a charming self-awareness, and cute touches in the animation of both Gomez and the people and creatures around him. Late in the game you visit a village where no one speaks English or, err, whatever Gomez’s language is. But it’s possible to decipher it using clues in the game, revealing their dialogue. “Haha, check out Mr Rectangle Head

over here!” mocks one villager. “What’s wrong with your head?” says another. When you first see this language, made up of abstract, pixelated hieroglyphs, you think they’re revealing some ancient wisdom that might come in handy somehow. But nah, they’re just making fun of your head.

THIRD EYE

When you finish Fez a new game plus option unlocks, in which your cubes, keys and other collectables carry over, and you get access to new areas that you’ll need to hit 100% completion. You also unlock a pair of sunglasses, which don’t just make you look extra fashionable, but enable you to switch to first-person mode and view the world in 3D. It’s a cool extra, granting you a third perspective, even if it doesn’t have any real practical use. Fez is full of secrets like this, and it’s best if you find them without using a guide. Although that may be easier said than done: some of its puzzle solutions are really obscure. “So many games are about putting you in these incredibly stressful situations,” Fish told Destructoid in a

2011 interview. “It’s always a threat or a conflict. It’s about quick reflexes. But when I sit down to play a game at the end of the day, I don’t wanna be put in that situation. I wanna unwind. So I wanted to make a game for people who are sick of that, too.” While there are a lot more games that fall into that category in 2018, this is one of the main reasons I’m on my third playthrough of Fez. It’s just so damn chill. And although it cribs from some of the most recognisable games in this medium’s relatively short history, there’s nothing else that feels quite like Fez. It’s a true one-off and, like the best games, it hasn’t aged a day. If it was released today, it would likely attract just as much acclaim as back then. As for Fez 2, well, I’m not holding my breath. The sequel was announced in 2013 at E3 and a short teaser was released, but a month later Fish unceremoniously cancelled it and left the games industry. But after the hell he went through making the original, I can’t really blame him. I’d love another Fez, but the original remains a modern classic and is well worth playing today without the hype weighing it down. February 2018

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WHY I LOVE WHAt mAkes gAmes speciAl

Night iN the Woods’ demoNtoWer miNigame The Palecat’s quest is my low-key Game of the Year. By Alyssa Hatmaker RIGHT: You’ll encounter a mysterious birdlike character who holds clues to a secret in the tower.

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ight in the Woods is a deeply human story about an anthropomorphic cat, Mae Borowski, who dropped out of college to return to her hometown of Possum Springs. It’s full of surprises and is easily one of my top games of 2017. Perhaps most surprising is that I found another favourite within it – the minigame Demontower.

N

Its full title, Ancient Doom Spire: Demontower Part IV – Slaughter of the Blood Thief, is a string of dark fantasy clichés. You gain access to it after Mae’s tech-savvy friend Angus does her a solid by getting rid of the embarrassing adware on her laptop. He installs the game as a bonus and promises to, “Talk Demontower sometime. It’s really cool!” He’s right. When developers spend extra effort creating a breakaway experience, it can feel like a gift, adding variety while offering reprieve at the same time. At times, you’ll find homages to other games you hold dear. In Demontower’s case, that’s Hyper Light Drifter, an action-RPG I fell in love with last year that itself pays homage to A Link to the Past.

The Climb

Demontower could easily fit as a location in Hyper Light Drifter’s beautiful but punishing 2D world. Playing as the Palecat, who’s slowly dying from a mysterious affliction, you must ascend nine floors while fighting through procedurally generated rooms. You start with nine heart containers, but you’ll lose one at the beginning of each level, knocking down your max health permanently. You’re also trying to adapt to tougher enemies and bosses, each with new attack patterns to master. As the game gets harder, you

Need to KNoW RELEASED 10 January 2017

EXPECT TO PAY £15

OUR REVIEW 82%

www.nightinthewoods.com

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With Fire aNd sWord: spiders oBserver

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minigames that add spice to the main dish

The retro-style main title is matched with a minigame riffing on 8-bit puzzlers.

gWeNt the Witcher iii

Continuing the legacy of great CCGs in RPGs, Gwent was good enough to warrant its own release.

become more vulnerable, and it’s essential that you aren’t hit. You have a sword that slashes in a wide arc and a dash to be used for strategic evasion or luring enemies into traps. You can only slash twice in quick succession before becoming exhausted, preventing you from attacking and thus slowing you down. Dashing will recharge your attack and restore your speed, but your dash also has to recharge, so it should be used strategically in tandem with your strikes. This offers creative possibilities for dispatching enemies and forces thoughtful movements. I spent a couple of hours playing Demontower, all told, attempting to get both the good and bad endings – how many minigames do you know of that have multiple endings? When I was finished, I had to take a moment to separate myself from it mentally and remember that I was still playing something else entirely. Demontower is a testament to the abundant attention to detail paid to Mae’s world, which is meant to mirror ours. It’s a game I would choose to play on my own, and booting it up was one of the many salient moments in which I could have been Mae – sitting on my unmade bed with my laptop, trading reality’s overwhelming chaos for pixelated mayhem. In a way, Mae’s favourite game reflects her state of mind. She’s given up on college, struggling to deal with the expectations of people around her and unsure of her path through life. The Palecat is visibly tired,

slots-o-de ath s pa c e Q u e s t: chapter i – the sarieN eNcouNter

paddleWar! commaNder KeeN 4-6

Playing this slot game may actually kill your character.

Kid genius Billy Blaze had a Pong knockoff installed on his wristwatch.

struggling to make it to the top of the tower and unsure what awaits her if she does. Throughout Night in the Woods, Mae often feels trapped by her own mind, but taking time to focus on small victories can mean the difference between hope and defeat.

Coming home

Night in the Woods is a meditation on small town living and a look at how time can begin to chip away at something you thought was solidly built – whether it’s your education, career, friendships or hometown. It’s about coping when it feels like life

I had to take a moment to separate myself from It mentally has delivered punches to the gut far more than it has offered pats on the back. Vignettes of life in Possum Springs play out over the course of the game. You get to know the minor characters and become invested in their struggles Night in the Woods rewards you for digging deeper and spending more time with it, and Demontower is the most obvious example of that. The upheaval in Mae’s life teaches her to be patient, adapt, and learn from her mistakes. Demontower does the same. It’s a great game made more impressive by the fact that it sits inside and enhances another great game.

RIGHT: Demontower’s simple controls belie its punishing level design, which requires patience and precision.

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ANDY K E L LY

No gods or kings or publishers. Only games. May the indie flame burn eternal.

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KiLL EVERYoNE

SoLVE A PUzzLE

EScAPE YoUR PRoBLEMS

HotLiNE MiAMi

FEz

FiREwAtcH

www.hotlinemiami.com

www.fezgame.com

www.firewatchgame.com

With its pounding soundtrack and hyper-stylish ultraviolence, Hotline Miami is the best kind of sensory bombardment. Every level is a bloody puzzle box to be solved with baseball bats, shotguns, fast reflexes, and intense concentration. A dark thrill like no other, with a bizarre, dreamlike story to follow, too.

A perspective-shifting platformer where you can rotate between 2D planes, solving puzzles and exploring a vast, intricate world filled with secrets. The central gimmick is cool enough on its own, but the distinctive atmosphere, superb soundtrack, and variety of puzzles on offer help make Fez a modern classic.

A beautiful American wilderness is the setting for this heartwarming, occasionally dark story about a man trying to get away from it all in a very literal sense. Campo Santo’s forest is a gorgeous, atmospheric place to ramble around, and the twisting plot and believable voice acting keep you engaged all the way through.

StARt A NEw LiFE

StARDEw VALLEY www.stardewvalley.com

An office worker trapped in the day-to-day rat race leaves their life of corporate tedium behind to run a farm. It’s an existence of repetitive toil, but this makes for a wonderfully relaxing, disarmingly compelling game. There’s no real goal: just grow your plants, feed your chickens and enjoy yourself.

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BE NoSY

GoNE HoME www.gonehome.game

A woman returns home from travelling to find her family gone, and discovers something about her sister. It’s best if you go in without knowing anything more than that. Exploring the grand house at 1 Arbor Hill, you find yourself hopelessly swept up in the lives of the people who live there.

cHALLENGE YoURSELF

LEARN tHE tRUtH

cRY A LittLE

SPELUNKY

HER StoRY

to tHE MooN

www.spelunkyworld.com

www.herstorygame.com

www.freebirdgames.com

Sometimes Spelunky is the worst, most infuriating game in the world, but only for a few seconds. Then you’re back, hooking it into your veins, delving deeper into its cutesy, deadly world of killer snakes, hidden treasure, and spike traps. One of the most endlessly replayable games ever made.

Take a non-linear path through a mystery by searching an archive of video clips. The story becomes clearer with each one you uncover, a unique structure that, combined with authentic police interview clips, makes Her Story a bold, compelling narrative experiment. Every time you play it, the story unfolds differently.

This emotional story is fairly similar to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, gradually probing deeper into the minds of its characters to understand their relationships, secrets, and flaws. It’s sweet and sad and you will probably cry at the end. But that’s fine. Embrace it. Taste the sadness.

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PLUS NEw FEATURES FOR 2018: Get Into Games, OMEN by HP Bootcamp and The Arcade

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2218 PREVIEW

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un called d this in a f What t “Issue 2914”. older he hell is it?!

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while n in development for a his historical sim has bee unded wdf cro re mo ed ass am now, and has somehow nets of GDP of the Federated Pla dollars than the entire e, and yet, war our vap it’s r fea e MicroPlymouth. Som developer in nearly seen or heard from the despite nobody having ased for purchase. rele is ship new a s nth mo two centuries, every few travel will be a ary net rpla inte for spaceships We imagine that using ld all easily travel cou we t life was like before pleasant reminder of wha achines painfully simply by having nanom thousands of light years n without warning. ofte m, ato by le us atom tear apart and reassemb

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year, d a strong comeback last he Shock series launche ck. Now, Sho tem Sys inal orig the with the 42nd reboot of their own t reboot are launching the developers of the 41s de a dog called insi irely ent set It’s . spiritual successor following a rogue size of our solar system Steven, who grows to the <THIS IS A play border collie go viral. You AI’s attempt to make a ING> as RN WA A IS IS <TH > WARNING WARNING> <THIS IS A th, which Ear of ple peo dwaves enslave the Steven’s enhanced min e, but it’s good to nos the on bit a nds sou all now orbits his heart. It . current political climate see devs engage with the

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Let ’s just r as this monun it All Over. No th’s will know. -one

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20 years anity once went almost egend tells us that hum rse, when cou of d, nge cha all t Tha with no new Half-Life. collective hook Source up to the Valve discovered how to to algorithmically er ord in ess usn scio will of human con all of the others, will every year. This one, like generate a new sequel ressed sexual desires rep journey through the probably be a terrifying oter with great sho n rso t-pe firs a as nifest of billions of people, ma STILL TIME><YOU IS ERE <TH new weapons. pacing and some clever MACHINE> THE TE N’T LET THEM ACTIVA CAN STOP THIS> <DO s. Also, there will be meme

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February 2218

Developed by an indestru onality skateboard with the pers of a 20th century extreme ble sports star, this unwinna cally first-person shooter is basi bail just an extended taunt. The videos are good, though.

s to ays tweaked its system ootball Manager has alw the sport, both on of nts me elop dev st incorporate the late st fans agree that it was the pitch and off. Still, mo by g-back was vapourised win r sta r you n irritating whe predict that We . play of ute min h ing the 67t robot death squads dur t the number of t year’s iteration, now tha rule will be relaxed in nex n culled to about bee has ers play as g eradin sentient slimes masqu t year’s big change to AL HOPE> Expect nex 2%. <YOU ARE OUR FIN to the sport after a rn Gullit, following his retu be The Immortal Ruud s. rret erfe Cyb the inst aga crucial victory in the war

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From March, every citiz y spend 1,000 hours remotel the piloting cargo drones to , Still b. silicon mines of KELT-2A record the developer has a track an of making enforced hum ne. misery seem strangely sere

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is just As far as we can tell, this er a cutesy puzzle platform about a young boy and his rely hovering pink cat made enti of expired Soylent. Nothing ing about it seems to be a chill reminder of our inescapable icious. present. We remain susp

crusAder kings ii: HAve we Added no? we AustrAliA yet? ou H A v e n ’ t ? t H e n yr e w i t ! k now wHAt ? sc we’re Adding time AustrAliA tHis The long-running series . continues, with new DLC


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Pc gamer uk february 2018  
Pc gamer uk february 2018  
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