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W CONTENTS

PCPP #279 ON THE COVER

MICROSOFT FLIGHT SIMULATOR

p. 022 Graphically brilliant, geographically superb.

CONTENTS FRONTEND 008 News 012 Special report 016 Character sheet

REVIEW

NEO CAB

OPINION

p. 066 Paints a picture of the not so far future.

010 JAM 014 Generation XX

FEATURES

REVIEW REVIEW

REVIEW

TRINE 4

COD: MODERN WARFARE

p. 067 A fairytale with a sort-of happy ending.

p. 068 A new high bar for the series.

DISCO ELYSIUM

p. 063 a surreal adventure influenced by classic RPGs

PREVIEW

SURVIVING THE AFTERMATH

TECH

LEGENDS OF RUNETERRA p. 038 LoL developer makes a play for the crowded card game market.

4 PC PowerPlay

Microsoft Flight Sim Beyond a Steel Sky Crusader Kings 3 Legends of Runeterra Surviving the Aftermath Boundary Journey to the Savage Planet Criminal Empire Warzone

GAME REVIEWS 063 066 067 068 069 070 072

Disco Elysium Neo cab Trine 4 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Indivisible Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Ghost Recon Breakpoint

TECH

p. 042 Rebuild civilisation in this post-apocalyptic management sim.

PREVIEW

022 028 032 038 042 044 046 048 054

HIGH-PERFORMANCE MOTHERBOARDS p. 076 With the CPU scene exploding on all fronts, it could be upgrade time – and in many cases that could also mean it’s also time for a new motherboard.

075 076 080 082 084 085 086 082 088 092 094

Corsair iCue 465x case X299 motherboard roundup Gigabyte Aorus 17 AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Tech - TT RGB 360 AIO CPU Cooler Steelseries Sensei Ten Razer Viper Ultimate Microsoft Xbox Elite Series 2 TechPr0n: ROG Mothership Menagerie Hotware

STATE OF PLAY 095 Subscriptions 096 Why I love ...


EDITORIAL W

Future Publishing Australia, PO Box 1077 Mount Street, North Sydney, NSW 2059 Tel: (02) 9955 2677 Fax: (02) 9955 2688 Web: www.futureplc.com Subscription enquiries: Please call CRM: (02) 8227 6486 Editorial EDITOR David Hollingworth david.hollingworth@futurenet.com CREATIVE DIRECTOR Troy Coleman troy.coleman@futurenet.com Contributors Meghann O’Neill, Terrence Jarrad, Theo, Chris Szewczyk, James Cottee Photography All copyrights and trademarks are recognised and respected Advertising Group Advertising Manager: Cameron Ferris cameron.ferris@futurenet.com Management Managing Director: Neville Daniels Sales Director: Paul Marttila Printed by Blue Star PRINT (NSW) Distributed in Australia and NZ by Gordon and Gotch www.gordongotch.com.au ISSN 0728-441

We are committed to only using magazine paper which is derived from ȸƺɀȵȒȇɀǣƫǼɵȅƏȇƏǕƺƳًƬƺȸɎǣˡƺƳǔȒȸƺɀɎȸɵƏȇƳƬǝǼȒȸǣȇƺ‫ٮ‬ǔȸƺƺȅƏȇɖǔƏƬɎɖȸƺِÁǝƺ 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) or PEFC ƬƺȸɎǣˡƬƏɎǣȒȇƏȇƳƏƬƬȸƺƳǣɎƏɎǣȒȇ All contents © 2018 Future Publishing Australia 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 ƏȇƳáƏǼƺɀِ«ƺǕǣɀɎƺȸƺƳȒǔˡƬƺ‫ي‬ªɖƏɵRȒɖɀƺًÁǝƺȅƫɖȸɵً ƏɎǝ ‫׏׏‬ÈِǼǼ 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 ƏǔˡǼǣƏɎƺƳǣȇƏȇɵɯƏɵɯǣɎǝɎǝƺƬȒȅȵƏȇǣƺɀȅƺȇɎǣȒȇƺƳǝƺȸƺǣȇِ 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.

THOSE FRIENDLY SKIES We had a rather interesting problem this issue. The process of getting a magazine cover approved is somewhat of a dark art, and there are a lot of stakeholders involved. For our Microsoft Flight Sim cover, it was all going well until someone raised an objection... “You can’t,” they said, “put a real plane on the cover!” So we had to point out that it is not in fact a real plane, but rather a very hi-res in-game render. In other words, that lovely image blessing this issue of PC PowerPlay is an actual screenshot. The new Flight Sim is simply going to be THAT pretty, and we’re sure it’ll cause a spike in sales of sim-gear such as flight sticks and pedals. It’s not for me though - when it comes to flight sims I have two left feet, two left hands, and - I don’t know - two left eyes. I crash and burn during take off! That said, I have found a way to enjjoy these kinds of deep simulations. A good friend of mine is actually a building a cockpit for her flight sim-adventures, and she e’s getting some pre-flight check-lists laminated... and while I ma ay suck at flying, it turns out I’m an excellent co-pilot. At least, I am until she strokes out or something... Maybe I should stick to Modern Wa arfare. David Hollingworth

Privacy statement If you provide information about yourself this will be used to provide you with products or services you have requested. We may supply your information to contractors to enable us to do this. Future Publishing Australia will also use your information to inform you of other publications, products, services and events. Future Publishing Australia may also give your information to organisations that are providing special prizes or offers and are clearly associated with the Reader Offer. Unless you tell us not to, Future Publishing Australia may give your information to other organisations that may use it to inform you of other products, services or events. If you would like to gain access to the information Future Publishing Australia holds about you, please contact us.

Future plc is a public company quoted on the London Stock Exchange (symbol: FUTR) www.futureplc.com

Chief executive Zillah Byng-Thorne Non-executive chairman Peter Allen !ǝǣƺǔˡȇƏȇƬǣƏǼȒǔˡƬƺȸ Penny Ladkin-Brand

Look, I’m not gonna judge anyone for coming g from the moon. Lovely place, I hear.

Tel +44 (0)1225 442 244

PC PowerPlay 5


W GAME NEWS

25

Game News

Years Monolith has been making games. Happy birthday!

12,000,000 (and then some) dollars revenue for Youtubers Life! Mad…

100

Remote chance Steam is taking the ‘local’ out of ‘local multiplayer’.

bucks US, with a penny change, for a year’s Fallout 1st subscription.

48 64 93 Hours Fortnite was taken offline before the launch of Chapter 2.

The version of Doom you get as a bonus if you pre-order Doom Eternal.

Percent positive Steam reviews for I Love You, Colonel Sanders.

6 PC PowerPlay

T

he problem with couch co-op is that it involves (shudder) Full Human Interaction. Valve to the rescue! Steam now offers (in the beta client) Remote Play Together, which allows local co-op games to be played over the internet. There are over 4,000 supported games at launch, and no, I’m not listing them here

because we only have so much space and I’m not looking them all up. The host invites somebody from their friends list (who doesn’t need to own the game) to play, the game is streamed to their screen, and away you go. While we’ve found that internet speeds have an effect on quality, it’s surprisingly solid so far.

Strong as a (Parad)ox PDXCON 2019 announcements? Let’s DLC what we have here.

Y

ou can check out later in the issue, but there’s plenty more announcements from Paradox’s annual convention to talk about. Battletech’s Heavy Metal expansion, for example. Eight new mechs! Flashpoint minicampaign! Plus a free update to the base game, with two new mechs and official mod support. All of which should be out about... now. Stellaris gets an expansion by the name of Federations. Based on negotiating with aliens rather than blowing them up, this DLC will allow you to make alliances and be a space politician. Release is TBC, but the Lithoids Species Pack – with new species portraits and ship models – is out now. Age of Wonders: Planetfall’s first expansion lands November 19. Revelations offers two campaigns, a new faction, and more. With Hearts of Iron 4’s La Resistance expansion (concerned with the French resistance) too, there’s plenty to keep Paradox fans busy.


GAME NEWS W

Legends never die With Blizzard on the ropes Riot Games makes its play.

W

hat would you say is the appropriate way to celebrate a game’s tenth birthday? If you’re Riot Games, and the game is League of Legends, you would apparently say “announcing everything, and then one more thing”. Blizzard’s reputation has taken a hit lately (see page 8), and Riot’s huge push into new ideas, genres, media, and IPs is surely not a coincidence. LoL itself gets an update named Rise of the Elements. This is running on the PBE right now, going live with update 9.22 due before the end of November. The biggest news here is arguably the earthquakelevel shakeup for the main map, Summoner’s Rift. Killing an Elemental Drake will still give your team a buff (though some of these buffs have been tweaked) but now such a kill can transform the map, too, creating new routes and chokepoints according to the element. Available as you read this is new

support hero Senna, so go and check her out! Teamfight Tactics also gets a Rise of hich again is the Elements update, which live now. It introduces new champions, and mor o e. LoL classes, abilities, items, a and TT are getting mobiile versions too (the LoL one named Wild Rift) which will arrive in 2020. TT mobile is me essentially the same gam with PC cross-play, while Wild Rift is an entirely new, and separate, game hes. with 15-20 minute match

THE RIOT STUFF There’s brand new gamees coming too! CCG Legends of Runeterrra for one – ds-on. Then head to p20 for our hand there’s the LoL fighting game currently known only as Project L – details are sparse, but it’s from the team that worked on the never released Rising Thunder, which aimed to make the genre accessible to a wider audience.

ABOVE: The gang’s all here and there,, they’re everywhere!

Totally unrelated to League of Legends is what’s currently known as Project A, an online FPS that’s mostly shrouded in secrecy. What little has been shown hints at a cross between Rainbow Six and (amusingly) Overwatch. That, combined with a promise t that, “We’ve put anti-cheat at th he forefront of our development,” means this is one to watch. Plu us (yes, really) there’s an unnam med action-RPG, the selfexplanatory LoL Esports Manager, and an animated series set in the LoL universe (developed in-house) by the name of Arcane on the way. It would’ve been quicker q to talk about what Riot isn’t doing. d

LoL itself gets an update named Rise of the Elements.. PC PowerPlay 7


W OPINION: The Spy

The Spy Vale, the RDR2 rumour mill... But who watches The Spy?

A

fter nearly two years of tracking and assessing and sometimes even debunking Red Dead Redemption II PC rumours, it’s here. You can play it. You can play Red Dead Redemption II on PC. One of the greatest sources of leaks and rumours has died. Rockstar didn’t even have the decency to leave enough time between the final round of rumours and the announcement for us to take one final bite of that delicious apple. Now the apple lies rotten at The Spy’s feet. Literally. When Rockstar announced Red Dead Redemption II, The Spy donned a black poncho and hid away in The Spy’s favourite air vent in an ill-fated attempt to pretend everything was still OK. It’s been weeks now, and things have gotten pretty funky here. The Spy thinks it might be time to return to society, or at least to return to showers and putting waste into a variety of differently coloured bins based on their essential properties. So Red Dead Redemption II is out. A perennial rumour source is gone and deadline is looming. It’s time for The Spy to emerge, blinking and sweaty, out of denial and speed through the stages of grief. First up, anger. They say time heals all wounds, but time also creates new, different wounds; ones inflicted by publishers with such casual frequency it’s as if they don’t know The Spy even exists. Which they don’t, because The Spy is good at The Spy’s job. Blizzard, for instance, clearly didn’t take PC Gamer’s publishing dates into account when scheduling Blizzcon, meaning the Spy’s many juicy rumours about Diablo IV and Overwatch 2 are all for naught because whatever announcements are planned will have happened long before the issue hits the shelves. The Spy would enact some furious vengeance, but frankly, Blizzard is in enough trouble as it is, and anyway, it’s time for the bargaining stage. And so The Spy turns to Warner Bros with a pitch that their upcoming game be The Spy’s new go-to for column inches. According to Twitter leaker

8 PC PowerPlay

THE SPY The Spy always wears black, but sometimes really means it.

@New_WabiSabi – who earned a reputation after a series of accurate E3 leaks – the next Batman game will be called Arkham Legacy, and will let you play as multiple members of Batman’s extended bat-family – that’s your Robins, your Nightwings, your Batgirls, your Red Hoods, etc.

TWIT-TWOO Of note, the game is also rumoured to star the Court of Owls, which would certainly fit with the legacy theme. Appearing first in Scott Snyder’s 2011 Batman run, the Court of Owls is a secret cabal that has a long history of murdering members of the Wayne family. It also has a big labyrinth under the city that Batman

once had a bit of a bad time in – we’re talking starvation, dehydration, hallucination, the full works. The Court even employs a small army of assassins who are pumped full of a chemical that reanimates dead tissue. They’re basically unkillable minibosses, which is a very videogame kind of thing to be. No, it’s no good. Arkham Legacy will almost certainly be announced at The Game Awards in a few months time. What’s the point in trying to cultivate this game as an ongoing rumour? What’s the point of any of it? Why does The Spy even bother? OK, that’s depression done. Now just acceptance. Yep, Red Dead Redemption II is out on PC. Spy out. THE SPY

This page’s perennial rumour source is gone and deadline is looming.


▼ OPINION: JAM

Jam My Kind of Peephole!

I dust off my crystal ball and deliver a sequence of predictions for the next year in gaming! Marvel at my infallible foresight – some might even call it 2020 Vision!

J

anuary. Following mass consumer apathy towards the launch of Star Wars Episode IX, Disney CEO Bob Iger makes a bold attempt to engage younger audiences by announcing that he is dumping composer John Williams and replacing him with Undertale creator Toby Fox. When asked about the quality of the cinematography that viewers can look forward to in Episode X, Mr. Fox makes a single unambiguous statement: “You’re gonna have a bad time.” February. A terrible new chapter unfolds in the saga of the limited edition US$80 bottles of dark rum sold to promote Fallout 76. In addition to its flimsy and defective bottle design, fans soon learn that the rum itself is radioactive, in some extreme cases causing complete Ghoulification. Todd Howard responds to the crisis quickly by selling Fallout-branded Iodine pills. Unfortunately, these pills also turn out to be radioactive. March. House House unveils the first major DLC pack for Untitled Goose Game: Untitled Ibis Expansion. Players will assume control of one of the infamous ‘bin chickens’ of Sydney, and will be tasked with a wide array of challenges, including stealing chips, rummaging through rubbish bins, and judging the souls of the recently deceased. April. Cloud Imperium announces the shock move to jettison eight years of development in CryEngine 3.X, and that effective immediately all Star Citizen development will be conducted in Unreal Engine 4. Wearing a bulging black turtleneck and waving his hands frantically, Chris Roberts also reveals that the Squadron 42 beta test has been pushed back to 2022. Backers universally agree that this is ‘Good for Star Citizen.’ May. Popular Australian streamer Steven ‘Bajo’ O’Donnell defects from Twitch to Mixer. Within 24 hours a Predator drone powered by Amazon Web Services delivers a Small Diameter Bomb to his house; fortunately, the charismatic celebrity is off-site at the time of the attack, filming viral video segments in an over-sized ibis costume.

10 PC PowerPlay

Gearbox CEO Randy Pitchford does something very, very embarrassing. The gaming media tries not to comment on it, and the gaming public tries not to think about it. June. E3. Taking his obsession with urination-based gameplay to its logical conclusion, Hideo Kojima announces that his first ever feature film will be a dramatisation of the astonishing true story of the infamous Trough Man of Kings Cross. Before a stunned crowd of press and VIPs, Kojima holds aloft a champagne flute filled with a fluid coloured a suspiciously intense yellow. His closing remark almost sounds like a threat: “Here’s to you.” July. BioWare folds. Nobody cares. August. Elon Musk reveals to the world that he is a furry. The embattled entrepreneur changes his Twitter avatar to his ‘Fursona’ (a cartoon lion), and proceeds to announce that his humanoid catgirl genetic experiments are “under budget and ahead of schedule.” September. After successfully rewriting history by pinning the Highway of Death massacre on Russia, an emboldened Activision takes even greater historical liberties in the new Call of Duty, blaming Vladimir Putin for the 1989 invasion of Panama, the

JAMES COTTEE Many efforts have been made to procure James’ crystal ball, but he always seems to know when we’re coming...

overthrow of the Whitlam government, and the Bay of Pigs debacle. October. Citizen Con. Noting the buzz surrounding the new Dune movie, Chris Roberts remembers that he promised giant sand worms for Star Citizen in a trailer he released in 2016. Roberts ups the ante, announcing that backers who have paid US$100,000 or more will be eligible to play as a man/sandworm hybrid creature. November. Blizzcon. Jeff Kaplan reveals that Blizzard will be rolling out a ‘Social Credit Score’ system for all its games. Effective immediately, Blizzard customers will need to surrender details of all their social media profiles in order to access Battle.net. Any negative commentary about the People’s Republic of China will result in reduced drop rates of rare items. December. For the first time ever, the RBA introduces negative interest rates. As desperation mounts to net any kind of return on savings, capital is allocated to increasingly risky ventures. One local dev commences work on a game where you control a nocturnal mammal that raids suburban backyards and feasts on pot plants. When asked why he would create a game that would glorify the actions of such disgusting pests, he states: “You either die a hero, or live long enough to become the possum.”

Kojima holds aloft a champagne flute filled with a fluid coloured a suspiciously intense yellow. His closing remark almost sounds like a threat: “Here’s to you.”


Special Report

Bigger and beta The ins and outs of Steam’s smart new redesign

R

emember when Steam was a drab olive green? That was a long, long time ago, and yet Steam’s library, the place we go to launch games every day, has rarely changed in that time. In fact, rumours and leaked images have pointed to a new library design since 2017. Valve’s been taking its time, but it’s finally here: a spiffy new library with smarter tools for organising games and big, shiny box art that makes browsing a pleasure. “There are three main goals,” said Valve’s Alden Kroll when he showed off the library redesign at an event in Seattle. “To help players find the games that are in their library and find what to play next. Secondly, to stay up to date with the things happening in the games, what their friends are up to, things like that. And then also, for those who have been collecting games for years in Steam, help them organise their games

12 PC PowerPlay

and find what they might not even remember they have in their library collection.” At time of writing, Valve hasn’t yet rolled the design out to everyone, but you can try it yourself by opting into the Steam client beta (Settings > Account > Change beta participation). It’s still a work in progress, but rest easy if you’re expecting the kind of beta where you clip through the floor or get shotgunned from across the map. The client is perfectly stable, but the design is still in flux, as Valve sees how people react to its first major library changes in many years. ‘Modern’ is the best word to describe this glow up: big vertical icons give box art more room to shine on a new library Home page, and the whole window follows the ‘flat’ aesthetic popular in recent software design. The flatter style and big art

does make Steam feel like it’s catching up to the design trends of the past five years, though. The Home page strongly evokes home theatre app Plex, and will feel instantly familiar if you’ve ever used an Apple TV or other streaming device.

HOMEWARD BOUND The most important new feature is the Home page, which is, well, just what it sounds like. The library no longer defaults to the game page of whatever you played last. Home is divided into rows, with the first two showing you what’s new from the games in your library – updates, special events, posts from the developers – and what you’ve played recently, so you can easily jump back in. Below that, the layout is mostly up to you: with a couple of mouse clicks you can add ‘shelves’ of games organised by Steam’s new collection tools.

PROGRESS Since the new library beta launched September 17, Valve has already made numerous changes. Valve removed a nav button that took you to the home page, made screenshots appear on non-Steam games added to the library, and improved GPU acceleration, alongside plenty of bug fixes. There’s no word on how long the library will stay in the beta stage.


SPECIAL REPORT ▼

PRO TIPS

Get the most out of your new library

GET SMART

New Dynamic Collections are the best way to organise. Pair tags like ‘Co-op’ and ‘FPS’ to round up what to play.

PICTURE PERFECT

Near the top of a game’s library page, Steam inserts a box of the screenshots you took last session for easy access.

A tool called Dynamic Collections is easily Valve’s best addition: they’re basically Gmail filters for games. You create a collection by choosing from a variety of tags, say ‘RPG’ and ‘multiplayer’ and ‘controller support’, and Steam will automatically pull in all the appropriate games in your library. The ‘dynamic’ (and exciting) bit is that Steam will add any future games you buy with those tags to the collection, too, requiring no manual fiddling. The most basic use for dynamic collections is simply organising by genre, which used to be tedious. For years I relied on the third-party tool Depressurizer, but I only ran it every so often, and in the meantime new games would pile up in my library list without getting the right tags. Bless dynamic collections for making it easy to round up all of the (once and future) first-person shooters in my library with just a couple of clicks.

TAG LINE

Dynamic collections are ultimately at the mercy of Steam’s tags, though, and you’ll likely need to do some manual pruning on them before they’re quite right. Thankfully you can right-click individual games to

TOP LEFT: It should be under B for Bastion. TOP RIGHT : Add new games to your convoluted collections.

MOVE IT

Animated box art! Download from reddit.com/r/steamgrid. Right-click a game > Manage > Set custom artwork.

remove them, or else I’d have to live with FreeStyle2: Street Basketball (why do I own this??) living in my FPS collection. With more options, like supporting basic logical functions (for example ‘and’ and ‘or’) dynamic collections could be killer. Right now, if you use more than one tag, they can only include results where the venn diagram overlaps. This ends up being pretty limiting. Say I want to create a collection of all my shooters. I have 61 games tagged ‘FPS’ and 31 games tagged ‘third-person shooter’. But a dynamic collection with both tags shrinks to only nine results, because only nine of my games are tagged both thirdperson shooter and FPS. Here I need an ‘or’ instead of an ‘and’. The library redesign has a couple of other little helpful features, like nondynamic collections you can simply drag-and-drop games into, and a handy button at the top of the column that will hide everything that isn’t currently installed. Each individual game’s page now has splashy banner

PERFORMANCE MODE

Disable some graphical niceties and use less bandwidth by enabling Low Bandwidth and Low Performance.

art across the top, and a box that highlights recent achievements and screenshots from the last play session, which is a welcome shortcut. But there’s also a prominent ‘activity’ section, like a Facebook wall for you and your Steam friends, on every single game page. Who, in 2019, is going to choose this as the place to talk about games? Scroll down, and the rest of the new game page design is also an unsightly mess of community screenshots, guides, and videos, which can include spoilery content and, inevitably, memes. It feels like Valve trying to shoehorn in community engagement that I’d rather hide. With the library’s new design it feels strange to click over to the store or the (especially outdated) community hub. As growing pains go, it’s a minor one. Valve has said that “the new library will inform future store discovery features” and its design will probably trickle over to the community hub, too. Eventually… Steam still operates on Valve Time, after all. WES FENLON

The most basic use for dynamic collections is simply organising by genre.. PC PowerPlay 13


▼ OPINION: GEN XX

Gen XX Eat Pray Love Execute

The semi-autobiographical account of someone who should never have been given any power; me.

G

osh, Ultima IV has aged well, hasn’t it? That moment in the tutorial where you can forgive, execute or MARRY the prisoner who insults your queen? I’d forgotten how wacky videogame choices were in 1985. I’m sure, as an innocent child, I’d have chosen forgiveness. Not this time. It was execution, all the way. Of course, the executioner couldn’t execute any prisoners because I also ordered him to execute himself and so he was waiting in the execution queue. Until I married him, then he moved into my chambers. No, my queen wasn’t keen on all the people, and barrels of fish guts (plural), who I married during this playthrough, but what could she do? It was all totally legal. I’d reformed the church. Why? To impress a guy. (So many bad decisions in videogames, and life, are made for this reason.) I also fronted the cash for superfluous badgers and a Golden Flan. Ultima IV has fancier food than I’d remembered. Same trails of false walls, though, as indicated by a single misaligned pixel, and secrets to find, behind line-of-sight-blocking trees. I’m also not sure I recall getting my character quite so drunk, with the bubbles and wonky control scheme. Certainly, it took me a good twenty minutes to remember how to sober up. Did Chuckles always pay his taxes in onions? How did I maintain any kind of virtue score, if I’d sent every second serf to the execution queue for briefly blocking my passage? (Even if they were never actually executed because the executioner was otherwise occupied, by bickering in the bedroom with my other beloveds.) By the way, you can marry the bed. Where you consummate that marriage, I’m not entirely sure. And, yes, OK, I’ll admit the truth. I haven’t been playing Ultima IV, just a game that looks and plays EXACTLY THE SAME (but is otherwise completely different). Fit For A King is described as a ‘King Henry the 8th simulator’. Perhaps deliberately in counterpoint to Richard Garriott’s famous morality system, any action is moral, if you decree it. You’re the king, after all. (Except in other lands where, hilariously, everyone refuses to recognise your authority.)

14 PC PowerPlay

MEGHANN O’NEILL finished Fit For a King and needs to know who to email for a certificate.

I did initially wonder whether the ability to ‘marry everything’ was an insensitive way to approach satire, given the marriage equality vote where an Australian senator suggested that voting ‘yes’ could lead to people “marrying The Harbour Bridge”. When I wed this game’s many inanimate objects, they clearly consented. Some did not, so the marriage didn’t proceed. That seems important, but I will admit that a lot of this game’s humour goes right over my head, especially the darker, more nihilistic, moments. I do understand the gags relating to classic RPGs very well, of course. When a princess told me that her favourite song was, “245676531,” I knew she meant Greensleeves, even before I found a lute, to test it out. I also knew how to navigate to (seemingly)

hard-to-reach places and ask probing questions via text parser. Finding a whole new populace I couldn’t converse with, because of the language barrier, was brilliant. And, interacting creatively, from digging with a shovel, to ordaining weird animals (and items) as priests, was a joy. If you have an interest in satire or the Ultima series, do play Fit For a King. Do not expect Ultima IV. Expect to explore morality, agency and interactivity, while you strive to impress a guy. It’s about time you got to be in charge up front, rather than the hero who rises from nothing. You deserve it. Pushing the boundaries of who, or what, you can love, just seems like icing on a cake you can definitely marry. You could probably also marry the wedding cake at your own wedding TO a wedding cake. Or something. This was a very confusing experience.

I’m also not sure I recall getting my character quite so drunk, with the bubbles and wonky control scheme.


â–¼ CHARCTER SHEET

Character Sheet

16 PC PowerPlay


CHARCTER SHEET W

Elder blood The Witcher 3’s fiery deuteragonist, Ciri

C

irilla Fiona Elen Riannon, Queen of Cintra, Princess of Brugge, and Duchess of Sodden had novels of history before players ever met her in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Although we had become well-acquainted with Geralt of Rivia and his supporting cast of men, mistresses, and monsters during the first two games, his adopted sort-of-daughter Ciri had yet to make an appearance, despite her prominence in Andrzej Sapkowski’s Witcher Saga. Time is short, even in a 60-plus hour RPG, so the team at CD Projekt Red needed to think carefully about how to introduce Ciri to players elegantly and efficiently. “Ciri has a very rich backstory – a princess, child of Elder Blood, heir to the throne of Nilfgaard, a bandit, a magician,” says principal writer Jakub Szamalek in reference to just some of Ciri’s adventures in the Witcher Saga. They couldn’t impart each of these formative stories, Szamalek says, knowing that it would be a deluge of backstory. Instead they chose two focuses: her

M I S AT T R I B U T E D MISADVENTURE One of Geralt’s quests belonged to Ciri originally.

“My favourite reference is a tiny encounter which actually doesn’t feature Ciri. When arriving in Oxenfurt, the player, controlling Geralt, can come across a conman presenting a ‘basilisk’ in a cage. Geralt recognises that the monster in question is actually a [wyvern]. The creature breaks free a moment later and it’s up to our favourite witcher to clean up the mess. This whole encounter is a nod to a scene from The Time of Contempt, where Ciri goes through a similar event.”

relationship with Geralt and her ability to traverse through space and time. “The former was key to establishing an emotional connection between the player and the character [they were] supposed to chase after for upwards of 60 hours,” Szamalek says. “The latter explained Ciri’s special role in the universe and allowed us to make Geralt’s investigation a little bit more mysterious and convoluted.” Despite Ciri’s place as the arguable main character of Wild Hunt and the pin on which the plot later turns, Geralt remains the protagonist and, for the majority of the game, the playable character. Sections in which the player takes control of Ciri are few and far between, making them a precious resource for portraying Ciri’s personality outside Geralt’s supervision. “She has a playful, even impish streak Geralt lacks,” Szamalek says. “She’s unimaginably powerful, but at the same time struggles with self-doubt and runs away from her fate.” Each of Ciri’s scenes had to be layered with complex and often conflicting emotions to get across the literal books of backstory that CD Projekt Red didn’t have time to deliverr directly. “Conveying all this to the player – subtly, between verses – was one of the biggest narrative challengess we faced.” Geralt, his on-again, off-again sorceress lover Yennefer, and Ciri together form an unconventional family unit. Although the scene in which Ciri reunites with the group at the witcher keep Kaer Morhen is many players’ favourite for Ciri’s speechless excitement and Yennefer’s uncharacteristic squeal of excitement, Szamalek has another favourite moment. “I think the scene where Yennefer and Geralt eavesdrop as Ciri’s negotiating with the Lodge of Sorceresses encapsulates their relationship best,” Szamalek says, describing the scene where Geralt can choose to accompany Ciri for

an important discussion with the powerful sorceresses or allow her to go alone. The tone of the scene changes vastly based on Geralt’s decision. With Geralt present during the discussion, there’s tension in the room accompanied by an eerie soundtrack. If Geralt stays behind, he and Yennefer banter outside the door debating whether to listen in. “Here, you can see that Yennefer and Geralt respect Ciri’s agency, trust in her, but cannot resist the temptation to check how she’s doing,” Szamalek says. “In this brief scene, they are both encouraging and protective, proud of how far she’s gone and anxious to what awaits her. I think any parent will recognise this tension – and I’m very happy that we managed to portray it.”

WITCHER WOMAN One particular callback to Ciri’s adveentures in the Witcher Saga shows w CD Projekt Red chose carefully how ween allusions to past events and betw full retellings. The rose tattoo on Ciri’s gh comes up in Wild Hunt during thig her time at a hotspring with villagers o rescued her from the sea. The who playyer can choose to have Ciri mention thatt the mark is a memory of someone speccial who has died but the story is left at that. n the Saga, the tattoo is a memento In of Ciri’s lover Mistle during her time h a group called The Rats. “There with wasn’t really space for unpacking this mplex episode in the Wild Hunt – com and it’s a shame,” Szamalek says. “In this moment of life, Ciri gave in to her darker side, followed her worst instincts. Showing this transition, and the remorse which followed, would havee made a great story.” Although it’s a shame that Wild Hunt could only afford brief flashes and references to Ciri’s backstory, Szamalek says of Ciri’s time with The Rats, and if we’rre thinking wishfully, her other adveentures, “Maybe it’s something we’ll get to revisit in the future.” UREN MORTON LAU

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▼ INDIES

A collection aside The PC indies showing at PAX Australia this year numbered 142, including (a couple of) internationals, student games, games made on the train to Melbourne and an impressive collection from Geek Girl Academy. MEGHANN O’NEILL had some help from her 12 year old son, Nick, for the first time. He only disappeared into relaxing, bird-flying experience, Feather, by Samurai Punk, for a little bit. I think we can all agree on the best game title, though; a student grapple game called “Hooked on a Ceiling.” Meghann also found someone holding an amazing sign; “Geek out with me about Heroes IV. There are dozens of us!” At an event as large as PAX, there certainly were.

RING OF PAIN

Q2 2020

BROKEN ROADS

DEVELOPER SIMON BOXER, TWICE DIFFERENT • PRICE TBA

DEVELOPER DROP BEAR BYTES • PRICE TBA

http://ringofpain.com/

https://www.dropbearbytes.com/

Strategic, card-based combat often requires guesswork. Until you learn the finer details of a game’s rules it can be, “What happens if I do this? Oh, I’m dead.” In a similar way to Into The Breach, Ring of Pain shows you what will happen, as you hover over potential next moves. If you’re considering attacking a monster, you’ll see who hits first, how much damage you’ll cause and how many hit points you’ll lose. If there’s a dice roll involved, like with a potentially cursed potion, you’ll see the spectrum of possibility, depicted in a range of colours. It’s nice to be able to focus on decision-making in a challenging roguelike. You’re navigating a dungeon by sneaking, fighting, finding treasure and buffing your stats. Structured as a circle, you have to interact with a card on the left or right, or turn the circle (which may have consequences). You don’t have to directly engage every monster on the way to an exit, but you’ll have less souls to buy powerful gear, if you don’t. Bombs and ranged creatures complicate matters and some adjacent cards can even interact with each other. Much to my frustration (in a motivating kind of way), I haven’t managed to complete the PAX demo, as yet. But, I want to know more. There’s an owl-like creature who sometimes appears on a card. You can talk to them, they seem to be quite helpful. You can attack them, but their hit points are terribly high. There’s a formless creature, too, in a black void, who has a second perspective on why you’re here and what you’re doing. The formula is compelling. I wish I could show you how much you’d love it. Picture a ‘love bar’ flashing pink +10.

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There’s always one game at PAX Australia that is incredibly early in development, yet I can’t resist playing it now. I was given a build of Broken Roads and it felt immediately familiar; Australia’s reds, oranges and greens, wandering camels, graffiti, a caravan with makeshift trailer and solar panels on top. When you take your motley group into the pub, there’s little available to buy. As the chalkboard says “hope for the future” is definitely “sold out”. The demo wasn’t much more than art and evocative levels. The plans for it, however, are exciting. Designer, Craig Ritchie, certainly saw me coming. Inspired by Baldur’s Gate, this will be a party-based, post-apocalyptic RPG, set in Australia, made with Indigenous consultation. He says, “What better setting for moral dilemmas and thought experiments than a bleak, desperate future?”

E AR LY PR E VI E W

A character’s worldview will be represented by a malleable, golden arc on a moral compass, revealing traits and dialogue options. Consistent decision making will result in a narrower (but more powerful) range of choices, within a single, ideological outlook. Composer, Tim Sunderland says, “I’ve been building instruments out of old scrap musical equipment, bamboo and other woods, basically whatever a post-apocalyptic musician would have to work with.” Wow. And, I haven’t yet seen much of what Ritchie describes as, “tactical, turn-based combat, with elevation and 3D cover,” but every aspect of design seems highly detailed. Will this be one of the games I see early, then never again? I always get nervous about the more ambitious projects. I sincerely hope I’m reviewing this for you, eventually.

Consistent decision making will result in a narrower (but more powerful) range of choices, within a single, ideological outlook.


INDIES ▼

2020

THE REWINDER DEVELOPER MISTY MOUNTAIN STUDIO • PRICE TBA https://store.steampowered.com/app/1161170/The_Rewinder/

After a recent trip to China, I’ve become fascinated by the weird (and wonderful) moments that occur when communicating between Chinese languages and English. In our hotel, an English translation read “the child in the” to mean ‘baby pool’. Amazing. There’s a Chinese restaurant in Chatswood called Memory Tongue. What an inspiring name! I’m not sure their plans for release, but The Rewinder currently contains some Chinese lettering. My phone translated a lamp’s description as “fragrant lamp”, “pub lantern” and “lantern for all wine”.

I’d love if games were more of an avenue for sharing culture. This story is based on Chinese mythology, folklore and belief. The opening cutscene certainly hooked me; “I was somehow raised within The Beyond, a place where souls live before reentering the living world.” You’re tasked with the most amazing thing; “Soul number 217 needs to return to this (living) village.” They have “fated parents”. Can they be (re)born if one hasn’t been seen in 7 years? There’s time to ponder these questions, as you explore quiet soundscapes and muted pixel art.

As a point-and-click adventure, puzzling combines finding/using objects and interpreting visual clues. There’s a slider puzzle that requires you to see the solution, rather than experiment. There are instructions to follow and patterns to remember. You can also time travel to the past, to change aspects of the present, and this promises to be a central mechanic. I loved trying to phoneread the Chinese characters, in search of clues and contextual information. The Rewinder promises to be a beautiful experience and I’m excited to learn more, at release.

LOCOMOJAM DEVELOPER VARIOUS • PRICE MOSTLY FREE https://itch.io/jam/locomojam19

R ELE A SED

I travel to PAX Australia from Sydney to Melbourne on the train, most years. I usually spend the 11 hours writing Generation XX, then looking out the window (when my battery runs out). I’ve even started saying ‘hi’ to people I recognise; the gal in the PAX shirt, the guy who mods fighting games. I went to Global Game Jam, one year, and made music for 11 games. Could I make games on the train from Brisbane to Melbourne? People did. Locomojam arrived at the station with 16 games, 12 of which are now published, four of which you can play in a browser. Frantic Fortunes was the first game I found, in the train-themed booth. With WASD, you’re pretending to examine the lines on a client’s hand. With the mouse, you’re scrolling through their Fakebook feed, trying to prove you are psychic enough to answer their inane questions.

It’s a great concept and requires a surprising amount of coordination. Next we played Ripper Rideshare, in which you’re the GPS. You’re not controlling the car, you’re deciding where the driver should go, like around random octopi and … large spillages of melted cheese? The theme of the jam was ‘lines’. Broadcast Z is about zebras. It’s a short art piece where lines are crossed in a range of literal and personal ways. Implausible Poetry is about rearranging lines of verse, What Does it Mean tasks you with connecting visual clues to solve an ambiguous mystery and Thin Blue Line is a beautiful metaphor for managing crime (or not). Hopefully, these tiny impressions have encouraged you to hop aboard Locomojam next year, if only to be surrounded by such talented and inspiring designers. Maybe I’ll see you there.

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▼ INDIES

L ATE 2019

ELDEN: PATH OF THE FORGOTTEN DEVELOPER ONERAT PTY LTD • PRICE TBA http://www.oneratgames.com/

Elden: Path of the Forgotten is engaging. I was initially attracted to its lovely forest and colours that shifted according to who I was fighting, or who I had touched. And, the sparse music and diegetic sounds, like distant bells, which are filtered and paired with a heartbeat when you’re near death, which is often. What I love most about the experience, however, is that a story

is being told, but no-one is explicitly sharing it with me. Not the protagonist or broken, human characters, not the monsters, not even the dead acolytes, on the chapel floor. This is a lonely game. Because of gentle, detailed combat, I sense I’m on a hero’s journey, but only in the vaguest of terms. It reminds me of a balmy night in Bangkok, watching a

R ELE A SED

PR E VI E W

CHAOS TAVERN

NEGATIVE NANCY

DEVELOPER DRAGON BEAR STUDIOS • PRICE TBA

DEVELOPER FEED • PRICE FREE

https://chaostavern.com/

https://feed.itch.io/negative-nancy

Chaos Tavern delivers exactly what it promises, in an Overcooked kind of way. A wizard sold you the place. You’re serving drinks, making health/mana potions, collecting money, dissuading burglars, fighting monsters. It’s extremely nice to be productive, because of the satisfied smiles on customers’ faces and the Theme-Hospital-like progression, where you get a little scorecard of what you’ve achieved (or failed at), before moving on to a new challenge. You’re in the thick of it, with a friend, trying to keep everything running smoothly. The designers have consulted with their local Indigenous community and it’s nice to hear didgeridoo in the soundtrack. I also appreciated metric clapsticks to signal when time is nearly up. Things definitely get chaotic, in later levels. My son and I were able to support each other surprisingly well, when there were too many tasks and not enough hands. Put the kids to work with you, in a way they’ll enjoy.

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performance of The Ramayana in Thai. I didn’t understand a word, but it was clear that the story was well-known, beloved, and legendary, to the rest of the audience. I get a similar feeling from Elden, but it’s as if I’m much older, perhaps the last to remember half-learning the tale in a distant land, as I only recall impressions of great despair and hard-won glory.

I’m endlessly fascinated by the ‘routes less taken’ in interactive fiction. Or maybe I’m still annoyed that I broke up with Blackwall in Dragon Age: Inquisition and he defaulted back to friendship dialogue as if he’d never loved me at all (or as if the designers thought no-one would dump him, so didn’t bother with bitter, break-up banter). In Negative Nancy, you have one task; to have a perfect day. You also have one dialogue choice; “No”. You can ‘not say no’, but that’s it, as you explore assertiveness, defiance, helplessness, nihilism and sadness. You’re working the Refunds Counter at Megamart. Your boss wants to give you a nickname. A friend needs help. You’re accused of a crime. You can even ‘win’ the game, if you’re playing perceptively. Somehow, the story always flows sensibly. Why can you only say “No”? The patient, yet steely, voice acting (for variations of literally one word) suggest something in Nancy has finally cracked.


INDIES ▼

2020

HENRY MOSSE AND THE WORMHOLE CONSPIRACY DEVELOPER BAD GOAT STUDIOS • PRICE TBA https://www.mosseadventure.com/

Would the inhabitants of a Near Earth Colony (even if it is called New Melbourne) really sound like the cast of Muriel’s Wedding? Surely not every space settler (and vending machine) came literally from Victoria. (Why don’t I ever question this when it’s American accents?) It’s so nice to hear broad Australian accents in a science fiction setting, not to mention a point-and-

click adventure, I’d forgive this game anything. Not that there’s anything to forgive. In terms of puzzles, story and art, this is as polished an experience as you’ll find anywhere in the galaxy. Henry Mosse was set adrift in space, as a baby, and rescued by his adoptive mother. In the PAX demo, he is tasked with sneaking aboard her ship, to accompany her on a Far Star adventure.

Being raised in a famous family is obviously challenging, at times. Henry is a lovely teenager, but he’s desperate to prove himself. How? I’m not sure yet, but I learned (from the EduTron) that there’s a race of monarchical aliens who live creative lives of between 1 and 10 hours. I’m keen to meet them. And many generations of their offspring. I wonder what their accents are like.

R ELE A SED

PR E VI E W

JUST BUSINESS

BRIEF BATTLES

DEVELOPER PITCH STUDIOS • PRICE TBA

DEVELOPER JUICY CUPCAKE • PRICE $21.50

https://twitter.com/pitchstudiosvic

https://briefbattles.com/

You’re the set dresser for a black and white mobster film, organising guns, ammo, crates and actors so that only the bad guys get hurt during filming. In theory. In practice, everyone makes mistakes. The hero (also directed by you) has to move and act quickly. Everything has to go according to plan. What happens if it doesn’t? The scene is simply filmed again. I hope. That fake blood looks pretty real. One of the things I love about visiting the Swinburne booth at PAX is that every game is built around a central, and always interesting, idea. Just Business’ tutorial probably needs a little work, given I was following instructions rather than using my brain, but later levels become detailed and challenging. If I have a criticism, it’s that it’s not always possible to predict movement in advance, meaning sometimes failure is necessary for learning, like in Framed, by Loveshack. With a little care taken to improve design, this could be a unique and compelling puzzle game.

Towards the end of PAX Australia, just when Nick and I thought we’d seen all the indies, we were informed of a governmentfunded South Australian booth, hiding near the food court. And who did we find but Brief Battles? I’ve been meaning to write up this underpantsdriven, party game for several years, but there are so many games showing in this genre; party games, that is, not underpants-driven. So, what are you wearing? Toxic tighty-whities, icy undies? Your choice will change how you attack, defend and move, as well as making a bold statement. I always judge party games by whether my husband (who is largely a non-gamer) would recommend them to his friends (who play games together in a neighbour’s cabana). Does it have multiple game modes? Yes, all those you’d expect, including ‘knockout’ and ‘holding the golden undies’. Can they learn it easily? Yes. We hope you’ll try this, and a few more games, on.

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FEATURE W

The entire planet is your playground as MICROSOFT FLIGHT SIMULATOR takes the classic PC sim to new heights. By Andy Kelly

PC PowerPlay 23


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Scattered across this 3D globe are white dots representing tens of thousands of airports. There are famous ones such as the aforementioned Lukla, New York’s JFK, or London Heathrow. But there are countless smaller ones too, including Mataveri on Easter Island, the most remote airport in the world. I even managed to find and take off from RAF Lintonon-Ouse, a military airfield near me that I became aware of when I noticed fighter jets constantly flying over my house. You can start at an airport or just click somewhere on the planet and appear in the sky mid-flight. The scale is unreal.

ROUND THE WORLD FLIGHTS y tiny Cessna light aircraft is barrelling down the terrifyingly short runway at Lukla, an airport nestled in the mountains of eastern Nepal that’s said to be one of the most dangerous in the world. The end of the runway approaches fast as I yank back on the yoke, but I’m not getting any lift. I resign myself to my fate, but half a second before I slam into the barrier separating Lukla from the misty void below, the little plane lurches into the air and suddenly I find myself soaring down a deep, vast Himalayan valley scattered with little fluffy clouds. Ten minutes later I’m flying over New York City, a dense urban sprawl that stretches as far as the eye can see, sunlight glinting off the skyscrapers. Then I’m above my hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in the thick of a torrential rainstorm. I can see the streets where I grew up below me. Then I’m somewhere over the Sahara. The Jökulsárlón glacier in Iceland. The lush valleys of New Zealand. Mount Fuji in Japan. Anywhere I can think of I can go, because in Microsoft Flight Simulator the entire world is literally at your fingertips. It seems unbelievable, but as I spin a 3D globe around I realise that I can drop my plane anywhere on Earth and, after a short loading screen, start flying. This is possible because the game generates its world using satellite data pulled from Bing Maps. But you aren’t just flying over a flat texture: the engine takes this map data then intelligently fills it in with trees, water, buildings, famous landmarks, and even little details such as traffic on the roads. Elevation is rendered accurately too, resulting in towering mountain ranges and yawning valleys.

It’s exhilarating being able to pick somewhere on the planet and almost instantly fly there. Like when you spin a globe, jab your finger on it to stop it, and fantasise about going wherever your digit landed – except here you can realise that fantasy, albeit virtually. You also have fine control over the weather and time of day, so if you want to cross the Atlantic during a thunderstorm, fly over Seoul at night, or cruise along the French Alps at sunset, all you have to do is drag a few sliders then select that place as your starting point. You can change the weather and time of day in-game too, so if you’re bored of clear skies you can call in a supercell storm to spice things up. You can even use live weather data, meaning that if it’s raining in London in real life, it’ll be raining in the game too. Weather simulation is another thing that adds to the realism, with storms and other meteorological phenomena that don’t just look and behave like they do in real life, but appropriately affect the handling of your plane as well. And thanks to a ridiculous 600km draw distance, it’s possible to see storms long before you fly into them. If you get trapped in one, the dark, fat volumetric clouds around your plane are illuminated by cracks of lightning, which is as nerve-racking as it sounds. The Microsoft Flight Simulator development team seems particularly proud of its clouds, and rightly so. They’re colossal, voluminous, three-dimensional things, refracting and catching the light, swelling with darkness as rain accumulates, and drifting over the landscape, casting immense shadows as they go. Clouds can even cast shadows on other clouds. The result is some of the finest skies I’ve ever seen on PC, and skies that are all the more impressive for

if you’re bored of clear skies you can call in a supercell to spice things up.

AIR MILES

FLIGHT SIMUL ATOR 1 .0 1982

RIGHT: You can turn various assists on and off as you see fit.

Highlights from the series’ storied history

Although the Flight Simulator series had been around since 1979 this was the first released under the Microsoft banner. “If flying on your IBM PC got any more realistic,” an advertisement boasted. “You’d need a license.”

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ABOVE: Weather simulation means you can fly in perpetually sunny skies.

FLIGHT SIMUL ATOR 3.0 1988

As well as new aircraft and airports, the third Microsoft Flight Simulator added high-res EGA graphics. It also introduced the ability to customise your HUD with multiple windows, each displaying a different view of your flight.

FLIGHT SIMUL ATOR 5.0 1993

This was the first edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator to use textures, which made for much prettier, more realistic flying. It also featured custom cockpits and the ability to fly over Europe for the first time.

FLIGHT SIMUL ATOR 2000 1999

This was a major leap forward for the series, which had stagnated in the ’90s. It added snow and rain, 17,000 new airports, hazard objects such as radio towers, and simulated GPS. And yes, that is Concorde on the front of the box.

FLIGHT SIMUL ATOR 2004 2003

This edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator came bundled with several historical aircraft including the famous Wright Flyer. It also featured 3D cloud formations, localised weather systems, and interactive cockpits.

FLIGHT SIMUL ATOR X 2006

The most recent edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator added the ability for two players to fly a single plane as well as improved scenery and weather effects. This version of the sim still has a huge following and an active mod scene.


being colossal simulations of intricate weather systems, not just pretty skyboxes. Sims can be quite drab and lifeless, often trading visual fidelity for realism. But details like these make Microsoft Flight Simulator powerfully atmospheric. And that is, for me, one of the most exciting things about it. It has all the things a hardcore simulator fan demands from a game like this: licensed planes, realistic aerodynamics, physically simulated weather, icing, load factor, fuel consumption, thermic updrafts, and native support for a wide variety of sticks, yokes, and throttles. But the game doesn’t merely want to replicate the cold, mathematical reality of flying, but the drama and romance of it too. It’s flight as an experience, not just a series of calculations.

SOARING THROUGH THE SKIES When you’re cruising over the Seattle skyline as the sun dips below the horizon, casting a golden glow over the city, or you’re soaring above Tokyo at night, an endless sea of lights stretching below you, this feeling is palpable. It reminds you that flying is an incredible, special thing. Granted, this is difficult to appreciate when you’re squeezed into an n economy seat, drinking a tiny can of beer, watching a below bel average Kevin Hart film. But when you’re at the yoke ke of a plane in Microsoft Flight Simulator, free as the wi wind, it’s utterly blissful. Now I understand why people le get hooked on aviation, and why many of the dev team have ha started taking flying lessons. Those remarkable visuals will undoubtedly result in a lot nd of new players drifting towardss M Microsoft Flight Simulator – even if they have no real interest in sim games. Microsoft nt is well aware of this and d is promising an experience that can

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W FEATURE

be heavily customised, whether you’re the type of dedicated virtual pilot who has a plywood cockpit in their spare room, or someone who just wants to sprawl on the couch with a gamepad. A large number of assists can be switched on or off, making flying as simple or complex as you like, or some combination of the two, perhaps. However, no matter how many assists you have enabled, the game will still use the same base aerodynamics simulation. If you’re wondering how your PC is going to cope with rendering the entire world, developer Asobo Studio explains that Microsoft Flight Simulator will rely on your internet connection, using something called adaptive streaming. The better your bandwidth, it says, the greater visual fidelity you’ll experience. But the developer is also keen to stress that there will be an offline mode where you can pre-cache parts off th the map to visit without being connected to the internet. It sounds ds like playing online will offer the best experience, and will let you enjoy features such as finding planes in the sky using live flight ligh tracker data, then diving in and taking over the controls. Of course a gamee attempting to recreate the whole planet is never going to be perfect. Even though the pre-alpha build erf of the game I play is impressively stable, and obscenely pretty, es the world generation does have ave some issues. Occasionally it

I’m most excited d about Microsoft Flight Sim lator mula as a relaxation tool. 26 PC PowerPlay

ABOVE: V The whole world iis ready to be re in Microsoft explored S . Flight Simulator

FLIGHT RISK

Simulation versus reality

G FAR RIGHT: Get your g at the ready sick bags if you’re aattempting r some aerobatics.

After piloting a light aircraft over Lake Washington in the game, I was lucky enough to experience the same trip for real. I squeezed into a Cessna 162, the same model I flew in the sim, and took to the skies with an instructor. We flew over the lake and took in a few local sights including Snoqualmie Falls and downtown Seattle.

The instructor handled the technical stuff, but I was able to take the yoke for a while and I was amazed by how light and responsive it was – a sensation Microsoft Flight Simulator recreates to an impressive degree. It was a thrilling feeling being in command of that tiny plane and the game evokes the same sense of freedom.


FEATURE W

LEFT TOP: Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane, definitely a plane. LEFT MIDDLE: You can travel back to your hometown. LEFT BOTTOM: It’s a bit like if Google Maps was fun.

seems as if the engine hasn’t properly processed or identified certain parts of the map, resulting in glitchy terrain, traffic driving into rivers, and other spots of weirdness. I also encounter a few airports where the runway seemed to be in the sea, or just didn’t exist at all. And it’s pretty obvious when you get really close to the ground that it’s all based on satellite maps. But a developer reassured me that the procedural systems that detect and fill these details in are still being worked on, and that most of these bugs will eventually be ironed out. Still, they say, they couldn’t possibly check every corner of the world for inconsistencies. It’s so big that even they haven’t, and likely never will, see certain parts of it. However, you do spend most of the game miles in the air, where it looks basically photorealistic when the weather and lighting are just right. So I’m sure most people will be willing to endure the odd graphical quirk in light of everything else the game is doing. Honestly I think I’m most excited about Microsoft Flight Simulator as a relaxation tool. I’ll dive into the simulation, sure, but I can see myself playing it mostly for the same reason I play Euro Truck Simulator 2: as a way to zen out. Some of the developers I spoke to acknowledged this, saying they often play this way themselves. Turn on the assists, pick a pretty part of the world, and just enjoy the ride. As big and wonderful as Euro Truck is, this definitely has it beat (and every other sim, for that matter) in terms of the sheer variety of locations on offer. I play the preview build for around four hours and I feel like I’ve barely dipped my toes in the pool. There’s so much to discover here and I can’t wait to spin that globe again and see where the wind takes me.


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GAMES PREVIEW W

DEVELOPER REVOLUTION SOFTWARE • PUBLISHER IN-HOUSE • RELEASE TBC 2019 www.revolution.co.uk

Beyond a Steel Sky Return to Union City in Revolution’s next adventure.

B

efore we dive in, some history. Back in 1994, Revolution Software, the UK studio behind the Broken Sword series, released a point-and-click adventure called Beneath a Steel Sky. Set in a future Australia, it followed the adventures of Robert Foster, an outback wanderer who found himself stranded in the dystopian Union City. The game was notable for the involvement of Dave Gibbons, the artist behind Alan Moore’s Watchmen comics, and it was a commercial and critical success. Beneath a Steel Sky could have easily been forgotten, one of those adventure game curios that we occasionally dig out of the archives to fondly remember. But for years it’s been one of the games people receive for free when they sign up for GOG.com, which has kept its heart beating. Not to mention a recent mobile port, which lets you play the thing on a modern smartphone. Between this and the Broken Sword series’ appearance on phones, Revolution has always been great at keeping its beloved old games alive. Fast forward 25 years and Beneath a Steel Sky has developed something of a cult following. It’s a deeply strange game, being a curious mix of bleak urban dystopia and Python-esque British humour. Despite the Australian setting, the people you meet are mostly English northerners – and the hero, Foster, has an American accent for some reason. But despite this dizzying tonal inconsistency, it’s a very good adventure game. I especially liked the ability to implant your AI pal Joey’s brain into various different robot bodies. Union City flips familiar dystopian city tropes, with the wealthy and privileged living in the lower levels and the poor being confined to the upper levels, where an endless sea of factories belches black smoke into the sky. Rigid and unfair class systems were

a big theme in Beneath a Steel Sky, and you can expect a continuation of that. In the first game Foster begins at the very top of Union City after a chopper crash. In the sequel, titled Beyond a Steel Sky, he starts his adventure at the front gate and has to find a way in.

SKY’S THE LIMIT Beyond a Steel Sky is fully 3D, with a third-person viewpoint, and Revolution has developed a graphics technology designed to mimic the distinctive style of Gibbons, who is back on board again as art director. The only location revealed so far is the entrance to the city, but it’s an impressive sight – a colossal gate with skyscrapers stretching endlessly into the stark, blue desert sky. The light-hearted tone of the original game has been retained, too. This isn’t some bleak, rain-sodden Blade Runner vision of the future. It’s bright and colourful, with expressive characters rendered in a bold comic book style. A benevolent AI, strongly hinted to be Joey from the first game, is running the city now, but this being an adventure game, finding your way in involves more than just dropping your old pal a WhatsApp. Revolution is still an adventure-game designer at heart, and Beyond a Steel Sky will be heavy on puzzles, conversations, and exploration. Dialogue is presented similar to Mass Effect, with a selection of options to choose from – a pretty standard affair with lines marked as to whether they’ll progress the story or just provide background info and gags. But Beyond has a few fresh ideas up its sleeve too, including a new version of its Virtual Theatre system. Sorry, more history. Revolution’s first few games, including Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a Steel Sky, used a technology called Virtual Theatre that introduced some basic

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There are all sorts to connect with in Beyond the Steel Sky.

simulation elements to the traditional adventure game format. This meant that some characters would have routines, and would only appear in certain places at certain times. It was pretty basic stuff, but it made the world feel more alive. In most adventure games characters just stand in one place waiting for you to talk to them, here they moved around, and Revolution is taking this concept a step further in Beyond.

SPANNER IN THE WORKS The entrance to Union City is a large circular area teeming with life, including floating robots, citizens wandering around, and even some native Australian wildlife. Ahead is the city gate, behind us, the endless expanse of the Aussie outback. And this location is like a big clockwork mechanism running on a routine. Almost like a Hitman level. And to puzzle his way into the city, Foster has to break this routine. I won’t spoil any specifics, but the idea is that the world is a machine and you’re the spanner being hurled into its gears, which involves some old-fashioned point-and-click object puzzling, and something altogether more interesting and innovative – LINC hacking. If you didn’t play the original Beneath a Steel Sky, LINC (that stands for Logical Inter-Neural Connection) is an all-powerful AI that connects and controls everything in Union City. Because as we know, entrusting the running of something like a city to an advanced, possibly sentient machine is always a good idea. And by far my favourite feature in Beyond is being able to use a handheld hacking device to dip into the code of various objects in the world and reprogram it using a neat drag-and-drop interface. An example of this is when Foster doesn’t have the correct credentials to access a computer system. Rather than hunt for the correct access chip, he hacks into the system and flips two visualised pieces of code around. So now when it detects the wrong credentials, instead of denying access, it grants it. Other LINC hacking puzzles are

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more complex, including speeding up a conveyor belt to fling a crate at a robot, immobilise it, and steal its battery. It’s a similar kind of programming system to games like Hack ‘n’ Slash or Heart. Break(), but with no coding required, just dragging blocks around. You’ll be able to use it to mess with characters and otherwise screw up the simulation, which should result in some amusing moments. Again, like the original, Beyond has that slightly strange mix of grim dystopian fiction and goofball humour, which is, honestly, exactly what I wanted to see from a Steel Sky sequel.

FOSTERING FRIENDSHIPS A sense of humour has always been at the heart of Revolution’s games, and I’m glad to see it back in full force in Beyond, which could have easily leaned into the grimdark stuff that’s so popular in cyberpunk-style games at the moment. The characters are also not what you would expect from a setting like this. Among the people Foster meets are a hippy repairman, a beer-sucking trucker camped out on a deck chair, and a little kid from the outback who has information about the missing child Foster is entering Union City to find. They’ll all play a part in fleshing out the story, which continues directly on from Beneath a Steel Sky – though the developer is staying tight-lipped for now as to exactly how. I’m delighted to see Revolution making a new adventure game and venturing once again, after those few 3D Broken Swords, into the world of three dimensions. Beyond a Steel Sky is exciting because it’s not just a standard point-and-click game, with that LINC hacking system and the Virtual Theatre simulation standing out as something new for the genre. Revolution is also keen to stress that you don’t need to have played Beneath a Steel Sky to enjoy Beyond. It’s a new story that can stand alone, which seems a wise decision, because as good as the 1994 game was, that was a long time ago. Beyond a Steel Sky seems the perfect mix of old ideas and new innovations – I can’t wait to see more. ANDY KELLY

G’day to you colander boy.

LINC hacking makes life easier.


GAMES PREVIEW â–¼

Go ahead Mr Wendell.

What a handsome spanner Foster is.

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to the

CRUSADER KINGS III is taking the grand strategy series deeper into RPG territory. By Fraser Brown

or the last five years Paradox has been working away in secret building the successor to a grand strategy behemoth. Crusader Kings III is familiar, bringing back many of its predecessor’s features, but this time the studio is approaching roleplaying with a renewed focus, giving extra attention to conniving rulers and their plotting extended families. It’s still a strategy game, but one where the RPG elements are given even more room to thrive.

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Game director Henrik Fåhraeus emphasises that the studio isn’t trying to retread old ground and its goals are a bit different this time around. “Rather than trying to match the width of Crusader Kings II, which is huge after seven years of expansions and DLC, we went deep instead, and thought about what it means to be a ruler.” Yet, it actually still seems pretty wide. Massive, really. There aren’t merchant republics, nomadic tribes are now just regular tribes and the inventory system – which lead designer Alexander Oltner admits was horrible for balance and led to stat bloat – has been tossed out, but the list of what’s been kept is a lot longer. Indeed, one of Crusader Kings III’s most touted features, lifestyles, sprang from the Way of Life DLC. There are a lot of things for a medieval ruler to worry about, from economic concerns to religious crises – you’ve got a whole dynasty and your realm demanding your RIGHT: Character attention – but through the lifestyle system you can work portraits have been just on yourself. Previously that meant picking a focus, like replaced by more emotive (slightly warfare, and just getting a stat boost. In Crusader Kings creepy) 3D models. III picking a lifestyle gives you access to a trio of trees that would look perfectly comfortable in an RPG. If you pick the LOWER RIGHT: Maps! Menus! It’s so martial lifestyle, for instance, you might focus on chivalry, hard to do captions unlocking thematically appropriate perks and eventually for these games. becoming a gallant knight. Perks unlocked through these trees will help you guide your character’s personality as well as giving you some handy bonuses. like courageous, cannot be inherited Like its predecessor there are also genetically. It’s very specific. If you traits that can be unlocked through want a smart, beautiful, brawny type of actions and events. Spend a lot of time character, you can create that – you can torturing prisoners and you’ll probably breed them.” become a sadist. Then there’s the stuff you inherit, ranging from completely cosmetic things, like being a redhead, BE YOURSELF to practical ones, like being healthy. Despite being such a big part of You can foster these traits in your heirs Crusader Kings II, role-playing was by picking a spouse with the traits you largely optional. If your character was want to pass on – kings don’t have time a cruel idiot, that might be expressed for love, they’re too busy with their through events, but you could play creepy breeding programmes. that character any way you wanted. In “There are three main traits that Crusader Kings III, playing against your you can reinforce, either negatively personality will have some dramatic or positively,” says Fåhraeus. “There’s side effects, all the way up to your health, intelligence, and beauty. ruler losing their mind. Thankfully They exist in three levels, going from there are outlets for stress, but not all positive to negative, so you can have of them are healthy. An athletic ruler a very ugly person or a slightly ugly might work out to relax, but some person. But the personality traits, rulers might turn to booze, sex and


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R O YA L D E C R E E

Things we want to see in CKIII

MORE ANIMALS

Neither Glitterhoof or Animal Kingdom mode will be reappearing, at least not straight away. Tragic! It won’t be all straight-faced, though, but no talking animals.

BAT TLE TACTIC S

I’d love to be able to have more of an impact on the outcome of a scrap or more to do mid-fight. CKIII has the occasional mid-battle event, but I want to be even more involved.

BETTER RAIDING

You’ll be able to start in the Viking Age again, so I’m hoping for more interesting raid mechanics. It was neat in concept, but became bit fiddly and unengaging.

TROOP MANAGEMENT

While we’re on tactics, more troop management in general would be most welcome. I wouldn’t mind some hands-on ways to deal with logistical and morale problems.

torturing the poor unfortunates in their dungeon, potentially giving them some new, grisly vices. But at least they’ll get rid of those pesky stress headaches. This doesn’t mean you’ll be forced to play a specific way. “We want it to mean something,” says Fåhraeus, “but not to the level of being the only thing you think about. So it’s an interesting mechanic, but it’s not supposed to overpower your gameplay.” Dynasties can also level up. These are your immediate and extended families and the most important groups you’ll be interacting with. While your realm will contain lots of your dynasty members, they may also crop up in other kingdoms, spreading the influence of your ambitious bloodline. By having your dynasty all over the place and throwing your weight

around you’ll earn Renown, which can then be spent on empowering your dynasty through the Legacies. If you want a bunch of conquerors you can start spending Renown to unlock perks in the warfare path, but there’s a catch. “The interesting thing is that it’s unlocked for everyone in your dynasty,” says lead designer Alexander Oltner. “So if you’re unlocking guile, you’re getting more success chance for your schemes, but it also means your brother will get more successes.” You might end up making your rivals stronger, inspiring you to consider giving some land to a weak toady instead of an up-and-coming member of your own dynasty. But you’ll encounter other problems if you don’t let your dynasty thrive. They won’t like that, and they might decide to try and get more autonomy.

PLAYING AGAINST YOUR PERSONALITY WILL HAVE DRAMATIC SIDE EFFECTS

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HOUSE PARTY Players are almost always the leader of a dynasty, but the system has become considerably more granular. Dynasties now feature cadet branches – houses – that get their own heraldry, a motto and some extra autonomy. Instead of CKII’s model, where dynasties are these big monolithic groups, landed members of your dynasty can try to carve out TOP: That escalated a bit more agency for themselves by to murder pretty quickly, or pretty forming an offshoot. normally for Don’t expect dynastic civil wars, Crusader Kings. but the houses will compete and LOWER RIGHT: try to expand their influence in an The map covers the attempt to become more important. same ground as On the off-chance you end up losing Crusader Kings II, but your position as a dynast, you can it’s even larger. try to reclaim your power by being the best head of a house you can be, until everyone recognises it. If your dynasty dies out, it’s the end of the game, but until then there are ways to become top dog again. House heads also get some powers that allow them to flex their muscles, like being able to legitimise bastards or disinherit people. With these changes to dynasties, Fåhraeus is hoping it will shore up a problem with its predecessor. “One of the things that’s a weakness in Crusader Kings II is there aren’t any permanent entities that you can operate throughout the game. There’s not a nation, your titles can switch to a duchy or a kingdom and then back to a county, characters keep

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can always rule by fear. By being a dickhead you can increase your Dread value, eventually making people too terrified to plot against you or cause offence. The impact depends on the vassal’s bravery, however, and bold vassals won’t be cowed by your bluster. It does mean you can have a viable kingdom even if loads of people hate your guts, but it could cause a problem for your heirs. They’ll inherit all that hatred, but people won’t be afraid of them. Another way you can exert influence over people is through religion.

Crusader Kings III features three large religious groups – Abrahamic, Eastern and Paganism – and then specific religions, like Christianity and Islam. Each is made up of tenets and doctrines, representing their rules and opinions on things like divorce and homosexuality. Some are just flavour, but others have a tangible impact. Then there’s the list of sins (yay!) and virtues (booo!) to round things out. But if none of them speak to your soul, you can just make a new one…

“I WAS NEVER REALLY HAPPY WITH THE NAME CRUSADER KINGS”


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E XPAND YOUR KINGDOM Crusader Kings II’s best DLC

number of troop types that were mixed up in strange ways,” says Fåhraeus. “You couldn’t make meaningful decisions with this mess of stuff, but now you can keep your professionals separate from the levies.”

CALL THE PROS

OLD GODS

WAY OF LIFE

Vikings! They’re rowdy, they like loot and they’re lots of fun. The Old Gods expansion packs in a lot of flavour, but also practical things like human sacrifice and big viking invasions.

Small, but completely essential – this is the inspiration for one of CKIII’s big systems, letting you pick a focus for your character that confers a stat boost and lots of events.

CONCL AVE

MONKS AND MYSTICS

Give your council some love. Oh no, that’s too much and now they want everything. Conclave gives everyone more agency, but kinda makes them assholes. It’s brilliant.

THE LAST CRUSADE If you’re Catholic, for instance, but you think that communion should involve actually eating human flesh, you can form a new faith, nominally Christian but with lots of unique quirks. Cannibalism is a quirk, right? If you’ve got enough Piety to spend, you can make more radical changes, effectively constructing a new religion. And yes, you can become a pope, cosmic timelord, or whatever you want to call the head of your faith. That’s when you get to start doing the really fun stuff, kicking off crusades and holy wars. Crusader Kings has always had a slightly awkward relationship with its titular system. It implies it’s all about conquest from the perspective of some Europeans, but that’s not remotely the focus, and certainly not now that years of DLC have made crusades drift further and further from the game’s centre. CKIII still isn’t really about crusades. “I was never really happy with the name Crusader Kings; something like A Game of Kings would have been better,” says Fåhraeus. “It’s a ruler simulator set the medieval times. I prefer to be able to cover the whole world, or at least the whole Old World, somehow. The problem is that some countries like China or the Byzantine Empire weren’t really feudal. So you have to either make the decision to

Speak to the devil, join secret societies and make cool new friends. It’s all a bit silly, but Monks and Mystics boasts some of the most entertaining events in the game.

shoehorn them in, or you don’t let them be played.” If crusading does tickle your fancy, however, you’ll still be able to do plenty of it, though Paradox isn’t ready to spill the beans about war. Well, not all the beans. Recruitment has been tidied up a bit, splitting troops into levies and hired warriors. Levies are the peasants toiling away for you and your vassals, and while you’ll have a lot of them, they’re not that great in a fight. But you can also hire special units like cavalry, or someone who knows how to hold a sword properly. “CKII had a confusing

Knights can join your cause, too. They’re a special kind of unit, of the heroic persuasion, and after training for their whole lives and splashing out on the best gear, they’re ten times more effective than the poor blokes with their farming pitchforks and armour made out of kitchen utensils. If you want to do some real damage, slip some knights into your growing army. The new map might also have an impact on warfare. It covers the same area as Crusader Kings II does now, but with a much larger scale. All the provinces have been unstacked and expanded, with locales that were previously hidden away in menus now being displayed on the map itself. This means there are potentially more targets for you to hit, while the larger playing field also means more opportunities for Paradox to sneak in terrain that can modify fights somewhat. The scale might also help if you’ve got a bit of an ego. “It makes you feel more powerful, even when you’re playing a smaller kingdom, if the kingdom is more than just a few provinces on a map,” says Oltner. Of course, it’s not the size of the kingdom that matters, it’s how many enemies you’ve got locked up in your dungeon. It once again sounds like a lot to juggle, and that’s before we even get to the new era-based tech system that will apparently stop players from ballooning in size in the early part of the game, or the currently under wraps economic details. Fåhraeus says it’ll be easier to parse this time, at least, with a Stellaris-like tutorial and a suggestions widget that gives you hints about what you should do, highlighting interesting opportunities. Crusader Kings III is shaping up to be less of a departure and more iterative than I expected, given how refreshing its predecessor was. It’s drawing out and expanding the most popular features while also introducing things players have been requesting for years, but so far it’s not provided many surprises. It’s absolutely playing to its strengths, though, and the extra emphasis on role-playing should please nearly everyone.

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DEVELOPER RIOT GAMES • PUBLISHER IN-HOUSE • RELEASE 2020 leagueoflegends.com

Legends of Runeterra LoL developer makes a play for the crowded card game market.

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he lack of a second title in Riot Games’ roster has been a community in-joke for many years. The League of Legends developer has dined out on the success of its smash-hit MOBA for a decade, but for its tenth anniversary, it’s finally adding a new card-shaped arrow to its quiver. Legends of Runeterra is a card game set within the League of Legends universe, drawing on characters found throughout that game’s expansive lore. Long-term fans will already be familiar with the setting; Runeterra is the continent on which LoL and the political machinations that underpin it take place. While League of Legends’ 140-strong roster of characters hail from every corner of its world, Legends of Runeterra’s first card set will feature only 24 of them – four from each of six factions – whose strengths and weaknesses are shaped by the nations that they call home. Noxus, a warmongering state that values strength above all, is represented by characters such as Darius and Draven, whose brute force makes them terrifying to face one-on-one, but which are often unable to cope with a unified assault. By contrast, peaceful Ionia opts for harmony, drawing on the combined strength of multiple units, while the inhabitants of the Freljord’s icy wastes use their own resilience – or strengthsapping ice magic – to survive. While the world and characters of League of Legends underpin the game, CCG veterans should recognise many of the ideas which have helped shape it. The influence of both Magic: The Gathering and Hearthstone is immediately apparent, but Riot’s not

relying solely on League of Legends’s personality to set Legends of Runeterra apart.

THE BEST OFFENCE… Players take turns to attack and defend during Legends of Runeterra’s round-based combat. At the start of a turn, strategies are set out; offences strengthened, defences bolstered, or mana conserved for later in the round. Once both sides are ready, combat begins, with the attacking player setting out units while the defender uses their cards to block. If an attacking unit isn’t stopped, it’ll deal damage directly to the defender’s health pool, the Nexus, but if it’s blocked, both units will be worn down as they slam together. During opening rounds, combat is simple, with low-stakes skirmishes usually spelling the end for both units involved. With each subsequent round, however, players unlock extra mana crystals, allowing them to play more powerful units and spells. At that point, combat becomes a far more back-andforth affair as you attempt to counter your opponent’s moves with spells – buffing and bluffing to boost your own characters or encourage your opponent to commit powerful units to unwinnable matchups. Those spells – divided into either Slow, Fast, or Burst categories – are woven into each round, often turning the tables on an unfortunate exchange. After combat is resolved, defeated units are removed from play, and each side is offered a moment of respite in which to plan their next move. Remaining mana can be spent on new units, helping you prepare for the next round, but it can also be partially conserved to cast spells next turn.

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With ranks reinforced and strategies drawn up, the board rotates, swapping defence and attack. Spending half of each game on the back foot might sound like a recipe for lengthy, drawn out battles, but each player’s Nexus has only 20 health, meaning an early assault from a strength-in-numbers faction like Ionia can see you staring down the barrel of defeat within just a few turns. While it’s possible to regain the upper hand as slower decks come online, your base’s relative fragility means that matches often don’t require a particularly long-term strategy.

CHOOSE YOUR FIGHTER While you’re calling the shots, it’s the characters on the field that are the ones actually duking it out. Legends of Runeterra splits its units into two main camps: Champions, chosen from among the warriors and spell-slingers that League of Legends players will know and love, and followers – background characters and minions who fill up the rest of Runeterra. As well as their famous names, champions have qualities that set them apart from their lowly followers. Boosted stats are accompanied by some powerful extra effects: the tanky Braum can regenerate, returning him to full health after combat, while the stealthy Zed spawns a shadow clone of himself every time he attacks, automatically bolstering his offensive capabilities. Often threatening even in the early stages of the game, champions can also be levelled up through the completion of in-game goals, increasing their stats and improving their abilities, before entering their final form in showy cutscenes reminiscent of fighting game finishers. In many cases champions need to be in play to work towards their improved state, but rare exceptions such as Yasuo can be improved without setting foot on the field – as long as the air-bending Ronin is in hand, he can watch enemy units being stunned or recalled by his allies. Once six cards have been incapacitated in this manner, an enhanced Yasuo can take the field in time to deal bonus damage

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every time another stun lands. Followers can’t level up, but their abilities can still be crucial to a winning strategy. ‘Sturdy’ units take reduced damage from attacks, making them especially useful in the early game, while ‘Challengers’ can choose which enemy unit will block them, and some particularly nimble characters will land their attacks before their opponents, allowing for more control over each clash.

GHOSTS OF THE PAST Announced as part of League of Legends’ tenth anniversary celebrations, the elephant in the room during my Legends of Runeterra preview event was Artifact. Valve’s ill-fated card game shares more than cursory similarities with Legends of Runeterra, but Riot is taking steps to ensure that its effort carves out its own space in what’s already considered a near-saturated genre. Legends of Runeterra’s design director, Andrew Yip, says that his team wants “to innovate the CCG”. As a result, random gameplay elements are out, replaced by deeper deckbuilding and the conversational tone of roundbased combat. The rotation system popularised by Hearthstone has been removed in favour of monthly balance changes and new expansions every four months. And random card packs are no more, replaced by gameplay rewards based around each region, and ‘Wildcards’ that can be swapped for the specific cards that you actually want in your deck. These will be available for purchase with real money. Riot hasn’t exactly kept its desire to start rolling out new games quiet, and Yip tells me that Legends of Runeterra is simply the first of many upcoming projects that’s ready to be unveiled (see p11). It’s certainly an accomplished starting point, presenting a well-crafted experience that promises to open a wider avenue for League of Legends’ narrative and ask serious questions of the collectible card game genre, but the true test is likely to lie in the community’s response to Riot’s first new offering in more than ten years. ALISTAIR JONES

Draven is one double-hard bastard.

Yep, seems like it’s all going on here.


GAMES PREVIEW â–¼

Devious deck-building is the key to victory

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▼ GAMES PREVIEW

Meteor showers aren’t so pretty when you’re right underneath them.

Survivors can develop mutations, but curing them is a cinch.

Send specialists to scavenge and fight bandits on the world map.

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DEVELOPER ICEFLAKE STUDIOS • PUBLISHER PARADOX INTERACTIVE survivingtheaftermath.com

Surviving the Aftermath

Rebuild civilisation in this post-apocalyptic management sim.

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y first survivor dies after his house is flattened by a meteor. Things aren’t looking good for humanity in Surviving the Aftermath, the post-apocalyptic follow-up to Surviving Mars. Surveying my burning colony, I have a lot more things to worry about than the now rotting corpse. Like its predecessor, Aftermath drops you in a hostile world that you’ll need to make safe for a group of survivors. Sometimes they will die. This time, however, we’re back on Earth and with a new developer, Iceflake Studios, at the helm. It’s also a bit more conservative. On Mars we had domes, drones, and flashy future-tech, but back on Earth it’s all about the basics of survival. My colony isn’t in too bad a situation initially. The difficulty is determined by some choices you make about the setting right at the start – how brutal the apocalypse was, how many people made it – and I opt for a middle-ofthe-road armageddon with a small number of survivors living in a slightly radioactive forest. Survivors need food, shelter, and power, and at this stage their demands don’t get much more complicated – the numbers just get bigger. Keeping those numbers high does require several different resources along with lots of ramshackle buildings. Thankfully there’s a lot of junk lying around waiting to be picked up.

GATED COMMUNITY

You can choose to start with a bunker or vehicle laden with supplies.

One of the first milestones in Aftermath is building your gate. It’s just a wall of cars and junk, but it connects you to other regions and lets people know you’re open for business. You’ll start to attract strays, too, and some might

even be useful. One of the wanderers that joins my colony is a specialist, able to go out into the world in search of more resources, adventures, and science points for upgrades. It’s lucky that my specialist is off sourcing some meat when the radiation storm strikes. Aftermath features several disasters with different effects and potential countermeasures. There isn’t much I can do about meteors, but when facing the radiation storm I’m able to make sure all my crops are gathered before they can be killed off, and I know I have a shipment of food coming in if there’s a shortfall. It starts to feel like I’m getting the hang of the surviving part of the game. My colony still manages to conjure up a few mini-disasters of its own. Aftermath spits out random events and personal conflicts, ranging from people wanting to fight bears to people simply brawling with each other. Being a permissive leader, I leave them to it, so before long I have a colony full of injured idiots. There’s not much you can do to make your colony pretty, but through research you can unlock slightly nicer – and much more effective – buildings, letting your survivors upgrade from a tent to a caravan, for instance. Surviving the Aftermath is pretty straightforward right now, but the disasters and rowdy survivors are engaging obstacles that spice up the familiar objectives. Iceflake will be giving the colony layer an update, with the world map getting some more attention in this month. While the studio has plans for more Early Access updates after that, it’s looking for feedback from players before it settles on them. FRASER BROWN

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DEVELOPER SURGICAL SCALPELS • PUBLISHER IN-HOUSE • RELEASE SPRING 2020 surgicalscalpels.com

Boundary A multiplayer shooter that thinks in 360 degrees.

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inally, a game brave enough to answer the question on all of our lips, “What would happen if there was a gunfight on the International Space Station?” This multiplayer shooter tackles its pleasingly silly premise with a surprising seriousness, kitting out its astronauts with plausible near-future tech and maintaining a clean, NASAappropriate aesthetic. Crudely speaking, this is Call of Duty in zero-G – two teams of five pick loadouts, jump into a map, and shoot at each other a bunch… in space. But over the course of my hands-on I’m delighted to find that the setting is far more than just a gimmick. A generous jetpack allows for all the freedom of realistic zero-G movement without any of its frustrating limitations. Where the Outer Wilds earlier this year revelled in the humour and challenge of struggling against physics, Boundary is more interested in the possibilities unrestricted 3D movement opens up.

SHOOT FOR THE MOON Your controls are all grounded in the familiar. You’re free to move forward, back, left, and right as normal. To move up, you press space, as if jumping. To move down, you press ctrl, as if crouching. You can even ‘sprint’ – actually a little jet boost – for quick remanoeuvring. The only unusual thing is the ability to spin your body left or right, allowing you to turn upside-down – or, rather, to recognise that upside-downness is relative. You’re a little cumbersome, but in a way that’s convincing rather than annoying – you feel like an astronaut. And the resulting game isn’t one where speed, or even a quick aim, rules. Because anyone can be anywhere, there’s a huge emphasis on sightlines. Hide between chunks of floating space-station, and you’re relatively

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safe, but you’ll struggle to find enemies. Fly out into the emptier space around the edges of the map and you gain a fantastic view of the action, but you’re also a sitting duck. Each bullet is modelled with accurate physics, but in space there’s no bullet drop, so there’s little safety gained from distance. Anyone you can see, you can snipe, even with a lowly pistol. So the trick is in knowing when to prioritise vision or cover – and figuring out what cover even is when enemies can be above and below. The maps play around with this core idea brilliantly. One is divided by a huge field of solar panels, obscuring one half of the map from the other. But with the environment being destructible, you can shoot out segments to create openings to peek through. In one match I stalk from ‘below’ before bursting up in ambush – one of the devs identifies it as “playing like a submarine”. The emphasis is firmly on strategy over reflexes, and it’s a wonderfully mind-bending kind of strategy. Understanding not only where you should be at any given moment – and even which way up you should be – but also where enemies likely are is a constant challenge, with a real rush to cracking it. I’m rubbish at shooters normally, but in this strange, slightly slower world, I find myself ruthlessly efficient. As I hunt around spinning stations, I feel like some kind of horrible space shark. It’s hugely satisfying. So ‘Call of Duty in zero-G’ is apt, but it turns out removing one of the essential forces of the universe from the equation makes more of a difference than you might expect. While the gunplay is nothing new, it’s entirely recontextualised by the movement and the areas you’re traversing. ROBIN VALENTINE

Cosmetics and loadouts can be customised extensively.


GAMES PREVIEW â–ź

A handy grappling hook makes movement even more fun.

The team’s been working on the idea since 2011.

Huge, revolving structures provide cover and terrain.

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▼ GAMES PREVIEW

I’m sorry birdie, I have to get to your marrow.

Many of the planet’s inhabitants are friendly. Not sure about this one.

If you can see it, you can (eventually) climb it.

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DEVELOPER TYPHOON STUDIOS • PUBLISHER 505 GAMES • RELEASE SPRING 2020 www.savageplanetgame.com

Journey To The Savage Planet Discover the comedy inherent in exploration.

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ead designer Alex Hutchinson calls Journey to the Savage Planet an “earnest comedy”. What he means by that is on the colourful planet you explore as part of the fourth best interstellar exploration company, you embrace that things can and will go wrong, and you get to laugh at yourself in the process. The point of Savage Planet, and by extension exploration games in general, is that you don’t set off beset with sleek, expensive gear. Instead everything from your equipment to how you come across new locations and species, has a distinct air of improvisation to it. My jetpack belches huge clouds of smoke when I use it to double-jump onto a platform, and a wide-eyed, birdlike alien I shoot splatters me with goo. Kindred Aerospace, the company that sent your character to this planet, may run advertisements that make exploring seem like a luxurious business, but it’s more like doing dangerous manual labour without health insurance. Hutchinson and I are playing a portion of the game’s later missions. You can play JTTSP alone but he strongly recommends diving in with a friend, “For me there’s something magical in two-player co-op in particular, just you and your best friend or you and your kid. I think especially that an exploration game is really wellsuited for co-op, you‘re starting a new experience and finding cool things together.” My character has already received a few visor upgrades and gadgets in order to discover new locations. This is a very Metroidvania approach – just finding your way in or up something is half the task, and if no solution presents itself, it’s probably because

you’re missing the means to move ahead. Not to worry though, there are several missions to follow at any given time, and the planet, consisting of several different biomes, is open to you.

BELLY LAUGHS After attacking one of the birds for the acid they secrete in order to open a door, a whole flock decides to swarm us. Hutchinson gives one of them a hearty kick, hitting me and volleying me off a platform, right into a pool of lava. Startled, I laugh, realising that this is exactly the kind of comedy the game is going for. “The tools in your arsenal all allow for some fun,” Hutchinson says, “You have a binding ball for example, meant to be used to stick a creature to a spot, but you can of course also stick your partner to surfaces. Once I have created something like this, I try to create as many situations as possible in which this could happen, either deliberately or accidentally.” It’s a technique Hutchinson used often when he worked on the Far Cry series, famous for nature being out to get you, at Ubisoft Montreal. Hutchinson wants you to make mischief. Playing around with the acid bombs in my pack, I almost forget I have a gun. That, too, is deliberate. Journey to the Savage Planet isn’t a shooter, it’s a game where you sometimes shoot things. In the end, Hutchinson and I didn’t get a whole lot done in the traditional sense, but we found underground caverns, saw snowstorms in the distance and knocked into each other swinging from our grappling hooks, and I consider that time well spent. MALINDY HETFELD

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L A RE I P M E The past, present, and future of Rockstar’s world-conquering GRAND THEFT AUTO ONLINE. By Andy Kelly

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rom the very beginning, Rockstar North wanted Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode to faithfully replicate the GTA experience online, with the same level of quality as singleplayer. “We used the game’s architecture, geography, and mechanics as a foundation and wanted the same kind of wide array of activities, and the ability to build on them to create new experiences,” says Rob Nelson, co-studio head at Rockstar North, reflecting on the GTA Online journey so far. “We’ve always wanted to build these immersive, complex living worlds to hold our stories, regardless of whether it’s for a single player or multiple,” he says. “We had created complex systems for weather, traffic, population, and more, to give people as much freedom as we possibly could to create unique experiences. “And creating online versions of these worlds has shown us how to deepen and extend those experiences in new ways. By letting players share the space together, and through activities like heists, we help people create stories of their own, and over time they become more connected to the world.” Grand Theft Auto Online has been around since 2013, on Xbox 360 and PS3, and the original release seems almost simplistic compared to what exists today. When it first launched there wasn’t all that much to do, but now there are countless distractions,

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from running guns to robbing banks. I ask Nelson how the game people are playing now compares to the studio’s original vision. “It’s in line with our initial ideas, but six years on from launch, and even longer since we initially conceptualised it, it’s grown deeper and evolved in more directions than we sketched out,” he says. “GTA Online players are comprised of a series of smaller audiences that like to play it in different ways. So with the foundations in place we started creating updates that served each of these audiences.”

1GTA Online

Updates bring new cars and colours . to

2

Get your Tron on with the futuristic Shotaro sports bike.

3

Get behind the wheel of the Overflod Autarch.

BASK IN ROBBING There have been a not insignificant 31 updates for GTA Online since 2013. Some, like 2014’s I’m Not a Hipster add new clothes, cars and jobs; others, such as 2015’s long-awaited Heists, change the game entirely. “As we became more confident that fans

“WE STARTED CREATING UPDATES TH HAT SERVED EACH OF THESE AUDIENC ”

EXTRA LIFE

HEISTS 2015

Some of the best GTA Online updates

Grand Theft Auto Online launched in 2013, but it wasn’t until 2015 that players finally got the chance to indulge in multiplayer heists. These epic multi-part missions are some of the most challenging in the game, but also the most lucrative, for obvious reasons.

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would understand how these updates would connect to the regular world of GTA Online,” says Nelson. “It freed us up to create even crazier updates.” Cunning Stunts, which added wild Hot Wheels-esque tracks to the game, with boosts, corkscrews, and jumps, is perhaps the best example of this. While exaggerated and larger than life in its own way, Grand Theft Auto V’s singleplayer is at least rooted in some kind of logic or realism. But in the anarchic GTA Online, Rockstar can do anything it likes, whether it makes sense or not. Parity between singleplayer and multiplayer has been a priority for Rockstar for years, and this is particularly evident in its most recent game, Red Dead Redemption 2, which blends the two even more seamlessly than GTA V. I ask Nelson how making content for a solo player compares to creating it for many. “You are trying, wherever possible, to ensure that players can feel central to the action and essential to whatever is going on,” he says. “Particularly at the highest level with something like the heists. You’re trying to design inside an open world for players that may be very distant from each other. “But at the same time you want the action to feel like it’s moving forward for everyone at roughly the same time. When it works it feels incredible and we’re really proud of what we created for

CUNNING STUNTS 2016

This update added a massive selection of outlandish stunt races to GTA Online, featuring death-defying loops, boost pads, jumps, and twisting tracks that snake for miles into the sky. Cunning Stunts is GTA Online at its most ridiculous and anarchic.

GUNRUNNING 2017

This update brought a selection of military-based business opportunities to GTA Online. Players could purchase a bunker and get involved in arms trading. New vehicles were also added, including an anti-aircraft trailer and an armoured APC.

AFTER HOURS 2018

Nightclubs were added to GTA Online in the After Hours update. These could be purchased by players to run as a lucrative business. But you could also pay the club a visit, drink, dance, and listen to sets by real-world DJs including Tale of Us and Black Madonna.

DIAMOND CASINO 2019

For years people have wondered if the empty casino in Los Santos would ever open, and this year it finally did. This update added gambling minigames such as blackjack and roulette, as well as new missions, vehicles, jobs, and races.


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the Heists content, and how we’ve managed to push those ideas forward between the original set and the structure of the Doomsday Heist. And we think we can improve on them even further.” One of the most impressive things about GTA Online is how Rockstar has managed to squeeze six years of content out of one world. Los Santos and Blaine County, the countryside surrounding it, are big, sure, but not that big. I ask Nelson if having this relatively limited space to work with makes releasing GTA Online content, while ensuring it feels fresh and exciting, is a challenge for the team. “It’s not really a limitation, because it’s a framework to create in,” says Nelson. “It’s really about getting creative with every corner of the world so that players can see aspects of its design with fresh eyes, and building architecture and other parts of the game with a view to having multiple possible uses for them. “We can go ‘into’ the world by creating additional interiors like the Maze Bank Arena, missile silos, or the underground bunkers. But we also have the opportunity to change the topography in major ways, like the Diamond Casino & Resort building. There’s a lot more we can do with the world we’ve made before we’re going to feel like we’re pushing the limits of what it can handle. “We have great people at every level of the company who play the game all the time and who are constantly coming up with new ways to add to the world. It’s a credit to the entire team, from the initial world-building that sets up the universe, through to scripting, animation, and the mission design.”

One of the most interesting developments in GTA Online didn’t come entirely from Rockstar. The role-playing scene on PC has grown in popularity recently, with people running custom servers that let you play the game like a kind of bizarre life simulator, including getting a job and following permadeath rules. “It’s fascinating,” says Nelson when I ask him how Rockstar feels about it. “People are taking it far beyond traditional game structures and we love seeing what people get up to. They’ve essentially had to break the game down to do it, but it shows that not only are people constantly looking for ways to create different kinds of immersive experiences, but that others enjoy watching what they do. We’ve always wanted people to role-play. Even in the singleplayer games we’re providing an opportunity to play as a character in a specific kind of world. “As we have developed our online worlds we’ve wanted it to be an opportunity for players to role-play as their own characters within the structure of that world we’ve built. In Red Dead Online we took another step by giving players specific roles, but we think there’s a lot of ways we can improve that experience.” So some players like to role-play, but what other kinds of GTA Online players are there? I ask Nelson what Rockstar North has learned about player habits while working on the game. “The most interesting thing, but maybe not surprising, is that what people say they want isn’t necessarily what they want.

“WE LEARN BY THE WAY THAT PEOPLE ARE ENGAGING WITH IT”

SNOW JOKE

A festive treat

Every holiday season, snow falls in GTA Online and turns the usually sun-baked city of Los Santos into a crime-ridden winter wonderland. From December 25, for 48 hours, the city and countryside are coated in a sheet of the powdery stuff. Players are also treated to discounts on cars, guns, and other luxury items, as well as gaining access to hideous Christmas jumpers and a range of festive photo filters.

1 Stunts

Create mad tracks with the Cunning update.

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Mow down everyone with the Gusenberg Sweeper.

3 Bikers

On your bike for some fun in the DLC.

“Sometimes we will release an update and see a lot of negative social media feedback. But we learn by the way that people are engaging with it that it’s actually really popular. We’ve always been trying to deliver something our audience will enjoy and we’ve learned a ton about the game through player habits. “Player feedback is always a part of our overall decision-making process in terms of guiding the moving parts of any given update. We often have the larger concepts we want to pursue from update to update as part of our near-to-long-term planning, but the team is constantly looking at player data or the feedback the community sends us to see how we can improve what we’re building as we go. “We try to learn lessons from everything we do and apply them to the next project, so the first place GTA Online design has and will continue to have an influence is the design of Red Dead Online. The games have a different feel and pace, but creating passive mode for GTA Online was really helpful when we were designing the defensive playing style for Red Dead Online. We now have an amazing opportunity to evolve two very distinct worlds in different directions.”

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE As for the future of GTA Online, Rockstar has no immediate plans to stop working on it. “We try to keep plans going roughly a year out, but we want to have the flexibility to be responsive to any changes,” says Nelson. “So we choose not to telegraph that entire timeline to players. That said, players should feel confident that we have a ton of brand new ideas still to come. It’s been six years and we just hit record player numbers and we are all incredibly grateful to everyone who’s been with us along the way. “In terms of what’s coming up, Halloween should be a lot of fun this year and we’ve got really exciting plans for later in the holiday season and beyond.”

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How modders and veterans created SQUAD, a military sim like no other. By Morgan Park

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PROFILES

Chris ‘Irontaxi’ Greig VP of Publishing One of the original designers of Squad.

hat is not how Squad, a tactical FPS soon leaving Early Access after years on Steam, sees teamwork. Squad is about being a cog in a grand machine. Matches are long, two-hour struggles over territory where you don’t know if you’re winning until it’s over. Teams are spread across the kilometres-wide map working towards different goals. Maps are so big, in fact, that it’s common to chat with someone at the main base in the staging phase and then not see them again for the rest of the match. Squad’s sheer scale is a crucial factor in what makes organisation and coordination paramount. You can’t just respawn on a squadmate or at a captured objective. Squad leaders have to construct FOBs (forward operating bases) for the team to use. Because efficient redeployment is so powerful, strategic FOB placement is hugely important. They need to be close to the action, but difficult to access for enemies.

BULLET DROP

Norbert ‘Norby’ Rothermel Producer Served in the German Armed Forces.

One time my squad leader decided to hunker down at an important FOB and make it our job to defend it. We built sandbag barricades, constructed machine-gun nests, set up ladders to access the rooftops, and placed barbed wire at our weakest flanks. You don’t get ammo just for respawning in Squad, so we had to regularly replenish our stockpile by making runs back to the main base. If we didn’t, medics would soon run out

THICK SKIN

TOUGH LUCK

How to take out tanks in Squad

Damage modelling for vehicles is especially realistic. Most games simplify tank armour down to a vulnerability to shots from the rear, but Squad takes things far further.

TREAD FLAG

This diagram from the game’s tutorial shows how the game assigns a unique armour value to every piece of the exterior. So you get different results depending where you hit.

of bandages, our anti-tank soldiers couldn’t do their job, and even basic ammo would eventually dry up. I volunteered to drive the truck. I spent the next hour as a full-time delivery driver, driving back and forth for ammo, building supplies and chatting with my squadmates upon return. The whole time I didn’t see a moment of combat. It might sound boring, or like I wasn’t even really participating in the match, but it was actually deeply satisfying. The fight

BOOM OR BUST

Penetrate that armour, and the effect will vary based on where you target – often you’ll simply disable the engines, though hitting the ammo storage results in a dramatic explosion.

was literally miles to my north, but I was still helping in a major way. Our squad was even praised by passerby teammates for keeping them wellstocked, and thanks to our hard work we eventually managed to outlast the enemy. That’s the feeling that Squad nails: the satisfaction of being a small part of something greater. Winning a match is as much about smart planning and logistics as it is about shooting. That takes a lot of people

THE FIGHT WAS LITERALLY MILES NORTH, BUT I WAS STILL HELPING IN A BIG WAY

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ABOVE: Hard at work making Squad a realistic FPS. LEFT: The models for soldiers are highly detailed.

willing to do a lot of different things. As a medic, the role I play most often, I have completely different priorities when a fight breaks out than a rifleman. While squadmates are scanning the horizon looking for the source of a shot, I’m building a strategy for how to reach and revive nearby teammates without losing my head. If their body is lying on a street or in an open plain, that usually means minutes of careful crawling, sticking to dark corners and bushes. Pivotal to the framework of Squad are the limitations on what you can do as an individual. There’s nothing keeping you from ignoring your team and playing it like a lone wolf. But without backup, a lone rifleman is helpless against vehicles, can’t build a new spawn point, and can’t even heal their own wounds. Everything that’s

worth doing in Squad takes a group effort. A single sharpshooter doesn’t make much of an impact when the game is truly decided by reviving teammates and smartly choosing when to attack or defend. So many shooters build their experiences around opportunities to be a hero. I never feel like a hero in Squad, but I do feel something better: immense pride for what we accomplished as a unit. Victory would have been impossible if our squad leader hadn’t led, our mortar strikes weren’t pinpoint accurate, and I hadn’t patched up our wounds. As I look at the post-match scoreboard, I see the rest of our team and wonder about the stories they could tell from their perspectives. A ruthless hour of fighting over a city block for me might’ve been another

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“THAT’S WHERE I THINK THE MILITARY SIDE REALLY STARTED COMING INTO PLAY”

squad’s stealth mission hunting down enemy FOBs miles away. Squad understands what a battle really feels like. It’s messy, loud, and full of uncertainty. The best you can do is listen to your leader and hope they’re steering toward steady waters.

REALITY CHECK Squad stands out as the FPS doing the most to reward coordination and teamwork on a massive scale, but many of its concepts and mechanics come from the Battlefield 2 mod that preceded it: Project Reality. Released in 2005 only a month after BF2’s launch, Project Reality attracted a niche audience looking for the emphasis on strategy they couldn’t find elsewhere. That audience also included those actively serving in the military, like Dustin Ross, who works at Squad developer Offworld Industries as director of customer experience. When Ross first discovered Project Reality in 2006, he was stationed at Camp Pendleton in California. In his off time he’d make the 12-mile trek to an internet cafe to play Project Reality. PR’s mechanics and communication tools created scenarios that closely resembled how he interacted with his real-life squadmates. “It was really [PR’s] social interactions, camaraderie, teamwork, and voice comms that made it resonate with someone who was actively in the military versus

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an arcade shooter where it’s more oriented around individual success,” Ross says. Squad producer Norbert Rothermel, who served in the German Armed Forces, loved Project Reality because it enabled a measured playstyle that wasn’t compatible with traditional shooters. He recalled playing Counter-Strike with friends in the barracks and butting heads with how the game wanted him to play. “We would play different from

RIGHT: When there’s no transport truck available, sometimes you have to hoof it to your objective.

O R D E R LY C O M M S Silence isn’t golden anymore.

Communication is a fundamental pillar of Squad, and that’s best exemplified by its excellent voice comms. The audio quality is crystal clear, so there’s no need to gather separately in Discord. In fact, that’d be doing the game is a disservice, as it adds on subtle

audio effects to distinguish between chatter heard over your in-game radio (like orders from your squad leader) and local chat spoken by soldiers in your vicinity. Voices are spatially relevant, so a medic can listen to a soldier’s cries for healing to determine their location.


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military operation. Offworld VP of publishing Chris Greig (who worked on Squad as a designer in its early days), remembers talking with Ross about small details that made a big difference, like the width of a map’s roads. “[Ross] talked about how treacherous it was to take a vehicle down some roadways. He described there being a wall so close on either side [of the vehicle] that you couldn’t open the doors. And I was like ‘great, that’s very important information!’.” As a result Squad’s maps are incredibly true to the locations they depict. Forests are dense with trees and shrubbery while cities flank the sky with explorable buildings and narrow alleys. Like a real-life patrolling squad, moving out in the open is inherently dangerous. This is especially true in cities where there are too many windows to cover.

REAL TALK

how a normal Counter-Strike player would play. They’d play how they’d most likely win the game, but since we were all together in the barracks, we’d focus so much on the teamwork. Then when I discovered PR, I found that it rewarded the ways we had already been playing as military members,” Rothermel says. Project Reality grew over the years into a collaborative super mod with over 50 maps, 20 factions, and hundreds of simulated weapons. It’s impressive even now, but its technical ties to Battlefield 2 meant it could only evolve so far. In 2014 a small group of developers from the original mod began work on Squad as Offworld Industries. They wanted to take the clever concepts of Project Reality and make their own commercial product using Unreal Engine 4. In 2015 the team launched a successful Kickstarter campaign and raised the impressive sum of $434,805 CAD, which was over twice their $184,000 CAD funding goal. Battle tested Ross joined early in Squad’s development as the project’s military consultant. After a few months of consulting he transitioned to game designer. Ross had no formal experience in the game industry, but for a project like Squad, his expertise was the perfect fit. “The technical side of military advising isn’t really useful nowadays. Most people can go find the max

effective range of an M16 rifle on the internet. What [Offworld] was interested in was that I could take the overarching ideas and philosophies of the military and soldier interactions and apply them to gameplay,” he says. “That’s where I think the military side really started coming into play to make Squad what it is today.” During test sessions Ross would be brought in to make sure the game still felt like the simulation they were going for. His perspective was useful when developing Squad’s sound effects, particularly the crackling of a near-miss bullet whizzing by your head. He recalled to me the day he first tested the sounds and had a visceral reaction. “That was the first time since I’d been back [from service] that a videogame made me flinch,” Ross says. He let the team know that they definitely gotten the sound right, but “a little too right, maybe”. He’s bang on – I’ve never been more afraid of getting shot at than in Squad. Whereas other shooters simulate suppression by blurring your vision or reducing accuracy, in Squad it works simply through overwhelming noise and a tunnel vision effect. Fighting through the noise and firing back at enemies is its own skill (one that I’m still bad at). Ross’ military insights also directly influenced Squad’s map design. He was able to point out when sightlines didn’t feel right or the layouts didn’t feel appropriate for

BELOW: Most firefights in Squad are fought at extreme ranges, often over 100 metres.

In a shooter that pushes authenticity at its core, at what point does realism get in the way of making a better game? It’s a common discussion at Offworld Industries that continues today. By and large Squad’s mechanics skew toward simulation. Weapons bounce with appropriate recoil, bullets penetrate walls, and the backblast of an RPG can kill a teammate if you’re not careful. But Squad also makes lots of small concessions to ‘video-gameyness’ in favour of usability. Your map, for instance, has a full view of every teammate’s location. Healing bullet

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wounds is reduced to a medic holding left click to raise your HP. For Offworld ‘realism’ doesn’t just mean simulating reality in every aspect. “We’re always more concerned with player behaviour than technical realism,” Ross told me. “If we’re trying to drive a realistic behaviour and create an authentic combat experience, we will do unrealistic things.” Ross used the medic role as an example of this. Even if treating wounds takes a lot more in real life than just applying a bandage, the way the class is balanced pushes me into realistic scenarios. Simplifying the design makes the action more fluid while achieving the role-play and storytelling that Offworld is going for. Authenticity doesn’t always lend itself to balance, though. Every faction has completely different weapons that aren’t created equal. On some maps one team plays the well-equipped US Army while the other plays a fictional insurgent group. As an insurgent medic my gun has no sight. I have no chance against a far-off enemy with an ACOG scope. Despite the disparity Offworld maintains a relative balance by restricting the faction to maps with plenty of close combat-friendly areas.

SQUAD GOALS Squad has been a big success for Offworld during its life in Early Access. Over four years new factions, weapons, vehicles, maps, and modes have bolstered the game’s depth. Today Squad is closer than ever to Offworld’s original vision for a standalone Project Reality. As I spoke with the team in October, they had just released a big update that adds helicopters to select maps. The question of when to end Squad’s Early Access period is more spiritual than technical. “We set

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ABOVE: If a mortar camp learns the location of your FOB, bombardments can drop every few seconds. LEFT: Maps are intricate mazes of hills and roads based on real geographic locations.

ourselves a line of goals back when we did the Kickstarter campaign that basically says ‘This is the product that we want to develop. If we have all of this in, then we consider it complete’. That vision still holds up,” Rothermel says. The last things on that list include the commander role (a new class that can order airstrikes and scout enemy territory with a drone) and 100-player servers. There’s no official date, but Rothermel expects that by the time you’re reading this, these goals will have been met and Squad will officially be out. Though, that doesn’t mean

the end of new Squad content. Rothermel assured me that there’s still an “extensive plan” to continue development after launch. Part of that plan is continued support of the official Squad SDK, which anyone can download for free. With the SDK, modders can create new maps, modes, and even implement AI (with limitations). As a studio founded by modders support for community content is a focus for the company going forward. Soon Offworld will allow officially licensed servers to run mods endorsed by the developer. In an increasingly rare move for games in


“AS OPPOSED TO JUST PUBLISHING, WE ACTUALLY HELPED THEM CONSTRUCT THEIR DREAM”

Soldiers can stabilise their wounds with bandages, but they can’t regain health without a medic.

2019, post-launch support will come with zero monetary strings attached. Offworld has no plans to introduce microtransactions or other paid DLC to Squad. Further under the hood Offworld is hard at work rebuilding Squad’s code base. The complete engine refresh, called Core, was described to me as “Squad engine 2.0”. Core incorporates new techniques and wisdoms learned after years of working with their own tools. Squad itself will benefit from Core, but its main purpose is as a framework that Offworld can licence out to other developers in the future. Greig aspires to make Core the “best framework for an FPS that exists in the industry”. His team will work with developers to implement Core and guide them to their game’s

IN A SPIN

A typical first go with the newly introduced and intimidatingly realistic helicopters

CONFUSION

It’d be nice if I could land without exploding into a fiery wreck

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release. The relationship described to me sounds like somewhere between publisher and co-developer. Last year Greig’s team tested this concept with Post Scriptum, a WWII FPS made by Periscope Games using Squad’s engine and published under Offworld. “We contributed our framework, our code, a lot of our assets and our marketing. As opposed to just publishing, we actually helped them construct their dream,” Greig says. He describes his unique publishing division as “a bigger piece of what OWI wants to evolve into”. Core is still a few years down the road, but Offworld is certainly staying busy with Squad. And that’s good, because there’s still plenty of room to add new features and squash those remaining bugs that occasionally pull me out of the moment. Beyond its own contributions Offworld sees a lot of potential for modders to help the game live on for years, just as they did with Project Reality over a decade ago. You can already play a Starship Troopers mod that turns the game into PvE survival against an army of giant bugs. That’s cool, but I’m really here for what Squad already is – an exercise in skill, coordination, and teamwork on a massive scale. I crave the chaotic gunfights and social interactions that add emotional stakes to every minute. Playing Squad is like trying to force a miracle into existence. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, but win or lose, it’s one hell of a ride.

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YOUR GUIDE TO THE LATEST PC GAMES.

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63 DISCO ELYSIUM 66 NEO CAB 67 TRINE 4 68 CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 69 INDIVISIBLE 70 DESTINY 2: SHADOWKEEP 72 GHOST RECON BREAKPOINT

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SCORING SYSTEM

PCPP scores its games on a 1 to 10 scale. The higher, the better – though 10 is by no means a “perfect” game. We’re not convinced such a thing exists, so consider a 10 a masterpiece of PC gaming, despite its inevitable flaws. A 5 is a decidedly average game; one that doesn’t excel in any particular area, without being an affront to our senses – the ultimate in mediocrity. Below this, you’ll start to find the games our reviewers suffered an aneurysm getting through; above it, the titles truly worth your time and money. And remember: a score is only a vague indication of quality. Always read the full review for the definitive opinion!


GAME REVIEW W

Disco Elysium Create your dream detective in a surreal adventure influenced by classic RPGs. DEVELOPER ZA/UM • PUBLISHER IN-HOUSE zaumstudio.com

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isco Elysium is a detective RPG of improbable depth. It’s part Planescape: Torment, part police procedural. Your hungover detective peels himself off the carpet, naked except for a pair of soiled underpants, and begins the laborious process of piecing his broken mind back together, while attempting to solve a gruesome murder on the wrong side of the tracks. The game has stats, skill checks, companions, quests, and an interface inspired by classic Infinity Engine CRPGs. But it also has a lot in common with visual novels, tabletop games, and point-and-click adventures, with dense, branching dialogue and the ability to intimidate, charm, or bullshit your way out of tricky situations via several novels’ worth of strange, vibrant dialogue. A man has been found hanging from a tree in an empty lot and it’s your job to find out who killed him – if you can get near the corpse without puking. Disco Elysium’s sallow, flare-wearing protagonist is a total disaster. The taste you get in your mouth the morning after a heavy night of drinking made flesh. The sticky floor of a discotheque given life. But the beauty of the game is how you can mould this grotesque lump of sin and despair into something else entirely. Thanks to that skull-shattering hangover, and the amnesia conveniently brought on by it, your detective is truly a blank slate. You can reveal things about yourself by talking to the poor souls caught in the wake of your apocalyptic bender. But you’re also given the opportunity to suppress these discoveries, even down to denying your own name and choosing a new one. The degree of freedom you have to shape your character’s psyche is really quite astonishing.

D-I-S-C-O Through conversations you control every facet of your personality. You’re given a variety of ways to respond to people and this dictates your personality, how the population reacts to you and the outcome of quests. The things you say and decisions you make

The game’s full of bizarre clothing items to wear.

WHY SHOULD I CARE? + You’re a borderline alcoholic + You’re looking for something different + You love a good existential crisis

in Disco Elysium really, actually matter, impacting your role in the world and the inner workings of your mind in a meaningful way. You also have to watch what you say, because doing the usual RPG thing of exhausting every conversation option regularly leads to you putting your foot in your mouth and getting someone (or yourself) in trouble. Characters will remember things, so it pays to think carefully before making any rash decisions or betraying someone. Then again, a cavalier attitude can lead to interesting, unexpected things: an example of how well Disco Elysium caters to different play styles. Skills are important too. There are 24 in total, ranging from logic, perception, and reaction speed to endurance, conceptualisation and authority. A character with high authority might find it easier to pressure a timid witness

MIND GAMES

into spilling their guts. A high logic character can divine truth from a clearheaded analysis of a crime scene. There are some more esoteric skills too such as inland empire, which lets you pluck inspiration from dreams and talk to inanimate objects. Conversely a character with low perception can miss case-breaking clues floating right in front of their face, while a low endurance cop will struggle in even the most trivial physical trials. All the defining traits of the best fictional cops are in there, but importantly, the worst too. So if you want to have the superhuman insight of Sherlock, but also be a self-destructive mess like The Wire’s Jimmy McNulty, Disco Elysium lets you. It’s like a bottomless detective pick-and-mix. When you create a character your starting skills are determined by

The stats that make up your character

INTELLECT

PSYCHE

PHYSIQUE

MOTORICS

This stat governs logic, the ability to engage in intellectual discourse, detecting lies, and analysing crime scenes.

This stat lets you take a punch to the jaw like a champ, physically intimidate people, or endure a drug trip.

Understand and empathise with people, rely on your hunches, and talk to items of your own clothing for clues.

Composure, perception, and hand/eye coordination, as well as handy skills like lockpicking, are determined by this stat.

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▼ GAME REVIEW

Indulging your character’s addictions confers stat boosts – but comes at a price.

It’s surprisingly easy to die if you’re not careful.

Failing a skill check is often as enjoyable as succeeding.

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The setting is a strange alt-history, with very different tech to our world.

There’s an entire quest devoted to karaoke.


GAME REVIEW ▼

the stats you roll. Your base stats are intellect, psyche, physique and motorics, which make you better or worse at certain things. But as you play you earn experience points that let you upgrade any skills you like, allowing you to sculpt your character further. You might start out physically weak, but stick enough points into the appropriate skills to transform your detective over time into a proverbial force of nature.

CRIME FIGHTER

What kind of detective are you?

THINKER

You can choose a preset character if you don’t want to make your own. This guy is educated, insightful, and creative, but physically unimposing. 5 INT 1 PSY 2 FYS 4 MOT

SENSITIVE

This one has a magnetic personality and a deep understanding of people’s psychology, but also suffers from an unstable mind.

PHYSICAL

This chap is dumber than a sack of rocks, but is extremely physical. He prefers to punch rather than think his way out of tricky situations.

1 INT 5 PSY 4 FYS 2 MOT

THOUGHT CRIME

And I haven’t even mentioned thoughts yet. As you speak to people you’ll reveal thoughts that can then be slotted into your brain and developed over time, unlocking stat buffs and fascinating, insightful nuggets of story. Some of these have a major impact on your character’s mental state while others are more frivolous and largely played for laughs. You’re limited to three thoughts to begin with, but skill points can also be used to unlock more. And the more thoughts you develop, the more complex your character becomes. The result of all this is one of the most preposterously malleable characters in RPG history. You can create a highly empathetic communist disco music enthusiast, a selfdeprecating artist who punches first and asks questions later, a deluded rock-and-roll cop with a passion for democracy, or a drug-addicted feminist psychic. Every person who plays Disco Elysium will have a different experience as a result of the frankly audacious depth of its role-playing. The game is set in the fictional city of Revachol; specifically a dreary, forgotten district called Martinaise. Plagued by poverty, crime, corrupt unions and scarred by a violent revolution, it’s exactly the kind of place you’d expect to wake up after a threeday drug binge. Disco Elysium is a gorgeous game with a stylish, painterly aesthetic, expressive characters and detailed backgrounds. But it’s filthy too, which is relayed mainly by that gloriously rich, evocative writing. A vividly described autopsy made me feel genuinely queasy. Many of the people you meet say disgusting, offensive things, which is entirely justified by the grotty bleakness of the setting. Martinaise is a horrible place filled with horrible bastards. But there are flickers of warmth and humanity too. People making the most of a bad hand, struggling against an uncaring world. It’s a lavishly realised setting with acres of history and culture to discover, although occasionally, in some optional conversations, I felt like

As you speak to people you’ll reveal thoughts that can then be slotted into your brain and developed over time, unlocking stat buffs and fascinating, insightful nuggets of story. a mountain of rather dull, long-winded lore had been suddenly dumped on my head. The writing is funny, subversive, and, admittedly, a little self-indulgent at times. But it’s also incredibly good with an anarchic literary flair that makes even the most matter-of-fact conversation hugely entertaining. There’s partial voice acting too, although it varies wildly in quality. The sleazy, rasping delivery of your ancient reptilian brain, which regularly emerges to taunt you, sounds wonderfully evil. And I love the soft, calming voice of Lt Kitsuragi, your partner, who is a kind of moral centre for the wild and unpredictable protagonist.

HEAD CASE

Freedom in Disco Elysium isn’t just limited to shaping your character. The structure is also extremely open-ended, letting you pursue the murder as doggedly, or not, as you see fit. A list of tasks is constantly building up in your notebook, and you can perform them in any order you like – including those linked to the main case. And they’re all interconnected, meaning doing one task before another can open up completely new avenues of investigation when on the case. Martinaise is a large, open space made up of several distinct areas and the sheer volume of stuff to interact with, people to talk to and quests to pick up is quite overwhelming. You’ll investigate a dilapidated apartment block, a frozen coastline, a crumbling boardwalk, a dockyard and other suitably grim locations,

all of which are brought to life by that beautiful art – not to mention atmospheric music, lighting and ambient sound design. It’s a place that you can really get lost in. How you complete tasks and solve crimes is dependent on your character. If you’re the physical, all-action type, you’ll deal with situations in a more direct, aggressive way. But if your character is psychological or empathetic, you might find a more subtle solution. Crucially, every kind of player is catered for. You’ll never hit a brick wall because of the way you’ve built your character. This makes Disco Elysium a supremely satisfying RPG, because if you want to play a certain way, the game is primed to accommodate it. The thing about Disco Elysium is that my experience of it is completely unique to me, such is the variety of skills, stats, conversation and thoughts options on offer. You could play through it five times and still not see everything. In that sense it defies a traditional review, because there’s no one experience to assess. But I can say that it’s one of the finest RPGs on PC if you value depth, freedom, customisation, and storytelling. ANDY KELLY

VERDICT:

An irresponsibly deep and intricate detective RPG that lets you be any kind of cop you want. Even a bad one.

9

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▼ GAME REVIEW

Neo Cab

Paints a picture of the not so far future. DEVELOPER CHANCE AGENCY • PUBLISHER FELLOW TRAVELLER neocabgame.com

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ina is ready to start a new life. When you meet Neo Cab’s protagonist, she’s en route to Los Ojos, a fictitious city reminiscent of Los Angeles. Her taxi holding the last of her belongings, she sets out to reconnect and move in with her best friend Savvy. When Savvy disappears, Lina is all alone in ‘Automation City’, left to juggle the demands of her job, her mental state, and the mystery surrounding the person she thought she knew best. After Night Call, Neo Cab is the second taxi driver-detective game this year, but despite this rather astounding coincidence, Chance Agency’s game takes a completely different point of view. Like any other taxi driver, Lina has to ferry a certain number of passengers, called pax, to their destinations each night, and keep enough money to herself to find a place to sleep. However, technology plays a huge part in each encounter, as everyone she meets is using or affected by some gadget. The future Neo Cab paints may seem slightly dystopian, but it skilfully speculates that we’re not as far from our very own version of automated cities as we may think. Over the course of a week you pick up different passengers each night and have a chat with them during the ride. The quality of your talk doesn’t only determine whether you get a tip or not, it’s also absolutely crucial for your driver rating. You have to maintain a rating of four stars or higher or you risk a deactivation warning. Failing to raise your rating theoretically ends the game (though I tried doing as poorly as I could and still didn’t actually hit a game over state). Chance Agency was inspired by the rating real Uber drivers

IT’S THE FUTURE

We all know a tech bro like that.

WHY SHOULD I CARE? + You aspire to be an Uber driver + Customer service is your passion + You like a good tip

have to maintain, and playing the game you notice very quickly how devastating it can be to get anything but a perfect score from a passenger – though my seeming inability to truly fail undercut that feeling somewhat.

KEEPING IT REAL

The best thing about Lina is she can’t keep her opinions to herself. At the beginning of the story Savvy gifts her with a so-called FeelGrid, a bracelet that assigns a colour to her mood. This is my personal highlight of Neo Cab. At first I was afraid this would be a very simplistic system, allowing you to treat Lina similarly to how you would treat your sims – if Lina is sad, she should probably spend a night in a real bed and not at a capsule hotel, and so on. But most of the time there is no way for you to influence Lina’s mood directly. Instead, how she feels influences her behaviour. If a pax annoys Lina during their conversation, she may simply be

unable to make a joke to diffuse the tension and save her rating. The overall mystery surrounding Savvy, however, isn’t even half as interesting as the questions the game poses through the parts of conversations not dedicated to solving the case. That’s because there is no one size fits all solution to a problem much larger than the plot of a game. Neo Cab is also rather gluttonous in how much it attempts to cover during its short runtime – its central plot concerns autonomous cars and an Uber-style gig economy, but then there’s AI, consumerism, race… all of these subjects are connected, but to go through such subjects one taxi cab confessional at a time feels insufficient. The writing is atmospheric throughout, but Neo Cab’s greatest trick is that I can’t tell whether everything that seems a little fake to me – the overly philosophical conversations, me questioning every kindness – was purposefully designed to feel that way. MALINDY HETFELD

Some of Los Ojos’ more or less outlandish inventions

VERDICT:

THE KINDERMECH

Keep your child safe by encasing them in metal until their 18th birthday.

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RESTFUL SLEEP IN CAPSULE HOTELS

When Lina stops at one, she feels almost eerily perky the next morning.

L OW-T E C H PROSTHETICS

Looking cruder than what exists now, these limbs are extra cyberpunk.

QUANTUM STATISTICIANS

Calculating branching timelines sounds like a job of the future.

An intriguing and thoughtful cyberpunk mystery – though it bites off a little more than it can chew.

8


GAME REVIEW ▼

Trine 4

A fairytale with a sort-of happy ending. DEVELOPER FROZENBYTE • PUBLISHER MODUS GAMES trine4.com

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ot often, is it, that the fourth game in a series is considered to be an ideal jumping-in point? That’s the case here, for a few obvious reasons. Firstly, the controls and mechanics are taught with a wonderful understanding of communication and pace. Secondly, the story requires no knowledge of the previous games. Thirdly, things are so similar to the first two entries that it’s best enjoyed by players who are experiencing it all for the first time. It almost feels unfair to highlight the similarities to what has gone before. After all Frozenbyte attempted to address the grumbles around Trine 2’s similarity to its predecessor by moving to 3D environments for Trine 3. The result was identifiably the weakest game in the series however, so it’s back to 2.5D for the latest entry. Series fans will find that it’s still the same characters, with largely the same abilities – but perhaps that’s a good thing. For the uninitiated, Trine concerns three playable characters, each with unique abilities. You can play with other people, or switch between your gang solo, puzzles often changing when there’s more than one of you. There’s some platforming and a bit of combat, but the puzzles lie at the heart of the experience. I’ll occasionally cheese my way past a problem, as I so often do in life, with a simple but effective fix. In Trine 4’s case, this means using the wizard to conjure up a box, and levitating it to a position where the thief can jump, attach her rope in mid-air, and pull herself up. Take that, spiky pit of death! Thought you could make me use my brain, eh? Mind you, it’s clear that the developers know people will be doing this. Many high platforms have barriers specifically designed to prevent placement of any of the wizard’s items. Just as well too, as the puzzle design in this game is superb and deserves to have players explore it. While the fundamentals may sound limiting – reflecting sunlight, making rope bridges, diverting water, weighing platforms down, and other familiar concepts – they are used in all sorts of ingenious ways. Sure, many puzzles I solve very quickly, but more than

It really is a very pretty game.

WHY SHOULD I CARE? + You like puzzles + You’re looking for a solid story + It’s your first Trine.

once I hit a roadblock that initially seems utterly insurmountable. I always persist, never frustrated, and always end up working out the solution. It’s at times like these that I experience an immense rush of satisfaction, and intense admiration for the evil geniuses behind these setups.

THE KNIGHT BEFORE

Combat fares much less well. Rather than dotting enemies throughout each level, the developers have created enclosed single-screen arenas for fights with multiple foes, triggered when a player walks past a certain point. The best tactic is usually to get the knight to get stuck in, mashing the attack button and using his shield to deflect any projectiles. The thief’s bow and arrow is a fair second choice, while hitting things with boxes as the wizard is awkward and silly. My reaction to every one of these fights is a roll of the eyes and a desire to get it out of the way. The blow of the terrible combat is softened somewhat by the overall determination to make the whole experience user-friendly. Checkpointing is generous, characters resurrect quickly outside of combat, and even during

those horrible fights a comrade can be brought back to life within seconds. Nonetheless something soon starts to feel off about the game and it takes me a while to identify what it is. There’s so much to like. The puzzles, which I really do love; the art, which nails the dreamy fairytale vibe; the music and sound effects, which support the atmosphere of the graphics perfectly; the inclusion of a talking badger. Then I consider things holistically, and it clicks – or, rather, it doesn’t. As a whole the experience doesn’t feel consistent. The final boss is overly simple, whereas the second boss had me stumped for a while. The story offers no cohesion either, being far too lightweight to sustain interest. Trine 4 is a series of middles sewn together with the thread of great puzzle design. LUKE KEMP

VERDICT:

The puzzle design does the heavy lifting for Trine 4, making it a fun but ultimately hollow experience.

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▼ GAME REVIEW

Call of duty: Modern Warfare A new high bar for the series, despite parts of it feeling dated. DEVELOPER INFINITY WARD • PUBLISHER ACTIVISION callofduty.com/modernwarfare

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his latest sequel/reboot has sold itself as a return to the setting that “started it all”. It’s a snappy marketing line and it’s not entirely misleading. The warfare is once again modern and Captain Price is your squad dad. Yet it’s Modern Warfare’s moments of unfamiliarity that impress me – rebuilt weapon handling, new modes, and characters that aren’t the cookiecutter operatives we’ve seen in the last decade. Unfortunately this evolution is only half-realised in multiplayer. Here the relics of 2007 clash with fresh ideas. Modern Warfare aspires to be grounded and tactical while also giving you the power to pilot your own heavy gunship, and it doesn’t work. It’s easy to forget about that complaint in the heat of a match, because Modern Warfare’s action is exceptional. Weapons explode with concussive energy and rattle with recoil until the magazine is spent. Reload animations bask in the moment with motion-captured flare that celebrates a kill and snaps back into place for the next fight. Facing the lethal end of Modern Warfare’s weapons is often petrifying. Bullet impacts are loud, disorienting thuds. Near-miss bullets slice through oxygen with the deafening echoes of a military sim. The classic hit marker ‘thwoops’ are now blunt strikes that form a supersonic flurry of blows, closing on the intoxicating coin flip ‘ding’ that says I’ve won the firefight. But despite an aesthetic turn toward reality, Team Deathmatch and other

One of Modern Warfare’s rarer moments of bombast.

WHY SHOULD I CARE? + You’re a Captain Price fan + You’d kill for a kill-streak + You want to play one of the most tense shooter levels ever designed...

core modes remain cyclical meat grinders of kill-die-respawn-kill where the only skill check is the first to click on a head. Oh, and whoever scores the first killstreak. I hate killstreaks. In my years away from the series, I haven’t missed getting carpet bombed by a $90 million jet while minding my own business. Killstreaks hand more power to players already topping the scoreboard, turning the rest of us into ants under a magnifying glass. And when the roles reverse, the pride of a long killstreak is devalued. I got 30 kills, yay, but really I got 20. The rest are empty ant kills. The superiority of killstreaks also cheapens Modern Warfare’s new Field Upgrades – small-scale tools like a recon drone or ammo cache that add a bit of strategy to a standard loadout.

K I L L S T R E A K S , R A N K E D B Y A N N O YA N C E Which killstreaks make me want to rip my hair out the most? 5

CLUSTER STRIKE FIVE KILLS A cluster of missiles that target an area. It’s not too difficult to avoid, but its low kill cost means it happens way too often.

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4

PERSONAL RADAR THREE KILLS

A radar drone that pings enemies on the map. It’s so easy to earn that I’m always spotted by something.

3

PRECISION AIRSTRIKE FIVE KILLS

This one lets you designate a straight line to be peppered with bombs and machine-gun fire. It tips matches.

2

CHOPPER GUNNER TEN KILLS

Fly around the map shooting a minigun and missiles at anyone unlucky enough to be outside.

1

UAV THREE KILLS

Secretly the most destructive tool in the game. If you’re ever wondering if the enemy has a UAV in the air, just assume they do.

REBOOTS ON THE GROUND

Within the campaign Infinity Ward has scaled back on thrill rides. It shoots for the variety of distinctive missions that Call of Duty 4 set trends with, avoiding on-rails murder fests in favour of missions about cautious infiltration where walking is the default move speed. One stressful section has Garrick guiding a civilian through an enemylittered office by cycling through security cameras. Going Dark is a lone wolf stealth mission with nonlinear objectives. The stealth mechanics are light, but just deep enough to avoid gimmick territory. Modern Warfare sets the bar high for first-person gun feel. Gunfight is a standout mode that proves to me Call of Duty can slow down and the sky won’t fall. Modern Warfare is a promising platform for new ideas, but the sentiment will carry little weight if Activision shoves it aside and we’re talking about Black Ops 5 in 2020. MORGAN PARK

VERDICT:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare evolves the series for the better, but it could have been so much more.

8


GAME REVIEW ▼

Indivisible

Indivisible’s ‘unique fighting game meets JRPG battle system’ is its thrilling centrepiece. DEVELOPER LAB ZERO GAMES • PUBLISHER 505 GAMES www indivisiblegame.com

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f you can stomach the cheesy dialogue long enough, Indivisible’s battle system is excellent. It blends the turn-based party structure of a JRPG with the moveset and combo memorisation of a fighting game, requiring enough skill, quick-thinking and observation to make me feel badass when, for instance, I figure out that a one-eyed tree monster is vulnerable to air launches and juggle it to death, but not so much that I need a pro’s frame-perfect timing. In the way you’d expect of a turnbased JRPG, each fight pits my party of four (which I can change as I recruit new companions) against a few enemies on the opposite side of the screen. But rather than taking clearly defined turns, I can spend a character’s energy as soon as it’s available. Some of my characters regenerate more quickly than others, allowing me to throw out several attacks before an enemy responds. I can even attack with all my characters simultaneously if I’m dextrous enough: each controller button launches one of the four characters’ attacks, which can be modified with the analog stick to perform different moves. But when an enemy launches a move, the floor is theirs and the button I normally use for each character’s attack becomes their guard button. Although it builds in real time, each character’s consistent energy regeneration speed means that most fights do settle into a rhythm that feels like I’m swapping turns. The difference is that I can’t mull over moves endlessly: I’m constantly planning my next set of attacks, or preparing to block. I never fail anything less than a boss fight, but the dexterity and active decision-

MOVE GROOVE

Ajna finishes off the creepy tree with an upward swing: the only kind that can damage it.

WHY SHOULD I CARE? + JRPGs are your jam + You don’t mind cheesy dialogue + You want an RPG with fighting game controls

making the fights ask of me, along with the sleek 2D animations, make each xxx on my beat-down feel like a fun flex enemies. The boss fights tend to be lengthy encounters with screen-filling health bars that only slightly outlast my patience for proving my mastery of their requirements. They’re cumulative exams, testing the abilities and knowledge I’ve gained in the area leading up to them. Some enemies are healed by elemental damage instead of damaged by it. Others need to have their defence broken before they take any proper damage. Others require careful management of my Iddhi bar, which is spent to execute powerful special moves. Some bosses feature interludes which require clever use of my out-of-combat skills, though others fall back on platforming sections mid-battle that, if failed, will mean restarting a lengthy fight from the very beginning. While Lab Zero has created a fighting system

that’s worth learning, Indivisible’s platforming and storytelling aren’t as successful.

WALL OVER

Outside of the numerous combat encounters, protagonist Ajna navigates a metroidvania-style cross section of the world with the help of a few tools, such as an axe that allows her to grab a wall and gain a second upward jump. With a slight input delay, the platforming sections are less about precise execution and more about matching the proper peg (my axe or spear or bow) with the correct hole (high walls or far targets). Although Indivisible may not be my flavour of story or platforming, its combat is a successful experiment conducted by a studio that’s mastered combo-based combat. Its sleek 2D animations, easily chained attacks, and versatile cast of characters all make me feel like a powerhouse, even though I’d fare much worse in the competitive fighting games the system was derived from. LAUREN MORTON

Each character boasts an arsenal of attack types VERDICT:

Razmi’s standard attack is a fire move from her lantern.

Her Up+ATK is a launcher, sending enemies flying into the air.

With Down+ATK Razmi hexes enemies and slows them.

Razmi’s first Iddhi move is a heal. Press it again for a powerful fire spell.

The battle system brings the thrill of a fighting game to a JRPG, but its platforming sections aren’t great.

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▼ GAMES PREVIEW

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep Hopes to fill Bungie’s shooter with life. DEVELOPER BUNGIE • PUBLISHER IN-HOUSE bungie.net

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t was a mistake to refer to Destiny 2 and its ilk as ‘games-as-a-service’. ‘Service’ implies consistency and a smooth user experience. Destiny 2 is something else. Destiny 2 is games-asan-infrastructure – a subway system that gradually builds into something bigger and more sprawling; that needs to be constantly maintained; that will sometimes keep you waiting because such projects are complicated and the people running them can’t do everything at once. With Shadowkeep, Bungie is redrawing the map. The expansion adds a revitalised tourist destination – the Moon, returning from the first Destiny with a handful of new attractions and a fresh coat of paint – but also spearheads a more fundamental shift in purpose. Players return to the Moon in search of series regular Eris Morn, the Destiny character voted most likely to keep a LiveJournal. Shadowkeep’s campaign manages to highlight both the best and worst of Bungie’s storytelling. The specific objectives are tiresomely monologued by Eris before you head out; the mystical technobabble ensuring I rarely ever know what I’m actually doing. The broad strokes are that you need to forge a new, special armour set, but the delivery is rendered obtuse thanks to the density of arcane Hive rituals and mystical MacGuffins. And yet! On a wider level it’s a triumph, thanks to an overarching threat that feels grand in both its menace and in the way Bungie has seeded it throughout the last two years of the game. As someone who’s read my fair share of Destiny lore collectibles, coming face to face with the thing that hides beneath the Moon felt dramatic and shocking. “Oh shit, I have to deal with one of those?” I felt unprepared, which speaks to how successfully Bungie has teased the Destiny universe’s larger antagonist. As a collection of missions, Shadowkeep’s campaign is largely

WHY SHOULD I CARE? + You want that super-good gun-feel + You loot what you kill + “That Wizard came from the MOON!” still makes you laugh like a loon

You’ll fight your way to an arena and kill a big Wizard and then run away very fast.. 70 PC PowerPlay

business as usual. You’ll fight your way to an arena and kill a big Ogre. You’ll fight your way to an arena and kill a big Captain. You’ll fight your way to an arena and kill a big Wizard and then run away very fast. The campaign’s ending may be abrupt, but, as always, the expansion’s story is more of a tease of things to come – some of it through the next year of seasonal releases, the rest likely further out still. In the meantime the familiar and steady rhythm of Destiny 2 resumes after players have hit the relatively easyto-reach soft power cap of 900. The slower journey to the hard cap of 950 may have been remixed, but the notes are largely the same – relying on the weekly drops of powerful gear from three-player Strike missions, Crucible PvP matches, the still-brilliant competitive PvE of Gambit, and the new raid, which challenges players with a series of puzzle-like encounters among the Vex-infested greenery of the Black Garden.

POWER UP

There’s a renewed focus on bounties now, with each vendor offering a powerful reward if you complete a set number within a week. Thanks to the XP awards now granted by bounties, which award progress along a season pass full of goodies as well as powering up the new seasonal artefact, the steady tick of treats keeps things moving at a nice pace. That said, I’d love a central bounty board that collected them all up for easy access. As for specific additions and changes, yes, there’s a new Nightfall variant – The Ordeal, which has curated modifiers that increase in number as you up the difficulty. Yes, the Crucible playlists have been retooled, giving players more control over what mode they play (and letting you earn Glory score without ever having to suffer through a round of Countdown). And yes there are new Strikes and a couple of Crucible maps from the first game that make their PC debut. But there’s also a lot of repeating the same things that we’ve

been doing for over a year. You will run the Pyramidion strike and earn a Ten Paces. You will play a Control match on Vostok and be rewarded with a Does Not Compute. The lack of new world or vendor loot isn’t a surprise – if Destiny 2 game director Luke Smith’s essay on the state of the game pre-Shadowkeep had a single throughline, it was the limitations of what a development team can reasonably produce. Nevertheless I was surprised how much being awarded the same old guns hurt my excitement for the year ahead.

GENEROUS

Where Shadowkeep was billed as a bold new template for the third year, the reality is messier. Nowhere is this more clear than for ‘New Light’, the new user experience that puts the emphasis on repeatable activities and playing with friends. It’s great in theory: certainly the amount of stuff you get for the newly free-to-play base game is incredibly generous. But it also does a bad job of onboarding new players. After a short introductory mission, you arrive at the Tower only to be inundated with quests. It’s confusing and unhelpful, to the point where I’ve had a couple of friends who are trying out the game ask me how you even find the campaigns. To be clear, Destiny 2 is still an engaging shooter that – when you step back and take stock of all that it has to offer – is absolutely packed full of stuff to do. Shadowkeep is both an entertaining assortment of new activities and a solid base from which the game at large can build and improve. But Shadowkeep also doesn’t feel like Destiny 2’s final form, and there’s a real sense that there’s still much left to be tweaked and tightened. PHIL SAVAGE

VERDICT:

Not the best or neatest expansion in the series’ history, but Shadowkeep sets a solid foundation for what’s to come.

7


GAMES PREVIEW â–¼

There sure is a lot of shooting in Shadowkeep.

Scooting about on a Sparrow still feels nice.

You could have told me there was a dress code.

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WGAME REVIEW

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint A tedious open-world tactical shooter. DEVELOPER UBISOFT • PUBLISHER UBISOFT ghost-recon.ubisoft.com

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host Recon: Wildlands was a middling experience, but it wasn’t entirely devoid of potential. With more diverse missions, a greater range of tactical gadgets and abilities, and a better thought-out story, it might have succeeded in justifying its huge world and absurd number of activities. As a sequel Ghost Recon: Breakpoint adds none of these things. In fact Breakpoint adds nothing of value to the Ghost Recon template. Instead it transplants into Wildlands’ structure several systems from other Ubisoft franchises, systems that have no place in a game like Ghost Recon. Meanwhile it actively removes some features that were present in Wildlands, while making others considerably worse. In case I’ve not made it clear, I don’t think it’s very good. At least the story isn’t likely to trigger a political incident, although this is mainly because it’s unlikely to trigger any spark of emotion whatsoever. Players assume the role of Nomad (which, incidentally, also means ‘Walker’, suggesting the writers struggled to come up with two generic soldier names) deployed as part of a large team of Ghosts to investigate the situation on Auroa. But the Ghosts’ helicopters are shot down by the island’s weapons system, and Nomad finds himself alone and hunted through the forest by Walker’s gang of mercenaries who call themselves the Wolves.

FEEL THE BERNTHAL There is some potential in the new n setting. The amorality and unaccountability of modern tech giants, particularly in their associations with the world’s military organisations, is a rich h seam to explore in a tactical shooter. Sadly this potential is squandered in favour of a more generic military tale exploring Nomad and Walker’ss relationship, which is detailed through long, unskippable flashback cutscenes. Jon Berntthal does a splendid job inhabiting the role of Jon Bernthal, but it’s ha ard to take his character seriously when every NPC around him

72 PC PowerPlay

WHY SHOULD I CARE? + You’re desperate for an Ubi-style shooter + You’re a big Punsher fan + You kinda hate yourself

looks and acts like a mannequin with a mop on its head. The quality of the storytelling is generally poor, but the real issue is how insistent it is upon its own misplaced importance. To dispense its narrative, Breakpoint has adopted wholesale the conversation system from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

BREAKPOINT-LESS Ubisoft’s struggle to make drab military gear interesting as loot also leads them to some absurd places, where a trucker’s cap offers greater protection than a crash-proof helmet. These bolted-on systems come at the cost of improving the core experience, which, in the right circumstances, can be enjoyable. Like Wildlands, Breakpoint can be played with up to four people. Personally I found it most enjoyable

At least the story isn’t likely to trigger a political incident. with two, as beyond that it’s difficult to play stealthily. Specifically, one of us would deploy as a sniper in an overwatch role, while the other performed the wetwork of infiltrating bases and completing objectives. Using this structure we quickly fell into a fun routine, hovering over bases in a helicopter and studying h llayout, before dropping off the the sniper at a nearby elevation point ood overview of the base. with a go ould then scout out enemy They wo patrols and take out straggling guards, while the other player located an entry point and tried k to the objective. If the to sneak was raised we’d switch to alarm w ut assault, which Ghost all-ou on facilitates nicely through Reco its slick aiming and lethalfeeling guns. Played in this way P point is fun in short Breakp wever, it takes little for bursts. How ment to stall. Trying to the enjoym uroa on foot is incredibly navigate Au ue to its craggy terrain, difficult du

compounded by Breakpoint’s weirdly specific simulation of traversing slopes. If you run too quickly down one or try to climb one that’s too steep, you’ll start to slide, before eventually stumbling into a health-depleting roll. Groundbased vehicles are also generally a no-go, as they too easily alert enemies to your presence. There is some method behind this apparent madness. Breakpoint is notionally a survivalist shooter, one where your team is deep inside enemy territory, forced to subsist in the wilderness over a long period of time. Essentially, it wants to be a Bravo Two Zero simulator. The screescrambling mechanic is one of several ideas intended to reflect this. One of the few ideas I genuinely like about Breakpoint is the way your character gets covered in mud and snow as they traverse the terrain. You can even use it to camouflage yourself.

ON YOUR OWN Breakpoint caters particularly poorly for solo players. The AI companions who accompanied you in Bolivia have been cut out completely, but the game doesn’t compensate for this in solo play. Breakpoint is not an especially difficult game, but there are points when it becomes punishingly hard to play solo. In one example, where I had to defend a scientist stood at the end of a causeway, the only way I could stop my position being rushed by enemies was to deliberately crash a helicopter in the doorway from which they approached. Criticising a co-op game for poor solo play may not seem fair, but there are plenty of similar titles on the market which are enjoyable when played alone, such as Remnant: From the Ashes or Ubisoft’s own The Division 2. RICK LANE

VERDICT: Poorly stapled-on mechanics and lack of polish make Breakpoint’s openworld tactics not worth the time.

6


GAME REVIEW â–ź

Sniper rifles are incredibly effective at bringing down helicopters.

After almost dying in an explosion, it’s important to remember to stretch.

The snow and mud effects are one of the best things about the game.

PC PowerPlay 73


W TECH INTRO

279

Tech YOUR GUIDE TO PC GAMING HARDWARE.

GEAR THIS ISSUE

075 CORSAIR ICUE 465X 076 X299 MOTHERBOARD ROUNDUP 080 GIGABYTE AORUS 17 082 AMD RYZEN 7 3700X 084 TT RGB 360 AIO CPU COOLER 085 STEELSERIES SENSEI TEN 086 RAZER VIPER ULTIMATE 087 MICROSOFT XBOX ELITE SERIES 2

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THE PCPP TESTBENCH

CPU INTEL I7 7700K intel.com.au MOBO ASUS Z270 ROG CROSSHAIR VI HERO asus.com.au RAM 2 X BALLISTIX 8GB DDR4-3200 crucial.com PSU CORSAIR 850W PSU corsair.com COOLING H105 CORSAIR COOLER www.corsair.com.au

EDL:G 6L6G9 l l l# e Xe d l Z g e a V n# Xd b # Vj

Our Power Award is given to products that are best in class no matter your budget.

HB6GI 7JN

l l l e Xe d l Z g e a V n Xd b Vj

Our Smart Buy Award goes to products that balance performance with price tag.


TECH REVIEW W

CASE

Corsair iCue 465x RGB Smart and cool. PRICE $225 www.corsair.com

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verything seems to be “smart” these days: phones, home appliances and yes, even smart cars. It was only a matter of time until case manufacturers jumped on the smart product bandwagon as well. Corsair’s latest mid-tower chassis has just the right amount of RGB bling and great thermal performance as well. But how does Corsair define smart? Measuring 467mm x 216mm x 465mm and weighing 8.16 kg, the Corsair iCue 465X RGB features steel and plastic construction with tempered glass panels on the front and left side. Painted in the buyer’s choice of white or black both inside and out, this chassis comes with a two-year limited warranty. Build quality and thermal performance aside, the case’s biggest selling points are the new design, the Direct Airflow Path layout, tempered-glass panels and RGB lighting. The iCUE 465X RGB incorporates three of the company’s latest LL120 RGB fans powered by the included iCUE Lighting Node CORE RGB controller. Directly below the magnetic dust filter in the top panel are mounts for two 120 or one 140mm fans. Along the uppermost edge of the plastic front panel you’ll find a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a headphone / microphone jack, plus

power and reset buttons. The front panel assembly attaches to the front of the case via long thumbscrews. A one-inch gap on both sides between the tempered glass and plastic frame provides a clear path for fresh air to be drawn into the chassis. The fan filtration system does a great job preventing most dirt and dust particles from entering your system. Painted to match the exterior colour, the interior of the iCUE 465X RGB is very clean and well laid out. Corsair includes three installed LL120 RGB LED fans in the front, but none in the rear of the chassis. We found it a bit disappointing that Corsair didn’t include a LL120 ARGB exhaust fan (or any fan for that matter) at this price point, given this chassis’ emphasis on RGB lighting. The Corsair iCUE Lighting Node Core controls all three included 120mm fans and has enough additional headers to power three more, all through the company’s iCUE software. Radiators and AIO coolers can be mounted in the top, front, and rear of this case. The mounting locations in the front of the chassis support 120, 140, 240, 280 and 360mm radiators. The large intake vents in the front of the case, combined with a trio of 120mm intake fans, provided more than enough

airflow to keep the components in our test system cool. CPU temperatures levelled off at 57 degrees Celsius over ambient. Running the tests again with two fans in front and one in the rear made no noticeable difference in thermal performance. GPU temperatures maxed out at 49 degrees Celsius over the ambient room temperature. Corsair’s iCUE 465X RGB is a greatlooking case with the performance to match. With the right components and careful planning, this chassis is a solid choice for your next system build. The lack of a USB 3.1 Type-C port and odd 360mm radiator installation issue aside, the iCUE 465X RGB is a good value, a great performer, and should be at the top of your case consideration list. STEVEN LYNCH

• Great cooling performance • Stylish design • Three RGB fans

• No USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C • 360mm radiator/AIO may not easily fit • No exhaust fan included

VERDICT: Corsair’s latest mid-priced mid-tower has the right amount of RGB and great thermal performance.

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HIGH-PERFORMANCE MOTHERBOARDS With the CPU scene exploding on all fronts, it could be upgrade time – and in many cases that could also mean it’s also time for a new motherboard. Chris Szewczyk tests a sampling of interesting new boards.

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MD Ryzen 3rd gen CPUs offer incredible performance and that’s catapulted the company into the good books of gamers around the world. At long last. And, one of the sexier features it brings is PCIe x4.0, which gives compatible SSDs incredible bandwidth. If you thought the current PCIe 3.0 NVMe SSDs were quick, wait til you try a PCIe NVMe SSD. We’re talking an increase from around 3500MB/s to an insane 5000MB/s! And if you’re stuck on a SATA drive, or, lord help you, an HDD, then it most definitely is upgrade time. We’ve chosen to review the Asus Crosshair VIII Impact as our AMD X570 board in this issue. It’s unusual size makes it most appealing for smaller builds, but as you’ll read it certainly doesn’t skimp on features or performance. Over in Intel-land, the company has just dropped its first 10th-gen High End Desktop i9 CPUs, and for those the motherboards we’re looking at are refreshed X299 boards just hitting the market. These are the CPUs you’ll be looking at for extreme performance before the 10th-gen desktop CPUs (i7, i5, i3) arrive in early 2020. If you want bleeding edge performance, this is the place to look.

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MOTHERBOARD

Asrock X299 Taichi CLX

Maintaining Asrock’s balancing act of value and performance. PRICE $799 www.asrock.com

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hen we look at a platform like Intel’s X299, and AMD’s Threadripper too, for that matter, we often wonder why motherboard manufacturers excessively focus on gaming when the mainstream platforms are better options. Asrock’s Taichi brand doesn’t resort to this tactic, usually delivering an excellent combination of useful features and affordable price. X299 refresh motherboards have undoubtedly taken a step up in price though, and at $799 the X299 Taichi CLX can’t be considered an affordable board any longer. With this in mind, can the latest Taichi land in the sweet spot as we’ve come to expect from Asrock? The X299 Taichi CLX looks every bit a high end board and you’d expect it to have a long list of features. While it’s not a barebones motherboard by any measure, it doesn’t come with all the bells and whistles that are found on the disappointingly high number of X299 boards that approach and exceed the $1,000 mark. The overall design with its artistic gears and cogs is a nice touch. Of course you still get a touch of RGB around the board, but it’s not blinding by any means. The VRM system of the board is strong with 13 phases and twin eight-pin EPS power connectors. We’d

like to see the heatsink have some more surface area, but that’s nit-picking really. Other key features include an impressive ten SATA ports, triple M.2 slots and 2.5 Gigabit LAN. The Realtek RTL8125AG 2.5G controller is a very welcome addition to the market. On the topic of networking, the Taichi CLX includes Intel’s latest Wi-Fi 6 controller along with Bluetooth 5.0. The rear I/O is fairly standard with 6x USB ports plus an additional Type-C. There’s no Thunderbolt 3 or unique gadgets present, though it seems those are the things that differentiate an $800 board from one that costs 50% more. When it comes to performance, the Asrock tended to trail the more expensive Asus Prime Edition 30 more often than not. While in the grand scheme of things, 1 or 2% here or there won’t be noticed, it’s better to be in front than not. It’s still amazing to see just how the high core count processors from Intel and AMD simply destroy benchmarks that can make use of all those cores, even though game engines and Windows thread allocations can still present issues. Asrock’s Taichi brand continues to offer a sweet spot combination of features, refinement and to a lesser extent this time around, pricing. The

Asrock X299 Taichi CLX Asrock X299 Taichi CLX; Intel X299 Chipset; Socket 2066; Support for Intel Core X 7000, 8000 & 10000 series processors; 3x M.2; 10x SATA; Up to 2x USB 3.2 Gen 2, up to 6x USB 3.2 Gen 1, up to 6x USB 2.0; Realtek 2.5G & Intel Gigabit LAN, Wi-Fi 6; Realtek ALC1220 7.1 Channel High Definition Audio; ATX Form Factor.

X299 Taichi CLX looks great, it has an easy to navigate BIOS and makes a big generational step up in terms of networking. You won’t be lacking storage options either. We’re sad to see pricing is really going upwards though. If Cascade Lake-X is on your shopping list (we’ll have a full review in our next issue), the Taichi CLX may actually end up being one of the more affordable X299 refresh options if you can believe that. It’s a good solid board and brings a welcome feature update to the X299 platform. CHRIS SZEWCZYK

The X299 Taichi CLX looks every bit a high end board and you’d expect it to have a long list of features.. • Fantastic looks • Simple BIOS • Lots of SATA ports

• Very expensive

VERDICT:

The Asrock Taichi CLX is a good board, though we’re sad to see a distinct uptick in HEDT motherboard pricing.

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MOTHERBOARD

Asus Crosshair VIII Impact A little board that makes a big impact. PRICE $729 www.asus.com.au

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e’re very happy to see the return of the small form factor Impact to Asus’ line up, having been absent from the last couple of generations. Impact boards always seemed like a labour of love for Asus engineers, with their one-off daughter boards and unique implementations. The X570 equipped Crosshair VIII Impact (C8I) looks like it does justice to the Impact legacy. One obvious area of departure for the C8I is its form factor. Whereas Impact boards have previously been true miniITX designs, the Crosshair VIII Impact is instead a mini-DTX board, where the PCB is about 3cm longer at the bottom part of the motherboard. While a mini-DTX board won’t fit in a true ITX case, most of them do allow for a dual slot graphics card so it should be widely compatible, though of course you’ll need to check to make sure it will fit in your case. There are a few notable features. The backplate features an attached heatpipe to help cool the VRM. You’ll also notice a version of Asus’ DIMM.2 m.2 drive storage technology, shrunken down to the SO-DIMM form factor. While you’re not getting memory speeds as some might think, it’s an interesting way to mount the drives, and no doubt represents a significant engineering

78 PC PowerPlay

investment to make it work properly. You get all the standard features you’d expect on an X570 motherboard, though at this price we’d like to see 2.5G LAN or better. A top quality power delivery system capable of powering the 3950X, along with Wi-Fi 6 and a quality audio implementation are welcome, though they’re standard at this price. Note that the Crosshair Impact VIII doesn’t have any video outputs and only three analogue audio jacks if you’re planning to use it with a surround sound speaker set. One of the areas the Impact excelled in our testing was memory overclocking, in part thanks to its two DIMM design. These days, testing CPU OC is almost pointless on high end motherboards as current generation CPUs run into cooling limitations before the motherboard breaks a sweat. Not all boards are created equal when it comes to memory support though. If you have a good set of B-Die memory, you’ll be very pleased with the abilities of the C8I. Do check out the memory OC profiles in the BIOS. Summing up a board like this is difficult. There’s no doubt it’s innovative, but we struggle to define exactly what its purpose is. At $729 its pricing is far too high. For most users,

Asus Crosshair VIII Impact Socket AM4; Support for AMD Ryzen 2nd & 3rd Gen processors; 2x M.2; 4x SATA; Up to 7 x USB 3.2 Gen 2, 6x USB 3.1 Gen 1, 2x USB 2.0; 802.11ax 2.4Gbps Wi-Fi; Intel I211AT 1G LAN; Realtek ALC1220 7.1 Channel High Definition Audio; Mini-DTX Form Factor.

the toughest competition for the Impact comes from Asus’ own Strix X570i. It’s an ITX design, costs 40% less and has a mostly similar feature set. We think the Impact is best suited to overclockers, particularly those running very fast memory and high core count CPUs. We love the way Asus is never afraid to push the envelope and innovate. The C8I is fast, very capable it and loves high speed memory. What it really needs is a hundred or two knocked off the price and we’d be all over it. CHRIS SZEWCZYK

We love the way Asus is never afraid to push the envelope and innovate.. • Great performance • Excellent memory compatibility • Solid cooling options

VERDICT: An innovative and overclocker friendly mini motherboard that’s let down by its exorbitant price.

• Still expensive

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MOTHERB OARD

A stunningly premium motherboard with a price to match. PRICE $1,149 www.asus.com.au

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hen I first took the Asus Prime X299 Edition 30 out of the box, I fell in love. It’s one of the most attractive motherboard designs (and packages) I’ve ever seen. Though admittedly looks are not at the top of the list when evaluating a high end motherboard, it just oozes appeal with its subtle modern finish and the way the gorgeous OLED panel looks when the system is powered up. It screams ‘I am premium’ and if the looks don’t do that, then the price tag will. At $1,149 the Edition 30 is one of the most expensive consumer motherboards on the market. Is it worth the price? The Asus Prime X299 Edition 30 comes with pretty much every connectivity and expansion feature that a 2019 era motherboard could want. Rather than rattle off endless specs, we’ll concentrate on a few of the key differentiating features the board has. There’s a 2-inch OLED screen in the centre of the board that can display information such as clock speeds, temperatures, voltages or even custom animated GIFs. It looks gorgeous. You get a fan extension card which adds a further six adjustable headers as well as three addressable RGB headers. The Edition 30 comes with an external USB ‘Smart Control Console’. It has an

OLED display with similar functionality to the one mounted on the board itself. It’s also an IR webcam that supports face recognition, gesture control and even has Alexa and Cortana voice recognition support. It will be interesting to see if this kind of control functionality catches on in the wider market. As with most of the other X299 refresh boards, the Edition 30 has a truly high end power delivery system that Asus claims is capable of delivering 544W of power. The heatsink assembly includes an embedded fan that switches on only when the VRM goes over 60c. It’s nice to see a genuine finned heatsink design that prioritises functionality as well as aesthetics. The Edition 30 really demonstrates the power of a CPU like the i9-9980XE. While AMD’s Threadripper processors rule the roost with regards to outright multi-threading performance, the 9980XE’s single threaded prowess makes it a balanced all-rounder, though that may well change when we see 3rd generation Threadripper can do. Competition aside, a board like the Prime Edition 30 brings out the best of Intel’s HEDT lineup. The Prime X299 Edition 30 is premium in every way. There is simply no better X299 motherboard on the

Asus Prime X299 Edition 30 Intel X299 Chipset; Socket 2066; Support for Intel Core X 7000, 8000 & 10000 series processors; 3x M.2; 8x SATA; Up to 3x USB 3.2 Gen 2, up to 8x USB 3.2 Gen 1, up to 6x USB 2.0; Aquantia 5 Gigabit & Intel

market, but at this end of the market, you have to pay to play. When it comes down to it, $1,149 is a LOT to pay for a motherboard. At least here you’re paying for a level of refinement that cannot be beaten. Is it overkill? Probably, but If you’re a professional or an enthusiast with deep pockets, and can make use of the strengths of the platform and need a lot of multi-threaded power, then the Prime X299 Edition 30 is one of the finest motherboards on the market, but boy does it come at a cost. CHRIS SZEWCZYK

The Prime X299 Edition 30 is premium in every way.. • Best of everything • All the connectivity • Killer performance

VERDICT: A premium motherboard if ever there was one, but you don’t get this kind of functionality for cheap.

• HOLY HECK THE PRICE

9 PC PowerPlay 79


W TECH REVIEW

GAMING LAPTOP

Gigabyute Aorus 17

A massively powerful laptop that ends up being too big for its own good. PRICE $5999 www.gigabyte.com

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igabyte has been making some of our favorite laptops in 2019. The Gigabyte Aero 15X v8, for example, gives us the portability and power we demand in the thin and light versions of the best gaming laptops. The Auros 17 YA is Gigabyte’s response to the other big boy laptops that sacrifice portability and overcompensate in terms of size and power, like the MSI GT76 Titan or Acer Predator Triton series. It’s a big, powerful PC with a big, powerful price. The review model we tested retails at around $6,000 so there is definitely a performance expectation here, especially when someone can easily put that money into a killer desktop. The question of how comfortable you are carrying a $6K laptop around in your bag is something for you, personally, to fret about but, thankfully, if there’s one thing

Auros 17, but equally, you can hit some of these numbers with slightly cheaper laptops. In fact, it often feels like overkill in games like Fortnite and Apex Legends, with both constantly surpassing an average 150fps at 1080p during online matches.

you don’t need to worry about with the Aurus 17, it’s performance. The Intel i9-9980HK CPU is no joke with a score of 1480 on the CineBench R15 multi-core tests. It also hit a score of 21779 on 3D Mark Fire Strike and 5351 on 3D Mark Express, both great numbers. In real-world terms, the Aorus 17 functions as an excellent workstation and for content creators this beast would be perfect for recording, editing, and streaming video. Importantly, the Aorus 17 simply crushes all the gaming benchmarks we throw at it at 1080p, easily surpassing 100fps in Total War: Warhammer II and The Division 2. Gears 5 hits 107fps on Ultra and Metro Exodus tops out at 77fps. Gaming at the highest graphical presets on 1080p is chump change for the RTX 2080 that lives inside the

DISPLAY & DESIGN The 240Hz display goes some way to making up for it only being capable of 1080p, but this is something of a problem. While most would have loved a 1440p display running at 175Hz, high-level players will be delighted with how the 240Hz panel makes almost everything silky smooth. The lack of a higher resolution does make the Aorus 17 slightly less practical for video editing and other forms of media usage too. Given the rest of the spec inside the

Gigabyute Aorus 17 BENCHMARKS Gigabyute Aorus 17

Gigabyute Aorus 17

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Cinebench R15

CrystalDiskMark

CrystalDiskMark

PCMark 10

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Multi-core (cb)

Q32 Sequential (Read) MB/s

Q32 Sequential (Write) MB/s

Points

Ray-tracing enabled (fps)

1,477

3010.80

1324

5419

62

Total War: Warhammer II

Tom’s Clancy’s The Division 2

Gears 5

Metro Exodus

Battery Life

(fps)

(fps)

(fps)

RTX enabled - High (fps)

Productivity

104

108

107.4

73.09

2 hours and 45 minutes


TECH REVIEW W

Importantly, the Aorus 17 simply crushes all the gaming benchmarks we throw at it at 1080p, easily surpassing 100fps in Total War: Warhammer II and The Division 2.. machine, most would gladly sacrifice some frames to play a gorgeous game in higher resolutions, especially with the likes of games like Red Dead Redemption 2 out now. While $6000 isn’t cheap for a gaming laptop, it’s likely that the 1080p screen does save some money on what could have been an intimidatingly expensive portable PC. Another issue is noise. When you shove a powerful GPU meant for a desktop PC case into a significantly smaller laptop chassis it’s always going to sound like an air conditioner covered with a blanket if you do anything outside of surfing the web. Be sure to invest in a decent pair of headphones and be ok with receiving looks of disapproval from anyone close to you, because the Aorus 17 is one of the noisier laptops out there. Design-wise Gigabyte definitely went for the gamer aesthetic with its muscle lines adorning the lid, and a race car-inspired RGB lightbar surrounding p g g the laptop. I always prefer my gaming

laptops to be a little more subtle with the RGB lighting, but you have enough control over how bright you want the light show to be. The Omron mechanical switches feel great and the backlit keys are a nice touch, so it genuinely feels like you’re typing on a mechanical keyboard. That’s a big plus. This hulk of a laptop weighs nearly 4kg when you add in the pair of power bricks. This means that the Auros 17 doesn’t do portability particularly well. Lugging this beast around on my daily commute for a couple of weeks in a backpack was a terrible idea, and my poor back hasn’t forgiven me since. It’s big, loud, and meant to be a semi-permanent fixture on your desk. The battery lasts just a little under 3 hours which shouldn’t come as a shock considering all the action the laptop has going on beneath the surface. If you wanted a to game on the go or to last long trips, consider the Razer Blade Advance 2019 or MSI GS75,, if you don’t mind losing some frames.

FINAL THOUGHTS If you’re looking for a gaming workstation where the performance matters more than portability, then the Auros 17 is a strong contender. It’s an absolute monster under the hood, and the laptop crushes modern games with ease. The major flaws come from being too beefy for its own good, a noisy running volume, and only having a 1080p display. With such shortcomings, you have to seriously consider whether you want to pay so much for a laptop when a desktop of equivalent power would cost far less, but in terms of what you actually pay for, the Aorus is decent value nonetheless. JORGE JIMENEZ

• Beastly performance • Great keyboard • 240Hz display

• Heavy • Only available with 1080p display • Very expensive

VERDICT: A huge 17.3-inch powerhouse that’s limited to 1080p gaming and falls short in the portability department

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▼ TECH REVIEW

CPU

AMD Ryzen 7 3700X Building a better mainstream 8-core chip. PRICE $879 www.amd.com

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MD’s third generation Ryzen CPUs boast higher clockspeeds and more cores than the previous first and second gen parts, and the Ryzen 7 3700X is now one of the best CPUs for gaming. Zen 2 CPUs are so good that AMD almost doesn’t need the faster offerings. Its second-string 3700X is perfectly capable of running the offense, and it isn’t quite as demanding when it comes to signing bonuses and contracts. For those teams (aka PCs) with salary cap concerns that can’t quite justify chasing the 3900X, the 3700X is a versatile QB that can throw a quick short pass, scamper downfield for a modest gain, or even launch the long ball when occasion requires. When it comes to playing football – running PC games – there’s not a huge difference between the 3700X and the 3900X. In fact, there’s hardly any difference at all. For gaming, the

3700X and 3900X are effectively tied, and you can safely ignore the barely faster 3800X. It’s 1-4 percent better (according to tests at Tom’s Hardware) for the extra cash. But I’m jumping ahead. Maximum boost clocks on the 3800X are only 100MHz higher than the 3700X, but minimum ‘guaranteed’ clocks are potentially 300MHz higher. In practice, however, the 3700X mostly runs well above the minimum clockspeed, particularly in light to medium workloads. If you do a lot of 3D rendering or video encoding, moving to the Ryzen 9 3900X makes sense, but for everyone else the 3700X is a great choice. As with other Ryzen CPUs, I didn’t do extensive overclocking tests on the Ryzen 7 3700X. That’s because it generally doesn’t help much. You sacrifice boost clocks for higher all-core clocks, though with the 3700X there’s at least

As with other Ryzen CPUs, I didn’t do extensive overclocking tests on the Ryzen 7 3700X. That’s because it generally doesn’t help much.. 82 PC PowerPlay

a bit more gain from enabling Precision Boost Overdrive. It’s still only 200MHz extra at best, which means less than a 5 percent improvement, and often in the 1-3 percent range. The days of massive gains via overclocking your CPU are largely behind us now. Intel’s Core i9-9900K might get an extra 400MHz vs. stock, and AMD’s CPUs might get an extra 200-300MHz, which just isn’t that exciting. It’s the blessing and curse of increased competition. All of AMD’s third-gen parts were tested in the MSI MEG X570 Godlike board (with similar results from Asus and Gigabyte boards). Besides the memory, I used a Gigabyte Aorus NVMe Gen4 2TB SSD for the main drive (another part of the AMD review kit), with a GeForce RTX 2080 Ti Founders Edition graphics card.

GAMING PERFORMANCE

Starting with gaming performance, here’s how the Ryzen 7 3700X stacks up. All ten games are tested at 1080p ‘ultra’ (generally the highest possible settings, outside of super-sample anti-aliasing), and each test is run multiple


TECH REVIEW ▼

times to ensure the consistency of results. Minimum fps is calculated as the average fps for the bottom three percent of frametimes—find the 97 percentile frametime, and sum up all frametimes above that, dividing by the number of frames. This provides a more useful metric than pure minimum fps or pure 97 percentile. Out of ten games tested, the 3700X and 3900X are pretty much tied, with the 3900X hanging on to a scant 0.5 percent lead in framerates. That’s well within margin of error, and that’s with an RTX 2080 Ti at 1080p; move up to 1440p or 4K, or downgrade to a slower GPU, and the gap would

Ryzen 7 3700X is a great CPU overall, and it’s arguably the sensible choice for most users. Why blow a ton of cash on your CPU and then have to cut back on your graphics card, storage, motherboard, and/or memory. almost completely disappear. What about Intel and its Core i7-9700K and Core i9-9900K? The 9700K actually tops the overall gaming performance chart – yup, Hyper-Threading isn’t always beneficial for games. That makes the 9700K 10 percent than the 3700X, while the 9900K is 9 percent faster. Of course, that’s when running games at 1080p with the fastest current GPU available. The gap would be substantially smaller at 1440p and basically non-existent at 4K. In other words, like the 3900X, AMD can’t lay claim to the gaming performance crown and in fact comes in behind even the older i7-7700K, depending on the game. If gaming is your number one priority, you’re still better off with an Intel CPU (never mind the various security exploits that have been patched over the past 18 months).

AN IMPRESSIVE CPU

AMD’s Ryzen processors continue to put the pressure on Intel, forcing increasingly potent CPUs into mainstream pricing. With third

generation Ryzen, AMD effectively sounds the death-knell for HEDT platforms. I still love the idea of extreme performance, and the 56-core and 64-core server chips are cool, but I certainly don’t need them in my home PC. Frankly, with chips like the Ryzen 9 3900X, I don’t need any of the HEDT processors from Intel or AMD. When you can get a great 8- and 12-core chips for much less, why bother with a more expensive motherboard, memory, CPU, and PSU? Ryzen 7 3700X is a great CPU overall, and it’s arguably the sensible choice for most users. Why blow a ton of cash on your CPU and then have to cut back on your graphics card, storage, motherboard, and/or memory? Bang for the buck is always better if you step down a notch or two from the top-of-the-line parts. Raw performance is nice, but the balanced approach is often better. There’s nothing wrong with backing off a bit and getting a slightly less potent part at a far more reasonable price.

Anyone looking at building an AMD based PC will find a lot to like with the Ryzen 7 3700X. It’s basically as fast as the more expensive third gen Ryzen parts when it comes to gaming, and certainly fast enough for most other tasks. It’s also about 10 percent faster than the previous generation Ryzen 7 2700X in gaming performance, and 15 percent faster overall. And it might improve even a bit more if AMD and its partners ever get the firmware and turbo stuff sorted out. JARRED WALTON

• Efficient and fast • PCIe Gen4 and 7nm • Relatively affordable

VERDICT:

• Slightly slower in games • Limited overclocking potential • Is the firmware done yet?

The Ryzen 7 3700X doesn’t dazzle with a dozen cores, but it’s still an impressive CPU. It’s the sensible choice when compared with the more extreme 3900X.

9 PC PowerPlay 83


W TECH REVIEW

AIO CPU COOLER

Thermaltake Floe DX RGB 360 Premium Edition Excellent cooling performance and all the RGB you could ever wish for. PRICE $299 thermaltake.com.au

T

T’s newest AIO CPU cooler is its flagship cooler, and supersedes the Riing coolers – which are excellent and still widely available. The new design has a lot going for it. Superficially it appears almost identical to the Riing range of coolers, but there have been some useful refinements. The Riing was always well regarded for its near-silent operation, and the new Floe DX is still among the quietest but sees a slight bump in fan speeds, from a max of 1400 to 1500rpm, now. While a small increase, the Riing was arguably most appealing for its quietness, rather than its performance relative to much of the market, so this increase in airflow is welcome. At the same time the new Floe DX is a little quieter – coming in at a maximum noise level of 23.9dB compared to 24.7 with the Riing. That’s at maximum RPM, though, and in regular desktop use when the fans aren’t loaded it’s closer to 19dB. The pump speed is still 3600 RPM, which is typical and well enough. Perhaps the most useful real-world improvement here is that TT extended the length of the head-to-radiator braided tubes. They’ve gained almost 8cm in length (400mm, up from 325mm in the Riing), which opens up more placement possibilities, as well as

84 PC PowerPlay

relieving possible tension on the tubes in tight fitting installations. Out of the box it includes the expected support for both AMD and Intel, with supplied brackets for each. The installation process was simple and without stress, with the documentation clear and concise. Three quality fans are included, and must be attached to the radiator prior to fitting in the case. In our test we installed them on the inside of the radiator, rather than facing outwards, thus choosing to fill the case – rather than the room it was in – with RGB colour. The radiator is just 27mm deep, which is relatively slim compared to others and again offers more scope for installation if space is a little squeezy. The other component in the box is a 5-port lighting controller, which needs Molex power and a USB header on your motherboard. DIP switches need to be set based on how many fans you connect and where they are, and while the documentation was less than clear on how these should be set we soon figured it out. Performance was excellent. Testing it with an i7-8700K at stock clocks it maxed out at just over 53 degrees with an ambient room temp of 25 degrees, which puts it right up with the very best.

Perhaps the most useful real-world improvement here is that TT extended the length of the head-toradiator braided tubes. . Equally impressive was the OC result, at 72 degrees with the CPU at 4.7GHz. Naturally, the RGB is class-leading OTT and outrageously excessive. And many will love that. The software is refined and simple to use, and quite a lot of fun to play with. There’s even Alexa voice control, should that rock your boat. But simply looking at performance it’s exceptionally good, and at just $10 more than the superseded Riing model, a no brainer if you want a great TT AIO cooler. BEN MANSILL

• Easier to install • Versatile lighting • Leading-edge cooling capability

• Possibly too much lighting • Somewhat confusing documentation

VERDICT: Can handle the hottest CPUs with ease, and if you like RGB you’ll be in paradise.

9


TECH REVIEW W

GAMING MOUSE

SteelSeries Sensei Ten SteelSeries returns to its Sensei roots. PRICE $119 www.steelseries.com

2

019 marks the tenth anniversary of SteelSeries’ original Sensei mouse design, a truly iconic gaming peripheral that set the bar for high-performance mice in the years following its release. It’s seen several different iterations along the way, the most recent being the Sensei 310 released in 2017. While that mouse is a fantastic bit of hardware in its own right, many fans missed the classic Sensei design, a sentiment that SteelSeries has heard loud and clear. Enter the new Sensei Ten, a return to form for one of esports’ favorite mice. SteelSeries has resurrected the original ambidextrous Sensei shape, and enhanced its performance with a top-ofthe-line sensor and a sleek, matte finish that feels great in the hand. There’s also some fancy RGB lighting, profile customisation, tilt tracking, and new click switches. The Sensei Ten boasts a true ambidextrous design, with a symmetrical seven button layout that accommodates any grip style. The matte finish feels nice and smooth in the hand, and the silicon pads on the sides provide ample grip. We don’t experience any discomfort when handling the mouse, but the side buttons can be easy to click by accident thanks to the concave finger rests. After a while,

though, our hands adjust and this ceases to be a problem. Weight is one of the most important qualities to consider when picking out a gaming mouse, and everyone’s tastes are different. In our opinion, the Sensei Ten feels a bit on the lighter side, lacking the satisfying heft of some other options on the market. This isn’t a dealbreaker by any stretch, but it is certainly something to be aware of while weighing your options. The connection cable is also unfortunately not braided, which feels like an oversight for a flagship mouse model like the Sensei. Moving to the buttons, SteelSeries employs a dual spring mechanical switch that ought to be industry standard. The buttons have one of the most satisfying and tactile clicks we’ve experienced in some time. There’s both a soft and crisp quality to them that’s hard to describe in a text-based review, but suffice to say they’re among the best mouse buttons we’ve played with this year. The thumb buttons are a bit lighter by comparison, but they perform just fine even if they’re not as gratifying as the left and right clicks. The Sensei Ten is equipped with the TrueMove Pro optical sensor, designed by SteelSeries and PixArt. SteelSeries’ official site boasts that it’s the best

tracking sensor on the market, and while that’s a difficult metric to measure, the Sensei Ten performs about as smoothly as they come. Capping out at 18,000 CPI, and boasting some impressive acceleration and deceleration customisation options, the Sensei Ten performs exceptionally during testing in Apex Legends and Overwatch. The SteelSeries Sensei Ten comes with a sizable legacy to live up to, but it’s more than up to the task. It manages to retain the best parts of the original Sensei design philosophy while adding in some impressive tech and customisation, even if there are a few minor nitpicks on the design front. SAM DESATOFF

• Ambidextrous design • Smooth matte finish • Onboard profile customisation

• No braided cable • A bit lightweight • Easy to accidentally click side buttons

VERDICT: A top-of-the-line sensor and some truly impressive customisation options make the Sensei Ten one of the best gaming mice we’ve used this year.

9 PC PowerPlay 85


WTECH REVIEW

WIRELESS CONTROLLER

The best wireless gaming controller, hands-down. PRICE $249 www.microsoft.com

T

he Elite Series 2 is not only a premium controller, but it’s also an expensive one too, coming in at $180. Its design and performance give you all the indication that this is a piece of luxury gaming tech, meant for those who want the very best or just have some serious disposal income to spend on gaming. The highlight here is the incredible level of customisation, which allows you to fine-tune most aspects of the controller to the point of obsession. So, what are the big improvements over the original Elite controller? For starters, the nice storage case that houses all the neat little customs doodads; 6 thumbsticks, 2 d-pads (cross-shaped and faceted) 4 rear pedals and one tool for adjustable thumbstick tension, now has a portable USB-C powered charging station. That’s right, the Series now has a rechargeable battery that runs for about 30-40 hours. The Series 1’s surprising lack of Bluetooth is something that drew major criticism, given that normal Xbox One controllers have long been the standard in PC gaming. Thanks to the Series 2 adopting Bluetooth, you now have a market-leading PC controller and something that’ll pair with a phone to play the Apple Arcade offerings or

86 PC PowerPlay

mess around Project xCloud beta. It makes the controller that much more versatile, which is essential given the high price of admission. The returning hair-trigger locks are still among one of my favorite things about the Elite. For those who haven’t used them, they control how far you need to pull the trigger, so there’s no wasted effort or time in competitive shooters, where milliseconds matter. When playing Crucible matches in Destiny 2, the shorter triggers allow for the quicker firing of scout rifles and hand cannons which works well for twitch-based shooters. The four additional back paddles are a neat feature too and can make for some interesting controller layouts. Never want to take your thumbs off of the thumbsticks? Simply assign the face buttons to the back paddles and you’re good to go. In fact, the extreme flexibility of the Series 2 has the additional benefit of making the controller highly accessible, meaning that more people can use it to play PC games. While it’s mostly positive, there are a few small issues to consider. Some people might find the more hefty controller a bit jarring at first since it’s heavier than the standard

That’s right, the Series now has a rechargeable battery that runs for about 30-40 hours. . Xbox One controller by a few ounces. And while it’s nice to swap out the standard d-pad, both the cross and faceted alternative d-pads take some getting used to especially in fighting games like Dragonball FighterZ or Mortal Kombat 11. Directional inputs on more complicated combos felt very hit or miss on the d-pads. One fix I found was adjusting the left stick to a higher tension to simulate a fight stick. It won’t replace a proper fight stick for a fighting game but it still works pretty well. JORGE JIMENEZ

• Lots of customisation options • Detachable Charging Dock via USB-C • Bluetooth-enabled (finally)

• Expensive • Heavy compared to most controllers

VERDICT: Even with the price tag, the Microsoft Elite Series 2 controller may be the best controller you’ll ever use.

10


TECH REVIEW ▼

AIO CPU COOLER

Razer Viper Ultimate

It’s expensive, but this wireless mouse performs as well as any wired unit. PRICE $259 www.razerzone.com

R

azer has gone all-out with its Viper Ultimate mouse, cramming in new wireless tech and an improved optical sensor into a slim, ambidextrous body. The result, while not perfect, is the best wireless gaming mouse you can buy right now, and it feels as responsive as any wired mouse I’ve used. You’re paying for that quality – it costs a hearty $260 – but if you’re going to splurge on a lightweight wireless mouse in 2019, the Viper Ultimate is your best bet. It’s a real contender to the Logitech G502 Lightspeed’s wireless throne. It starts with the Razer Focus+ Optical Sensor, a new bit of kit Razer has slotted into both this mouse and the Basilisk Ultimate. The Basilisk is the bigger of the two, and comes with more customisable buttons, while the Viper Ultimate is slimmer and ambidextrous. The sensor runs up to 20,000 DPI/CPI – higher than anything you’ll find on our best gaming mouse list. It also boasts a tracking speed of up to 650 IPS (inches per second). For comparison, our current favorite wireless mouse, the Logitech G502 Lightspeed, is rated up to 400 IPS, meaning the Viper Ultimate has

a higher ceiling for tracking faster movements. The Viper Ultimate has a resolution accuracy of 99.6%: that’s higher than the Razer Deathadder Elite, arguably the best wired mouse on the market, which sits at 99.4%. I mainly tested it in Fortnite, where you need to snap to targets and often sweep across your entire mouse pad to build structures. I found it tracked my movement as accurately as any wired mouse I’ve used, no matter how quick my movements. It felt consistently sharp: I never detected any delays on-screen with either my movement or clicks, and it performed well at a variety of DPI settings. I play with quite a low sensitivity, and dialling down the DPI on the Viper Ultimate is easy thanks to a small button housed on the bottom of the mouse, where you can’t accidentally nudge it. It has five settings to cycle through, and you can customise the DPI for each one in Razer’s Synapse software. The long-life battery means you can keep playing for days on end without worrying about charging. Razer claims it will last 70 hours between charges, and my experience wasn’t far off. I used it as my main mouse for an entire week without it running out of battery. When I measured it during

intense gaming, I was draining around 2-3% per hour, which would pan out to somewhere between 35 and 50 hours of battery life. However, I was using the “responsive” lighting setting, which illuminates the Razer logo on the mouse when you click: if you turned the light off entirely you could definitely squeeze more life out of it. It’s not perfect – you’ll find mice that are more comfortable, and ones with more programmable buttons – but it’s light, ambidextrous, feels good in the hand, and tracks your movements as well as a wired unit. You can connect it to your PC directly via a micro USB, but when it’s this responsive in wireless mode, why bother? SAMUEL HORTI

• 20K CPI sensor is the best we’ve seen • Light in the hand, with a grippy finish • Ambidextrous

• Expensive – over $200 • Right and left clicks feel a touch flimsy • Fewer programmable buttons than competitors

VERDICT: Some of its buttons fail to live up to its hefty price tag, but its long battery life and elegant, ambidextrous design more than make up for it.

9 PC PowerPlay 87


W TECH PORN

1

Asus ROG Mothership W

e’ve never seen anything like this. The ROG Mothership stands tall, resembling the result of an unholy union between the Microsoft Surface tablet and a hefty gaming laptop. Functionally, it sits firmly in the latter camp; with a ninth-gen Intel Core i9 processor, an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU, and 64GB of DDR4-2666 memory, the Mothership is ready to handle just about any triple-A game. The keyboard can either be aligned like an ordinary laptop or detached and folded in two for more casual control. The screen (and the computer itself) is held upright by a metal fin that extends from the rear, enabling you to adjust the angle at which the screen sits, and improving airflow to keep the GPU cool. It’s a heavy unit, with two big power adapters for maximum overclocking potential. A desktop replacement for the 4K age, it’s equipped to handle gaming, video editing, and much more. Its sides bristle with ports: two USB-C, four USB, an SD card reader, and an HDMI out. It’s got audio handled, too: The upright form factor allows for four speakers along the front, blasting highquality sound directly at you for an immersive experience. CHRISTIAN GUYTON

NUMBER ONE 2

The number pad is concealed beneath the vertical trackpad on the keyboard. With the click of a button, the red number pad matrix illuminates, and overrides the trackpad functions. That’s OK—as with any high-power laptop, most users will plug in a mouse for regular use, leaving the trackpad as the perfect place for number input.

88 PC PowerPlay

STORAGE WARS 3

While PCIe 4.0 might not be available for Intel systems yet, the Mothership has an inventive solution: three PCIe 3.0 M.2 drives, linked together in RAID 0. This makes for effective read speeds of over 8GB/s, more than the theoretical maximum of PCIe 4.0.

FOUR KARAT

Despite the Mothership’s bulky tablet-esque appearance, this isn’t a touchscreen; it’s a 4K 144Hz panel with Nvidia G-Sync support, and it looks absolutely stunning in operation. Colors are vibrant, and open environments in games look gorgeous, the Mothership’s powerhouse hardware having little difficulty running most games at 4K.


PC PowerPlay 89


ADVERTORIAL

ABOVE: Level 20 GT RGB Gaming Keyboard - built to last.

Play better with Thermaltake EX XTEN ND YOU UR GA AMIN NG WITH H THE E BE EST T PC ACC CESSORIE ES.

A

t Thermaltake, the focus has always been on providing gamers with the best tools possible to give them the edge in their games. Thermaltake is committed to giving you more options and better experiences, inside and outside your PC case – we recently increased the frequencies offered by our innovative ToughRam and WaterRAM products, which are now available in 4000mhz, 4266mhz, and 4400mhz models. But once you’ve built that killer PC, you need to make sure that your parts and peripherals are up to snuff too, whether that means the most responsive keys, the most precise mouse, or a tidier, more ergonomic set-up. This issue, we’re looking at some new Thermaltake products that will make for a more comfortable, more accurate, and all-around better gaming experience.

N The Level 20 GT RGB Gaming Keyboard is a mechanical keyboard built with the pro gamer in mind, offering advantages and opportunities that the competition can’t. The switches on this keyboard have a low actuation point of just 1.2mm, giving you a speed advantage of up to 40% when compared to most mechanical keyboards – essential when you’re facing a tough opponent in a MOBA or playing an RTS that demands complex commands. It’s a gorgeous device, with a solid aluminium top-plate designed for durability that also looks stunning, especially when you personalise your lighting: there are 16.8 million true RGB colours, and you can program different lighting effects to make your keys pulse and change depending on what you’re doing. It has an AUX and a USB port, so you can run sound through it

or charge your devices without a problem, and you can customise up to six profiles for separate quick access functions and hotkeys. It’s an ideal gaming keyboard, and it comes with two choices of switch – you can either go for the Razer Green Switch or the Cherry MX Blue & Silver, depending on what’s going to suit your set-up.

A M U E HAT E L

RIGHT: Thermaltake’s E1 RGB Gaming Headset Stand more than meets the eye! BELOW: Level 20 RGB Extended Gaming Mouse Pad - perfect for any gamer!

IC

The best keyboard in the world isn’t going to help you win games if your mouse isn’t up for the job, though. With the Thermaltake Level 20 RGB Optical Gaming Mouse, you won’t have to worry about missing shots or losing control of the camera ever again. It’s Thermaltake’s best mouse ever, with a 16,000 DPI optical sensor for extraordinary precision


ADVERTORIAL and OMRON switches that have been tested to last for up to 50 million clicks – enough for a lifetime of gaming. It co four programmable b you can set up as as a profile swi thanks to its inter 32-bit microcontroll of flash memory you c keeping track of your pre It’s designed with accessibi mind too, with a lightweight made for comfort and a shape t accounts for ambidexterity, makin it ideal no matter your dominant hand. It also comes equipped with the RGB colour options you expect from Thermaltake, with 10 customisable lighting effects meaning that you can add some personality to your playstyle, and the ability to sync it with the rest of your built for a proper light show. It’s a versatile and comfortable mouse, built to last for a long time and designed with the optimum gaming experience in mind – it has everything you could need.

Once you’ve got the perfect mouse, though, it’s important that you have the ideal surface to slide it across. The benefits of a good mouse pad are numerous, and it’s worth updating to one that has been designed and tested to improve your gaming experience. To that end, Thermaltake has two new mouse pad options: the Level 20 RGB Hard Edition Gaming Mouse Pad and the Level 20 RGB Extended Gaming Mouse Pad. The Hard Edition is made with an optimised micro-textured surface for incredible precision and accuracy – pair it with the Optical Gaming Mouse for perfect aim in Call of Duty. The non-slip rubber base means that you’ll always be in complete control of your movements. The Level 20 RGB Extended Gaming Mouse Pad, meanwhile, takes things further with an incredible 900mm x 400mm surface area and a 4mm thickness. It’s comfortable on your wrists thanks to the thick rubber anti-slip base, and it’s very easy to clean and maintain. Both are compatible with any RGB lighting set-up, too. Of course, you can also go all-in and pick up a gaming desk, one where the entire surface is made with a mouse in mind. The Level 20 RGB Battlestation Gaming Desk, with its motorised

I

l i i

i !

ABOVE: Thermaltake Level 20 RGB Optical Gaming Mouse - highend precision.

ight adjustment and RGB lighting options, is an ideal solution for the serious gamer looking to overhaul their entire gaming space. It’s worth looking into if you want to make a major upgrade.

Sometimes, the thing your gaming area needs is something you’d never thought of – perhaps even something you weren’t aware existed. Consider, for instance, Thermaltake’s E1 RGB Gaming Headset Stand, a stylish, easyto-use, RGB-enabled stand that will reduce clutter, protect your headset, and even improve your sound set-up. The E1 works with any headset with its simple, elegant design making it easy to rest your cans atop it. There’s no assembly required out of the box, and the sturdy, high quality aluminium it’s made from means that it’ll last. The rubberised sole

makes for a sturdy base, but it won’t scratch or damage your headphones - instead it’ll clear up table space and make it easier to keep things tidy. It even features a 2-port USB 3.0 hub and a 3.5mm 4-pole audio port, which you can connect directly to your headset, which will ultimately make for easier cable management and a more convenient set-up. Its eight in-built lighting effects mean it will fit in with the rest of your lighting display, too. Thermaltake continues to push boundaries and ensure the best, more precise and comfortable gaming experiences, with well-built, beautiful products that look great and help you lift your game. With a Thermaltake RGB PC build, sporting ToughRam or WaterRAM and running a custom colour scheme, you can have a PC with serious personality that will last for a long time and give you the optimum gameplay experience.


W TECH / BUILDS

INVENTORY CONTROLLERS

Sometimes you gotta go mouse + keyboardless Xbox One Controller

$69 microsoft.com/en-au/ Plug and play meets comfort. Every PC needs a controller and this is the best

MINI

For lounge room gaming and streaming CPU + COOLING

Intel Core i5 7500 w/ stock cooler $235

intel.com

MOBO

Steam Controller

$89.95 store.steampowered.com There’s a bit of a learning curve, but it’s great for couch gaming

MODEM ROUTERS

For all rational budgets

BUDGET Synology RT1900RT

$169 synology.com Good performance and delightfully easy to set up and manage

Synology Router RT2600ac

$328 synology.com Perfect for all but the biggest families, has unusually strong transmission strength

Asrock Z270M-ITX/AC Motherboard $185

Asus ROG Rapture GT-AC5300 Gaming Router $695 asus.com.au Super fast and future proof, this is a gaming router that takes no prisoners and offers no compromise.

CPU + COOLING

AMD Ryzen 5 2600 + Wraith cooler $235

amd.com

MOBO

Gigabyte B450 Aorus Pro Wifi $229

GPU

GPU

Asus DUALRX480-4G

MSI RX 580 Gaming 8GB

asus.com.au

msi.com

$338

MEMORY

16GB DDR4 Corsair Vengeance LPX $249

$399

MEMORY

Adata XPG Spectrix D60G $159 xpg.com

corsair.com/en-au

STORAGE

Samsung SSD M.2 2280 NVMe 250G 960 EVO + 2TB HDD (any)

STORAGE

Sandisk SSD Plus 240GB $85 www.sandisk.com.au

$169 + $50 samsung.com/au CASE

Fractal Design Define S Nano

CASE

Corsair Carbide SPEC-02 Mid Tower Gaming Case $80 corsair.com/en-au

fractal-design.com

PSU

SilverStone SFX Gold 500W SX500-LG $110

Silverstone.com

SOUND

What you paid for it

Gaming on the go

The perfect entry-level gaming PC

gigabyte.com.au

Your sound system

LAPTOPS

BUDGET

asrock.com.au

$115

PREMIUM

THE BEST BUILD FOR EVERY BUDGET

DISPLAY

Your TV

What you paid for it

PSU

SilverStone Strider Essential 500W ST50F-ESB $55 silverstone.com

SOUND

Razer Kraken X

$89

www.razer.com

DISPLAY

AOC Q3279VWFD8 75Hz Freesync 32in IPS $299

BUDGET Dell G3 15

$1,599 www.dell.com 8th-gen CPU and a reasonable GTX 1050 is a bargain basic gamer

PREMIUM MSI GS75 Stealth 8SG

$4,799 msi.com Now boasting RTX power!

au.aoc.com

KEYBOARD

Roccat Sova $199

www.roccat.org

KEYBOARD

Tesoro Tizona G2N $49

tesorotec.com

MOUSE

Roccat Kone EMP $99

www.roccat.org

MOUSE

Cooler Master MM530 $59

coolermaster.com

TOTAL: $1,749

TOTAL: $1,729


I feel like we’re on the cusp of some big changes to these builds, but that will likely trickle down next issue, as a bunch of new Intel hardware is about to drop. So, for now, things remain much the same, with one new addition. The Steelseries Sensei Ten is one hard mouse to beat, so it takes pride of place in our Performance build - and it only boosts the price by $20!

PERFORMANCE

THE

Most bells and whistles, without breaking the bank

When overkill is barely enough...

CPU + COOLING

CPU + COOLING

Intel Core i7 8700K with Noctua NH-D15 CPU Cooler

AMD Threadripper 2 2990W WX + Corsair H105 $2,699 + $145 amd.com

MOBO

MOBO

Asrock Z370 Taichi

Asus ROG Zenith Extreme

$284

$559

asrock.com.au

asus.com.au

GPU

VIDEO

MSI GeForce RTX 2070 Gaming Z 8G

Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti $1,899

$1069

nvidia.com/en-au

au.msi.com

MEMORY

MEMORY

Crucial Ballistix Sport LT 4X8GB

4x8GB G.Skill Trident Z RGB quadchannel 3466MHz DDR4

$268

$745

crucial.com

gskill.com

STORAGE

STORAGE

2TB HDD (any) + SAMSUNG 500G M.2 NVMe SSD 970 EVO PLUS

Samsung 960 Pro 2TB + Seagate Barracuda Pro 10TB

$199 + $50

$1,589 + $599

samsung.com/au

samsung.com/au

CASE

CASE

Fractal Define R6

Thermaltake Level 20 GT

$209

$369

fractal-design.com

thermaltake.com.au

PSU

PSU

Be Quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 850W Power Supply

Corsair RM1000i Special Edition

$279

$279

bequiet.com

corsair.com/en-au

SOUND

SOUND

Sennheiser PC 373D

Steelseries Arctis Pro + GameDAC

$329

$349

en-au.sennheiser.com

steelseries.com

DISPLAY

DISPLAY

Asus ROG Strix XG32VQ $859

Alienware AW3418DW

www.asus.com/au

$2,099 alienware.com KEYBOARD

KEYBOARD

Corsair K95 Platinum RGB

Cooler Master MK750

$249 corsair.com/en-au/

$189

www.coolermaster.com

MOUSE

SteelSeries Sensei Ten $119

www.steelseries.org

TOTAL: $4,498

Ultra-fast 802.11ac Wi-Fi router Smooth 4K/UHD video playback

MOUSE NEW!

Corsair M65 RGB Elite $85 rcorsair.com/en-au/

TOTAL: $11,665


W TECH: HOTWARE

HotWare with Terrence Jarrad LEGO PORG PRICE $99.99 • DISTRIBUTOR LEGO www.lego.com/en-au

If you had 800 pieces of LEGO, what would you build? A spaceship? A castle? A cool racing car? What about A MASSIVE PORG? POWERED UP: Yep that’s right, eight hundred pieces of glorious porg, with flapping wings and a mouth that opens and closes, along with a display stand and decorative plaque that contains facts about the porg. PLAYED OUT: We would never say anything bad about a porg (I hate you so much - Ed).

01

AEROBAND POCKETDRUM 03

PRICE $250 DISTRIBUTOR INDIEGOGO indiegogo.com

02

Wireless drumsticks that don’t need a surface to strike are now a thing - maybe even a thing you want! POWERED UP: Connect to the Aeroband app and drum anywhere with low latency, a vibrate response to mimic the feel of hitting an actual drum, and rhythmic LED indicators. PLAYED OUT: Questionably useful for real drummers - mostly seems like a novelty or an expensive toy for kids. Are you really going to be the person who puts on headphones in the middle of your office and just starts drumming on nothing?

04

PIXEL 4 PRICE $1049+ • DISTRIBUTOR GOOGLE www.google.com

The latest iteration of Google’s flagship phone is here with a bunch of improvements. POWERED UP: The tech specs are suitable for a flagship device, but the camera on Pixel phones is usually where things get really good, and this is no exception. A new Night Sight mode will take snaps in the dark without a flash, and if you’re far enough from bright city lights, you can even capture the starry sky. Dual camera lenses for even better Portrait Mode shots (Pixel 3’s were great already), and Super

05

94 PC PowerPlay

Res Zoom for distance shooting. Available in colours named with that Google spin: Just Black (black), Clearly White (white), and Oh So Orange (a kind of dark magenta. Kidding. It’s orange) PLAYED OUT: There’s a new gesture control thing, and maybe that’s useful to someone, but seems more gimmick than practical.

SUPER NES WIRELESS CONTROLLER PRICE $50 • DISTRIBUTOR NINTENDO snesc.nintendo.com

If you’re the kind of person buying up SNES games to play on the Switch, then maybe the joycons aren’t quite the control experience you want. POWERED UP: Get that classic game feel, free from the constraints of wires, and on Nintendo’s latest gaming system. PLAYED OUT: They only allow 4 purchased per Nintendo account if you feel like that’s a bad thing, but it’s a little moot as they are sold out right now. Keep an eye on the site if you want to nab some later!

SPOT PRICE $TBA DISTRIBUTOR BOSTON DYNAMICS www.bostondynamics.com

Spot shouldn’t need too much introduction - we’ve been watching Boston Dynamics kicking this robot on the internet for years now. Well, now it’s available to buy. POWERED UP: Moves at 4.8km/h, with 90 mins run time. Programmable API. Cameras for obstacle avoidance and rough terrain navigation. Swappable battery. Can open doors and carry up to 14kg. Reacts to knocks and bumps, rights itself after falling over, and has an operating range of -20 to 45 degrees with IP54 dust and rain rating. PLAYED OUT: Years of anger and resentment at its treatment. Bane of mankind. The beginning of the end. Destroyer of Earth.


SUBSCRIBE W

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PC PowerPlay 95


▼ WHY I LOVE

Why I love...

Session’s brainbusting controls A skating game that revels in simple struggles. RELEASED OUT NOW • OUR REVIEW N/A www.crea-turestudios.com

RIGHT: Session’s rubbery ragdolls soften repeated failure with physical comedy.

96 PC PowerPlay


WHY I LOVE W

B

efore landing my first kickflip, I fell on my ass hundreds of times. I thought the muscle memory would never catch up with my teen dream to do something cool on a wheeled piece of wood, but one evening in the Pizza Hut parking lot, the sun setting, snow falling, it happened. Pop, slide, spin, slam – I landed a kickflip. Practice aligned with confidence and I did the thing as if I’d always done the thing. A frustra ating process gave way to puree joy. Suddenly, I was a real sk kater boy rolling around with som mething like prestige, my ass now rad diating pride with the pain.

KICKFLIPPED

Changing stance alters which stick-legs do what. Here’s a ‘simple’ kickflip in four stances

L

1

2

3

4

REGULAR

SWITCH

FAKIE

NOLLIE

R

L

R

foott at the back). Playeers manipulate the board with analog feet, the leftt foot as the left stick and the right foot as the right stick. he most So, to perform th essential manoeuvrre, an ollie, players move the riight stick down, uld with their just as a skater wou right foot to pop the t tail, and swipe the left stiick up to kick the board up with the left foot. For a kickflip, the left stick-foot neeeds to hit the oard, so rather edge of the bo than swipe up, players swipe left. To spin the board in order to pull off shove-its and a varials, the right stick-foot needs to scoop 60-flip takes rather than pop. A 36 a hard clockwis clockwise spin i of the right stick and a leftward swipe of the left stick. Pulling off basic tricks is difficult, but all the more gratifying to master. My first hours of Session are spent noodling around in a parking lot, barely moving, committing the basics to muscle memory. It sounds boring, but the way the control scheme slowly becomes second nature is a rare feeling – one that isn’t exclusive to videogames. Things are made more complicated by a ‘free grind’ system. THPS and Skate lock the player to edges and rails marked as grindable surfaces, meaning

FLIPPING TRICKY Skateboarding videogam mes have been great at capturing the fantasy of being a kickflip masterr, but skip out on how to get there in n the first place. In Tony Hawk’s Pro o Skater, you’re what Tony Hawk d dreams about at night, a skateboa ard superhero pulling off 900 0s and darkslides and Christ airs with the ease of an incoming fart. IIn EA’s Skate, things tip towards realism, r but waggling the analog stick about spits out advanced flip triccks like they’re on a factory line. But Session, a new Early Access skate sim from Crea-ture Studios, treats the arduous process of learning to skate with as much love as actually being a skateboard pro. And it does so with a bonkers control scheme guaranteed to turn away – disgust, even – the most dedicated genre fans. Turning is assigned to the left and right triggers – the scheme is so distinct that it only supports gamepad play – to simulate leaning to shift weight from one side to the other. It feels pretty bad at first, but then so did wrapping my brain around how to look and move in a first-person shooter with a keyboard and mouse. The analogue sticks are where things get truly strange. Imagine a skater in a regular stance (left foot near the front of the board, right

L

R

L

R

if you approach the rail from just about any angle with some amount of momentum, you’ll snap to it and get to sliding. In Session, edges and rails aren’t coded as grindable surfaces because literally every edge and rail is free game. But as a result, the player isn’t coded to snap to them.

GRINDING IT OUT A perfect angle of approach, speed, and height are required to begin a grind, and even then you need to treat each stick as the weight pressing down on each end of the board to stay balanced. 50-50s, the default grind in most skating games, require pressure on the front and back of the board. To pull off a nose slide it takes a perfectly timed ollie and 90-degree turn, perfect spacing between the surface and the board to land the flat part of the nose on the surface, pressure on the nose-stick, and no pressure on the tail-stick. It’s a lot to think about for such a simple move and exactly why it took me about 20 minutes of kissing pavement to land my first noseslide. But the feeling brushed up against my early days of skating, proof that persistence pays. Simple tricks don’t just look cool, they’re built on the back of dozens of failed attempts. Every new trick mastered is a major win – a victory as big as beating any Dark Souls boss. JAMES DAVENPORT

My first hours of Session were spent noodling around in a parking lot. RIGHT: My first noseslide, captured for posterity.

PC PowerPlay 97


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