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get the most out of gtA, Doom, Deus ex AnD other clAssics issue 299 christmas 2016

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Halo Wars 2

The nexT big hope for rTS gameS?

Hitman’s Best level

making Sapienza

monitors ultrawide screens

reviewed inside


#299 christmas 2016 Future Publishing Ltd Quay House, The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA Tel 01225 442244 Fax 01225 732275 Email pcgamer@futurenet.com Web www.pcgamer.com EDITORIAL Global Editor In Chief Tim Clark Editor Samuel Roberts Deputy Editor Phil Savage Art Editor John Strike Production Editor Tony Ellis Web Editor Tom Senior PCG Pro Editor Chris Thursten Section Editor Andy Kelly CONTRIBUTORS Matthew Lochrie, Evan Lahti, Wes Fenlon, Jon Blyth, Tyler Wilde, Chris Livingston, Elizabeth Elliott, David Lyttleton, Tom Sykes, Andy McGregor, Zak Storey, Ed Chester, Keza MacDonald, Ben Borthwick, Lee Hall, Kate Gray, James Davenport, Joe Donnelly, Fraser Brown, Lorna Reid, Daniella Lucas, Katharine Byrne, Tom Hatfield, TJ Hafer Photography Future Photography Studio ADvERTISING Commercial Sales Director Clare Dove Senior Advertising Manager Lara Jaggon Advertising Director Andrew Church Advertising Manager Michael Pyatt Director of Agency Sales Matt Downs Head of Strategic Partnerships Clare Jonik For enquiries, contact: andrew.church@futurenet.com MARkETING Marketing Director Sascha Kimmel Subscriptions Marketing Manager Jemima Crow Marketing Manager Emma Clapp PRODUCTION & DISTRIBUTION Production Controller Fran Twentyman Production Manager Mark Constance Printed in the Uk by: William Gibbons & Sons Ltd on behalf of Future Distributed by: Seymour Distribution Ltd, 2 East Poultry Avenue, London EC1A 9PT, Tel: 0207 429 4000 Overseas distribution by: Seymour International CIRCULATION Trade Marketing Manager Juliette Winyard – 07551 150 984 SUBSCRIPTIONS Uk reader order line & enquiries: 0844 848 2852 Overseas reader order line & enquiries: +44 (0)1604 251045 Online enquiries: www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk Email: pcgamer@myfavouritemagazines.co.uk LICENSING Senior Licensing & Syndication Manager Matt Ellis Matt.Ellis@futurenet.com – +44 (0)1225 442244 MANAGEMENT Managing Director, Magazines Joe McEvoy Editorial Director Matt Pierce Group Art Director Rodney Dive

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Have your say! Tweet us @PCGamer

Busy season What’s been your favourite game of the year so far? We’re getting to the point on PCG where we’re trying to decide – and it’s not easy. Overwatch? XCOM 2? Doom? Dark Souls III? And, from this issue, Civilization VI? Battlefield 1? Even if we’re just talking about the best competitive shooter of 2016, it’s a difficult category to call. Even The Witcher 3 had DLC that’s Game of the Year material. This issue features some of our highest-rated games of the year, yet more evidence that we’re living in a golden age.

January-December 2015 Future is an award-winning international media group and leading digital business. We reach more than 49 million international consumers a month and create world-class content and advertising solutions for passionate consumers online, on tablet & smartphone and in print. Future plc is a public company quoted on the London Stock Exchange (symbol: FUTR). www.futureplc.com

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All contents copyright © 2015 Future Publishing Limited or published under licence. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be reproduced, stored, transmitted or used in any way without the prior written permission of the publisher. Future Publishing Limited (company number 2008885) is registered in England and Wales. Registered office: Registered office: Quay House, The Ambury, Bath, BA1 1UA. All information contained in this publication is for information only and is, as far as we are aware, correct at the time of going to press. Future cannot accept any responsibility for errors or inaccuracies in such information. You are advised to contact manufacturers and retailers directly with regard to the price and other details of products or 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 changes or updates to them. If you submit unsolicited material to us, you automatically grant Future a licence to publish your submission in whole or in part in all editions of the magazine, including licensed editions worldwide and in any physical or digital format throughout the world. Any material you submit is sent at your risk and, although every care is taken, neither Future nor its employees, agents or subcontractors shall be liable for loss or damage.

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SaMUEl RoBERtS EDITOR

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The PC Gamer team JaMES DavEnPoRt

a n Dy k E l ly

Phil SavaGE

Specialist in FPS games, dinosaurs

Specialist in Robots, Poland

Specialist in Horses, pigeons

Twitter @My_beards

Twitter @ultrabrilliant

Twitter @Octaeder

This month Lived among the robot dinosaurs for our ARK: Survival Evolved cover feature.

This month Checked out The Signal from Tölva, a neatlooking sci-fi game, on page 16.

This month Took a break from only reviewing episodes of Hitman and charged into our Battlefield 1 review.

CHRISTMAS 2016

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Contents

#299

christmas 2016

SubScribe to Check out our digital bundle! See p62

30

Monitor

08 THE TOP STORY

The PCG Weekender returns in 2017.

10 THE SPY

Rumours of GTA Online ahoy.

12 SPECIAL REPORT Inside this year’s IFComp.

Previews

16 The Signal from Tölva 18 Osiris: New Dawn 22 For Honor 24 Serial Cleaner 26 Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood 28 Battle Chasers: Nightwar

Features

30 ARK: Survival Evolved

James Davenport checks out the Tek Tier of the popular survival game.

38 Halo Wars 2

Samuel takes a look at The Creative Assembly’s Halo RTS.

44 Classic game mods

Over 20 mods that will make your old games even better.

52 Company of Heroes

Tom Senior on the making of a realtime strategy classic.

56 The Italian Job

Making Sapienza, the best level in the newest Hitman game.

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Turn to page 66

30

38

44

ARK: SuRvivAl HAlo WARS 2 EvolvED pREviEW

ClASSiC gAmE moDS

An exclusive insight into the top tier treats of the hit survival game, and what’s still to come.

Samuel gets a few hours with The Creative Assembly’s newest game: a Halo RTS.

Tom Hatfield rounds up a list of enhancing mods for some of the best-ever games on PC.


44

52

Network 64 SEND

Your thoughts, positive and otherwise.

Reviews

70 Battlefield 1 76 Shadow Warrior 2 78 FIFA 17 80 Gears of War 4 82 Slayer Shock 84 Civilization VI 88 The Silver Case 90 Mafia III 94 Thumper DLC REVIEWS 96 Deus ex: System Rift THEY’RE BACK 98 Hacknet 99 Poker Pretty Girls Battle: Texas Hold ‘em 99 Worms Ultimate Mayhem 99 Worms Armageddon 99 Arkham Knight

Hardware 104 GROUP TEST

Monitors are reviewed this month. Wide ones. Expensive ones.

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110 REVIEWS

Zak rounds up the latest in tech, including a neat 93% gaming rig.

Extra Life 112 NOW PLAYING

Chris finally bids farewell to the original Dishonored by making a canonical playthrough, the emotional dweeb.

116 TOP 10 DOWNLOADS

Tom Sykes rounds up the latest mods and free games for your pleasure.

120 UPDATE

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52

CompAny of HERoES How one of the best-ever RTS games was made – on the tenth anniversary of its release.

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BAttlEfiElD 1 REviEW Phil delivers his verdict on what might be the best multiplayer shooter of the year.

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monitoR gRoup tESt Ed Chester takes a look at seven ultra-wide monitors, which took ages to photograph.

Why some players are taking the fun out of the great GTA Online.

122 REINSTALL

Tom Senior revisits Space Marine, which he will never stop playing.

126 WHY I LOVE

Andy writes about the tech of Alien: Isolation, a survival horror classic he will never stop thinking about.

128 MUST PLAY

Phil Savage’s round-up of his favourite games on PC, including some slightly more leftfield free games.

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O P I N I O N

T E C H

G A M E S

THE PC GamER viEw Of THE wORld It’ll leave you entranced and wide-eyed with amazement.

THE TOP STORY

The PC Gamer Weekender reTurns!

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Tickets available now – join us on February 18-19 in London

fter a successful 2016 launch, we’re proud to be bringing the PC Gamer Weekender back in 2017. Once again, we’re showcasing a mix of new games, hardware, tournaments, VR and the best of PC gaming culture over two days at a London-based venue – this time the Olympia – and we’d love for you to join us. Early bird tickets are available to buy now

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from just £9.99 at weekender.pcgamer.com. You can get this rate until December 4. At the 2016 event earlier this year, the content included all-new stage presentations from Star Citizen, Stellaris, Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord, Total War: Warhammer and loads more, which generated a hugely positive response from attendees. For 2017’s Weekender, we’re building a similarly impressive roster of guests across two stages. We’re hosting online tournaments in

conjunction with Battlefy, too. Plus, we’ll be holding another Ask PC Gamer session on both days, where you can meet us and quiz us on all PC gaming-related matters. Such as, “Why did you publish four pages on gaming toilets on purpose in PCG 298?” Keep an eye on weekender.pcgamer.com for announcements on what we’ll have in store this year, and hopefully we’ll see you at the show. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Samuel Roberts


OPINION

Green hair: not a condition of entry.

I

GAMES

I

TECH

HigHs & lows

THE MONTH IN PC GAMING

hiGhs Battlefield 1

DICE’s FPS rules again with the best entry in the series since Bad Company 2. Even Andy likes it.

halo Wars 2

A convincing stab at bringing a familiar kind of RTS game back to life. Also, some form of Halo is on PC again.

Westworld and Black mirror It’s pretty cool when TV’s most talked about shows are both so strongly influenced by games.

hitman

Now we’re at the end of season one, it’s fair to say IO’s experiment with Agent 47 worked out pretty well in the end.

Final Fantasy XiV

MMOs following the traditional model are rare now, but FFXIV has a loyal audience, and a second expansion on the way.

united Front Games

The maker of Sleeping Dogs reportedly shut down recently. Tough times for mid-sized independent studios.

mafia iii

Repetition and a bad PC port spoil an interesting choice of open world and one of PC’s better series.

sombra in Overwatch

Just because a reveal is protracted, it doesn’t actually mean it’s a good reveal.

red dead redemption 2

Coming to consoles, but not PC. Again. Come on, Rockstar, we need cowboys on our computers too.

LOWs

You’ll get to hear from this Depeche Mode tribute act.

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OPINION

I

GAMES

T H E S P Y

I

TECH

T

w h o wat c h e s t h e s p y ?

he Spy laments the lack of a nemesis. No, that’s not quite right. The Spy laments the lack of the idea of a nemesis. They sound fun. It would be exciting to have a Moriarty to your Sherlock, a Newman to your Seinfeld, an Aliens: Colonial Marines to your Alien: Isolation. The Spy would slip, ferret-like, through the vents of a high-tech corporate bunker, carrying an arm amputated from the treasurer of a shady cabal. Dropping elegantly into the soft embrace of a laundry room basket, The Spy would emerge to the sight of The Nemesis, perched louchely on a mid-rinse Hotpoint Aqualtis. The Nemesis would nod curtly at The Spy’s briefcase – still handcuffed to the recently liberated arm – before retrieving an identical briefcase from the washing machine. Holding it aloft in all its hypoallergenic lemon freshness, The Nemesis would disappear in a cloud of smoke. The Spy, shocked, would open the original briefcase. A pile of dirty clothes would fall out. The Spy would be left to face the shameful stench of failure, old socks, and a rapidly decomposing limb. The game would be afoot. Or, more accurately, an arm. Alas, it can never be. The Spy is a professional, and a

nemesis is the result of slapdash infiltration techniques. You can’t be nemesised if you never leave a trace. Instead, The Spy must hold a series of one-way grudges – intense professional and personal dislikes, the recipients of which face a swift, merciless and entirely anonymous revenge. The Spy has a long list of these grudges, visited on those responsible for spreading lies and disinformation – people who make life harder for those in the business of rounding up a collection of videogame rumours each month. Time will tell if The Spy must add GTAForums user ‘Softsecrets’ to this list of rogues. The poster is claiming to have inside knowledge of Rockstar’s upcoming GTA Online plan, which, if accurate, hints at a massive expansion for GTA V’s multiplayer. According to Softsecrets, coming updates include a Law & Order pack, allowing players to buy police vehicles activating free roam missions, and a Blaine County pack, offering

simply didn’t come to pass. And yet it makes sense: GTA Online is making good money for Rockstar. It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn future updates were centred on expanding the multiplayer, and thus increasing the number of Shark Cash Cards sold.

well, duh

The Spy will divulge one name on the grudge list: Michael Pachter. The analyst is treated by many as an industry oracle. Here’s the thing: oracles don’t wear ties. Pythia? No tie. The druids? No ties. That old woman in The Matrix? No tie. Pachter? Tie. Despite this, he’s been quoted as saying he thinks the recently announced Red Dead Redemption 2 will eventually come to PC, based on the way Rockstar announced GTA V’s PC version. The Spy isn’t saying he’s wrong; The Spy’s simply saying that anyone with even a vague interest in the industry has already drawn that conclusion – it being an incredibly obvious conclusion to draw. Rockstar regularly holds off their PC announcement for months after a console release, and there’s no reason to think they won’t do the same again. So why is Pachter being used as a news site mouthpiece? Because any scrap of Red Dead Redemption 2 information, however slim, draws clicks. Also because the last journalist who asked The Spy for a comment woke up in a flaming dumpster at the centre of LA’s Puente Hills Landfill. The Spy will need to keep an eye on the amateur sleuth responsible for a recent Tomb Raider leak. A Montreal subway user posted a photo of a fellow commuter’s laptop to Reddit. On screen, you can see a presentation slide showing the name Shadow of the Tomb Raider. It’s a name that Kotaku reports as being the next main entry in the Tomb Raider series. If the rumours are correct, Deus Ex developer Eidos Montreal is in charge of production this time. That would explain the location of the laptop. The Spy would like to thank the Reddit user responsible for the photo. Would like to, but won’t. Do you know what happens when you steal The Spy’s information gathering thunder? That’s right. You just made the list. Spy out. The Spy

he’s TreaTed by many as an oracle. here’s The Thing: oracles don’T wear Ties

The Spy could steal the Mona Lisa, but won’t.

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hunting licences to those keen to shoot defenceless animals. The bigger reveals will, according to this forum-goer, start rolling out next year as paid DLC. First up, in September 2017, is a North Yankton and Liberty City map expansion, adding both locations to the GTA Online infrastructure. Then, in late 2018, a second map expansion will add San Fierro and Las Venturas. Both packs will, if our mystery whistleblower is to be believed, be priced equivalent to a full game. It’s an interesting theory, and the potential for a bigger, more fleshed out GTA Online is intriguing, but there’s nothing to confirm these rumours. Softsecrets did make a bunch of GTA Online predictions ahead of GTA V’s launch, but many were either incredibly obvious, incredibly vague, or


specia l rep o rt

WIsh Come true “The work that will always be closest to my heart will invariably be Brian Moriarty’s Wishbringer, which I believe was published in 1985. It came with a ‘feelie’ of a storybook that included library stamps all over it, and a glow-in-thedark magic rock, the very same as that depicted in the book and the game. I played it on my Atari 800. It was true magic.” Jason mcIntosh

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

IFComp 2016

PC Gamer takes inventory at the annual InteractIve FIctIon competItIon, now in its 21st year

I

nteractive fiction games are the more literary cousins of choose-your-own-adventure books and old-school text adventures. They’re the modern incarnation of an old artform. They’re also far easier to make yourself than creating games in Unity or GameMaker – all they require is a PC and the ability to read and write. Those requirements are all you need to play one of these games, too. That and a couple of hours to kill, and a willingness to do a lot of clicking. That low barrier to entry means just about anyone can make an IF game, and that leads to some delightfully weird works of art from people whose creative streaks aren’t held back by what they can and can’t do in code. Jason McIntosh is the lead organiser of the Interactive Fiction Competition, which has been going since 1995, making it older than some of the people competing. He took over the competition in 2014 from his predecessor Stephen Granade, who had been in the role for 13 years, and he’s incredibly proud of what the competition has become. It started off as a way to recapture the pleasure of playing an old-fashioned type of game, and evolved into something entirely its own.

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IF, McIntosh says, is uniquely accessible. “It’s a way to tell a story as a game, or present challenging narrative puzzles... and there are some things that can only be done, or done in a certain way, using text.” It’s because of IF’s popularity as an artform that the Interactive Fiction Competition, which will run until November 16, has a record number of submissions this year – 58 in total. These range from the short and the poetic to longer, more ambitious pieces, and judging is open to anyone who has the time to play a few games. One of the most fascinating things about the competition is the huge diversity and range of experimentation in the entries. There are personal tales, boisterous quests, traditional text adventures and stories that have no satisfying end.

in other words

“It’s really grown to encompass a whole swathe of styles and platforms,” McIntosh says. “I really love seeing a ‘dead’ form like text games continue to ripple with life in surprising new ways.” It’s this wish to replay and re-invent our childhood games that’s buoying much of indie game development at the moment, with the resurgence of pixel and


opiNioN

I

GAMES

I

tecH

this year’s picks Four notable Games From IFComP 2016

1 16m c DWayo n as lToD s K i l l a Va m pi r e aT 2 5 0 0 a p o c a l p y se s is like buffy, if buffy were pissed off and really really wanted a big mac, a large fries and a day off.

feels vast and organised, like a real museum, but not all of its entries are interesting – though there sure were some surprisingly sexy ones.

3 Hs coWis sToo rWs i n aT r o c K pa p e r

4 s c r e W yo u, B e a r Da D

is a game that’s secretly about making people disappear to another dimension, which is quite clever, if very weird.

low-poly games, and events like the GBJAM, in which all games are inspired and limited by what the Game Boy can do. Nostalgia has become an incredibly lucrative, marketable thing, and though that might lead to the death of creativity and originality in some genres, it means the revival and survival of others. Interactive fiction, importantly, is free. Many games – such as Zoe Quinn’s Depression Quest – invite players to donate if they wish, but there are no requirements to do so if you want to play. Its freeness is also freedom – without feeling like they owe the player something for their money, developers are able to be weirder, more unexpected, more experimental. It’s this weirdness and freedom that makes the entries in the IFComp so thrilling to flick through. One game, 500 Apocalypses, has you walk through a museum – which, on-screen, means scrolling through rows and rows of variously-sized dots, where each dot represents one apocalypse. Blue ones are unvisited, red are ones you’ve read. Sometimes, they link to one another – one man’s musing on God at the end of his world might lead to another, godless planet in which giant, sentient beetles line up to mate with the Queen. It’s an incredibly interesting and foreign experience as you flit through the archives of ended worlds, each unfamiliar but united by terror, sadness and loss. And then, there are games like SCREW YOU, BEAR DAD. The title implies silliness, jokes, light-hearted

is smart, silly and meta, which are all things that make a great interactive fiction game, as it happens. also, it has bears. and attack helicopters.

humour – and the game delivers on all that, but also weaves in a story of difficult father-son relationships in a way that’s unexpected and touching. It’s also incredibly well-written and very funny. Some games have objectives, such as 16 Ways to Kill a Vampire at McDonalds, which is exactly what it sounds like, and Evermore, which is a sort of you-will-definitelydie-a-lot exploration of Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. Find the answer, get to the end, kill the vampire at McDonald’s – these are all traditional videogame win states, and that’s one way to write interactive fiction. But other games just want to take you on a journey, and tell you their story, and that’s something you don’t get a lot in videogames. There’s agency in your choices, or at least in the raw fact that you get to choose – but the story exists without you, and you are not the hero. IF has the power to show you these little vignettes, and let you decide what they mean, and what they mean to you. McIntosh sees interactive fiction as a powerful storytelling tool because of its approach to narrative. “Interactive fiction is a creator building a delicate, wholly automated story machine and inviting people to come through it. In some ways, it’s closer to the relationship between any author of fiction and her audience.” It’s a conversation between two strangers – an invitation to read, and to learn, and to choose. Kate Gray

Some gameS have obJectIveS, Such aS 16 WayS to KIll a vampIre at mcDonalDS

chrIsTMAs 2016

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PREVIEW The Signal From Tölva

need to know release Early 2017

Developer Big Robot

publisher In-house

The Signal From Tölva Hijack a robot and explore an alien world in this sci-fi shooter mysterious signal is coming from the planet Tölva, and your mission is to find out what it is. That, according to Big Robot, is the heart of the game. But you don’t explore the surface yourself: you hijack a surveyor robot and do it remotely. And if you die at the metal hands of an enemy faction also hunting for the signal, you can just hijack a new one.

A

link www.thesignalfrom.com

friendly, will have their own objectives, giving you the sense that you’re not the most important person (well, robot) on the planet. Life goes on around you. “The game world is driven by AI activity that decides where they’ll go and what they’ll decide to do,” says Big Robot. You’ll see friendly robots leaving bunkers to survey wrecks and attack guard posts. I watched one clunk over to a ruined ship and run its scanner across it. And during a firefight I was delighted to see a few of these mechanical NPCs wade into the battle and help me out. You can use binoculars to scan distant robots and determine whether they’re friendly or not, and mark them Far Cry-style before engaging them in combat.

night moves

My first brush with danger was when I spotted some kind of landing craft in the Similarly to Sir, You Are Being Hunted, the distance and peered at it through my studio’s previous game, it takes place in a binoculars. I tagged the robots guarding it large open world and has a freeform and tried to make a stealthy approach, but structure. There are missions, but no failed almost immediately. Suddenly the critical path in the traditional sense. But night sky was filled with streaks of Tölva is not procedurally generated: a lot colourful laser fire. I ducked behind a of time has been spent carefully convenient rock, poking out to fire building the planet by hand. “This back with a long-range rail cannon. pl ayed gives it quite a different feel, and a The shooting is satisfyingly weighty it seamless map four times the size of and intense, providing a stark an island in Sir,” says Big Robot. counterpoint to the moments of Even in the early alpha build I played, quiet, thoughtful exploration. the planet is beautiful. There’s a lonely, My time with the game began with a haunting atmosphere to this world, which tutorial teaching the basics of navigation, has ancient starships half-buried in the combat, and scanning, but it wasn’t long dirt, crumbling ruins, and flocks of strange before I was set free in Tölva and had to birds flying overhead. Artist Ian McQue set my own objectives. This minimal has given the game a distinctive visual approach is felt across the whole game, identity, and I love the muted colour including the story. “We tread lightly and palette and painterly textures. It’s default to minimalism for the storytelling,” incredibly stylish. says Big Robot. “There’s little in the way of Big Robot describes the game’s world direct exposition, because we want you to as a “canvas for exploration”. You’ll spend figure it out for yourself.” a lot of time exploring Tölva in your robot This ambient, hands-off approach to chassis, hunting for old technology to storytelling adds to the enigmatic nature scavenge and bunkers to turn into bases of the planet and the signal emanating where you can rearm and resupply. And from it. I don’t know what it is, but I’m the other robots, some of which will be compelled to explore this strange, pretty place and find out. Sir was an interesting game that took strong cues from immersive sims, and I love that Big Robot is bringing its smart, open-ended design to a more handcrafted setting. Especially one as evocative as this.

“there’s little in the way of direct exposition. we want you to figure it out” 16

christmas 2016

Andy Kelly

It’s a lonely, mysterious place.


PREVIEW The Signal From Tรถlva A robot scans for tech to salvage.

Fresh new robots for hijacking.

The art design is gorgeous.

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PREVIEW Osiris: New Dawn Osiris taps into our current interest in colonising Mars.

Mars doesn’t have these, however.

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christmas 2016

At least you’ve got a pool table.


PREVIEW Osiris: New Dawn

need to know release Out now

Developer Fenix Fire Entertainment

publisher Reverb Triple XP

Osiris: New DawN Survive and explore on a hostile sci-fi world enix Fire lead developer Brian McRae and I have something important in common: we don’t like survival games. For McRae, this might be an understatement. “I hate survival games,” is what he said recently while demonstrating Osiris: A New Dawn to me. It’s a survival game.

F

Vehicles are your best bet against the bugs.

link www.fenixfire.com

During the day, hive-minded insect creatures roam, but they’re only aggressive if you step on their turf. Feel free to scavenge and explore. Night is another story. It’s been a while since I’ve seen a night cycle that embraces pitch blackness like this one. Without a light source you’re basically blind, and a much hungrier threat emerges after dark. If the daytime is Starship Troopers, then night is Alien. Bizarre monsters show up en masse and actively hunt you down. One type looks like a tangle of humanoid limbs and stalks with a pack mentality. As McRae focused on one of these, another took note and started flanking.

bug out

The good news is that there’s a variety of vehicles available for your longer trips away from home, and these can also help You play a member of the Osiris 2 mission, to keep you alive. We took out a slow dune which crash lands on an arid alien planet. buggy that bounced around the rocky Without a spaceship or food or water (or terrain like the Mako 2.0, but McRae also hope), all you can do is try to stay alive. showed off a smaller, faster hovercraft. Doing so involves collecting resources, And while you are away from home, you building a base, finding food, and fighting can assign droids to do the busywork of off the natural fauna. Survival game stuff. processing minerals and other typical The key difference is that McRae survival game chores. McRae hopes approached the design from the to make them super versatile, almost First direction he always has: the setting. like a programmable army of look Inspired by such sci-fi films as StarCraft’s SCVs. Prometheus, Gravity, and The Droids are nice, but people are Martian, McRae and team want the player even better. You’ll be able to meet up with to feel immersed in a gorgeous world other players, build a base together, above anything else. In this case, it’s also a streamline individual droid production hostile one, so it’s not surprising that lines, and eventually, build a spacecraft survival systems came into play. and explore other planets. Emphasis on But instead of the player getting the ‘eventually’ – this is currently an Early bogged down by eating and drinking every Access title, so key systems need finishing other minute, McRae wants them to feel and balancing. Still, as it is, there’s a lot to pushed and inspired by the systems, to see in Osiris’s massive environments. have to “Matt Damon yourself out of it.” They’re handcrafted and washed over (Potatoes confirmed?) He reassured me with procedural weather effects, and that you won’t need to worry nearly as changes to the environment are much about finding food when you’re near persistent. If I dig a big hole in the ground, your base – it’s only when you decide to every player on the server will see it. venture out that you’ll have to prepare to Without any playtime of my own, it’s face the hostile environment and hard to say if Osiris will feel like a dangerous creatures ahead. refreshing survival game a few hours in or just an ambitious coat of paint for the genre. I like that it’s trying to be a cool place to explore above anything else, and it’s one heck of a looker, but until I get time to soak in its systems and see how it grows over time, I’ll reserve judgement.

you can assign droids to do the busywork of typical survival game chores

James Davenport

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PREVIEW For Honor

need to know release February 2017

DeveloPer Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher Ubisoft

link forhonor.ubisoft.com

FOR HONOR

pl ayed it

Punishing multiplayer swordplay with a big budget behind it gainst the backdrop of a siege, burly men and women – vikings, knights and samurai – hack each other to pieces with two-handed weapons. AI footsoldiers engage in unending conflict on the front line, but the real fight is between two small teams of players controlling For Honor’s powerful champions.

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The temptation to rush in swinging is high. It took me a good few hours with the alpha to see the error in this approach – to the extent that you can see anything when you are being repeatedly decapitated by an internet stranger. Despite the chunky physicality, this third-person melee game is not a brawler: you can hammer the light and strong attack buttons and hope, but doing so will get you killed. For Honor demands strategy, positional awareness, and quick reactions. You can both block and strike in four directions, and there are grabs and guardbreaking techniques, sidesteps and dodge rolls. The skill ceiling is high and success stems from self-control: letting your opponent make the first move, only striking when you’ve deflected their blow and left them open. This works well in a one-on-one, either on the battlefield or in the dedicated duel mode. But For Honor is primarily designed as a team game, the two sides battling for control of capture points. Contests between champions can quickly turn one-sided as allies arrive. Balancing such encounters is a problem for all

multiplayer melee games, but For Honor has an elegant solution. When you block, you increase your “revenge meter” – fill it and you can activate a boost to defence and attack power, becoming momentarily overpowered. When you’re being attacked by two people, you have more attacks to block – increasing the chance that you’ll earn your revenge boost. This happened to me exactly once, but it felt amazing. You still need to block the rain of incoming blows, which takes timing and skill, and I’m excited by the high skill ceiling this suggests, the elegant game lurking beneath the brutal exterior. For Honor feels like one of those brilliant total conversions from a decade or so ago, like Pirates, Vikings, and Knights II. It continues a new trend in Ubisoft games that started with Rainbow 6: Siege – it’s tightly focused and more interested in being clever than popular, and seems destined to be loved by players attracted to this specific fantasy. You’ve got to want to step onto a medieval battlefield that will punish you for every mistake you make. But if you do, keep an eye on this one. Chris Thursten


PREVIEW Serial Cleaner Presumably a NewsCorpowned paper.

need to know release Early 2017

Developer iFun4all

publisher In-house

link www.ifun4all.com

Serial Cleaner A fast-paced stealth clean-’em-up with gore aplenty ith so much of our gaming lives spent spilling blood, it’s surely about time someone waded to the fore in waist-high wellies to clean it all up. That someone, it turns out, is you. As stealth-action games go, Serial Cleaner from iFun4all is a bizarre concept, but surprisingly entertaining.

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First look

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Each small level is devoted to a different crime scene, and your job as a professional cleaner is to sort out the mess. This means disposing of bodies in the back of your seedy station wagon, swiping evidence, and mopping up copious amounts of claret spattered over floors, factories, and campsites. If you’re already straightening your bowtie, however, forget it. There’s no Winston Wolfe panache here – you play a dodgy-looking chap in shades, armed only with what appears to be an automatic blood hoover. We can safely bet he doesn’t own a single piece of oak furniture. christmas 2016

Each crime scene is teeming with twitchy, baton-happy cops who won’t think twice about dishing out some ultraviolence if they catch you. And they’re fast, too, so outrunning them isn’t an option. Hiding is your only recourse if you’re spotted. The concept may be simplistic but the execution (not sorry) will lead you down a path of frustration and addiction. The fact-paced action means that decisions have to be made on the fly and restarts won’t always place the bodies and evidence in the same place each time. With no saves and fast-moving enemies, frequent deaths are inevitable and repetition a given. Thankfully, it’s all enjoyable and silly enough that this is not an issue. It’s why the bite-sized levels

you’re armed only with what appears to be an automatic blood hoover

work. Any more sprawling or complex and the balance would be tipped. There is nothing too deep in Serial Cleaner thus far – what you see is what you get. Strategy is restricted to moving objects or cars to block sightlines and hamper movement, and using sound to lure cops away. While you can use these tricks and tackle the game in a more planned manner, working out timings and cops’ patterns, you can run and wing it and still get there in the end. With the simple-but-effective art style and ’70s inspired music, the game delivers an enjoyable, somewhat frenetic experience that plucks those “just one more go” strings beautifully while walking a fine line between outright rage and tolerable frustration. It’s bound for an early 2017 release, and the devs are promising additional levels and locations, along with new enemy types. They also say they’d love to introduce a level editor, but time and budget will tell. Overall, Serial Cleaner is shaping up to be a nifty little palate cleanser between larger releases. Lorna Reid


PREVIEW Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood Who needs Chocobos when you can teleport via giant blue crystals?

need to know release Summer 2017

Developer Square Enix

publisher In-house

link www.finalfantasyxiv.com

The level cap is jumping from 60 to 70, so you can expect lots of new abilities for each existing class, including crafters and gatherers. Although that also means loads of new buttons that you just won’t have the finger gymnastics for if you play with a controller, so the devs are also giving the battle system a complete overhaul to deal with the button bloat. What this will entail is yet to be seen, but the team has said it’s looking at certain unused abilities and cross-class skills and going from there. With such a huge part of the playerbase using PS4s or playing with controllers on PC anyway it’s nice to hear that it’s being mpressive scenery, epic music, and taken so seriously. handsome people punching each other As well as the existing classes getting atop a giant statue – the teaser for updates, we’re also be getting new ones. Stormblood, the next expansion for Final The exact number is yet to be confirmed, Fantasy XIV, certainly has all the hallmarks of but if past patterns are anything to go by another epic Final Fantasy adventure. However, it’ll be three – a DPS class, a tank and a there’s a lot more going on than those pretty CGI healer. Thanks to some weird, on-stage faces suggest. jacket-stripping habits and T-shirt choices from game director Naoki Yoshida we As has been hinted for almost two years know the first one will be Red Mage, a Final in-game, Stormblood will be heading to Fantasy series classic. Known for its ability Ala Mhigo – a city that has been held by to wield both swords for physical damage the Garlemad empire for 20 years. You’re as well as magic, Red Mage doesn’t quite part of the resistance movement fit in with the current battle system, trying to take it back and reclaim it so expect a twist to make its role first for the thousands of refugees who more defined. look escaped to Eorzea. Things are not completely black and white however. patch-DepenDant There’s a new generation of people who Of course, on top of all that there will be have known nothing but Garlean rule – will coffers full of new gear, recipes, raids, they even want to be ‘saved’? If the quality dungeons, primals, monsters and items to of the Heavensward story is anything to look forward to, as well as a new housing go by, no matter what happens you’ll be in area to stake your claim in if you’ve got the for a dramatic treat. gil. But before all that there’s still a patch You can also expect plenty of massive or two to go to link the Heavensward and new areas to romp through, from misty Stormblood stories together before it all swamps overshadowed by huge trees, to kicks off. As of the last patch, we’ve curved canyons, and a seriously already started on our way there, impressive-looking base complete with an encountering The Griffin – a masked 100ft statue of the local deity. Flying will resistance leader who’s a little too also make its welcome return to the new aggressive for comfort – and linking back zones, although you’ll first have to explore up with masked monk friend Yda who’s and ‘attune’ to the landscape before your from Ala Mhigo herself and looks Fat Chocobo can attempt to exercise its suspiciously like the ‘mysterious’ woman wing nuggets. in red featured in the trailer. I’ve been playing FFXIV for almost three years now and so far Stormblood is making all the right noises to set it up as another great expansion that I can’t wait to get lost in for inappropriate lengths of time. Bring on summer 2017.

Final Fa ntasy X i V: stormblood

Fancy fisticuffs in FFXIV’s second expansion

I

There’s a loT more going on Than Those preTTy Cgi faCes suggesT

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Daniella Lucas

We’ll see old Garlean tech for the first time.


PREVIEW Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood

The area around Ala Mhigo is full of abandoned ruins.

There are lush forests and bustling cities too.

Christmas 2016

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PREVIEW Battle Chasers: Nightwar Dungeon abilities, like dashing, have limited uses, so don’t waste them.

Calibretto might be the biggest party member, but he’s really a softy and a healer.

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christmas 2016


PREVIEW Battle Chasers: Nightwar

need to know release Summer 2017

Developer Airship Syndicate

publisher THQ Nordic

Bat tle C h asers: Night war Comic book brawls and dungeon crawls t’s been 15 years since the final issue of arcanepunk fantasy romp Battle Chasers ended on a cliffhanger and its creator, Joe Madureira, left comic books for videogames. Now, thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign, there will be not only new comics but a game – Battle Chasers: Nightwar.

I

Party members are adept at different challenges.

Puzzles, secrets, and lore objects litter the dungeons.

link www.battlechasers.com

swordsman, but rather a nine-year-old girl sporting some magical gloves. The dual mana system adds a tactical layer. Every ability costs mana, but each character has two pools: blue and red. Once a character spends all their blue mana, they can use the other pool, which regenerates slowly, to perform their flashiest attacks. Characters have a preference, though. Garrison the swordsman’s abilities are more effective with red mana, while Calibretto the war golem is healed when he uses it. “It’s really cool, when we let people do hands-on, to watch what kinds of strategies they use,” says Madureira. “We have one in mind that’s optimal – to beat that guy you have to do this – but then watching how other people overcome it using different methods has been really cool. And it’s only going to get deeper as we add more heroes, weapons and items.”

At first glance, it evokes such games as Torchlight, thanks in large part to Madureira’s bold comic style. Airship chaotic lore-full Syndicate has tucked in a few twists, Outside combat, Nightwar has a distinctly however, not least combat reminiscent of D&D feel. Characters have abilities such SNES-era JRPGs, with diverse characters, as lockpicking, the dungeons are filled an active initiative bar, a dual mana with traps, lore objects, and treasure system, and super attacks known as chests. Unsurprisingly, the devs are battle surges. “We want you to be fans of tabletop adventures. pl ayed thinking about multiple things in a The dungeons themselves are it fight,” Madureira tells me. “Each time random, but pull from a range of you’re making a choice, we want the bespoke rooms. Each has a set of choice to be impactful.” triggers so that new traps, chests fat with Even when drawing from classic crafting supplies, and monsters can JRPGs, there are a few surprises. My first appear. What you get is down to the luck scrap is with a pack of slavering of the draw, but also the difficulty setting. werewolves, and my control over the party “You have a bestiary which fills up with is determined by the attack order, but not vital information,” Madureira says. “Every all attacks are instant. Powerful abilities time you fight a creature, even a basic bump heroes down the turn order. So it’s skeleton, it’ll start to get fleshed out with not just important to pick the right ability their stats and special abilities. At some for the situation, but to know how long point you’ll get a bonus fighting creatures you’ll have to wait before it has an impact. of that type. When you complete certain If an enemy can kill your hero before you objectives, the Beastmaster will unlock use it, it’s no good. new bosses of that creature type.” The heroes, most of them from the When faced with one of these special comics, also subvert a few gaming tropes. bosses, I watched as my entire party was Tough, tanky hero Gully is not a completely wiped out, ending my gargantuan war golem or a legendary adventure and costing me all the loot I hadn’t yet equipped. Such is the life of a dungeon explorer, especially one who forgets all about their healing elixirs. Battle Chasers: Nightwar, along with the new issues of the comic, is expected to arrive next summer.

UnsUrprisingly, the developers are fans of tabletop adventUres

Fraser Brown

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SuRviviNG E A R LY AC C E S S ARK: SuRvivAl EvolvEd is leaving Early Access transformed from a primitive survival sim to a 1980s power fantasy. By James Davenport

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C O V E R F E AT U R E ARK: Survival Evolved

H op on the T-rex with the E button and then control will enable targeting mode.” I heard this in a dream once, but I’m definitely awake now. Studio Wildcard co-founders Jeremy Stieglitz and Jesse Rapczak are walking me through how to use the plasma cannons mounted on my pet T-rex’s head in ARK: Survival Evolved, their dino-laden survival sandbox. Were it 1997, I would have passed out by now. Christmas 2016

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FI always cut people’s heads off in photos.

Dinosaurs equipped with lasermounted future armour aren’t all ARK has going for it. Rapczak and Stieglitz have a lot to say about simulating an ecosystem, and the inherent mystique of their massive environments and science fiction narrative. ARK is the most complex survival game there is, but not because it’s hard to understand. You’re still chopping down trees, managing hunger, and forming tenuous bonds with other players. But ARK’s success gave Wildcard the room to go, well, wild and layer on more creatures, crafting, and survival systems than any other survival game out there. If you want to terrorise new players with an army of pterodactyls, you can. If you want to be a peaceful dinosaur breeder, you can. Hell, if you want to open up a psychedelic berry shop on the back of a roaming brontosaurus, you can. ARK is a systems heavy, tree-punching, fort-building prehistoric playpen, but because of its breadth, it’s also clumsy and buggy, bearing the rough finish of most do-everything Early Access survival games. It doesn’t run very well, even on powerful PCs,

TEK TEch

REplicAToR

and because it’s pushing so many pixels and systems at once, corners are cut all over. Creatures have erratic pathfinding, getting stuck in walls all too often, and a significant portion of what are meant to be tense, immersive survival interactions are still handled through a crowded, confusing UI. Rapczak and Stieglitz don’t shy away from ARK’s blemishes. They have no choice but to embrace the brutally honest nature of Early Access development. “Anytime we release an update for the game we have to put it into the mod tools, and then [the players] can see all our magic numbers,” says Stieglitz. “That kind of

A user’s guide

This is what you’ll need to build every other bit of Tek tech. Don’t lose it.

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I feel for the naked man I punched the clothes off of. he worked for them

radical transparency is pretty helpful to us and keeps us honest as developers about what the numbers are and the balance of the game.” And because ARK is also a popular game among Twitch streamers and YouTubers, there’s no hiding from harsh criticism. Even so, they have an ambitious plan for ARK, one that has grown significantly during its surprise success and will attempt to wrap their initial vision up with a neat bow – before they immediately start iterating on and adding features to the bow. In development for nearly a year longer than intended, ARK is finally on the path to leave Early Access. In April 2017, it gets a 1.0 stamp, a full physical retail release (with actual discs), and along the way, Studio Wildcard is pushing a series of its wildest updates yet, including a futuristic technology tier, underwater bases, new bosses, a complete narrative arc, and the promise of endless support and expansion. First up, Wildcard is expanding on the futuristic concepts so far only implied by floating obelisks. You’ve probably seen the picture somewhere

TElEpoRTER

Exactly what it sounds like, the teleporter lets you teleport between stations with your inventory, character, and dinosaurs intact.

Christmas 2016

ShiEld GENER AToR Generates a bubble shield that blocks projectiles and allows free passage for allies. Consumes Element based on the diameter.

cloNE chAmbER

Used to make a replica dinosaur at a high Element cost. Roll the dice for a chance at improved stats, but your dino may not survive.

dooR

It’s a door! An automatic door that opens based on proximity and rank. Finally, you can make a room impenetrable to little brothers.

hypER chAmbER

As the ultimate bed, it recharges all your stats while you’re sleeping and gives a minor XP boost while you’re away. Also nearly indestructible.


C O V E R F E AT U R E ARK: Survival Evolved

You have to kill a lot of bosses to get full armour.

online before, a detailed artistic rendering of a scene in which a tyrannosaurus rex adorned with chunky metallic armour and lasers trades pew-pews with a stegosaurus, also dressed in retro-future armour. It’s absurd, but there’s honest sentiment nested in the circles of nonsense: dinosaurs are cool, and so are lasers. To show off the new “Tek” technology tier, the first batch of which is due in a few weeks, Stieglitz and Rapczak let me loose on a mid-level enemy base with a complete set of Tek armour and weapons equipped.

To better survey my victory, I double tap spacebar and my jetpack boosts me high above the devastation. Hovering, I take note of red silhouettes crouching in the dino-shelled remnants of the bunkhouse, so I charge a punch mid-air and burst through the ceiling, Tek rifle in hand. There’s no need to reload it so I aim down its night vision scope in broad daylight because I can and go wild, shooting a rapid series of white hot, explosive plasma rounds in every direction. To make my getaway, I hold down sprint and my character blasts through the remaining settlers and the last of the foundation, bringing down the building on their ragdoll corpses. Within 30 seconds, I obliterated days, weeks maybe, of digital labour. ARK has come a long way from punching trees and building thatch lean-tos. Tek armour and weapons are absurdly powerful, trivialising nearly every predator and defensive structure

tyrannosaurus wrecks

I ride in on the back of a T-rex outfitted in angular metallic armour accented by subtle blue highlights. With one button-press the metallic helmet reassembles itself, covering the rex’s eyes as a plasma cannon slides out on each side of its head. The other players’ base consists of a few large wooden structures with a decent corral of dinosaurs and creatures locked away – no doubt the product of a few days’ careful collaboration between tribe members. I take aim at the bunkhouse, a building nearly double the rex’s height, and fire. A quarter of it dissolves in a shower of rubble. Another shot, another quarter, and the framerate chugs as hundreds of small pieces of debris do their physics calculations. I hop off the rex and turn on my Tek HUD. Enemy humans and creatures light up in red, visible through walls. My friendly rex glows a warm green. A man in a cowboy hat approaches and fires an arrow. It plinks off my Tek armour and I begin charging a super punch. The “super” is very much deserved. My character rears back and after a few seconds a spinning reticle turns green over my attacker. I release and fly toward him as my armoured fist makes contact in a flash of blue, literally knocking the clothes off him. He stands before me, naked, his inventory bag a vanishing speck in the distance. I cackle in a way no person should. Another punch sends him flying after it.

“Oh, behave.”

currently in the game. In most instances, enabling that kind of strength would be troubling. My fun came at the expense of others, and having faced ARK’s slow, often tedious ramp into its most interesting technology tiers, I feel for the naked man I punched the clothes off of. He worked for them, and I sent them into the sun with my Power Rangers hand cannon. According to Stieglitz, that’s sort of the point. “All these items are meant to troll new players.” ARK is meant to be merciless, a boundless sandbox where the only rules are defined by what players are capable of with the tools provided. To take that away would compromise the sandbox, and it doesn’t always manifest in sociopathic behaviour anyway. Stieglitz also has plans to incentivise helping new players, to prevent a purely destructive culture from dominating. “For example, if you help a new player get a level up,


C O V E R F E AT U R E ARK: Survival Evolved you get a level up as well, even though their time to level up is much shorter than your own.” Not a bad deal. Monster or not, going on a rampage will be costly. To obtain and power every piece of Tek, players will need to defeat the endgame bosses, including a new boss to be revealed at a later date. Easy and medium boss difficulties earn smaller portions of the new items, while the hardest difficulty rewards them all. Defeating bosses also doles out Element, the resource that powers every piece of Tek. Since it takes great effort to stockpile and is easy to use up, griefers won’t be able to ruin every base on the map with reckless abandon. On defence, Tek building materials will resist Tek-tier attacks, and new plasma-ball-spitting auto turrets will ward off the neighbourhood vandals. There are also a slew of utility structures planned to keep players distracted from repeatedly punching men into space. Someday there might be an opportunity to atone and retrieve them all, but first, ARK is soaking its paws somewhere a bit more terrestrial.

under the dLc

Underwater base building was one of the original launch items, planned from the get-go, but they’ll only be implemented shortly before launch around the end of February. The reason for the delay is that underwater bases require an entirely new building system and Studio Wildcard doesn’t want to just flip a switch and let players have at it. Strange creatures with different behaviours live down there, and they deserve cool laser cannon helmets too. “A third of our total creatures are underwater creatures,” Stieglitz says, “running the gamut from tiny fishes to gigantic mosasaurs.” Rapczak adds: “There are a bunch of water creatures we haven’t put in yet too, and the ocean is so vast, up until now there hasn’t been a whole lot of reason [to visit] except to get stuff and go back.” He’s right. Most sea creatures are deadly and player movement is severely

The many faces of T-rex personality.

limited in water, making survivors easy prey. But soon, high level players will be able to build aquatic dwellings using slightly more restrictive construction modules as part of the incoming Tek tier. Making a home in the big drink is meant to give advanced players a cool clubhouse, either a home away from danger or a strategically sound attack position, but they come at a big price. Each requires a Tek Generator to keep them vacuum sealed, and if its Element supply ever runs dry – sploosh. The module building system won’t stay submerged forever either. “The underwater structures aren’t just going

“those underwater structures aren’t just useful underwater”

Red gummi dinosaurs taste the best.

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to be useful underwater,” says Stieglitz. “They’re ultimately going to be useful for low atmosphere environments as well. Hint, hint.” Someone prepare the space dinosaur fan art. As colourful and entertaining as the Tek tier promises to be, its restriction to endgame players beyond dozens of hours of play doesn’t bother Rapczak or Stieglitz. They say most of regular players are plumbing the endgame dry anyway, and custom servers let players sprint through the progression if they don’t have the time. And if players don’t like the changes at all, they can just ignore them. “Usually when we add a new feature, we provide a way to turn it off, even if we don’t really like the old way,” says Stieglitz. It’s this kind of everyman accommodation that most Early Access titles are bound to, and you’d think ARK, given its regular appearance as a Steam best seller, would have earned a bit more wiggle room with its players. With an audience growing in numbers and passion by the day, Studio Wildcard found out the opposite may be true.


“Let’s go to the Fetish Bar!”

Besides missing their initial 1.0 launch of June 2016, Wildcard surprised everyone back in September by releasing Scorched Earth, a £15 DLC expansion consisting of a new map, creatures, and systems without any warning beyond a few cryptic teasers. Some players were upset, and rightfully so, confused as to why paid-for content was being released for an unfinished game and why it wasn’t communicated in Wildcard’s typical tell-all fashion. The studio had a lot of explaining to do. “As far as releasing DLC for an Early Access title, it’s not something I would recommend,” says Stieglitz. They’ve always had a plan for paid DLC expansions, and the ability to transfer characters between them and the main game was something Studio Wildcard decided was important to lay the groundwork for before launch. Scorched Earth was the guinea pig, and in keeping with its experimental spirit, they eschewed spilling the beans with the community beforehand too. “It was unexpected for players and we should have communicated that better,” says

dRESS foR SuccESS

1 ARmS

Charge a super punch to send creatures and physics objects flying.

2

Stieglitz, making it plain that they don’t regret releasing the DLC before ARK’s 1.0 status, but clearly regret not explaining their plan beforehand. Even so, Scorched Earth has been a hit, receiving positive reviews on Steam and selling well long after launch. Still, for Studio Wildcard, it reinforced the benefits of transparency and renewed the studio’s focus on legacy issues such as poor performance and the clunky interface. By launch, the UI will have had a complete overhaul, and performance “will probably go up by about 25%,” according to Stieglitz. They’re even pausing regular updates from February to launch, to focus on nitty gritty quality assurance testing.

Post access

Survival games don’t often leave Steam’s Early Access status, and some of them probably never will. They’re player driven by design, a stockpiling and refinement of objects, interactions, and properties meant to abstract the life (and many deaths) of a survivor into something continually fun. It’s a

Complete Tek armour functions

1 4

lEGS

Hold sprint to boost at high speeds through destructible objects and soft carbon based lifeforms.

3 hElmET

3

HUD highlights friends in green, enemies in red, and neutral creatures in yellow. Also has a nightvision mode.

4 chEST

2

Has a jetpack that can hover in place or boost with a double tap of the jump button.

daunting task, attempting to simulate an ecosystem while catering to community feedback, which is why the surprise success of ARK has kept it in development for much longer than originally anticipated. “If it hadn’t been successful, we’d have said, ‘OK, let’s finish it in three months’,” says Stieglitz. But Studio Wildcard got the opportunity to keep going, to iterate until ARK reached a destination they still can’t quite make out yet. Which is why leaving Early Access doesn’t mean Wildcard is leaving ARK behind. The team believe they have plenty of work left ahead. For them, ARK 1.0 isn’t a finish line, but a finished platform, a complete narrative act, a journey from washed up naked person to cybernetic demigod, and the starting point for a new echelon of survival game challenges. Content updates for ARK will continue indefinitely in the form of regular free updates to the base game, and in more experimental doses via occasional paid-for expansion packs in the same vein as Scorched Earth. Studio Wildcard wasn’t ready to talk details on exactly what those DLC additions might entail, but Stieglitz caved and gave me one hint. “One of them will definitely involve horror,” he says, name-dropping Ridley Scott’s Alien as inspiration. I can’t wait to craft a plug for the gaping hole in my chest. Between getting spooked, exploring the ocean, and suffocating in space (maybe), Stieglitz says they won’t quit working on ARK: Survival Evolved “until we think the game has realised the absolute mechanical upper limit.” What that looks like is unclear, but maybe it means I’ll marry a triceratops someday yet. Christmas 2016

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COMBAT EVOLVES

The Total War team are bringing Halo Wars 2 to PC. Can they bring something new to RTS multiplayer too? By Samuel Roberts

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F E AT U R E Halo Wars 2

T he first Halo Wars never came to PC – and I’m not sure if we really missed out. That 2009 RTS was tailor-made for the Xbox 360, and it showed. Everything we would ordinarily recognise as real-time strategy was condensed to enable a greater emphasis on combat. Even the unit cap felt stingy – a reflection, perhaps, of the limitations of the hardware. On the platform that created the genre, an RTS made for consoles would never have been a great fit. Eight years later, however, we’re not exactly as rich with RTS games as we were in the ’90s and noughties. Ensemble, the studio that made the first Halo Wars, no longer exists. Outside of Relic’s reliable output and the omnipotent StarCraft II, you’ve got occasional outliers like Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak or Ashes of the Singularity but not loads else going on in the traditional RTS scene. A second Halo Wars, this time made by Total War masters The Creative Assembly, is more of an enticing prospect. The appeal of Halo Wars is in taking the vehicles, infantry and worlds of the Master Chief-starring FPS series and presenting it on a scale you could only get with an RTS. Halo Wars is to Halo what Empire at War was supposed to be to Star Wars or Battle for Middleearth was meant to be for Lord of the Rings: weapons-grade fan service. “When we shipped the first Halo Wars, people were pretty disappointed it didn’t come out on PC,” says Bonnie Ross, founder and head of Halo developer 343 Industries, who are collaborating with CA on this sequel. “Especially because of Ensemble and Age [of Empires] and everything like that. So first thing, it had to be on

Windows and PC. And that opportunity really hasn’t come up until we look at Play Anywhere – if you look at Xbox, it really is about play on the device you want now.” The idea of owning a combined console and PC version of Microsoft’s new wave of Windows 10 games is a key part of the company’s strategy – although I’m not sure I know anyone who plays across both, except PC Gamer’s Phil Savage sometimes. Secondly, Ross says, Halo Wars 2 has to be accessible. “It has to feel like a mash-up between action and strategy, there has to be more action – and for PC there has to be more depth. And for us, maybe the last thing, finding the right partner, was key with The Creative Assembly, and finding the team that could actually pull that altogether for us.”

Full circle

While the original game was made to be played with a controller, Creative Assembly has naturally implemented mouse and keyboard controls for PC, including hotkeys. Their game looks a lot nicer than the Xbox One version, too, supporting higher framerates. Halo Wars 2 remains as combat-focused as the first game. You’ve got two races: the human, Starship Trooper-esque UNSC, and the Banished, a rogue alien race spun off from original Halo bad guys The Covenant. You form bases at fixed locations across the map, laid out in grids with finite slots for buildings and turrets. It’s pretty streamlined. Each unit has an alternate fire attack that works on a recharge timer, such as grenades for marines, or ramming for warthogs – Halo’s scout vehicles – right up to missiles from the more powerful air units. Each has a classic rock-paperscissors set of strengths and weaknesses. If The Banished sends a group of flying banshees towards your base, it’s best to have some of the UNSC’s rocket-equipped anti-air wolverines to sort them out. If you need to clear out a garrison of troops, the flamethrower-equipped hellbringer units will earn their keep. Christmas 2016

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There’s not a lot more to Halo Wars beyond that. Resources are acquired by creating buildings that harvest them in your bases – RTS veterans will find this very familiar. During my hands-on I sampled the first campaign mission, a simple tutorial-based affair that explains how certain types of units work and how to garrison your troops, and ends in a boss fight with a large Banished alien unit. The story is set on the Ark from Halo 3 – one of a few brilliant entries in the series that sadly didn’t come to PC. It’s essentially an enormous space station with a variety of biomes, suitable for an RTS.

ABOVE: Halo’s chunky sci-fi imagery suits RTS games well.

You can unlock booster packs bY doing prettY much anYthing

house oF cards

This campaign mission is just the primer for what comes next, which is Blitz mode, the centrepiece of Halo Wars 2’s multiplayer modes. I’ve played Halo Wars 2 in a more traditional multiplayer 3v3 mode at both E3 and Gamescom and didn’t come away with a lot to say about them, which is why Halo Wars 2 hasn’t appeared in the magazine until now. The game’s Deathmatch and Stronghold modes are pretty familiar RTS fare. At E3, the team I played against knew so little about RTS games that my own team won without ever getting into a fight with them – which was amusing but almost impossible to write about. It’s in the 2v2 Blitz mode that Creative Assembly has perhaps found something new to say in an RTS game. 40

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The devs have swapped rudimentary base-building for a card-game-driven, arcade-like online mode lasting 7-12 minutes. Players each have a deck of 12 cards, each card representing a unit or leader power in Halo Wars 2. You start with a hand of four, and each time you play a card, you draw another from your deck. Playing a card costs energy, and the better the card, the more it costs to play – generally you’ll start with enough energy to play a couple of units. When you play a card, that unit

RIGHT: The Halo story is a bit confusing if you’re a PC player.

instantly appears in your starting area. The cards replace your barracks and factories, and every unit of energy matters. Energy cores appear around the map, and fighting rival players for them will determine how many units you’re able to get into the fray. You can also deploy units directly onto the battlefield, but doing so will make them arrive at half health, which is a real risk when you’ve got a finite amount of energy to draw from.


F E AT U R E Halo Wars 2

I wouldn’t go so far to say that this card system should replace basebuilding wholesale, but its instantaneous nature is really satisfying. In Halo Wars 2 specifically, where the locations of bases are fixed anyway, I don’t particularly miss building the things. “Blitz had two primary goals for us,” 343’s Dan Ayoub explains. “One: accessibility. How do you let people who might be a little intimidated by RTS get into the game very easily? But

ABOVE LEFT: The Ark was blown up in Halo 3, but here has been repaired. ABOVE RIGHT: You don’t see enough tiny men blow up these days.

also, if you’re a seasoned RTS player, it seems really simple, but very quickly you start to realise there’s a ton of depth to it, and your strategies are going to be very different from Deathmatch or Stronghold or any of those other modes.” The second goal was to provide a short fix of RTS. “You could easily spend half an hour, two hours playing a Deathmatch, or you can pop out a Blitz match in five, ten, fifteen minutes.”

Pick of tHe deck Some of Halo’s units and what they offer in Blitz mode

Wolverine

The UNSC’s anti-air unit is fierce, and sometimes your only option for preventing an onslaught of banshees from nuking your troops.

scorPion

Halo’s basic tank. Parking one of these on two of my capture points was a smart way of keeping the Banished’s weedier infantry at bay.

BlisterBack

A deadly combined air/ ground unit – one of the best of the Banished’s standard units. This is where the wolverine comes in handy.

BansHee

The Banished’s standard aircraft model. Remember the moment you steal one in the first Halo? They look and sound the same.

There’s a wave-based offline ‘practice’ mode for Blitz called Firefight, named as such after Halo’s own version of horde mode. This is designed to let players test different unit setups, by tweaking their deck of cards and learning how to counter the AI’s own strategy. Firefight is a bit of a power trip for the first few rounds, and then it becomes an incredibly hard score-attack mode, with increasingly powerful waves of Banished contesting you for those precious energy cores. Put it this way: during my hands-on there was a competition to see which journalist could score the most points in Firefight, and I didn’t break the top five. It’s an interesting side addition to Blitz in its own right. Deck building offers a higher level of strategy to this mode. You can choose from six leaders across the two sides, and each grants you access to exclusive cards, while both factions have a shared pot of basic unit cards, too. You can unlock booster packs through doing pretty much anything, including the campaign and daily challenges. In my hands-on I unlocked around one per match, and gathered most of the cards I needed to start crafting my own strategy straight away. On the lower end, the flamethrowerwielding Hellbringers cost just ten points, while some of the game’s stronger hero units cost 300. One of my favourite units ended up being the nightingale, a flying medic that hovered Christmas 2016

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LEFT: Halo is about stern army people who sort aliens out.

BOTTOM LEFT: Bashing hot keys to make units appear is pretty neat. BOTTOM RIGHT: In the Halo universe, two sides go to war over big circles.

between my two capture points, and kept my units alive – more essential than ever when you’re drawing from a finite pot of resources. Naturally you need a balance of cheaper and more expensive units to deal with a variety of enemy tactics – my team won one game just by having a single unit sit on a capture point. Sometimes you just need to have something on the battlefield, finding energy or holding a point, even if it’s going to be wiped out against any stronger opposition. That flexibility in deck building easily makes Blitz the most exciting part of Halo Wars 2 for me, and the developers plan to keep the multiplayer balanced for high-level play, adding new cards after release. I feel like Halo Wars 2 will be almost comfortably familiar to PC players: a breezy campaign, and an attempt to do something new with the genre in Blitz, as well as a suite of classic multiplayer options. Whether it takes off as an online offering is another challenge, especially given that this is a Windows 10 game and a pretty vocal slice of users are still vowing not to use the Windows Store. But having Creative Assembly

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drive this has been wise from a PC perspective: that’s a guarantee of quality in the eyes of many PC strategy fans, and the little wrinkles they’ve brought to Halo Wars 2 certainly make it feel like a busier, more engaging game to me than the first one did. For people who have never owned an Xbox, the $80 ultimate edition of Halo Wars 2 comes with a PC port of Ensemble’s effort – although I’d rather they just sold it separately for £15.

commander in chieF

One question I’ve had since Microsoft committed to PC gaming again is the status of the mainline Halo series, which we’ve grilled Xbox’s Phil Spencer about in the past. I’m about 95% sure Halo 6 will come to PC, off the back of Forge’s recent, generous

t H e s i l e n t c a r d -t o g r a P H e r Building a deck for Blitz mode in Halo Wars 2

4 5 1

2

1

You’ve got twelve slots, so a balance of air, land and anti-air units is essential.

2

These terms denote buffs or abilities specific to that card.

3

These symbols tell you each unit’s strengths and weaknesses.

3

4

It’s worth packing some cheap units early on just to take energy or a capture point.

5

These ability cards produce a one-off effect that can turn a battle if used properly.


free release on the Windows Store as well as Halo Wars 2. But Halo also has a pretty amazing legacy on Xbox that I think we’re missing out on, and none of the mainline entries have come to PC since Halo 2. For now, it looks like 343 is keeping its eye on the future – in case you, like me, were hoping to see the Xbox One’s Master Chief Collection ported to PC. “I think we’re trying to be really deliberate with what the right moves are for Halo,” Ross says. “So we felt like the right first move for moving into a full game for Windows was the RTS. It’s the game that people wanted on PC in the first place, and I think it most naturally fits into Windows. And I think Forge does too. So we’re trying to be deliberate with how we bring Halo to Windows and making sure it’s the right purpose-built experience.” I ask Ross if that means they don’t see older Halo games as a strong match

for PC, and are focusing more on the future. “Obviously we had Halo: CE and Halo 2 on the PC in the past. It’s an FPS, it works great on PC. But I think that gameplay expectations have evolved for the PC, and so I think that we’d be a little bit more deliberate. I’m not saying we’ll never do that, but we want to really think about what the PC gamer today wants and what that right experience is.” Halo Wars 2 is at least a positive sign of Halo’s longer term prospects on PC. While nothing outside of Blitz has really moved me so far, it’s set in a sci-fi universe that is still exciting to look at, and The Creative Assembly offers a reliable pair of hands to bring it to life. If the classic RTS is to undergo some sort of renaissance outside of Relic and StarCraft II, I honestly don’t think it’ll start here – but having more decent strategy games on PC can only be a good thing.

“we felt that the right first move was an rts” ABOVE: Somehow hornets don’t look right when they’re yellow.

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F E AT U R E

MAKE YOUR OLD GAMES NEW AGAIN Classic games and the mods that give them a serious spruce-up. By Tom Hatfield

ne of the great pleasures of PC gaming is that games can grow old gracefully. If you dig your old console out of the attic and dust it off, you’ll find your games for it run exactly as well as they did back in the 1990s. If you load up an old PC game from that period, however, it’s a different story. You might have to jump through a few hoops to get it running, but once you do it’ll take advantage of your new hardware and run better than ever. And that’s before you get into modding. In the world of PC gaming, old games can actually get better as they age, as fans work on them, for free, for

O

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years. So why not dig out your old CDs, or pay a visit to Steam or GOG, and try those classics again? And if you missed something great the first time around, why not correct that oversight now? This list is designed to help you. I’ve brought together a couple of dozen mods that will improve and expand your experience of classic PC games. Some of them help the game look prettier, some fix bugs the developer never got around to, and others restore cut content that never made it into the game in the first place. The only thing you won’t find in this list are mods that make the game into something else. Those are great, but they aren’t going to help you enjoy the original, and they’re not what we’re here for today.


F E AT U R E

MOD

Deus ex

H

ow much introduction do I need to give Deus Ex? For years it has staked out a high position in PC Gamer’s greatest games of all time. It was the game of go anywhere (probably through a vent) and do anything (probably

Deus ex Revision crawl through a vent). Deus Ex was all about options, letting you figure out how you wanted to approach any of its enormous levels. But even at the time it was a dated looking game, using the Unreal 1 engine in the era of Quake III. There are fixes for that.

For years there have been multiple competing mods to revitalise the original Deus Ex. Revision grabs the best from each of those, while offering a mass of tweaks and adjustments of its own. Visual improvements from New Vision and Project HDTP are included, while aug-adjusting mods like Shifter and Biomod appear as game modes. Upon release it was even endorsed by Eidos Montreal, creators of Human Revolution and Mankind Divided. www.dx-revision.com

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Fallout 2

F

allout 2 was several times larger than the original, despite a short development cycle, and yet still there was content left on the cutting room floor. It’s the wackier and less coherent of the two original Fallouts, but still a great game. Seedy New Reno in particular puts Fallout: New Vegas’s strip to shame. MOD

KillAp’s fAllout 2 RestoRAtion pRoject Killap has created both an unofficial patch (bundled here, although you can download it separately) and this mod, which restores a vast amount of cut content. Whole new locations have been restored, including a Chinese submarine that crashed into San Francisco. There are also half a dozen new characters, including Ian from Fallout 1, and Kaga, the previous Chosen One of your tribe. www.killap.net

Freespace 2 Considered by many to be the greatest space game ever made, FreeSpace 2 was released in 1999 and sold very little. It was an incredibly unfair fate for a brilliant game. It never had the story of Wing Commander or the wide open world of Elite, but it put the player right in the middle of huge, epic space battles. MOD

fReespAce open

BalDur’s Gate 2

I

t’s easy to forget now, but the RPG was considered verging on dead when Baldur’s Gate hit the scene. The slow decline of the Ultima series followed by the release of Diablo seemed to indicate that action RPGs were the future. BioWare’s surprise hit was a vehicle for excellent writing and memorable characters, and set the stage for years of hits that followed. MOD 1

MOD 2

unfinisheD Business

Ascension

Most graphical enhancement and fix mods are redundant thanks to the 2014 Enhanced Edition. Thankfully Unfinished Business, which restores cut quests and other content, can run on either classic or enhanced versions. There are too many additions to name here, but the standout is definitely The Kidnapping of Boo: which finally gives fan favourite Minsc his own sidequest. There is also a version available for BG1. www.pocketplane.net/ub

Ascension is a curious thing, it’s still an unofficial mod, but it was created by long time BioWare designer David Gaider, who was unhappy with how the original ending of the game turned out. The resulting mod adds much tougher and more spectacular boss fights to the Throne of Bhaal expansion, but also comes with a handful of new character moments and dialogue created by one of the game’s original writers. www.bit.ly/2dkoaok

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The saving grace of FreeSpace 2’s failure is that no one minded when they released the source code. A small community picked it up and they’ve been polishing and enhancing it ever since. Freespace Open is what kept space games alive until the recent Kickstarter boom. The base installer upgrades the visuals in a host of ways, but

it’s also a platform for tons of player-made campaigns and the inevitable Star Wars/Trek mods. www.fsoinstaller.com

supreme commanDer Famous for its limitless zoom and massive scale, Supreme Commander was about two things: huge robots and efficiently managing your economy. It never quite won the mainstream appeal of other strategy games, but it gained a cult following, and the thrill of finally building a giant super unit will never be matched. MOD

soRiAn Ai After installation you’ll find six new types of AI to choose from when setting up matches, representing different strategies the AI can emphasise. Sorian AI’s are generally more difficult opponents than vanilla versions, as they’re smarter and more likely to use high-tech units rather than just swarm you with low level ones.

This mod was so popular that Sorian was eventually hired by Gas Powered Games. www.bit.ly/2eBcKxs


F E AT U R E Make Your Old Games New Again

KniGhts oF the olD repuBlic 2

K

otOR’s less famous offspring was famously unfinished on release. Rushed out in a single year, the game was both buggy and incomplete, the ending in particular playing like the publisher ripped it out of the developer’s hands while they were halfway through writing the thing. And yet it has become a cult classic, partly because of its subtle ‘shades of grey’ narrative that remains one of the most fascinating Star Wars stories in any medium. MOD

the sith loRDs RestoReD content moD This is the gold standard in cut content restoration mods. It replaces and revamps the unfinished finale, while also salvaging hundreds of other little interactions and characters. Most famously it restores a planned factory for HK assassin droids, putting a smile on the faces of killer robot fans everywhere. www.bit.ly/2edIurf

Vampire: the masqueraDe – BlooDlines Vampire is famously both one of the best written and most original RPGs of all time, and one of the buggiest games ever released. In its original state it was near unplayable, yet the characters and setting shine, painting a wonderful world of tortured goths. I highly recommend playing it twice, saving the delusional Malkavian playthrough for your second attempt, as the exclusive dialogue is full of hints and meta-jokes about the main narrative. But patch it first. MOD 1

community pAtch When I say Vampire was buggy, I’m not playing around. An official patch addressed some issues, but when developer Troika closed its doors the fans took up the task of fixing the game. Six years later, they’re still going. Not all of Vampire’s problems can even be fixed: bad design decisions, like the woeful shooting, remain. Yet with the community patch in place the game becomes playable, and the writing can shine. www.bit.ly/2dom9Te MOD 2

BlooDlines AntitRiBu If you’re looking for something more than bug fixes, this is the mod you want. Antitribu adds seven new vampire clans, over a 100 new NPCs and the ability to join the Sabbat, who were hostile in the main game. Essentially, it’s a fan-made expansion pack. www.bit.ly/2eMunKn

Doom

H

MOD

ey, it’s Doom. Do I have to explain it? It’s the game that popularised the first-person shooter as we know it, and launched one of the longest running mod scenes in PC gaming. There are countless Doom mods in existence, from faithful adaptations of the original game to new levels, art projects and entire new games built within the engine.

BRutAl Doom Here are new death animations, enemy dismemberment, kicking, punching, souped-up weapons and more. Yet this is no grab-bag. Once you start playing you realise each change has been carefully chosen to fit the tone of the original game. Back in 1993 Doom seemed shocking, transgressive and brutal. Nowadays it simply doesn’t have the same impact. The ridiculous gibs and loud shotguns of Brutal Doom bring that feeling back. It may not be the same Doom you played in 1993, but it captures the feeling of playing Doom in 1993 all over again. www.bit.ly/1mmsv60

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F E AT U R E Make Your Old Games New Again

uplinK Uplink is the best hacking game you will ever play. In fact it’s so good, you’ll probably never look at a terrible tacked-on hacking minigame the same way again. The game’s success launched indie studio Introversion, which later produced Darwinia, Defcon and Prison Architect. MOD

uplinK os This swaps the original ’80s hacker movie aesthetic for something a little more silicon valley startup. The shiny, slick OS is more Apple than Omni-Consumer Products, yet still feels like it’s offering a hacker fantasy, just a different kind. There are also a host of small tweaks and convenience upgrades, including female NPCs and an in-game notepad to help keep track. www.moddb.com/mods/uplink-os

Gta iV

T

he fourth instalment of Rockstar’s habitually headline grabbing crime sim moved towards a grittier, more realistic approach. Where games such as Vice City had gone for an ’80s cartoon look, GTA IV painstakingly recreated New York in minute detail to tell the story of Serbian immigrant Niko Bellic. Liberty City was the most incredible location ever built for a game, at least until GTA V topped it in 2013.

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MOD

icenhAnceR The GTA IV mod scene is as impressive as that of many older and better supported games. Indeed the game was only three years old when the astonishing ICEnhancer burst onto the scene. With clever use of shaders and postprocessing effects, it gave Liberty City a reboot that puts it almost on a par with GTA V’s Los Santos. If you prefer fake New York to fake LA, this is a must-have. www.icelaglace.com/mods/gtaiv/ice30


BattleFielD 2

I

f you ask people what their favourite Battlefield is, you’ll probably get one of three answers: Bad Company 2, Battlefield 2142, or Battlefield 2. Battlefield 2 moved the series from WWII to the modern day (two years before Call of Duty) and in doing so created the familiar high-tech, jet planes and assault rifles game we know today. Let’s make it better. MOD

pRoject ReAlity This mod is partly about obsessively modelling ballistics and making the game super hard, but far more importantly it’s about teamwork. The Project Reality community requires commitment, but if you’re willing to buy in you’ll find yourself working together as a team better than in any other shooter. The ongoing success of the mod led the developers to release their own game, Squad, currently in early access. www.realitymod.com

total War: shoGun 2 For the seventh Total War, Creative Assembly returned to Japan – the setting of the series’ debut. Shogun 2 excels by taking many of the series’ best features and using them on a more intimate scale. It’s beautiful too, using the setting to create battle spaces filled with interesting features that offer some satisfying tactical challenges. MOD

DARthmoD: shogun 2

system shocK 2

W

ithout this game, there would have been no BioShock and no Deus Ex, and without those who knows what PC gaming would look like today. System Shock 2’s mix of first-person shooting and RPG, set aboard a ruined starship where the crew has turned into monsters, may seem familiar now, but this is where it all started. It’s a shame it looks so dated, but happily there’s something you can do about that. MOD 1

ReBiRth moD Rebirth is all about replacing System Shock’s painfully low polygon models with more detailed versions. It’s mostly focused on the NPCs, including replacements for the hybrid, midwife, monkeys, rumbler, ghosts and more. It won’t make the game look like something out of 2016, but it can at least manage to make it look more like 2002 than 1999. www.bit.ly/2eoTTAM

MOD 2

system shocK 2 textuRe upgRADe The other half of making System Shock look better is this upgrade, which focuses less on polygons and more on pixels. It’s a simple injection of higher resolution textures, but given the tiny, blurry size of ’90s bitmaps it makes a big difference. It also pairs neatly with Rebirth (yes, you can install both at once) to make the game look a little more modern. www.bit.ly/2eDAj7l

Although Darth is no longer part of the Total War modding community, his mods remain some of the best around. DarthMod: Shogun II is a huge overhaul that rebalances units, improves AI and diplomacy, and contains a large selection of submods that tweak the look, feel and challenge of the game. The

ultimate aim is to increase the sense of realism, which makes for a harder, more tactical campaign. www.bit.ly/2eecvnt

morroWinD This has long been a cult favourite among Bethesda fans. The first Elder Scrolls game to become a breakout hit, it was many people’s first experience of the go anywhere, do anything RPG. More than that, the Morrowind setting felt different. It felt weird. The public transport system relied on giant beetles, for heaven’s sake. MOD

moRRowinD oveRhAul If you want to revisit Morrowind now I recommend skipping the attempts to port it to the Oblivion and Skyrim engines (still in progress after many years) and simply upgrading Morrowind itself. There are hundreds of mods out there, but this one packages a whole bunch of carefully selected

mods into one easy download. The result isn’t exactly Skyrim quality, but it’s a huge visual improvement. www.ornitocopter.net/v3-0-release Christmas 2016

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halF-liFe

T

he second most important FPS of all time. Half-Life took Doom’s mazes and monsters approach and added a coherent story told entirely in first-person, no cutscenes. Again this seems normal now, but at the time it was revolutionary. Much like Doom, Half-Life acquired an incredible mod scene, which spawned, among other things, CounterStrike and Team Fortress. MOD

sven co-op Sven Co-op has been around in some form for 17 years now, from the earliest days of Half-Life modding, but now it’s available as a free standalone on Steam. The premise is simple: what if you could play Half-Life (and Opposing Force, and Blue Shift) in co-op? Things only escalated from there, with a bunch of new weapons and other tweaks added to the Sven version of Half-Life’s campaign. Once you’re done with Half-Life itself, there’s way more content out there created by 17 years of modders who’ve used Sven as a platform for their own ideas. www.bit.ly/1nyCHxo

stalKer: shaDoW oF chernoByl

T

he very first issue of PC Gamer I ever bought contained the announcement of Stalker. That was in 2001. It took a further six years for the game to actually come out, at which point it was still buggy and unfinished. That was the unfortunate consequence of a small Ukrainian studio making such an enormously ambitious game. Despite all this, the game was still excellent, offering a uniquely bleak, post-Soviet, open-world setting and a grim survivalist fantasy. MOD 1

MOD 2

stAlKeR complete

lost AlphA

A lot of Stalker mods come in the form of enhanced difficulty, more survival elements, and pitch black nights. Complete is different, concerned instead with keeping the core experience close to what the original developers intended. The main eye-catching element is the new graphics, but there’s also a host of improved AI and bugfixes, necessary for such a famously broken game. www.bit.ly/2e255q9

This began as a project to restore zones that were cut from the final game, but once they were done, the modders had to invent some of their own content to fill the places up. At one point this was being considered for release as a paid expansion to Stalker, but sadly a leak put an end to those plans. The result is something very much like the original Stalker, and yet hauntingly, strangely different. www.moddb.com/mods/lost-alpha

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F E AT U R E Make Your Old Games New Again

DarK souls

D

ark Souls isn’t a particularly old game, so why is it here? Well, after it made huge waves when released on console in 2011, PC gamers clamoured for a port. A year later they got one. Just not a good one. From Software wasn’t a PC developer, and with no experience of porting, the studio released an awkward, low resolution affair stuck with Games for Windows Live (finally patched out in favour of Steamworks in 2014). Could anything salvage the excellent game from the disappointing port? Yes. MOD

Dsfix Released almost immediately after Dark Souls hit PC, DSFix’s most basic function is to allow players to boost the game’s resolution, but it also provides a host of other features, such as acting as a mod loader for new textures and keyboard remapping. I really don’t recommend playing Dark Souls with a keyboard though. Not even a little bit. www.bit.ly/19KF7Pz

Warhammer 40,000: DaWn oF War Dawn of War was the first videogame to truly understand 40K’s excessive scale. Huge armies clashed, and clashed frequently, as Relic came up with the canny idea of tying resources directly to captured territory, denying us the option to fight a defensive war. MOD 1

tyRAniDs moD The original game included almost every army available for the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game. The main part of that “almost” was Tyranids. Voracious Alien-like bug creatures who devour whole planets, the Tyranids were popular with many Warhammer tabletop players, who were sad they never got the chance to try them out on PC. Relic clearly agreed, as the developers made these one of the original factions in Dawn of War 2. But if you want them in the grand scale of the original Dawn of War, this is where to get them. www.bit.ly/2e47NOr MOD 2

ultimAte ApocAlypse More isn’t always better in modding, but it is always better in Warhammer 40,000. The setting is based on excess, so it was inevitable that eventually modders would add Titans, Warhammer’s biggest, mostly ridiculously expensive plastic monstrosities, into Dawn of War. Not only does Apocalypse give every faction from the original game its own giant unit (along with other scale-enhancing additions), but if you install the above mod, the Tyranids will get one too. www.bit.ly/1ERgobl

thieF: DeaDly shaDoWs

T

MOD

he last game produced by the legendary Ion Storm studios, Thief: Deadly Shadows offered the same kind of hub based, open-ended sneaking as Deus Ex, while still staying true to the series’ larcenous roots. For older Thief games, consider trying the Gold HD Texture Mod for the original, and Thief II HD Texture Mod for The Metal Age.

sneAKy upgRADe Sneaky packages together a quite frankly exhausting list of other mods for easy installation. The changes include but are not limited to: texture improvements, animation improvements, bug fixes, higher resolution support, controller support and old Thief-style briefing videos. My absolute favourite improvement is that the levels are no longer broken up by loading zones, but instead form one large and sprawling space, perfect for immersive sim enthusiasts. www.bit.ly/2eB9ouG

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F E AT U R E The Making of Company of Heroes

The making of

The inside story of Relic’s groundbreaking World War II RTS. By Tom Senior 52

Christmas 2016


F E AT U R E The Making of Company of Heroes

arly in development Relic made a video called “COH Perfect Scene”. It is 88 seconds long, and a pure expression of the Company of Heroes design ethos. From above you see a Sherman tank and a squad of eight infantrymen walking through a crumbling town. Heavy machine gun fire from a window up ahead forces the infantrymen into cover. The tank tears a chunk out of the house and silences the gunners. As the squad moves forwards, an anti-tank missile slams into the side of the Sherman as another machine gun starts attacking from a nearby house. Some infantrymen take cover behind a wall and return fire while the rest flank the house and pop a grenade into the gunners’ window.

E

BELOW: A blended animation system brings units to life.

These are the fundamental exchanges that make up a Company of Heroes fight. With combined arms, squad tactics, destructible cover, it was already clear that Relic’s game wasn’t going to be another RTS about box-selecting mobs and right-clicking to tear down enemy armies in open battle. Inspiration for these brutal house-to-house skirmishes came from Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. Call of Duty and Medal of Honor were doing well at the time; it was the perfect opportunity for THQ to take a chance on Relic’s idea. Company of Heroes was prototyped by game director Quinn Duffy and a programming team using the Impossible Creatures engine. This was an unusual real-time strategy game that enabled players to splice animals together to create nightmarish units such as tiger/ scorpion hybrids. Now suddenly it was being used to create a gritty World War II game. Principal programmer Ian Thomson and his team worked in parallel on the new Essence Engine, which would support the physics needed to let tanks tear down apartment blocks. The new Essence animation system let designers blend animations and give Company of Heroes its intimidating war movie feel, but it meant that Duffy’s team had to build a chunk of the game twice. Christmas 2016

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F E AT U R E The Making of Company of Heroes

“Very little of what you’ve done translates,” is Duffy’s recollection of that time. “Nothing you tuned, none of the combat, none of the feel. So when you get the new engine, you’re starting from scratch. But as you’re rebuilding, it’s a little bit organic. You start to realise that maybe we don’t need that piece any more. The engine gives us the ability to do all of this extra animation so we can take out stupid things like stances. I’ve done a few games where it’s IP-and-engine and they always take extra long, and they’re always extra hard because you’re trying to generate the world and how you build it at the same time. That’s proven to be really tough.” The transition between engines made possible new features that would prove integral to Company of Heroes’ success. Essence enabled flanking and directional cover – an improvement on Dawn of War’s area cover system. That in turn enabled more complex map layouts that could accurately capture the ruined urban centres of the Western Front.

Company of Heroes’ resource system also evolved a lot during the course of its development. In its original conception, buildings would radiate an area of control over the map, capturing any resource points that fell within that radius. “It was a little bit unclear, and it didn’t look nice,” Duffy says. Thomson adds: “The AI programmer got to the point where he was like ‘I’m just going to tag to the maps to say the best place to put the territory points for the AI instead of trying to infer it.’ At that point we had the realisation that maybe we should just have fixed territory regions, which allowed, I think, players to understand the map better.” This important change didn’t arrive until relatively late in development, which is surprising given how well it works. Company of Heroes scatters resource points across the map, forcing players into conflict from the very start of a battle. There are no mineral lines here or geothermal vents or mining units,

CoH baits players into a gruelling ongoing ConfliCt

which means every unit has a combat utility – even engineers, who can devastate embedded enemies with the flamethrower upgrade. Company of Heroes inverts the traditional RTS map structure to bait players into gruelling ongoing conflict.

heroic failure

That Company of Heroes still feels so fresh is indicative of the stagnation of the real-time strategy genre. Great RTS games are still being made, of course, but Total War, StarCraft II and Dawn of War 3 continue to

moving pictures

Cinematic intros reference the tone of Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan.

RIGHT: More than 50,000 lines of dialogue were recorded for Company of Heroes’ chatty soldiers.

pin and flank The cornerstone of Company of Heroes engagements Rifleman

Sniper

Engineer

Medic

1

2 Lieutenant

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Sergeant

Basic soldier

1

The heavy machine gunners lay down suppressive fire, pinning the enemy in place.

2

3

Riflemen move to the enemy flank, take cover, and then open fire.

3

The pinned enemy must flee or die in the crossfire.


F E AT U R E The Making of Company of Heroes

iterate on long-established formulas. Company of Heroes should have been more influential that it has been, perhaps, but it is a game devoted so entirely to the World War II war movie fantasy that its systems aren’t easily transposed to other settings. It is not a detailed and authentic simulation of war in the way the Combat Mission and Theatre of War games are, but it’s believable enough that two infantry units would exchange potshots across a street without immediately wiping each other out.

The timing of these exchanges is vital to the balance of the game, as Duffy explains. “When we started the targets – for combat between two rifle squads – we allotted 90-second battles at long range and 10-15second at short range, and we reduced the rate of fire to make it seem more like they were aiming and shooting as opposed to just unleashing on somebody up close.” He adds: “That allowed us to create unit roles like submachine guns – really bad at long range, because that’s kind of what you’d expect, and really good at short range. There was that element of realism in combat. When guys start shooting they don’t go down and they die at the same timescale regardless of where they are on the map. We wanted to avoid that.”

good company

The game reaches its pinnacle during the two-stage Carentan singleplayer mission – a direct tribute to the Carentan episode of Band of Brothers. The mission puts you in charge of a handful of squads who must take the centre of Carentan, building by building, establish a base, push the Axis forces out of the town, and then endure a tense armoured counter-attack.

“Those missions had a tremendous amount of effort put in,” says Duffy. “They were sort of a set piece, they were an example of what we were shooting for. I think just the balance to get the kind of desperate sense of defence in the second part of the mission and get that feeling of being rescued at just the right moment ... to my recollection it was one of the missions that probably had the most time put into it.” Central to the Carentan battle, and Company of Heroes’ balance overall, is the concept of combined arms. An infantry unit’s rifles will never hurt a tank, only anti-tank guns and other tanks stand a chance. Likewise tanks that don’t have dedicated anti-infantry weapons are inefficient at taking out infantry squads. This interplay works beautifully, and the specialist nature of most units makes each build choice important. When you build an anti-tank gun, you are sacrificing anti-infantry potential, so you have to be sure the AT crew are well covered by other squads. All of this complexity is there from the outset, in an 88-second sizzle video – a formative sketch of the cleverest, toughest real-time strategy game of the past ten years.

LEFT: Relic put a lot of time into making your soldiers feel more like people than ordinary RTS units.

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F E AT U R E Hitman’s Sapienza

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F E AT U R E Hitman’s Sapienza

THE

ITALIAN JOB The story behind Sapienza, Hitman’s best episode. By Phil Savage

S

apienza, the second level of Hitman, began as two words: Coastal Town. “This was the only direction we got,” says Torbjørn Christensen, lead level designer. “So we really had a lot of freedom to be creative.” That coastal town would

become the game’s standout level, against which subsequent Hitman episodes are compared. For many, myself included, it was the level that proved IO knew what it was doing – that after Absolution, and despite a controversial episodic release plan, the studio was back to making quality assassination sandboxes. Christmas 2016

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F E AT U R E Hitman’s Sapienza

Sapienza was developed in parallel with Paris, Hitman’s first level, and in part as a response to it. The Showstopper mission was built around exclusivity – the idea that 47 is able to infiltrate any location. “This night-time gala feeling was something that we felt was important to Paris,” says Christian Elverdam, creative director for Hitman. “I think the contrast to Sapienza, then, was obviously daytime; relaxed, casual and all that.” Where Paris is enclosed, with muted lighting and soft colours, Sapienza is bright, open and vibrant. “The level was created by an environment artist and myself,” says Christensen, who spent two weeks mocking up a rough version during IO’s summer holiday. “During those weeks the good weather was definitely an inspiration, and we could work undisturbed because everyone else was on vacation.” He based the look on towns along Italy’s Amalfi coast, using both the colourful yellow buildings and the unusual topography. “We especially wanted to explore the verticality in coastal towns, and how streets and corridors connect everything.” “If I say to you, ‘You’re going to infiltrate a palace,’ I think immediately your mind starts to imagine what that means,” says Elverdam. “You understand roughly what a palace is; it has different floors, it might have a basement, it might have an attic. It might have a main entrance, it might

have a rear entrance, it might have a garden. You can mentally encompass it easily. Whereas with something like Sapienza, if we tell you you’re infiltrating an Italian coastal town, it’s much harder to guess where the level starts and stops, which makes the organic exploration of the level so satisfying, in my mind.” For Elverdam, Sapienza represents the pinnacle of what he calls Swiss Cheese design. “We used this feeling that we built a volume filled with connections, and these connections mean that you will never get lost.” The

idea is you should be able to go in any direction – through a different hole in the cheese – and, when you come out at the other end, find a new way to progress. “You don’t have to backtrack necessarily, if you don’t want to.”

connected BOTTOM: Sapienza is based on the cliffside towns of the Amalfi coast.

TrAveL COmpANIONs This isn’t a holiday, 47

Silvio CaruSo

Shy, awkward, psychologically abused. Many of his Opportunities centre around the emotional turmoil caused by his deceased mother.

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FranCeSCa De SantiS

Ostensibly the head of Caruso’s virus project, she moonlights as a spy to make sure he doesn’t become a threat to the programme.

Dna SpeCiFiC viruS

A virus designed to kill specific targets based on their DNA. Clearly Caruso has been playing too much Metal Gear Solid.

As the theme and layout took shape, IO needed a target to fill it. The Italian setting offered an obvious solution. “We quickly decided that the target should be a mafia boss living in a huge mansion,” says Christensen. “The mafia idea spawned the secret cave under the mansion, where various illegal activities could take place. One idea was that Silvio used his seaplane to get rid of enemies out at sea – a rather extreme version of ‘sleeping with the fishes’.” In the end, Silvio Caruso’s profession was altered from gangster to scientist. But the team still wanted him to feel like a stereotypical Italian. “He was very attached to his mother, still lived at home, likes his mother’s spaghetti, has a temper, etc.” The underground hideout became the obvious location for a laboratory. I was surprised to learn the story could have such an effect on the design


F E AT U R E Hitman’s Sapienza

LEFT: Both targets live in the mansion, but can be coaxed down into the town. BOTTOM: IO wanted the player to feel like they were on holiday.

of a level, especially as Hitman’s plot had, until the last few episodes, seemed inconsequential to the action. I ask Elverdam to elaborate on how the designers work with the writing team. “It’s a back and forth all the time. In this case I think story reasons is maybe a simplification – it was also a thematic thing.” For Elverdam, contrast is a key tool in creating atmosphere and adding environmental context. “In Hokkaido, as an example, we have the super beautiful but very raw nature, in stark contrast to this high-tech facility and very pleasant interior of the hospital. It’s an interesting thing, and you feel a little bit like a prisoner looking out at this wide mountain range.” Contrast can add depth to character, too. In Marrakesh, banker Claus Strandberg is hiding out in the Swedish consulate. “It’s almost meant to build up Strandberg’s arrogance,” says Elverdam. “The whole building is an affront to the Moroccan culture, in the sense that it’s air conditioned, and completely Scandinavian in its outlook. There’s a certain arrogance there that they’re not even trying to assimilate.” The most obvious contrast in Sapienza is between the idyllic setting

and Caruso’s own internal turmoil. Opportunities are story driven threads that 47 can use to manipulate and kill targets, and those designed for Caruso often lean upon his relationship with his mother. Created as a collaboration between writers and designers, for Elverdam Opportunities are a way for IO to push the fantasy of the Hitman experience. “I think some of the powerful moments are obviously when I enter the Moroccan Embassy and, dressed as a cameraman, I feel almost like I’m part of a spy thriller,” he says. “Or when I’m sitting, waiting for Caruso as a psychiatrist, it feels like the chessmaster version of Agent 47 – this feeling that he’s one step ahead.” Some Opportunities are complex design tasks, such as the chandelier that can be made to crash down onto the stage in Paris. Others are subtler, but just as memorable. “The psychiatrist moment is actually very downplayed, and it’s still pretty powerful,” says Elverdam. “They also allow us to do some meaningful banter with Agent 47, where he’s actually talking to the different targets or sometimes just introducing himself.” The double meaning when Agent 47, dressed as a psychiatrist, reassures a member of Caruso’s household “I’m the best”, is a way to add a touch of personality to the character. Delving further into the backstory of the targets has some interesting effects. While Christensen seems disappointed

“peOpLe dIdN’T feeL COmfOrTABLe kILLINg sILvIO”

he didn’t get to create the full mafia fantasy, Elverdam seems happy with Caruso’s final form. “When I look at the feedback from Sapienza, a lot of people for the first time said they didn’t feel necessarily comfortable killing Silvio,” he says. “The fact that he’s just a mamma’s boy, and he’s been bullied and downtrodden throughout his life, makes him more interesting as a character than if he was sort of a top gangster boss.” For Elverdam, the moral ambiguity is a sign of a character with a little more complexity. “It felt a little bit like a deeper target than maybe what we’ve done before.”

accidents will happen

Opportunities can lead to some showpiece moments, but each level must also support more player-driven solutions. “When you take the role of a hitman, it should feel like the world is full of ways to kill people,” Christensen says. “In addition to the more custom setups, we try to have many other possible ways to kill targets. Accidental death should lurk around every corner in the world of assassination.” The challenge is filling the world with ways to kill a target, but not make the act itself trivial to perform. Hence the civilians and guards, who will notice if you do anything suspicious. NPCs are added early to the level, and refined from there. “We try to make every NPC have a purpose, and only place them where it makes sense,” says Christensen. “The ‘enforcers’ that can see through disguises are often added later, once we start playtesting the mission in depth. Their exact placement, or the direction they look, will be tweaked numerous times to make sure it feels difficult in a fun way.” IO had never before created a level on this scale. They were attempting to


F E AT U R E Hitman’s Sapienza

create environments much larger than Blood Money, but with the NPC density of Absolution. “We were building some very large levels, and we had some fundamental questions,” says Elverdam. “How do you navigate? How much traversal is acceptable? How much do people like it?��� Playtesting was invaluable, and helped IO refine many aspects. One of the big changes of this period was to target loops – the route a target will travel and repeat. Initially, Francesca De Santis, Sapienza’s secondary target, would wander around the town. “She went to the church and the cave during her main loop,” says Christensen. “Because of the very long travel times between those locations, we decided to not do this, as it wasn’t fun to wait that long for her to do her loop. Silvio had similar issues, so in order to fix this, both targets’ main loops were shortened.” For both, Opportunities were implemented that let the player trigger events to lure out their targets – furthering the Hitman fantasy of manipulating your quarry. With both targets confined to the mansion, the town feels quiet and peaceful. Crucially, it still has a purpose. This is one of Sapienza’s most distinctive features – containing the main challenge in the mansion, but filling the town with weapons, secret routes and Opportunities. “Making the town free to explore was a deliberate choice,” says Christensen, “and Sapienza was not filled with busy crowds on purpose, as we wanted a more relaxed ‘siesta’ feel.” Nevertheless, it was something of a bold departure from previous games. “We were a little bit afraid of the density in small pockets,” says Elverdam, “but I also think that’s one of the things that actually turned out very

BELOW: The mundanity of the location contasts against 47’s dark mission.

nicely with Sapienza. It has some space in there and you can actually breathe.” Each episode is designed to be played many times, in multiple configurations. Where the World of Tomorrow mission keeps things centred around Caruso’s mansion, the Escalation and Elusive Target missions take place all across the town. These alternate missions focus on different targets, often with extra complications for 47 to consider. But while both were part of Hitman’s development plan, neither had an effect on the way Sapienza was designed. “Elusive Targets are not thought of as part of how we build the levels,” says Elverdam, “because the complexity of the sandbox really should dictate that if we build a swiss cheese from the get go, and on an organic level where you can move around, then there should be room for an Elusive Target.” According to Elverdam, the team responsible for creating Elusive Targets

TOur guIde Things to do in Sapienza

1 pl ay De aD

Get here early enough and you’ll meet a scientist with a handy dongle.

The tower offers a perfect view of the mansion. Sniper rifle supplied separately.

1

2 Cannon run These cannons still work. You just need your target to walk into position.

3 overwatCh 3

2

4

4 hh oo lmieD a y

47’s safehouse contains an experimental exploding golf ball. Use your imagination.

use heatmap data to see where players spend the majority of their time. “If we see that a lot of people don’t necessarily spend a lot of time in the gardens of Paris, then we’ll put in a little garden party and so forth.” You might assume the same holds true of Contracts – custom missions that players can create and share. Apparently, that’s not the case. “Contracts mode is a little bit more embedded in the early thought process of the level,” says Elverdam, “in the sense that, while Contracts mode does not dictate what a level looks like and how it’s built, there is a pass where we make sure we put in enough patrolling NPCs that they can become interesting targets.” Too many generic NPCs would restrict a Contract creator’s options.


“We need to make sure that there are enough small characters and moments and identifiable targets on a level that Contracts mode feels it could take off.”

location shoot

A more substantial Sapienza remix happened over summer, with the release of Hitman’s bonus episode. It centred the action on the town, turning it into a film set. “It allowed us to use the town square as a trespassing zone, which is something you would almost never do otherwise,” says Elverdam. “The town square and the streets are typically – obviously – for the public, right?” The film set also allowed the team to do something surprising. “I think the idea for a robot invasion in Italy is as far from what people would expect as can come.” Sapienza has clearly been a success, but not every aspect works as well. 47’s final objective is to destroy Caruso’s virus. “The first time you find the secret cave, and have to find a way to destroy the virus, it works pretty well,” says

ABOVE: It’s the sunniest murder playground in the game.

Christensen. “Playing Hitman can be somewhat of a Groundhog Day experience, and, in that perspective, the virus doesn’t work quite so well ... it quickly becomes a rather annoying thing you have to do, especially considering mission replay value.” This was something I brought up in my Sapienza review, and clearly

“Hitman CAN Be A grOuNdhOg dAy experIeNCe” something IO has learned from. “I think that has affected how we think about these objectives,” says Elverdam. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing doing them, but we need to be mindful on how, and can we be even more creative in how you accomplish them.” Elverdam stresses that this was their first time building around an objective

that wasn’t a target. “I think it’s down to the fact that the way you destroyed the virus maybe doesn’t feel like a ‘hit’. It doesn’t feel like as gratifying or as much of a conclusion ... That’s probably the angle I would attack it from.” It sounds as if Sapienza’s success has helped build IO’s confidence. “When I look at the willingness to experiment on Colorado and Hokkaido, I don’t think any of us would have been as willing if it hadn’t been for that,” says Elverdam. It’s easy to forget that it’s been ten years since Blood Money. IO wasn’t sure there was still an audience for this style of Hitman design. “When I look at where IO is today,” says Elverdam, “it’s pretty clear to me that one of the biggest things we’ve achieved is this belief in the Hitman sandbox. Both how to build it, and that there are people who actually like to play it. It might sound straightforward now, but it might not have been as straightforward back then.” Sapienza didn’t just reassure Hitman’s fans. It helped convince IO as well.

Christmas 2016

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SEND send

This month’s Star Letter gets a Steam key for Civ VI Your reviews I’m playing Dragon Age Inquisition on the recommendation of a mate, and have to say it’s amazing! Take that dragons! Jack Taylor Never mind the dragons, it’s the bears that’ll get you. Playing Disney Infinity on Steam so I can unlock the lightsaber so my four-year-old can be Jedi Queen Elsa. Dustin Faber This is father of the year material.

seriously telling

I just got my copy of PC Gamer in the mail, and I have almost lost all hope in the magazine that I love. Are you seriously telling us that Gwent is the best game this month for a cover? Or did you just want to have Geralt of Rivia on the cover to sell more copies? If a card game is the best thing about PC gaming this month, then I don’t even feel like reading this issue. But of course I will because I’m sure there are plenty of other games, real games, like Mafia 3 and BioShock that I can read about. SadGamer411

You’re talking about the same Gwent that’s a new game from a beloved studio, and a spin-off from our #1 pick in this year’s Top 100, yes? Fair enough if it’s not your thing, but that sounds like a deserving cover star to us. PCG

Old-school biscuit

Your Quake Champions feature had me replaying the original Quake, which led quite naturally to the ‘Dimension of the Past’ episode featured in your Top 10 Downloads section. Two weeks of playing original Quake, and I enjoyed it every

Battlefield 1! I’m loving it! The maps are great, and the destruction is the best in the series! The Red Dead Potato It’s not often you see that many exclamation marks associated with World War I. Kentucky Route Zero – Act 4. This is how it would look if David Lynch made a game. Katphood Let’s hope the upcoming series of Twin Peaks is as good. Hitman. Lots of fun and lots of replayability. It’s a really underrated game. I’ve logged 250+ hours on it. V Stop, stop, that guy from Sapienza is definitely already dead.

wiNNer!

bit as much as I did 20 years ago when it introduced me to the world of LAN parties. Thanks for throwing the occasional old-school biscuit to us greying gamers who have been around long enough to remember downloading the free demo of Doom from our favourite dial-up BBS. Jim Trageser Our pleasure, Jim, although it’s the developers you should be thanking. We just report on the stuff they’re making. PCG

Very revealing

Your article PC Gamer vs Doom was very enjoyable, and also very revealing. I think it’s important for players to have a basic understanding of how games are made. It’s very difficult to design a level that not only appeals to a wide swathe of people but also communicates developer intent, tells a story, is properly balanced, and provides subtle navigational cues. Major props to devs and all the work they do to give us great gaming experiences! Travis Blanchard Props indeed, but, while it’s fun to discover the tricks of making a great level, we wouldn’t say it’s necessary. One of the jobs of a great level designer is to hide the tricks – giving you the luxury of being immersed in the action. PCG

Greyed out

Attached a photo

I thoroughly enjoyed this year’s Top 100. Looking through it, I noticed you have Troika’s Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines at number 65. It’s an epic game, but I’d like to ask when Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura will get its time in the Top 100 – or at least a shout-out in the magazine? It was Troika’s first game, and my favourite. The Steampunk/fantasy setting was exhilarating. Travelling

through Arcanum, and visiting towns and cities like Shrouded Hills, Tarant and Caladon was simply amazing. I’ve attached a photo of my beloved Arcanum collection [above].

Khorium

Top 100 picks only require one passionate advocate, so it’s always possible it’ll find a place in future lists. And, who knows, maybe we’ll do a Reinstall in the future. Enjoy your copy of Civ VI, Khorium. PCG

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@pcgamer

I just wanted to race with a few mates, but instead I am being asked to choose from a load of what look like teenage characters. Cutscene after cutscene appears and goes with no input from me. I still have no idea what I am supposed to be doing. I look for the multiplayer section. It’s greyed out. I race against a jeep hanging from a helicopter. I have no idea why. I have paid 50 quid for Forza Horizon 3, a cutscene generator. Noel Draper It’s a bit much, isn’t it? Luckily, after about an hour of guided tutorials and woeful characters, the game actually lets you drive cars around roads. PCG

seND

pcgamer@futurenet.com

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PC Gamer, Future Publishing The Ambury, Bath BA1 1UA UK


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Free Steam key for Company of Heroes 2 – THe WesTern fronT armies: oberkommando WesT! Typographically, that’s our ugliest headline ever his month’s free gift comes courtesy of Sega to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the excellent Company of Heroes RTS series from Relic. It’s a key granting you access to one of CoH 2’s armies, the Oberkommando West, for online play in all

t

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CHRISTMAS 2016


REVIEW

HOw we review

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

alpHas & betas

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

dOwnlOadable cOntent

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

tHey’re back

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

Our scOring system explained 00%-10% A game of absolutely no value. Are you playing one of these games? Take 3d6 emotional damage. Example Big Brother 11%-39% Yikes. Technically broken, or so fundamentally flawed that it’s ultimately not worth any time or money. Bad. Examples Trials: Blood Dragon, Sonic: Lost World 40%-49% This game is functional, but majorly flawed and disappointing. Examples Firefall, Star Trek, Armikrog 50%-59% Mediocre. If it has any interesting ideas, they don’t work well. Might suffer from bugs or technical issues. Examples Primordia, Homefront: The Revolution 60%-69% An interesting idea poorly expressed, or a derivative idea executed averagely. Comes with caveats. Examples SimCity, No Man’s Sky, The Division 70%-79% Good, but not a classic. This score is a recommendation, just not a glowing one. Examples Broken Age, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst 80%-89% A great game with exceptional moments or features, and touches of brilliance. Examples Starbound, Overwatch, Doom

life in the trenches

You know it’s nearly Christmas when publishers start releasing their biggest games of the year. (Also because calendars straight up tell you how long it is until Christmas.) For EA, that means Battlefield 1. DICE’s multiplayer shooter – actually the 15th Battlefield game – doesn’t venture too far from its predecessors. It’s still a big, chaotic game about big, chaotic wars. The difference this time is that the war in question is World War I. It’s a setting that works surprisingly well, forming the basis of the most unusual and refreshing Battlefield in years, and my favourite since the excellent Bad Company 2. Also this month, the first new Civilization since the disappointing Beyond Earth. Based on TJ’s review, Civ VI is now the best in the series. Update your wallcharts accordingly.

90%-94% A compelling recommendation for most PC gamers. Ahead of its time and important to PC gaming. Examples XCOM 2, Forza Horizon 3, Dark Souls III 95%-98% This is far and away one of the best games we’ve ever played, and we recommend it to the entire world. Examples Half-Life 2, Kerbal Space Program, Spelunky 99%-100% Advances the human species. Life-changing. A masterpiece and more. Actively boosts the immune systems of nearby children and small animals. The Editor’s Choice award is granted in addition to the score, at the discretion of the PC Gamer staff. It represents exceptional quality or innovation. Find out more www.bit.ly/pcgreviews

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CHRISTMAS 2016

PHIL SAVAGE DEPUTY EDITOR

phil.savage@futurenet.com

LEt uS know wHAt you tHInk

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


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contents 70 76 78 80 82 84 88 90

94 Thumper

Battlefield 1 Shadow Warrior 2 FIFA 17 Gears of War 4 Slayer Shock Civilization VI The Silver Case Mafia III

dOwnlOadable cOntent

96 Deus Ex: Mankind Divided – System Rift tHey’re back

98 99 99 99 99

Hacknet Poker Pretty Girls Battle: Texas Hold ’Em Worms Ultimate Mayhem Worms Armageddon Batman: Arkham Knight

this month’s squad leaders...

PHIL SAVAGE Specialist in Shooters, war Currently playing Battlefield 1 This month Survived a gas attack when... no, actually, I’m not going to do a fart joke here.

JAmES dAVEnPort Specialist in Shooters, dongs Currently playing Shadow Warrior 2 This month Became well versed in the many words that also mean penis.

wES FEnLon

tJ HAFEr

A n dy k E L Ly

k E z A m Ac d on A Ld J o n BLy t H

Specialist in Shooters, muscles

Specialist in Strategy, hexes

Specialist in Shooters, crime

Specialist in Rhythm, malevolence

Specialist in Retro, hacking

Currently playing Gears of War 4

Currently playing Civilization VI

Currently playing Mafia III

Currently playing Thumper

Currently playing Hacknet

This month Was subjected to the manly ways of Marcus Fenix. Has been bench pressing ever since.

This month Became incredibly jealous of Peter the Great’s magnificent moustache.

This month Discovered that running a ’60s crime family can actually be really tedious.

This month Loved a rhythm game that hated her back. We should have expected it from a Dark Souls fan.

This month Same as every month: made Samuel panic over possible libel.

CHRISTMAS 2016

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REVIEW Battlefield 1

“This is no simple rehash and replacemenT”

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REVIEW Battlefield 1

The GreaT War It doesn’t turn the series on its head, but Battlefield 1 is a refreshing change of pace. By Phil Savage

I

’m chasing a man carrying a pigeon. He dives into a building – a mistake, because I’m using an assault class loadout specced for short range combat. I follow and get the drop on him. A couple of blasts from my Trench Shotgun take him down. He drops the pigeon. I pick it up, and start scribbling a note. The note – that is, the timer that dictates how long until the note is finished – writes faster when I’m standing still. I crouch in the building, and my teammates surround me. A gas grenade flies through the window. I tap ‘T’ to put on my gas mask, and continue to scribble. Outside, I hear gunfire and shouting. When the note finishes, I sprint through the nearest door, round a corner and release the pigeon. The opposing team tries to shoot it, but it flies free. Moments later, an artillery strike rains down. It’s carnage.

Need to KNow What Is It? A team-based WWI multiplayer shooter with pigeons. EXPECt tO PaY £50 DEVElOPER DICE PublIshER EA REVIEWED On

century weapons, and, paradoxically, how much worse they are. Guns here are less effective than their 21st century counterparts, and Battlefield 1 is better for it. Each weapon has its strength, but its weaknesses are more notable. A sniper’s headshot is a guaranteed kill, but every rifle available to the scout class is bolt action. If you miss, you waste precious seconds reloading the chamber while your target is running for cover.

roles. This is all stuff that, if you’ve War Pigeons is a new mode for Windows 10, 16GB RAM, played any Battlefield game, you have Battlefield 1. It’s not the best, or the sound bites i5-6600K, GeForce GTX 1070 already seen and done hundreds of biggest, but it’s a handy example of For me, it’s a change for the better. If times before. The pace and style have how DICE’s latest multiplayer FPS I’m under fire, I appreciate the MultIPlaYER both shifted, but only when judged handles its World War I setting. For chance to get away. If I’m sniping, Up to 64 within the constraints of what a starters, it makes little sense. Why I’m too enamoured with the lInk Battlefield game is. wouldn’t I write the message before satisfaction of using a bolt action rifle www.battlefield.com Take, for instance, the destruction finding a pigeon? Just the concept of to mind that I’m working harder for of buildings – a recurring feature for two armies running around fighting each kill. Once again, DICE’s sound over a pigeon is inherently ridiculous. Battlefield. Once again, buildings are design is extraordinary. The sense of vulnerable to As is the announcer, power implied by each weapon’s and her repeated calls audio and animation makes most Buildings are explosions, be it tank fire, aerial bombings or of “we have lost the guns a pleasure to use. I levelled beyond simple, old fashioned pigeon.” It’s a mode predominantly play medic, and the anything i’d dynamite. But as my that takes the seed of selection of semi-automatic rifles feel something historical gratifyingly hefty, even as I struggle experienced in pigeon calls in an artillery strike, the – that pigeons were against their kick. Battlefield 4 buildings are levelled used to send messages Audio has always been a big part beyond anything I’d in the war – and warps of the series, and Battlefield 1 is no experienced in Battlefield 4. Only bits it to absurdity in order to create an different. Particular sound cues of wall and staircase survive. In the enjoyable multiplayer mode. become crucial for processing the thick of the action, Battlefield 1 feels And yet, it’s also an effective carnage of war, from the scream of a chaotic, deadly and destructive. showcase of some of Battlefield 1’s soldier in the middle of a bayonet It’s a better infantry game, too. greatest strengths. When discussing charge, to the distinctive zip of a The key to this is the early-20th what makes Battlefield 1 work, it’s sniper’s bullet narrowly missing your worth knowing that, ultimately, this is still Battlefield. It’s still a multiplayer shooter about two teams, fighting over a series of objectives – attacking, defending or capturing, How the sniper’s toolkit lets you troll your enemy depending on the mode. Soldiers charge over fields, tanks roam the streets, and fighter planes dive and spiral overhead. On the micro level, squad leaders issue K Bullet SHield PeriScoPe flare GuN triPwire decoy orders, medics rush in to revive miNe Armour piercing A big sheet of Safely peek over a Shoot this to blind A fake sniper downed teammates, and snipers lay Place near the bullet that does metal that ledge, marking nearby enemies head that reveals prone in what they hope is an door or stairs of insignificant protects against enemies for your with its glaring enemies who unnoticed spot. Teams win or lose your sniper nest. damage to tanks. countersniping. team. light. shoot at it. based on their ability to work t r o l l r a t i N G t r o l l r a t i N G t r o l l r a t i N G t r o l l r a t i N G t r oll r atiNG troll r atiNG together, to push on the objective, to fully utilise a broad spectrum of class

Scout’S HoNour

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REVIEW Battlefield 1

head. It enables you to parse important details invisibly, and makes the game feel better to play. Whether it’s the low rumble of a tank’s engine, The multiplayer modes of Battlefield 1 or the cacophony of a high-rate-offire LMG, everything sounds powerfully lethal in this world – providing additional texture to the onscreen action. The reworked weapons have a greater skill ceiling, and because of that, your class choice and loadout feel more important. Each role has a coNqueSt ruSH domiNatioN stronger identity, and often excels at a Battlefield’s flagship Destroy the enemy Capture flags, but different range. Even within those mode. Capture flags telegraph stations, this time there are no in a big, sandbox while avoiding tanks to force your categories, it’s possible to tailor for warzone. artillery fire. retreat. specific playstyles. The assault class can wield shotguns for the up-closeand-personal touch, or submachine problem, able to easily push forward guns for a slight increase to mida team’s front line. But lose a tank range efficacy. The LMG of the carelessly and it could be some time support class is great for laying down before another one will spawn. suppressing fire, but some models have better hip-fire accuracy for a more mobile loadout. The armoury bloody infantry may not be as large, but you’re still The balance here feels pretty good. rewarded for finding the gun that Yes, tanks are a threat, but they supports how you want to play. should be. From an infantry The additional tools perspective, it adds to you carry feel more the chaos and panic. important, too. If you’re Tanks in Battlefield 1 The French and feel like they’re playing medic, you’ll likely stick with the russians are designed to make tried and tested combat more conspicuous by infantry medibag and reviving exciting. Where their absence previous Battlefield syringe. But other classes have access to a games have been about broad range of kit. The combined arms assault has a variety of options for warfare, Battlefield 1 is focused more damaging vehicles. The scout is a on the infantry experience. Tanks and pure troll, able to carry everything planes are significant, but not from tripwire mines to a decoy head constant. Rather, they’re a frequent that reveals the location of any peak (or, depending on your side, a soldier shooting at it. Such options trough) along the timeline of a match open up a greater degree of that feels tailored around the customisation, allowing you to perspective of the ground troops. It’s further define your actions and how possible, of course, that my they work in conjunction with the perception of this is slightly off. One team as a whole. of the major consequences of the Arguably the biggest change for vehicle spawn timers, and the way moment-to-moment play is the way they’re selected from the menu, is vehicles interact with the battlefield that I rarely get the chance to at large. Planes, tanks and horses (a experience a battle from the driver’s horse is a sort of vehicle, right?) are seat in this game. selected directly from the spawn Changing up the purpose and menu, and vehicles feel less number of vehicles has an effect on numerous than in previous games. the scale of the war. The maps feel Part of that is likely down to the smaller than some of Battlefield 4’s absence of shoulder-mounted rocket biggest and most open environments launchers, making it harder for – a possible casualty of how most infantry to take down a tank. In traversal is done on foot. Despite this, addition, drivers can now repair map size still varies greatly, based on tanks and planes (not horses) from both mode and concept. Conquest inside the vehicle. The upshot is that maps tend to offer some of the a careful driver in a fully manned biggest, but even here you’ll heavy tank can be a significant encounter outliers like Suez – a tight,

o B j e c t i v e ly c o r r e c t

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team de atHmatcH

Shoot people while pretending game is suited to deathmatch.

war PiGeoNS

“Stop the pigeon, stop the pigeon, stop the pigeon, stop the pigeon…”

linear map with only three capture points. In a 64-player match, things feel a little cramped. The nine maps each offer a different set of challenges and considerations, whether it’s the varied elevation of the mountainous Monte Grappa, the large, defendable mansion of Ballroom Blitz, or the wide open expanses of Sinai Desert. I’ve yet to get bored of any of them, something that’s helped by the multitude of styles, and the way the boundaries are redrawn based on the game mode. The strangest consequence of these particular maps is the armies they make available. In multiplayer, you’ll play as British, Germans, Austro-Hungarians, Italians, Ottomans, and Americans. The French and Russians are conspicuous by their absence. The French are planned for a future expansion, but it’s a strange decision to exclude them from the base game given their major role in the real war that actually happened. Once again, Conquest and Rush are the main multiplayer draws, with Team Deathmatch, Domination and War Pigeons providing a secondary, infantry-only experience. As usual, Team Deathmatch feels out of place, offering a simpler, objective-free match type in a game that really doesn’t support that style. Battlefield is at its best when you’re working towards objectives, collaborating with your squad to sneakily back cap a point or arm a telegraph station. In addition to War Pigeons, Battlefield 1 offers another new mode – this one significantly larger and better. Operations are a multimap combination of Rush and Conquest that challenge attacking teams to liberate sectors. Attackers must


W x

This seems an inefficient way to cook rations. My on-horse survival rate is about 30 seconds.

My in-plane survival rate is about 40 seconds. Tanks are weak versus explosion magic.

The crew of this Zeppelin are on a real Stairway to Heaven. (Dying.)

Poignant or fun? The campaign can’t decide.

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This Hindenburg cosplay is a bit on the nose.

In a huge balloon, surrounded by glass. What could go wrong?

Dogfighting is fun, but the skies are often quiet. Die a little quieter, Greg, I’m admiring this droplet effect.

Accurately, Battlefield 1’s horses are worse than tanks.

Work with your squad, and points will pour in.

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REVIEW Battlefield 1

don’t mind either approach, but it capture all sectors, in sequence, across multiple maps. If they fail they makes for an awkward clash when an otherwise effective sequence through use up one of their three attempts, no man’s land takes place during the but, on each subsequent attack, spawn with a ‘behemoth’ – a massive, middle of a Han-Solo-a-like’s tall tale of bravery, redemption and airships. deadly vehicle that’s different based It’s no more ridiculous than a sole on the map currently in play. protagonist winning an entire war, Behemoths are a cool addition, but it’s not much less either. It responsible for some of Battlefield 1’s requires major suspension of most spectacular moments. The best disbelief, for instance, to buy into the of these is a giant airship that looms over the map, raining down explosive idea that a rookie tank driver is able to stealth kill entire camps full of fire with deadly accuracy. Its trained soldiers. presence feels properly menacing, That aside, I enjoyed the countered by the immense satisfaction that comes from bringing singleplayer a lot – brief though it is. My favourite section takes place the thing down. Behemoths can also across a large desert map containing appear in Conquest, where they three outposts that you have to spawn for whichever team slips too liberate. You can do this in any order, far behind in points. On the one hand, behemoths are a and tools from one can prove helpful for the next. Initially, I made use of powerful and deadly presence. On Battlefield 1’s surprisingly robust the other, they’re large, slow and stealth, marking guards from a require multiple players to be nearby water tower before moving in effective. It’s an interesting balance silently to take them down. Then, proposition. In all the games I’ve outpost secured, I stole a tank and played, a behemoth has rarely turned drove directly into the next things around for the losing team. checkpoint, blowing The upshot is it doesn’t everyone up. It’s a great feel cheap when it does happen, despite their i appreciate FPS sequence, made by its many significant power. BF4’s sense of better possible approaches. Battlefield 1’s scale, but for Yet even within multiplayer is me, this is the each short episode, the undoubtedly the main draw, but, in a rare better game action has frequent pacing problems. This move for the series, is most notable during DICE has made an Through Mud and Blood, a fourenjoyable, engaging singleplayer chapter story following the campaign. Called War Stories, it’s an aforementioned tank driver. In each anthology collection, each mission chapter, the main action loop is following a different person at a repeated one time too many. You different time and place in the war. learn, refine and perfect, and then do The prologue switches between it all a fourth time for good measure. multiple protagonists, showing the It’s a shame, because the fourth impossible odds they face across the revision is often the largest – an breadth of a single battle. In later improvisational challenge that’s missions we meet, among others, a spoiled by the repetition of systems roguish American pilot, an Italian and approach. special forces operative, and a Nevertheless, the War Stories fit Bedouin rebel under the command of well as a short, entertaining Lawrence of Arabia. distraction away from the intense Each War Story focuses on a competition of multiplayer. Overall, different combat style, be it driving the singleplayer lasts just five to six tanks, flying planes, or creeping around, quietly stabbing people in the hours, but the structure feels well suited to expansion. If that is DICE’s chest. Each also uses a different plan, I’d love for future episodes to framing device, letting DICE experiment with narrative styles. And cover other parts of the war – particularly from the French or even yet, around that variation, the tone German perspective. often oscillates between two extremes. At times, it’s a respectfully sombre exploration of the harrowing battle ready tragedy of a senseless war. But then, Those who remember Battlefield 4’s it’s a fun, action-packed adventure disastrous launch needn’t worry here. full of heroism and excitement. I Performance is solid, and the servers

war cry Soldier shouts, translated “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

TranslaTion: I am running, bayonet out, at my foe. Should I survive, I will write poetry about this day.

“YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAH!”

TranslaTion: We have secured the enemy sector, and lived to tell the tale. So many did not. We shall honour their memory.

“You got a plan, Sergeant?”

TranslaTion: The military is not a democratic institution, and I accept I will not always agree with my commanders. That said, can I at least have a bloody order?

“We have lost the pigeon”

TranslaTion: Man’s thirst for warfare corrupts all. Even the birds are tools for our killing. I am become death, the destroyer of pigeons.

have held steady, even at launch. On a GTX 970, it plays at a steady 60 frames per second at 1080p on Ultra settings. With a GTX 1070, it didn’t dip below 80fps on Ultra at 1440p, even during heavy artillery bombardment. While the internet is already collecting a library of ridiculous glitches, the only bugs I’ve experienced involved my gun being inoperable after a revive. An annoying, potentially fatal problem, but in all instances the problem was fixed by switching to my secondary weapon and back. As I wrote at the beginning, Battlefield 1 is still, ultimately, just a Battlefield game. It offers many of the same experiences as its (many, many) predecessors. Two things mitigate that. Firstly, Battlefield is an excellent template for a multiplayer shooter. Few games provide the same sense of unpredictable sandbox drama, at least outside of more hardcore simulators such as Arma 3. Put simply, a Battlefield game is no bad thing to be. Secondly, little differences can have a big impact. Battlefield 1’s little differences mean better infantry combat, a heightened sense of destruction, and a slower pace that feels more deliberate and tactical. This is no simple rehash and replacement, and, while I appreciate Battlefield 4’s sense of scale, for me, Battlefield 1 is the better of the two. VERDICt By returning to the past, Battlefield 1 feels renewed. This is the best game in the series since Bad Company 2. christmas 2016

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rEviEW Shadow Warrior 2

Packing heat Shadow warrior 2 nearly makes up for its bad jokes with its comically advanced gore system. By James Davenport

T

here’s this thing some people have called a penis, and Shadow Warrior 2 wants to make sure you know it. Without pause, Shadow Warrior 2 takes every opportunity to elevate dick jokes and other aimless, crass humour above its acrobatic first-person shooting, wildly diverse weapons, hilarious precision gore system, RPG-lite loot hooks, procedurally generated levels, and open-ended four-player co-op campaign.

Need to KNow

uses it without purpose. For instance, It’s a shame, because systemically, I found a gun called the Genocider. Shadow Warrior 2 is one of the most The “joke” is the word genocide, the joyful and expressive FPS games of mass murder of a race or nation. It’s a the year. But thematically, I want to pointless historical slideshow to kick it in the teeth. conjure. Later on, a character In a rare moment of silence from Wang, the chatty protagonist, I swing mistakes Wang’s monologue about a woman inside him – a spirit in his a chainsaw skyward and grind a head who acts as a guide – as coming cyber ninja into two long vertical out as transgender. It’s pieces. As the halves fly coloured as something up, I swing horizontally, quartering there’s even to be uneasy about. (What year is it?) Then the guy. For fun, I whip a button out an automatic dedicated to it’s back to dick jokes. shotgun (called the making you fall Side Splitting Boner) and shoot the pieces out of the air The combat and faster like meat pigeons. movement place an The procedural gore emphasis on acrobatics, that slices and explodes enemies with a double jump and dash exactly where they’re hit is Shadow moveset that, when used in Warrior 2’s best joke. Shotguns leave combination, let me nearly achieve gaping holes, katanas can disarm flight. With the ability to equip eight gun-wielding demons (literally), and weapons at a time, switching nail guns do exactly what they’re between a chainsaw katana, an acidic designed to. It’s grotesque slapstick grenade launcher, and an LMG shooter comedy better than it’s ever shaped like a penis (surprise), midair been, undermined by an irritating is a breeze, and makes for plenty of desire to be clever and edgy. action movie encounters. There’s Vulgarity and edgy humour aren’t even a button dedicated to making inherently bad, but Shadow Warrior 2 you fall faster for no other reason

eNormouS weapoNS

BoNer

This auto shotgun is great for strategically creating holes in a demon’s chest without reloading.

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EXPECt tO PaY £35 DEvElOPEr Flying Wild Hog PublishEr Devolver Digital rEviEWED On GeForce GTX 980 Ti, Intel i7-5960X, 16GB RAM MultiPlaYEr Up to four players in co-op link www.shadow warrior.com

The best tools for making a mess

arm of orochi

A special sword that sends a slicing projectile with every swing. Segment enemies from a safe distance.

christmas 2016

What is it? A wild looter shooter with procedural environments and dated humour.

LumBerjacK’S careSS

A chainsaw with two circular blades long enough to reach those pesky back legs.

than to make you feel like a swift interdimensional ninja. The 70 weapons available are all uniquely designed – elegant recreations of realistic firearms, weapons made entirely from bones, varnished brass steampunk contraptions. Some drop at specific story beats, the rest as loot with scaled stats. Each can also slot three gems that modify stats. They still offer a ton of options to poke and prod halfway into my second playthrough, and used in tandem with magic abilities (healing, force push, AoE shadow spike impalement) combat is an empty canvas where I’m still finding new methods for painting a demon and robot massacre. As I developed my art, however, exploding mob after mob in a shower of gems, guns, ammo and collectibles, the loot systems quickly lost their allure. There’s such a glut it becomes a chore to navigate the clumsy menus every time a new item drops. But it’s pretty easy to ignore the RPG systems for long periods. The level design is mushier than in an authored shooter, in large part because the procedural levels are so open and aimless, but as goodlooking conduits for combat, they work. Chainsawing the leg off a massive mech against the neon backdrop of a cyberpunk metropolis, or blowing holes in bipedal hammerhead shark demons in a craggy mountain village is good enough set-dressing for me. No matter how repetitive it gets, Shadow Warrior 2 stays a rewarding slapstick comedy thanks to its thrilling open-ended combat. If you can tolerate the dated humour, then it’s an easy recommendation, but it’s a shame the excellent combat needs a caveat at all.

raijiN

A gauss rifle that kicks so hard it’ll dissolve any enemy it hits.

vErDiCt Shadow Warrior 2’s gleefully expressive and varied combat is undermined by tasteless, repetitive writing.

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The cyberpunk levels are easy on the eyes.

Amid the blood and frost a spider dies.

Friend or foe?

Hyper mode, activate!

Now Yakuza, now ya don’t.

Chainsaw him? Do I half two?

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rEviEW FIFA 17

FAIR PLAY FIFA 17 strolls to another easy win in the absence of a serious challenge from Pro Evo. By Lee Hall

F

rom George Best, through Gazza, to Adriano, every footballing generation has its own cautionary tale. These mercurial talents are so full of promise, capable of unbelievable skill and destined for even greater glories. Then, usually due to the temptations precipitated by fame, and possibly dispensed as a liquid, the player self destructs, ends up broke, sick or worse. But surely that won’t befall EA’s seemingly immortal FIFA series?

deflect a pass when closing down an Well, probably not so long as its rival keeps making mistakes like the Aston opponent. Twenty-one years on, it’s reminiscent of FIFA ’96, which felt Villa defence. Remember Villa? like a dreadful grind but rewarded Nonetheless, it feels like there’s a doggedness as a counterpoint to the growing risk FIFA will never quite game-dominating trinity of pace, hit the peak its sumptuous off-thepower and footballing celebrity. pitch features deserve. Which while The early signs are FIFA 17 will frustrating is far from a disaster. have the same longevity, appeal as an As expected, FIFA 17 is bigger, online experience, and more beautiful, and power to dominate better generally than your free time as FIFA FIFA 16. It’s also better You’re now And when I say than Pro Evo 2017 – or rewarded for 16. early, I mean 40 hours it certainly is on the relentlessly in. Because until I PC. It’s got more new battling for make it to division one features than Leeds has of the attritional but had managers in the the ball glorious FIFA Ultimate last year – and some of Team mode it’s hard to them are class. One or say with complete certainty. two are, however, not. The big news for FIFA solo This year’s game runs on the players is the inclusion of a story Frostbite Engine, which takes a little mode, which I’ll admit I was pretty warming to. The crossing feels more like Gary Lineker in pants than Jamie sceptical about. But, to my surprise, The Journey is good. You guide Redknapp in a fitted shirt. It’s too plucky young phenom Alex Hunter easy to loop the ball into the air like from his under-11 cup final to the that spoon-footed guy your brother highs of a career in the Premier brought to fill in at right-back while League. Through dialogue choices Jinky Geoff recovers from his op. you forge his personality, negotiating There’s also a new Active Intelligence System, which sounds like something that tracks aerial threats and downs them with a surface-to-air missile. In practice what it actually seems to do is Set-pieces have been sporadically prevent your teammates overhauled. Penalties are now from making intelligent runs. Not extremely – and deliciously much of a game-changer then, but – twitchy. Free-kicks have been rebalanced so scoring elsewhere there are lots of positives. from range is more an art than Player collisions are the best I’ve a science and passing in the seen in a football game – though the box is now achievable. alchemy behind them is tricky to The only dead ball situation where this is a question mark is discern. It’s probably something to do corners, which do look a little with the trumpeted Physical Play glitchy at the moment. Overhaul. The result is you’re now Hopefully that can be ironed rewarded for relentlessly battling for out in future updates. the ball or stretching a leg out to

Need to KNow What is it? High fidelity football with RPG aspirations. EXPECt tO PaY £50 DEvElOPEr EA Canada PublishEr EA rEviEWED On Intel i5, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GTX 960 MultiPlaYEr Up to 8 link www.easports.com/ uk/fifa

New lIFe For deAd bAlls

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personal difficulties, footballing trials, loan spells and other career-defining moments. It’s a very welcome additional way to play.

the ultimate

FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) will remain everybody’s mode of choice, though – not least EA’s. Here, the act of converting kids’ pocket money into a massive mountain of gold has been refined to an artform. The volume of trading in the marketplace for players reflects a gaming economy that is probably now worth more than Paul Pogba to the publisher. For FIFA 17, FUT has been tweaked with new competitions and the inclusion of a mode where you can trade combinations of unwanted players for rewards. It’s still laborious to manage your team, despite some improvements to menus, and the churn of acquiring player contracts still feels uncomfortably reminiscent of the maligned freemium model. Unsurprisingly, FUT’s key new features seem designed to relieve you of more cash, by offering incentives for you to buy obscure players for which there was otherwise little demand thereby injecting even more activity into the market. That said, FIFA is a wealthy but largely benign dictator. A particularly pleasing returning feature is a cumulative system that recognises and rewards your own fidelity to the series. Your level in the game carries over from previous versions, and with that comes free unlocks that dramatically reduce the grind. These include star player loans, attribute boosts, and serious points multipliers to make acquiring the dosh you need to buy big much easier. In the end FIFA wins because it keeps on giving. This year is no exception. vErDiCt An epic ode to the joy of football, with some genuine advances, but there’s room remaining for improvement.

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Whatever happened to black boots?

A proper ball. Heavier than Mars.

Earn your spurs in The Journey mode.

Fellaini shoots... Corner flag ducks.

Look – a successful England team.

Christmas 2016

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rEviEW Gears of War 4

Cogs of War It’s fun but familiar. We’ve seen everything in Gears of War 4 before. By Wes Fenlon

A

round the time new hero JD Fenix rode along the spokes of a ferris-wheel sized gear, I began to suspect that Gears of War 4 might not be a subtle game. Maybe the real giveaway was when I shot down a giant airplane while riding a motorcycle in the inevitable on-rails take-a-break-from-yourregularly-scheduled-carnage interlude. Although now I think about it, that chainsaw gun might have been the first tip-off.

Need to KNoW What is it? A third-person shooter with meaty guns and meaty characters. EXPECt tO PaY £35

lever to open next door. Hallway, This is Gears almost exactly as we DEvElOPEr The Coalition courtyard, firefight. Thing you shot remember it, following the 2006 conveniently explodes and opens the template of big-budget shooter PublishEr path forward. Binary path choice that design. I kept waiting for it to Microsoft soon sees you reunited with the rest surprise me. I was still clinging to rEviEWED On of the squad. Firefight. Pull lever to that hope when the credits rolled. GeForce GTX 980, Intel Gears 4 is just a newer, much prettier start generator. Hallway, courtyard, i7-6700K, 16GB RAM version of a game I’ve played a dozen firefight. Vehicle intermission. MultiPlaYEr The new ideas Gears does present times before. 4-player co-op, are underused. The The Locust are back 10-player versus planet is ravaged by in the beautiful co-op link campaign, but mutated You spend the massive windstorms www.gearsofwar.com spawn roving arcs into extra nasty bug most time with that of lightning and send men called the Swarm. the least debris careening across Some new enemies add interesting outdoor battlefields. It’s variety, but don’t an awesome graphical deliver much in the guns effect, but battles are so way of strategic linear and deliberately questions. With no real staged there are few opportunities to AI to speak of, or larger battlefields use the weather to your advantage. requiring creativity, the type of Two of the new weapons also enemy I was shooting didn’t much don’t get enough exposure, but when matter. Pop up, empty mag, repeat. Precision weapons are rare. Landing skull-shattering headshots makes me want to slam a Jager bomb and high-five my bros, but there’s frustratingly little opportunity. Picking up an ammo crate won’t refill How the last 25 years have treated Marcus your Longshot sniper rifle, and the 1 Beard tougher Swarm will shrug off several 2 Geralt did it first, but Marcus 1 sniper shots before they go down. makes a strong showing for This has always been the Gears Beard of 2016. way, but the result is that you spend 2 froWN the most time with the least Still there, still manly. interesting guns. It feels old Remember that time Marcus fashioned, which sounds weird in a smiled? Go on, I can wait. world where the recent great shooter campaigns were reboots of Doom and 4 3 shovel Wolfenstein. How can Gears, only a Losing a step there. In the old 3 days, Marcus would have had a decade old, feel more dated? chainsaw attached to that. Perhaps because the structure of Gears 4’s campaign is identical to the 4 Bicep first three – and so many other Shrunken from “tree trunks” to big-budget games made over the last “The Expendables 3-level ten years. Hallway, open courtyard, muscular coverage.” firefight. Door closes behind you. Pull

fiGhtiNG fit

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they do show up they’re among the most fun guns I’ve used in shooters in years. The Overkill is a vicious close-range shotgun that fires once on mouse press and once on mouse release. When you’re in a tight spot, hammering the mouse absolutely unloads it on whatever’s in front of you. Even cooler is the Dropshot, a sort of rocket launcher that fires an explosive charge in a straight line. Hold the trigger and the charge keeps flying; release, and it hurtles to the ground and detonates.

strength in numbers

In the multiplayer, aggressive human players bring the weapons to life. The best new modes are Dodgeball, which grants you a respawn for every kill your team earns, causing tension to crest and trough as the number advantage swings back and forth, and Arms Race, which swaps your team’s arsenal every three kills. Arms Race is Gears at its least traditional, but it’s a great gametype for structured chaos. Horde 3.0 has a new class system, with a seriously slow grind required to level up and equip more abilities that improve your specialisation. Specialisations are locked behind ‘card’ loot boxes: you can buy card packs with in-game currency or real money, and have to create and burn duplicates of cards to level up these Horde abilities. Thankfully the loot boxes for Versus are purely cosmetic, and if the money Microsoft makes by selling them justifies making DLC maps free for all players, so be it. Gears 4 needed bolder execution of its good new ideas to be an interesting singleplayer shooter in 2016. Multiplayer is likewise mostly an iteration, but here, at least, the variety of thoughtful, fun tweaks to its modes kept me coming back. vErDiCt The by-the-numbers campaign feels stuck in 2006, but multiplayer builds on classic Gears with great new modes.

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Multiplayer and Horde is where I ended up spending most of my time.

At 60fps, the shotgun finally feels reliable online.

New baddies include the Swarm.

Hi-res, old and tired. But enough about Gears 4.

So yeah, this was a thing.

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81


rEviEW Slayer Shock

Duffy Vampire slaying wears thin in the interesting but repetitive Slayer Shock. By Fraser Brown

I

sneak up on a vampire – he’s staring off into the distance – and stake him in the head. Strictly speaking, that’s not where his heart is located, but it does the job. Unfortunately, the commotion has drawn the attention of a lumbering behemoth. After a bit of a dance, the giant vampire pummels me and ends my evening of vampire hunting early. I get back to my headquarters and local coffee shop where I am told, unceremoniously, that my home has been burgled. The episodic structure is similarly As concepts go, Buffy-inspired Slayer Shock’s is a doozy. By night you patrol underutilised. Each mission, where you either rescue hapless hostages, the streets of a Nebraskan town, kill Elite vampires, or search for doling out justice to the undead. Then it’s back to your favourite coffee relics, represents a single episode. You can only start one mission per shop, where you hang out with your episode, and those not embarked very own Scooby Gang – ostensibly upon heighten the threat in the area free agents who go on their own where they took place. A season missions, attend school, and date. concludes when you Lamentably, the – after spending a fair reality is slight, amount of vampire repetitive, and loomed It’s hard not to dust, the game’s over by the spectre of procedural generation. feel as much of currency – locate and kill the boss vampires. Take the randomly a badass as you repeat the generated NPCs: you’ve Buffy herself Then whole thing again. got your Giles-like Occasionally a boss mentor and a couple of vampire will suddenly pals who stand in for appear in a mission just to harass you, the likes of Willow and Xander, but or a friend won’t be around due to little of what they say or do actually exams, mixing an episode up a bit, matters. When they date, it just but there are few meaningful changes means they sit at the same table until or random events. Episodes and they break up. When their morale is seasons mostly remain identical, low, it just means they say something pitting you against the same foes. gloomy. When they die, you can just The missions themselves at least replace them with someone else. manage to be entertaining, bloodThey merely exist to sell you soaked romps. You start with a weak weapons, upgrades, and to find out stake, forcing you to get right up close where the boss vampire is located.

Need to kNow What is it? A Buffy-inspired FPS-RPG where you hunt vampires in Nebraska. EXPECt tO PaY £15 DEvElOPEr Minor Key Games PublishEr In-house rEviEWED On Intel i5-3570K @3.4GHz, 8GB RAM, GeForce GTX 970, Windows 10 MultiPlaYEr None link www.slayershock.com

k Now your VampS A brief guide to the types of vampires found in Slayer Shock

miNioN

Just your average vamp; dumb but with a sharp bite.

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elite

Tougher and dapper, watch out for the occasional fireball.

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tarr are

Huge, ugly, and prone to charge at Slayers.

taboo

Stay out of the blast radius of this exploding vamp.

boSS

The Elite of the Elite, research their weaknesses to kill these guys.

to your prey. Eventually, nail guns, super soakers full of holy water, garlic grenades, crossbows, and almighty katanas make dispatching vampires, and even the occasional werewolf, a lot easier. The swords are the highlight: a few slices and all but the hardier vamps are done for. And when coupled with the ability to slide into attacks, leap through glass windows, or stomp on vampires from above, it’s hard not to feel as much of a badass as Buffy herself.

HusH

On higher difficulties, Slayer Shock becomes more of a stealth game. The bare-bones UI doesn’t really provide much feedback, so being sneaky requires a bit of common sense – move slowly, crouch, no loud noises, stay out of the light – and patience. It becomes a very different, smarter, tenser, game, and the foes become serious threats that send you running off to find a hiding spot. These bright interludes are unfortunately marred by Slayer Shock’s ugly aesthetic and bland, procedurally generated levels. Aside from the occasional box or rare bit of furniture, the maps are depressingly desolate places. There are no traps, no surprises, and an absence of variety persists throughout the seasons. Enemy placement is no better, with foes seemingly wandering at random – sometimes all grouped together in one location, on other occasions spread out, walking into walls or crates. Slayer Shock has no dearth of interesting ideas, from the central conceit to the NPC gang, but few of them are ever taken far, or in interesting directions, leaving it with only the solid combat, half-baked systems, and repetitive missions. vErDiCt The fun concept and diverting combat don’t make up for how slight and repetitive Slayer Shock is.

55


Shouldn’t fire be dangerous to vampires?

Nobody wants to get in the way of a charging Tarrare.

Those nails look nicely Buffyed.

The plasticky graphics don’t help.

Same game, different scenery.

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83


rEviEW Civilization VI

Mapnificent Discovering, decoding, and developing a living world in Civilization vi. By TJ Hafer

C

ivilization VI is the ultimate digital board game. More than ever in the series, the map is the soul of every opportunity and challenge. I’m playing for, with, and against the board. Forests and deserts and resource-rich tundra influence the growth of my civilisation, granting it boons and burdening it with lasting weaknesses. The glorious, challenging dynamics that emerge leave me in no doubt that the series has crowned a new king. cultural progress that ties into a sort While Civ VI is probably the most of collectible card game for building a transformative step forward for the unique government. Such feature series, its changes shouldn’t trip up richness is welcome, but I also worry longtime players too much. You still about the game’s accessibility for settle cities, develop tiles, train more casual strategy fans. military units, wage turn-based What binds everything together is warfare, and conduct diplomacy. It the map. I have reservations about mirrored my memories of past Civs the art style – some of the military closely enough that hints from the units could have fallen in-game advisor were out of a freemium all I needed. mobile game – but the All the same, there no two cities map itself, and its cities, are so many new features that it could you build will iron mines, and festival is more alive feel overwhelming at ever look or feel squares, than ever. I never times. It resembles a the same needed to pull up an Civ game that’s already overlay to see which had two or three tiles were being expansions added on worked, for example, because the top – from the new Districts that models and animations did that job perform specific tasks and spread my for me at a glance. cities out into an often messy but Unworked fields lie barren, and I somehow pleasing sprawl, to a whole could tell how many citizen slots in separate tech tree for civic and

new new delhi

My capital in the information age

1 downtown You can still see my first ever building, a monument, tucked between soaring towers.

2 ShininG oaSiS

5 1

2

This blotch of desert turned out to be the world’s largest source of aluminium.

3 delhi-CalCut ta international airport Mostly used to bomb the Russians, to be honest.

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4 3

4 Mt. G andhi national parK

Established in the Eastern Mountains to boost my civilisation’s tourism.

5 delhi-CalCut ta urban Corridor

Linking the two sister cities with art, culture, learning, and industry.

need to Know What is it? Turn-based strategy spanning all of human history. EXPECt tO PaY £40 DEvElOPEr Firaxis PublishEr 2K rEviEWED On Windows 10 64-bit, Core i7-4770K, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 770 MultiPlaYEr Up to 12 online, local network, and hot seat link www.civilization.com

my commercial district were taken by the bustle in the streets. The tech trees and the leader interaction screen were the only parts of the UI that hid my soaring cities from my view. The latter has animated, 3D representations of everyone from Montezuma to that jerk Peter the Great who thinks his moustache and his science bonus are so cool, even though they’re not and I’ve had bombers in range of his second largest city since the Atomic Age. They’re all very well voice acted, with the return of native language dialogue from Civ V.

Hexistential

Spending a lot of time staring at hills, valleys, and potential pyramid locations isn’t just enjoyable and informative, however. It’s critical to getting the most out of the game. Terrain and tile types have always been a factor but they’re at the heart of nearly everything in Civ VI. With districts and wonders taking up a tile each, and being the most powerful tools I had to catapult myself toward victory, city planning became a huge focus. When I unlocked the ability to build a Holy Site, I had to ask myself if I wanted to nestle it among those forested hills to gain bonus faith, or wait to clear out all the trees later on, plop down an industrial district and enjoy a huge boost to my production. There was never a time that I felt I could fill every tile with the most obviously ‘correct’ district or improvement and call it a day. The need for foresight is unending. There are always sacrifices, like when I fell behind in culture because my only eligible tile for a theatre was the one I’d been saving to build a rocket launch site to clinch a science victory. It’s a fantastic, richly realised way of forcing difficult decisions at every bend in the river and making sure no two cities you build will ever look or feel the same. It feels like a revelation for someone who’s been playing 4X games since before I could see over a car dashboard. The constant planning


W x

Unexplored regions are pleasingly parchment-like.

Curved‌ swords?!

Look out! That skyscraper-sized truck is headed right for the cows! A proud monument to bloodsports.

Buildings are no longer constrained to your city centre.

My teacher wouldn’t believe that Einstein was born in Calcutta in 1782.

Natural Wonders really enhance the map.

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rWhen the gods give you

tundra, make culture wonders.

Hopefully headed for a better game than Beyond Earth.

Mountains: home to hoary wise men.

Policy cards unlock powerful bonuses.

Unit stacking is more flexible now.

My top agent, trying to find out why Peter is such a jerk.

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rEviEW Civilization VI

and trade-offs seem like how this series was always supposed to work. There’s a level of trial and error that caused me some frustration in my first few races to the space age. When everything is fresh and new, you might not realise you’re plopping down a university campus in a place you should have waited to build a neighbourhood several centuries later. One late game civic (the cultural equivalent of a tech) unlocks national parks, which grant a massive culture boost – but unless you’ve been planning where it’s going to go from 4000 BC, chances are you’ve already destroyed all of the pristine nature required to set one up. I longed for some kind of city planning utility, where I could mock up where everything was going to go once I’d unlocked all the districts and improvements, especially considering some of them get adjacency bonuses for being next to each other.

SeCretS of SuCCeSSful leaderS

pe ter the Gre at weSterniSer

Gains bonus culture and science from trade routes with civs ahead of him in civics and tech. Thus, he likes civs that stay ahead of him in these categories.

hoJo toKiMune buShido

Wants to be bros with those who have a strong military, but also strong faith and culture output. He turns up his nose if you don’t have all three.

lends them a cup of sugar. If you’re going for a very pacifist run, you can let that agenda guide you, ignoring city-states and the benefits that courting them provide, and chances are you won’t have pretzel-scented warriors knocking down your door. In the event that hostilities do break out, Civ VI has split the difference between V’s one unit per eureka moment tile and IV’s Clash of the Doomstacks The map also ties into the tech and to find a happy civics tree. Every medium. Support units technology and civic such as medics and has an associated mini Civ’s score Generals can objective that will breathes life Great attach to and occupy trigger a “Eureka” into all these the same tile as a moment and pay off conflicts and regular combat unit half the cost immediately. Founding conferences like a pikeman. In the mid and late game, you a city next to an ocean also gain the ability to tile sped up my combine two combat units into a progress toward sailing. Building Corps, and later you can add a third three industrial districts with to make an Army, which are more factories jumped me ahead in my quest to embrace communism. These powerful versions of that unit that only take up a single tile. This adds advances are often tied to having some new layers and tactics to a room for specific districts, access to model of warfare that could get specific resources, or contact with predictable and repetitive in Civ V. other civilisations. Where I spawned Civ’s score breathes life into all on each map had a significant effect these conflicts and conferences. on which techs I could get quickly, Christopher Tin’s new main theme, and thus which ones I tended to go for first. It also helps alleviate waiting Sogno di Volare, is just as sweeping, catchy, and beautiful as Baba Yetu. I several turns for a building or a unit predict it will join his previous Civ to finish, as I could always be effort in the pantheon of the greatest pursuing a Eureka objective. pieces of music written for a It’s not all reinvention. The Civ videogame, though I suspect it won’t staples of war and diplomacy have spawn as many memes – if only returned, recognisable but honed to because it’s more difficult to imitate the sharpest edge. I particularly enjoyed the way AI leaders now have its soaring, Italian cathedral choir chorus without sounding like an agendas (one public, and one that asthmatic screech owl. The must be uncovered) that make it real magic happens past theoretically possible to stay on the menu screen, everyone’s good side if you’re willing however, where every civ has to jump through a lot of hoops. Frederick Barbarossa of Germany, for a main theme that grows more complex and epic as you progress instance, wants to kill all city states through the ages. England, for and hates anyone who so much as

Understanding AI agendas

viCtoria Sun never SetS

Qin Shi huanG wall of 10,000 li

Gets along great with other civs who start on her continent, dislikes civs from continents where England does not yet have a city.

Wants his civ to be the most wonderful in the world. Dislikes anyone building the same wonder as him, especially if you beat him.

example, begins with a simple, aspirational, and even somewhat haunting flute rendition of Scarborough Fair. By the Modern Age, it has exploded into an orchestral and choral celebration of all things English that made me want to sail a ship of the line made of crumpets through the walls of a Spanish fort and unleash the redcoats to toss scalding tea into the faces of their enemies. When I looked down upon everything that I’d built as my Mars colonists blasted off to barely snatch victory from Peter and his moustachioed cronies, every tile struck me with a sense of history. The sprawl of the Delhi-Calcutta metroplex. The 3,000-year-old farmland I’d had to bulldoze to place an industrial-era wonder. And just beside where my first settler had spawned, at the foot of the soaring peaks that had protected my people from marauding armies for generations, was the new forest I’d planted on the site of a former lumber mill to create enough nature for a national park. For each valley, steppe and oasis, I could tell you why I’d developed it the way I did much more meaningfully than “Because hills are a good place for mines.” As the board shaped my empire, and I shaped it, the history of my civilisation and my decisions accumulated and followed me right up to the threshold of the stars. And that, more than anything, is why I’ll never need another Civ game in my life besides this one. vErDiCt Sight, sound, and systems harmonise to make this the liveliest, most engrossing, and rewarding 4X on Earth. christmas 2016

93 87


rEviEW The Silver Case

Cop out The Silver CaSe is a weird trip back down Suda51’s timeline. By Fraser Brown

T

he Silver Case is a 16-year-old gaming artefact and loopy visual novel that also served as Goichi “Suda51” Suda’s first project with his then recently formed studio, Grasshopper Manufacture. It’s taken the better part of two decades to make its way over to the west, but it’s finally here in the form of a localised and remastered edition. It’s very odd. Raw, unfiltered Suda51 – that’s what The Silver Case is.

Need To KNow What is it? A detective thriller and visual novel. EXPECt tO PaY £15

cops around and occasionally doing It’s a visual novel with a dash of their work for them. Characters will exploration and puzzles, focusing on ask you questions and proceed as if a group of detectives from the they’ve been given answers, so Heinous Crimes Unit. These presumably there’s conversation eccentric coppers attempt to solve going on, but you only ever read one crimes while the city is under siege side of it and never get to select any from a serial killer whose murderous exploits are infecting people. Insanity dialogue yourself. The second protagonist, a chain-smoking reporter has become contagious. called Tokio One moment the Morishima, is more game’s forcing you to fully formed. sit through a long and It’s a good has an mundane primer on thing that it’s Morishima internal monologue, the police force, the not important back and forth next you’re hunting you understand conversations, and a down kidnappers and serial killers, but with what’s going on distinct personality – he’s everything plenty of breaks for Transmission’s mute meandering discussions investigator isn’t. Even the tone and on investigative styles and mechanics change as you hop philosophy. The Silver Case changes between each branch. gears a lot. And though it’s not Transmission is most like an explained at all, there are two sets of adventure game, with very light and chapters, Transmission and Placebo, unfortunately repetitive exploration, following different protagonists in along with tiresome puzzles that separate but inextricably linked mainly involve opening doors. It’s stories. It can be hard to keep up. also the branch that keeps the player In Transmission, you play a silent at a distance, offering no sense of observer, roped into following some

DEvElOPEr Grasshopper Manufacture PublishEr In-house rEviEWED On Intel i5-3570K @3.4GHz, 8GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 970, Windows 10 MultiPlaYEr None link www.thesilvercase.com

The heiNouS CrimeS diviSioN Get to know your new colleagues

TeTSuguro KuSabi

A chain-smoking, foul mouthed veteran cop, Kusabi is more than a little rough around the edges and gives everyone a hard time.

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Sumio Kodai

The youngest member of the HCD, and Kusabi’s partner, Sumio is the “good cop” to his buddy’s “bad cop”. Alas, he makes poor life choices.

KiyoShi moriK awa

The lone wolf of the department. He’s also got a bit of a crush on Hachisuka, and transforms into a creep around her.

character. Placebo, on the other hand, goes to great lengths when it comes to revealing the type of man Morishima is, fostering greater personal investment. Though he’s a reporter rather than a detective, of the pair, Placebo is the one that’s most like a hardboiled, pulpy crime romp. Unfortunately, those chapters are also the least interactive, generally involving reading and sending emails between chats with a pet turtle.

pulped fiction

The game’s constantly shifting nature informs its presentation. Anime, CG, FMV, and static images are all used, often in quick succession. One case is black and white. Another flips the first-person exploration view from horizontal to vertical. Even the mostly empty backgrounds change from chapter to chapter. Visually, it’s fascinating, but superficially so. The constant experimentation and subversion, in both the art and narrative, make for a muddled experience where any point or purpose is lost in a tsunami of seemingly irrelevant details, meandering dialogue and surreal interruptions. It’s a good thing, perhaps, that it’s not important that you understand what’s going on. The Silver Case doesn’t need you to do much aside from hit space a lot while reading walls of text. Despite all this, the strangeness is seductive – the chilling imagery and occasional descents into the fantastical. The central mystery, too, is compelling, if all too often lost amid the ranting, constantly cursing cops and exhausting stakeout speeches. There’s just so much of it. It’s long for a game that’s 90% dialogue, ten hours at least, and a lot of it is simply dull and highfalutin.

Chizuru haChiSuKa

Treats crime-solving as pure science, making her lots of friends and ensuring she gets invited to all the parties.

vErDiCt An intriguing but often incoherent mystery that’s bogged down by long-winded dialogue and terrible puzzles.

50


I did not ask for this nickname. That sure is an interesting floor.

It’s one of his many superpowers.

We’re here to fix your clogged pipes.

Christmas 2016

89


rEviEW Mafia III

GONE SOUTH Mafia iii is a bold new direction for the series that doesn’t quite pay off. By Andy Kelly

L

incoln Clay returns from Vietnam in 1968, only to find himself fighting another war on the streets of New Bordeaux, Louisiana. A feud between his adopted family – who are members of the black mob – and a Haitian crime syndicate turns bloody, and suddenly his plans to leave his hometown behind for a job in California are put on indefinite hold. He’s been pulled into a brutal world of revenge and repercussions.

While exploring I accidentally Clay’s violent homecoming and a stumbled into a bar on the edge of daring bank heist are the focus of the the bayou, and didn’t realise it was first few hours of Mafia III, and it’s a segregated until the owner came over strong start. The story is fast-paced and cinematic, using stylish editing to and said as much, but in more colourful language. I refused to leave, jump backwards and forwards in of course, wanting to test the limits of time, reinforcing the setting with the game, and he made a dash for the evocative ’60s music. That includes phone. I had to grab him and choke tracks from The Beach Boys, Jimi him to death before he Hendrix, Elvis Presley, alerted the cops. and The Rolling Stones It’s weird seeing one – they must have spent The city is a of the shameful a fortune licensing the straight-faced periodsmost in American game’s soundtrack. New Bordeaux is an homage to New history reduced to a Orleans, not a game system like this, analogue of New Orleans, a city that was GTA parody but I’m glad Hangar 13 tackled it head-on racially segregated in rather than tiptoeing the 1960s, and Hangar around it. With a few exceptions, 13 – a new studio formed by 2K such as the gang of yee-hawing Games to develop Mafia III – hasn’t cartoon rednecks Clay encounters, shied away from this. Racial slurs are the racism feels like it’s there because used with abandon, frequently aimed it’s a natural part of the setting, not at Clay. And if you enter a “whites just for shock value. only” establishment such as a bar or The city itself is a straight-faced restaurant, the owner will angrily confront you and call the police if you homage to New Orleans, not an exaggerated Grand Theft Auto-style refuse to leave.

d R e a M t e a M Lincoln’s partners in crime

CassaNdRa

The leader of the Haitian mob. Recruit her and her arms dealer will deliver new weapons and refill your ammo in the field.

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Vito

A veteran Italian mobster who runs the River Row district. Befriend him and you can hire armed muscle to back you up.

thoMas

The boss of the Irish mob. When you inevitably get in trouble with the cops, his mole in the New Bordeaux PD can call them off.

Need to KNow What is it? An open-world crime story set in 1960s Louisiana. EXPECt tO PaY £35 DEvElOPEr Hangar 13 PublishEr 2K Games rEviEWED On GeForce GTX 970, Intel i5-6600K, 16GB RAM MultiPlaYEr None link www.mafiagame.com

parody. There’s a good amount of variety, from the colonial architecture of the French Ward to the swampy depths of Bayou Fantom, but the muted colour palette and restrained art design make for a bland and largely forgettable open world. After an unexpected betrayal Mafia III begins to lose its way, and the promise of those early hours fades. Clay survives an attempt on his life and embarks on a singleminded quest for vengeance, which involves conquering New Bordeaux district by district until he has enough power and influence to dethrone Italian mob boss Sal Marcano. This is when the racket system comes into play. To claim a district, Clay has to bring down, then take over, rackets run by rival gangs. These include prostitution, drug dealing, contraband smuggling, and other illegal activities. The more you own, the more money you’ll earn, and with every racket that falls Clay gets closer to Marcano.

hostile takeover

Every racket has a dollar value, and your job is getting that number to zero by killing people, breaking stuff, and stealing money at various locations scattered around the map. When you’ve caused enough trouble, the boss will be lured out of hiding, giving you a chance to kill him and incorporate his business into your burgeoning criminal empire. When this was first introduced I enjoyed it. I was creeping into gang-controlled territory, quietly stabbing people, slipping money into my pockets, sneaking up on lieutenants and interrogating them, causing mischief. Then I realised, after completing countless variations of the same mission for several hours, that this was the entire game. The rackets aren’t side missions you can dip in and out of at your leisure. It feels like they should be, but the game is actually built around them. Complete enough and you’ll unlock the occasional story mission,


Vito is older, wiser, angrier.

I

Take that, small cabin.

The city looks best at night.

Praying for a better game.

Not a good idea, pal.

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rThe retro driving interface is cool.

M

It’s the ’60s, so everyone smokes.

Lincoln meets Cassandra. Obligatory open-world sunset screenshot.

He probably deserved that.

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rEviEW Mafia III

B i G C i t Y The districts of New Bordeaux

fReNCh waRd

A historical district based on New Orleans’ French Quarter. Lively and colourful, it echoes with the sound of jazz music.

RiVeR Row

A dockside district run by Vito Scaletta, protagonist of Mafia II. He uses it to run smuggling rackets and extort unions.

dowNtowN

The most built-up area of New Bordeaux. The Marcano crime family runs construction and bribery rackets here.

personality and enthusiasm. In fact, some of which are genuinely fun, but Mafia III barely feels like it’s part of then it’s back to the grind. Driving the same series, despite the presence between boring locations, killing of Vito Scaletta as one of Clay’s generic gangsters, and occasionally partners in crime. smashing or setting fire to something He recruits three associates to to drive the value of the racket down. help run the empire, each offering Amazingly, considering the size of special services that can be used in the city they’ve built, the developers the field. You can call up Cassandra’s reuse some locations. You’ll clear a mobile arms dealer if you’re low on warehouse, factory, or strip club of ammo or need to buy new guns, or enemies to draw the boss out, then use Vito’s Italian mob connections to return later to finish him off, and the hire some armed goons will have heavies in a pinch. respawned – often in When you capture a the same position. It’s Enemies you choose spectacularly lazy behave more territory which of the three gets design, and fairly like confused to run it, which can shameless filler. robots than cause conflicts within Honestly, if the the group. This is one rackets were a side people of the game’s best mission in another ideas, but it’s game you’d ignore overshadowed by the lack of them. They somehow make running imagination elsewhere. a crime empire seem like the most The repetitive mission structure boring, repetitive job in the world. might not have bothered me as much And just when you think you’ve if the game was more fun to play, or if made some progress, more open up there were any interesting systems to in the next district, and the tedium experiment with. The melee combat continues – but this time with a has a satisfying crunch to it, but the slightly different backdrop. firefights are about as generic as Most open-world games are cover-based shooters get. Vehicle glorified checklists, but the best ones handling, even with the vaguely more hide it with variety, engaging responsive “simulation” mode missions, and a story you care about. activated, is frustratingly weightless Mafia III just feels like busywork, and slippery. And the AI is and the narrative slows to a crawl after a promising opening act. Playing astonishingly dumb, with enemies behaving more like confused robots a black war veteran in a segregated than people. city is a compelling concept, but Clay is a deeply uninteresting character, whose place in the world is more Port of call interesting than anything he actually The PC port is pretty bad too. The does or says in it. textures are muddy and the image is The slick presentation, impressive curiously blurry, even when set to facial animation, and solid voice your monitor’s native resolution. The performances fail to disguise the fact fact that you’ll need a GTX 1080 or that this is a wholly unoriginal and similar to maintain 60 frames per joyless revenge story. It has none of second suggests poor optimisation. the charm of Mafia II, which at least And the aggressive colour grading told its tropey mob story with some – an attempt to create a vintage ’60s

delR aY hollow

The residential district where Clay grew up. Once run by the black mob, but now used by the Dixie Mafia to push heroin.

BaYou faNtoM

Located on the outskirts, this area of marshlands is used by the Marcanos for gun running and moonshine production.

aesthetic – is overpowering. The city can look spectacular at night, especially when it rains, but overall the image quality and the fidelity are incredibly disappointing. It’s buggy too, with characters getting stuck on scenery and their limbs wildly flailing, cars soaring into the air after a minor shunt, and the sky rapidly shifting from light to dark. It made me miss the robust physics and visual sparkle of GTA V. The shift away from the Italian mob and the choice to tackle a difficult period in American history was a bold, subversive move – especially for a series with such an established, passionate fanbase – and in that sense I have a lot of respect for Hangar 13. The ’60s setting is nicely realised too, with some fantastic world-building helping to establish the era. It’s just a shame the game attached to it is so rote, unambitious, and poorly designed. It draws too much water from a very shallow well, repeating the same mission types far too often, and wrapping its story around a territory system that just isn’t deep or entertaining enough to support an entire game. Mafia II was criticised by many for being too linear, but I’d take that over this aimless parade of dull any day. Mafia II had heart. It was a game about murderous gangsters, sure, but it focused as much on their friendship and camaraderie as it did the ugly side of their profession. In comparison, Mafia III is a grim, relentless revenge story that takes itself far too seriously. vErDiCt Starts promisingly, but soon slips into a tiresome, repetitive grind, never doing its unique setting justice. December 2016

54 93


rEviEW Thumper

slay ride Thumper is like a journey to Hell on bad amphetamines. By Keza MacDonald

Y

ou are a chrome beetle, hurtling unstoppably into a void, zooming through hellscapes on rails at grimace-inducing speed. A screaming, flaming skull hovers in the middle distance, sending debris down the track to end you. If that description reads like a nightmare, know that Thumper looks and sounds like one, too. Most games have you fighting your way out of danger, but this one fires you headlong into the abyss.

expanding and contracting shapes, This is a rhythm game with blooming colours, pretty lights. deceptively simple one-button Thumper beats you into a sense of controls, but one in which the flow. The visuals are hellish, sharp, slightest lapse will finish you with tendrils and right-angles and immediately. Fail to turn, jump, change rails or smash barriers in time weird undulating shapes that recall with the grimly industrial soundtrack insectoid limbs. Bosses loom menacingly on the horizon as your and death is immediate. chrome beetle speeds down its Thumper’s nine long, relentless endless rail, taking the levels are split into form of fiery skulls or short checkpointed sections. The game it feels more abstract, geometric with mouths. stops short of true like a survival- entities The palette is sadism by giving you horror game dominated by red and two shots at success when you’re black. It reminds me of but good lord, the Devil Daggers, both in feeling when you’re on playing it its simplicity and the that last try and you’re arresting visual style. about to come up on a The music, too, is brutal and new section of track is not pleasant. relentless, bordering on monotonous. Suddenly you’re battling your nerves It frequently sounds like it’s being alongside everything else that banged out on the lid of a trashcan in Thumper throws into your path. an echoey alley. This is a perfect What’s so interesting about the match for the visual style, and the game is the atmosphere of doom and beat transforms your feeble buttonmalevolence it conjures. Most iconic presses into reverberating rhythm games try to lull you into a shockwaves. It is absolute sensory sense of flow. Their visuals are all

Need To KNow What is it? A brutal, challenging, visually arresting rhythm game. EXPECt tO PaY £16 DEvElOPEr Drool PublishEr In-house rEviEWED On GeForce GTX 780 Ti, 16GB RAM, Intel 4770K MultiPlaYEr None link www.thumper.com

rh Y Thm SurVIVAL The emotional rollercoaster that is a typical Thumper level mood

These patterns are fine! I can totally do this.

I feel like my eyeballs are overheating.

The beaT Is InsIde me, I am one wITh The beeTle.

boss appears, bringing with it devilish drum-patterns from hell.

hand-shaking, sweaty elation as boss explodes in booming shockwave.

I do not remember a time before this boss :(

December 2016

sucker punch

A couple of things annoy the rhythm -action purist in me. Sometimes it will enclose you in a corridor with sharp turns that prevent you from seeing what’s coming up, so you have to memorise the pattern of obstacles through trial and error. And speaking of errors, the cacophony of visual and audio feedback when you slam into a wall totally breaks my concentration, and even obscures the screen sometimes. If I lost one life, I’d often lose the other within five seconds. It is a cardinal sin of rhythm games to ever change the tempo: Thumper only slows down for a split second, but it was enough to throw me. Thumper is unlike anything else I’ve encountered in this genre – and I have played a lot of rhythm games. It feels more like a survival-horror game when you’re actually playing it, albeit at 100x the speed. It gave me both a creeping sense of dread and an extreme adrenaline high. I played it obsessively for a couple of days until I conquered it. Once you’ve stared into the abyss, something about it keeps drawing you back. vErDiCt

LeVeL proGreSS

94

overload – there is no room for anything in your brain but what Thumper is forcing upon your eyes, ears and reflexes. All this is no accident. Developers Marc Flury and Brian Gibson have referred to it as “rhythm violence”, which aptly communicates the physicality of playing it: it really feels like being pummelled (especially in VR – PC Thumper will be patched for VR compatibility in November). The result, though, is the same as games like Rez achieve with their gentler approach: a state of total oneness with your senses and the game. Playing it well feels like a mind-meld.

A total assault on your ears, eyes and reflexes. Thumper will beat you up, but you’ll enjoy the process.

82


This isn’t one of those racing games with nice scenery.

It’s like I’m inside my own coronary.

Tendrils are never good.

oh dear God what’s that?

Just head towards the light. soon be over.

December 2016

95


It’s nice to see more of Prague at night. Jensen makes a new friend.

And reunites with an old one.

DATA RECOVERY A familiar face returns in SyStem Rift, Mankind Divided’s first story DLC. By Andy Kelly

R

emember Frank Pritchard? He was David Sarif’s ponytailsporting head of cyber-security in Human Revolution, and an obnoxious jerk. But there was something entertaining about his barbed back-and-forths with Adam Jensen, and by the end of the game the pair had formed a peculiar, uneasy friendship. In System Rift, Mankind Divided’s first story DLC, Pritchard returns with a job for Jensen: break into a high-security data vault. the main game and unlock System There’s a convoluted reason why he Rift as a side mission? wants you to do this, but it’s really The new district of Prague is tiny just a flimsy excuse to have Jensen compared to the rest of the city, but rob another branch of the Palisade I’m glad they let us explore Bank, which was the highlight of the somewhere new rather than reusing main game for many of us. This time an old location. Set at your target is Blade-01, night, it offers a a data storage centre Pritchard’s stunning view of the protected by guards, robots, cameras, conversations city across the river, and the bank is a huge, turrets, and more lasers tease some detailed space, but than a ’90s rave. humanity out otherwise it doesn’t Disappointingly, the have quite the same DLC isn’t integrated of Jensen production values as into the main game the rest of the game. meaning the credits, Eagle-eyed players will be distracted items, XP, and other stuff you collect can’t be used elsewhere. It also resets by a few recycled assets, and the your augmentations, so your first task streets feel claustrophobic. Before you hit the bank you have to meet a is deciding which ones you want to contact in an area guarded by use for this mission. Knowing your anti-aug gangsters, which Jensen progress will be lost at the end of the describes as a “neighbourhood”, but DLC makes the experience feel it’s really just a small courtyard. slightly fruitless. Would it have been The bank itself is classic Deus Ex. so difficult to have Pritchard call There are multiple ways to infiltrate Jensen up on his videophone during 96

Christmas 2016

Need to KNow What is it? A new mission for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. EXPECt tO PaY £10 DEvElOPEr Eidos Montreal PublishEr Square Enix rEviEWED On GeForce GTX 970, Intel i5-6600K, 16GB RAM MultiPlaYEr None link www.deusex.com

it, including vents, hackable keypads, and hidden paths. And the extremely tight security forces you to make intelligent use of your augs and gadgets. It’s a well-designed level, but doesn’t bring anything new to the table. If you were burned out after finishing Mankind Divided, this may feel too much like retreading old ground. But having your augs reset at the start does at least give you a chance to experiment with a different play style this time around. Pritchard’s return has some nostalgia value, and his conversations with Jensen tease some surprising humanity out of the monotone cyborg. He almost seems, deep down in the depths of his robo-soul, happy to see him. The Blade is a welldesigned playground for Jensen’s augs, but System Rift is, overall, not quite as good as anything in the main game. You’ll have to decide whether two more hours of futuristic bank robbery, and a small chunk of new city to explore, is worth £10. vErDiCt A decent, but not essential, two-hour expansion for Mankind Divided that’s ultimately more of the same.

70


thEY’rE baCk RE-RELEASES REVIEWED by Jon Blyth Check out this log file. You know you want to.

Ooh, message board. Feeling so hacky right now.

BioShock’s hacking minigame. It can be worse.

And here’s some Fallout 3 hacking.

HACKY SAC

I

When it comes to pre-teen hack fantasies, HACKNet doesn’t drop the ball

think I speak for all real hackers when I say that “what hacking should be like” is not Uplink. It is, at least for boys, Swordfish’s “receiving oral sex with a gun to the head while John Travolta watches” model. Girl hackers, maybe, can enjoy their genderappropriate version, which is “Anna Nicole Smith sat near a monitor while clacking sound effects play, head cocked and tongue slipping out like a chesty Marnie The Dog”. Hey, I didn’t make these movies. The hacking process becomes So, hacking is Penn Jilette shouting rote: set up shells, deal with proxies “GIVE IT SOME COOKIES” at the and firewalls, then jimmy open as Cookie Monster virus. It’s splash many ports as you need to run screens with a skull and crossbones, porthack, which gets you the admin and the message “Hackers Beware! password. Sometimes there’s that Continue hacking? (y/n)” What it timer I mentioned, and isn’t – or rather what it you get stronger by is, but shouldn’t be – is You might as finding a tool that can learning a bunch of open up a different Unix commands. well engage kind of port. Think of Hacknet fails the safety SSHcrack.exe as a entirely to reproduce protocols on grappling hook, and the sexy violence I demand from my the holodeck FTPBounce as a boomerang. Hacknet intellectual power gets way more fantasies. But the engrossing when you finish the barebones presentation and earnest opening volley of email missions and delivery does get under the skin. start looking into message boards, You’ll probably use your mouse for a where the illusion of finding your while, but when you’ve got a tracer own path is more convincing. on your heels, it’s much quicker to If you are a hacker, I can only type “cd log rm * dc” than it is to imagine your motives are something madly swipe your mouse over the tiny icons. (This good habit is cleverly like: exploration and discovery, the thrill of the forbidden, and the desire forced on you, during a hack on your to embed yourself in a solitary own computer.) 98

christmas 2016

Need to KNow What is it? A gamified hacking simulator. EXPECt tO PaY £7 DEvElOPEr Team Fractal Alligator PublishEr Surprise Attack MultiPlaYEr None First rEviEWED N/A link www.hacknet-os.com

competitive experience against invisible enemies. God, look at you. And you thought that scene in Swordfish was sexy. Hacknet can’t satisfy those motives. You might as well have the safety protocols engaged on the holodeck. The people you meet in emails and message boards are ripe cliches. Rival hacker Naix goes from “u r skript kiddi” to “maybe I misjudged you” in three emails, which is pretty much every boss battle dialogue ever. But get to the end of the Entropy missions, and you’ll find yourself carried away by the game’s slow momentum. Hacknet can be finished in a few hours. It could also take forever, if you forget to scan networks to find new sites to hack. It doesn’t hold your hand, but it does provide you with a basket of hands for you to look through, if you get stuck. And with that poorly thought-out image fresh in the mind, I’m off to play poker with some Pretty Ladies. vErDiCt I want a hacking game where I slam my hands on the keyboard and the FBI logo comes up with “access granted”.

71


rEviEW

PRETTY VACANT Get a sad handful in PoKeR PRettY GIRLS BAttLe: teXAS HoLd ‘eM

G

ood grief, it’s him again. Hello, sir? What brings sir back to the Pretty Girl Poker School? Why do you keep coming to this place, and pressing yourself so firmly against our windows? Haven’t we told you a dozen times that the Governor of Poker series offers a much more robust game of poker? Didn’t we tell you that the TellTale Poker Night games have more interesting personality-led AI? Whereas our ladies, Pretty though they may be, do tend to raise and fold with scant regard to the cards in their hands. “So let me ask again – what is it about the Pretty Girls poker that sir likes? It can’t be the background music, surely? That short jazzy loop is barely listenable, to anyone’s ears. I’m sure it can’t be the personality of our Pretty Girls either, because they communicate entirely in gasps. I’m

You’ll get a good 3D Worms when pigs fly, they said.

woRMS ULtIMAte MAYHeM

Need to KNow What is it? Poker so titillating you’ll fall asleep. EXPECt tO PaY £7 DEvElOPEr Zoo Corporation PublishEr In-house

afraid that I’m rapidly coming to the inevitable conclusion that sir is only here for the boobs. “Does sir have such a poor opinion of himself that he feels he must pay gaming penance before he claps eyes on so much as a little nippy bump? Or does sir have such a complicated relationship with the roiling fluid coursing around his nutbag that he can only become

aroused from within a fugue of poker-illiterate boredom? “Far be it from this humble servant to suggest alternatives to sir’s terrible life choices, but has sir considered a framed picture of some lovely boobs under his monitor? Imagine the boost to sir’s gaming experience! Sir is saved, and may move onto the little reviews!”

29

MultiPlaYEr None

I beg to differ. There are no winners here.

First rEviEWED N/A link www.prettygirls games.com

Those pumpkins could do with a patch.

In hindsight, the leapfrog minigame was a mistake.

woRMS ARMAGeddoN

I

can’t believe they didn’t let me into the Pretty Girl Poker School. But back to games – remember Hogs of War? The Rik Mayall-voiced 3D game inspired by Worms that cast pigs as racial stereotypes in the World War? I played it to death on PS1, but that old ’90s software didn’t run very well on a modern PC. Well, Ultimate Mayhem is like giving Hogs the technical upgrade I wanted, with the unwanted side-effect of removing Rik Mayall. I mean, that’s not Team 17’s fault. They can’t be expected to deal with my unfair Rik Mayall expectations. No one can. This is good 3D Worms. But if you’re a purist...

76

A

long with a few people on the Steam forums, I couldn’t get the latest 2D Worms game, WMD, to work on my relatively new PC. Then I noticed all the “best Worms since Armageddon!” plaudits in so many of the user reviews. This piqued my interest, even if it did seem to be like confidently declaring that the Amsterdam branch of Madame Tussauds had the best Kylie Minogue waxwork. What is it, precisely, about this game that makes it better than the 19 other identical by design games that have been released since? Well I haven’t got enough space to find out now, so I’ll have to work it out next month. Sorry. Unprofessional. Bad job. Boo. Shut up. No you shut up.

N/A

ARKHAM KNIGHt

T

hey’re Back is a difficult name to justify, now that games just don’t go away. So many thanks to Arkham Knight for doing so, and returning. I bloody loves it. I’ve never played a compact open-world city game so distractingly packed with my next momentary preoccupation. Joker’s new internal role as Batman’s heckling madness is a brilliant way to give the chucklebeast a constant slew of brutal lines. Even the maligned “car bits” – the constant sniping of which caused me to delay playing the game until now – are absolutely fine. This is the best Batman, y’all shush.

93

christmas 2016

99


contents

h a rdwa re Get the PC your Games deserve

104

group test Reviewed this month: seven luxuriously ultra-wide monitors.

The Samsung S34E790C looks great, but how great will it make your games look?

110

reviews

The latest PC hardware, from whisper-silent cooling to this 1080p streaming webcam.

CHRISTMAS 2016

103


UPGRADE

group test By Ed Chester

ULTRA-WIDE MONITORS For gaming and movie-watching

104

Christmas 2016


HARDWARE Group Test

Q&A What panel type should I get? IPS, TN and VA are the usual LCD types, but you don’t tend to get TN at this panel size. Instead your choice is between the better colour accuracy and viewing angles of IPS or the high contrast of VA. Can I get a actual gaming monitor at this panel size? Yes. You can now get fast refreshing IPS

W

hat good is all that graphics processing power if those pixels don’t end up on a high quality monitor? A new ultra-wide monitor might be just what you need.

An ultra-wide display stretches the usual 16:9 aspect ratio to 21:9, which

and VA screens for gaming. TN panels are still the most responsive, but fast IPS panels in particular are still fine for all but the most competitive gamer. What is ultra-wide, anyway? Ultra-wide generally means a monitor with a 21:9 aspect ratio rather than the more conventional 16:9. An ultra-wide monitor will eliminate those pesky black bars above and below widescreen films and can give you a wider, more natural view in some games.

What about 4K? For most gamers, 4K is still either a pipedream or just unnecessary. It takes an enormous amount of graphical processing power to animate that many pixels. Working at that resolution on your desktop can also cause issues. What resolution can I get? Most ultra-wides are one of two resolutions: 3440x1440 or 2560x1080. If you’re only concerned with gaming and video then the latter is fine, but for

general desktop work you’ll want the higher resolution.

Dictionary Freesync/G-Sync – technologies that sync the refresh rate of the monitor to the graphics card framerate. Eliminates tearing and stutter. IPS/TN/VA – IPS and VA have better viewing angles, TN is best for gaming.

is the difference between a normal widescreen TV and a true widescreen movie. As well as making movies look great – no more black bars – the extra width can get you a wider view in games, and it’s handy for work too. Typically ultra-wides come in either 29” or 34” sizes, but I’ve stuck to the big guns – monitors have to be 32” or larger for this roundup. Christmas 2016

105


HARDWARE Group Test

1

2

3

AcER XR342cK

ASUS ROG SWIfT PG348Q

www.acer.com £799

www.asus.com £999

On paper, the Acer XR342CK shouldn’t be the top gaming monitor. It’s the little brother to the Acer Predator X34A, with a lower, 75Hz refresh rate, and the less popular Freesync rather than G-Sync. However, it is in every other way superior.

The PG348Q has been the flagbearer for truly massive gaming monitors since its debut at the start of 2016. With a 100Hz refresh rate, G-Sync, a 34” curved IPS panel and 3440x1440 resolution, it has everything you could ask for.

1

This is the updated version of the XR341CK that launched alongside the X34A early in the year, and while an updated X34A is due, it hasn’t arrived yet, giving this cheaper model the upper hand. Even against an updated X34A, the XR342CK would still make a fine choice. Like the X34A, it sports a curved, 34” IPS panel with a resolution of 3440x1440, providing an ideal pixel density that won’t need any resolution adjustment in Windows. It produces identically brilliant image quality to its big brother too, right out of the box. For desktop, video or gaming, it looks superb. For games, the combination of Freesync and the 75Hz refresh makes for a smooth, responsive experience, even if it can’t compete with 100Hz+ displays for sheer zip. New to this updated version is a slicker design that’s moved from glossy plastic on the rear to matt, and there’s a far better onscreen menu control system too. For AMD users or Nvidia users who don’t mind forgoing G-Sync, the X342CK is an absolute bargain.

95%

106

Christmas 2016

2

One area where it doesn’t immediately impress is design. While the PG348Q feels sturdily well built, its styling is an acquired taste, featuring strange silver patterns all over the back and odd copper highlights on the stand. It’s more coherent than its big rival, the X34A, but it won’t be for everyone. The PG348Q also has one of the most ridiculous gaudy extras I’ve seen on a monitor. A light on underside of the stand projects a red Asus ROG logo onto your desk, like some sort of tiny Batman signal gone wrong. I immediately turned it off. Where the PG348Q pulls things back is its excellent onscreen menu and the joystick controls for it. They combine to make setting up and tweaking very easy. Then there’s image quality, which is just that tiny bit better out of the box than the X34A. Fire up some games or a widescreen movie and it’s a delight. Fantastic colours, contrast and viewing angles join that 100Hz refresh rate and G-Sync for smooth, responsive, immersive gaming.

93%


4

AcER PREDATOR X34A

PHILIPS BDM3470UP

www.acer.com £999

www.philips.com £599

So to the X34A itself, still the current pinnacle of Acer’s vast gaming monitor lineup. Like the two previous devices, it’s a curved 34” IPS, 3440x1440 resolution display, and like the PG348Q it stretches to 100Hz and comes with G-Sync.

Philips’ ultra-wide eschews the fancy extras of the other monitors on this roundup, but it provides value for money where it counts, making it a good option for those most concerned about overall image quality.

3

This makes it superb for gaming, where the ultra-wide screen and slightly wraparound curve add a surprising amount to gaming immersion. This is only enhanced by the G-Sync smoothness and noticeably quicker response from the 100Hz refresh rate. The image quality is fantastic too, although the colour temperature is a little off out the box. Also impressive is the striking, angular metal stand that balances on tiptoes. In some ways it’s not the most practical design but it sure looks good, and it still offers height, rotation and tilt adjustment, plus the option of a VESA mount. However, we still have the glossy black plastic that also afflicted the X342CK’s predecessor. The entire back is finished in the stuff and it does slightly let down an otherwise a fantastic looking device. A row of nine LEDs shine down onto your desk and you can choose from several colours and brightness levels. It’s superfluous but quite a nice effect – a bit like that Philips Ambilight technology on TVs.

93%

4

Sporting a 34” IPS panel and a resolution of 3440x 1440 pixels, the BDM3470UP has all the size and pixel density of more expensive options, but here you’ve got a flat panel. It’s a super-slim bezelled panel too, mounted on a smart-looking stand that offers height, pivot, rotation and tilt adjustment. You also get DVI and VGA inputs along with DisplayPort and HDMI, so those with older hardware can still get in on the act. It does, however, have the worst onscreen menu I have ever seen on a monitor. It’s got everything you need but looks appalling and is a pain to navigate. Thankfully it arrives calibrated – unlike most others on test – so aside from dropping the brightness a bit, you shouldn’t need to adjust anything else. Once you’ve done that you get a superb quality image. Good viewing angles, accurate colours, deep contrast. Desktop work, gaming and video is a joy. However, at 60Hz and with an average input lag of 42ms, this isn’t such a great choice for competitive gamers.

80%

Christmas 2016

107


5

ASUS PA329Q

SAMSUNG S34E790c

www.asus.com £1,299

www.samsung.com £719

OK, so I cheated a little here. The Asus PA329Q isn’t technically an ultra-wide, it’s a conventional 16:9 aspect. However, it is a massive 32 inches across, sports a 4K resolution and is fully AdobeRGB capable for professional graphics use.

Samsung may be the king of OLED phones but when it makes monitors it chooses VA panels. That makes this 34” curved specimen potentially ideal for video watching thanks to the high contrast VA provides.

These all combine to make this the ultimate choice for those who need perfectly accurate colours at all times – think photo and video editing. Given those professional credentials and the very high asking price it’s no surprise you get high build quality. The sheer weight of the panel gives away how well put together it is, and it’s backed up by a sturdy stand, with smooth adjustments for height, tilt, pivot and rotation. The impressively slim bezel also ensures that despite being a professional device it doesn’t look too utilitarian. You get 100% sRGB and AdobeRGB coverage combined with excellent contrast and a huge 3840x 2160 resolution. However, that contrast is also modest, at just 724:1, and the resolution is so high you’ll have to use Windows’ scaling to increase the size of text and icons. This can occasionally result in some apps appearing too small as well as a few other visual artefacts that can be distracting. Unfortunately, that’s just the price you pay for 4K right now.

This is also a great-looking monitor from any angle, thanks to one of the most elegant stand designs in its class. You don’t get a super-slim bezel but it’s still svelte-looking, and I love that the stand curves to match the display. It’s also a reasonably practical stand with height and tilt adjustment. The connectivity is good, with two HDMI joining the DisplayPort, and like all the monitors on test, you get a USB hub too – here it’s four USB 3.0s. The S34E790C has a little joystick control on its rear for navigating the onscreen menu, just like on the Asus PG348Q. This makes it really easy to move around to change settings or switch inputs. As for image quality, that VA panel delivers just the sort of deep blacks, and thus high contrast, that you’d hope for. This makes movies and games pop, creating a much deeper looking image. Technically, it isn’t the most accurate monitor, so photographers should look elsewhere, and for gaming its nothing special, with no extras and just a 60Hz refresh rate.

5

80%

108

Christmas 2016

6

75%


HARDWARE Group Test

stACKeD up PRICE (£)

COLOUR TEMP (K) Deviation from 6,500K

REFRESH RATE (Hz)

1

Acer XR342CK 799 18 75

6 2

Asus PG348Q 999

7

131 100

3

Acer X34A 999 604 100

4

Philips BDM3470UP 599 98 60

5

Asus PA329Q 1299 581 60

6

Samsung S34E790C 719 230 60

AOC C3583FQ

7

AOc c3583fQ aoc-europe.com £499

499 264

Screen Size

Panel Tech

Resolution

Response Time

1

34 inch

iPs

3440 x 1440

5ms

2

34 inch

iPs

3440 x 1440

5ms

3

34 inch

iPs

3440 x 1440

5ms

4

34 inch

iPs

3440 x 1440

5ms

5

70%

esseNtIALs

32 inch

iPs

3840 x 2160

5ms

6

7

The first is the resolution, which is just 2560x1080. On a screen this big that makes for a very blocky, over-sized image that isn’t great for productivity as so little information can be squeezed on screen, compared to other 30”-plus screens. Then there’s the issue of ghosting. The VA panel used here can refresh quickly but leaves behind a smudgy trail that’s noticeable even when moving around the desktop. For a fast-paced game there’s nowhere near the level of snap that you expect of a high refresh rate monitor. I’d go so far as to say the ghosting nullifies any competitive advantage the fast refresh would otherwise provide. Still, there is one area this display does well, which is watching video. Thanks to the inherently high contrast of VA panels, there’s a richness and depth to movies, and colour accuracy is decent too. Plus it helps that the screen is massive. I can’t give this monitor a free pass, but its mix of features could suit some and its price is competitive.

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The C3583FQ is the cheapest monitor on test here, yet it’s also the largest. A whopping 35” from corner to corner, it’s also curved, runs at up to 160Hz and has Freesync. However, there are a couple of problems.

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the very best in gaming hardware, reviewed By Zak Storey

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Prices can change on these systems while we’re going to press, but OCUK has assured me they’re doing all they can to keep this price fixed at £1,333. It’s a lot, but overall you save money and net some good customer service too.

The Intel Core i5-6600K is today’s must-have gaming processor. When you’re packing four cores, and insane single core performance, you’re not going to be held back in any of the latest AAA titles.

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Chassis Conundrums

That’s Phantek’s Enthoo Pro M chassis again. It’s a sweet case, but not essential. It adds an extra £10, and since you’re not the one building in it, I’d suggest you opt for the cheaper and better looking Eclipse P400.

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OverclOcker’s TiTan BayOneT www.overclockers.co.uk £1,333 GaminG PC

WindoWs Woes

You can save yourself an extra £90 by removing the Windows 10 licence, if you’ve already got one. Call Microsoft, tell them you’re changings systems and they should give you a new key.

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This gaming PC is a little on the heavy handed side, both in terms of the hardware it contains and what you pay for it. It’s a pricey machine for sure, but if you’re looking for the best well-rounded gaming rig, with the best value hardware money can buy, this is it. It comes with Intel’s latest Core i5-6600K, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070, 16GB of DDR4, 256GB of PCIe SSD and an additional 1TB hard drive for all your games and media. If you’re looking for 1080p gaming at 120+ frames per second, it’s here. The GeForce GTX 1070 is a reference KFA card, the best value card money can currently buy, especially if you’re looking to game at 1080p or above, and I’d recommend at the very least gaming at 1440p on this machine. The build quality is exceptional, and the additional guaranteed 4.4GHz overclock on

the CPU should be more than enough to avoid any gaming bottlenecks for the next five years. If you were to build this yourself, you’d spend £25 more, have to mess around with voltages, and miss out on OCUK’s excellent build quality, and their guaranteed overclocks reinforced by a 24 month C&R warranty. Is it worth the asking price? I certainly think so.

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cPU: Intel Core I5-6600K @4.4GHz / MOTherBOard: GIGabyte z170 K3 / MeMOry: 16Gb CorsaIr VenGeanCe lPX DDr4 @ 2400MHz / GraPhics: nVIDIa GeForCe GtX 1070 / sTOraGe: 256Gb saMsunG sM951, 1tb seaGate HDD / WarranTy: 3 years


hardWare Reviews

ROUND-UP

asUs PG248Q 180hz Tn GaMinG MOniTOr

GsP 300 headseT Sennheiser £90

www.asus.com £400 monitor

The more hertz the better, that’s the rule when it comes to screens these days. Once you surpass the 100Hz mark, desktop life becomes a beautiful dream, filled with smooth cursor movement. But there has to be a point where it just gets ridiculous. Asus launched a 27” IPS panel at 165Hz last year, and there was a noticeable difference in contrast to the 144Hz panels. Was it worth it? I’m still not sure. Here, I just can’t see it. That said, a high refresh monitor coupled with that low response time makes this an esport gamer’s

dream. If all you do is play CS:GO or FPS games then you’ll enjoy this to the nth degree. But for me, forsaking good colour reproduction for the sake of higher refresh rates and lower G2G responses just doesn’t cut it.

Good audio is hard to find at lower prices, in fact it’s usually something reserved to HyperX and their Cloud IIs. However, the GSP 300 really impressed me, offering a fantastic frequency response, minimal distortion and a comfortable fit. This is one of the cheapest bestsounding headsets I’ve had the pleasure of wearing. % www.sennheiser.com

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screen size: 24” / Panel Tech: tn / naTive

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resOlUTiOn: 1920X1080 / reFresh raTe: 180Hz / resPOnse raTe: 1Ms GtG / cOnnecTiOns: 1X DIsPlayPort, 1X HDMI, 2X usb3.0

Ml120 PrO 120MM Fan Corsair £20 Corsair’s latest cooling technology uses magnetic levitation to suspend the fan entirely off of its mounting, reducing motor noise to an absolute minimum. What this means is an operating frequency of 4002200rpm, enabling whisper-silent operation with some fantastic static pressure and airflow figures too. % www.corsair.com

asUs GeFOrce GTX 1080 sTriX Oc GaMinG

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www.asus.com £900 For £900, this top-end card comes clocked at a blistering 1936MHz. But the standard variant comes in at 1733MHz. You’re paying an additional £1 per MHz, and in my eyes that is just a little nutty. That said, the GPU of this card is phenomenal.

GraPhiCs Card

It’s easy to hit 70 to 80fps at 1440p in almost all AAA titles, and 40-50 at 4K. Far Cry Primal, with everything ramped up, scored an impressive 45fps average at 4K, and with a little tweak to the anti-aliasing I could easily bump that up to 60fps with minimal to zero impact.

Can I justify £900 on a graphics card though? No, not really. This is one of the least price efficient cards currently available. The reason being that it’s unchallenged from the likes of AMD. The tech industry is hoping to see some competition soon to bring down those prices, but for the time being, if you’re after the best of the best, money no object, this card is definitely one to keep in mind.

76%

GPU: PasCal / liThOGraPhy: 16nM FInFet / cOres: 2560 / MeMOry: 8Gb GDDr5X / MeMOry BUs: 320-bIt

c922 PrO sTreaM WeBcaM Logitech £85 Fancy some streaming? Or just upgrading your old webcam? Logitech’s latest Pro Stream Webcam can record at full 1080p 30fps or 720p 60fps with ease. Couple that with its adaptive background feature and inclusive tripod, and you’re on to a winner. % www.logitech.com

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Another guardsman condemned to the low-res earth.

“It’s the little details that other developers might overlook” Saying one last bloody goodbye to DISHONOrED ’ve played Dishonored enough times to know that, as I return to the Hound Pits pub in the penultimate chapter, I can start to game the chaos system a little bit. I’ve undertaken this latest, perhaps final playthrough to see off a game I love before the arrival of its much-anticipated sequel. I also wanted to have completed a run where I made all the decisions that I now know to be “canon” – branding but otherwise sparing the High Overseer, letting Daud go, and so on. Given that Arkane’s official version of Corvo is a merciful sort, this has meant taking a predominantly stealthy approach. Which, in turn, means leaving most of Dishonored’s most lethal gadgets and techniques behind. Yet at this late point in the game I know I could kill more or less every corrupt guardsman patrolling the Hound Pits and have no impact on

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CHRIS THURSTEN THIS MONTH Kicked some guards in the nuts, a single tear in his eye.

ALSO PLAYED Dota 2, Thumper

the ending, which is determined by the amount of chaos you cause over the entire campaign. So that’s what I do. Perhaps Corvo has simply had enough. Betrayed by two successive groups of conspirators, left for dead and forced to reclaim his gear by doing a jumping puzzle, it’s time for him to demonstrate why he bothers to carry a sword in the first place. I sprint out of the apartments opposite the pub and slide towards a low wall with two guardsmen and a tallboy walker on the other side. As I do I freeze time, pull out my crossbow, and

aim a bolt at the neck of each guardsman. Then I leap into a magicassisted double jump, grabbing the tallboy’s pilot and skewering him through a gap in his armour. Time resumes as the tallboy and I crash to the ground, both guardsmen yelping in surprise as the bolts find their mark.

time, gentlemen There’s a shout, and a guard emerges from the pub. I blink behind him and slit his throat. Another guard lowers a pistol. I dash, slide beneath the shot, knock him off-balance, and slash his belly. A few exhilarating, bloody minutes later every single adversary in the pub is

it’s time for corvo to demonstrate why he bothers to carry a sword in the first place


N O w P L AY I N g The games we love righT now

Sorry about this. Pressed Q again.

Corvo’s tackles soon got him kicked off the pub football team.

Sliding: the gentleman assassin’s way to make an entrance.

“It’s a terrible waste of sandwich fillings” Corrupting the next generation in DEuS Ex K aTHa RINE By RNE dead. The last kill is almost an anticlimax: the final guardsman patrols the stairwell, sword drawn, easy prey. I’ve done this many times, and written in praise of this game many times, but it’s a testament to Dishonored that after all this time I’m still surprised by how well-built it is. It’s easy to fixate on the big things, but Dishonored is as good as it is because of the little details other developers might overlook. Sliding feet-first into enemies knocks them back. There is a split second between when an enemy has seen you and when they overcome their surprise and react, during which they are vulnerable. Sword swings collide with scenery appropriately, and this can be manipulated when you know that guards are right-handed – particularly in an enclosed space like a bar. The more I learn about game design, the more impressive these small but vital touches become. Each new interaction you discover increases your willingness to experiment. The key to immersive sims like this is the notion that if something should work, it does work, and the fact that Dishonored still rewards experimentation four years on is testament to Arkane’s talent – which I suppose is a fancy way of saying “it’s not a real immersive sim if you can’t slide-tackle somebody in the balls and have them react accordingly”.

THIS MONTH Traumatised the next generation of cyborg children.

ALSO PLAYED Hitman

or all its intricate tutorials, Deus Ex: Mankind Divided never explains a vital lesson: never press Q in public. I learn the hard way, all thanks to the innocuous act of trying to back out of a menu screen. Perhaps I’m too eager to return to the mission, but a slip of the keyboard and the next thing I know Jensen floors an innocent bystander and dozens of gawping onlookers are in mass panic. Seems he had dormant OafTech buried in his robo crannies. Shots are fired; cucumbers in the nearby market disintegrate into a hundred pieces. Is that a metaphor for the frailty of organic matter against metal’s might? Either way, it’s a terrible waste of sandwich fillings. Naturally, my first instinct is to hightail it out of there, which isn’t easy in Golem City’s cramped warren of passageways. It certainly doesn’t help that legions of people are willing to dob you in, resetting the pesky search clock every other second. Frantically hunting for a hiding place, I take refuge in a dead-end shop, crouching under the

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table until the wailing subsides. What I hadn’t banked on was the shop’s owner getting stuck in a corner, drawing more and more attention to herself as she cried for help. With my cover blown, I dash out (another Q slip might have been involved, who’s to say?) and run through the inevitable wave of bullets. Guards are filing in thick and fast by this point, and the pressure to find one last hiding spot is mounting.

child’s play Finally, I happen upon the perfect hideout. An old nursery at the end of a long, shadowy corridor. I rush past two homeless augs already taking shelter there and hole myself up in the back, praying the creepy teddy bear décor throws them off. Alas, Golem’s muscle is far too unsentimental for that. One by one they venture in, but at this point I’m thinking “Sod it, let’s show them what this Q key’s made of.” Eleven crumpled bodies later, and the creche is a crush. The victims stop coming, but the shame of having sullied this innocent place hangs heavy on my mind. And yet, there are still those homeless augs cowering upfront, people I later learn are the teachers of this sorry establishment. Can I trust them to keep quiet? The last ten minutes don’t fill me with hope. I try to think of the children, but sometimes a man’s gotta Q what a man’s gotta Q. December 2016

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N O w P L AY I N g The games we love righT now Another thing I teach my students: decals just represent bad taste.

“I’m now infamous within the PC Gamer team for throwing tantrums” Turning coach in rOckET LEAguE and doing the worst job possible knew going into coaching in Rocket League would be a disaster for me, because I’m now infamous within the PC Gamer team for throwing tantrums and/or salt when the game suddenly turns against me. Still, with my friend Andrew staying over for a week, I thought I’d give it a go. I went from the patient, friendly stepdad saying “that’s OK!” after every error, no matter how appalling, to being that bastard of a teacher who yells at his students simply because he despises children (and fair enough, children are the worst). In this case, the child is 28, and a guest in my house for most of the week. It’s a miracle we’re still friends. Like everyone trying car football for the first time, it grabs Andrew immediately. He does have a habit of missing the ball at key moments, however, and has got so good at driving around the ball at the wrong time that it begins to wear down my patience. (His car wears a top hat, for which I scold him.) We eventually coin the term “doing an Andrew”; this means driving around the ball at a crucial moment instead of hitting it. Hitting the ball, Rocket League players may recall, is basically the point. He also has a bad habit of pissing about at the back looking for boost when he’s

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SaMUEL ROBERTS THIS MONTH Drove a friendship to breaking point, in a rocket-powered car.

ALSO PLAYED Soma, Shadow Warrior

meant to be guarding the net. I admonish him appropriately. I decide to take a break from splitscreen cooperative play and leave him to experiment solo, so he can understand the basics a bit more (I also need a break from certain failure). I then play a solo game where I’m more likely to win, because he isn’t involved. He says watching me play by myself helped him learn a few more basics, and accuses me of leaving out the fact you can double jump in Rocket League, which is an important skill. I find this outrageous, but also possibly correct, because I’ve been drinking a lot of beer and am no longer in the mood to teach anyone anything.

i find this outrageous, but also possibly correct, because i’ve been drinking a lot of beer

Together, we gradually get better and start winning, and manage to coordinate our crosses and shots a lot better. Andrew seems elated when he scores a goal, which is nice to watch, although my overall experience of teaching him up to this point has been so exhausting that for me personally, it’s barely worth it. At least he’s enjoying himself, though, even if he still frequently “does an Andrew”, to which I respond with a thoroughly unconvinced “hmm” to let him know how disappointed I am in his performance.

Friends Forever? I’ve asked Andrew to describe his experience of having me as his coach. “Being Samuel’s close friend requires, I’d argue, a similar capacity for patience. The aforementioned solo practice put me over the edge so I was grateful when he took over. He’s good, apparently, just don’t use freestyle moves against him because he ‘has a full time job’ and it’s ‘bullshit’. ‘Doing an Andrew’ became its own fun game, though. The key to Sam is to already be about as good at something, and then crack on. Our week’s adventure in Rocket League ended with him declaring he’d had enough and then he uninstalled it. This is the first time we’ve properly spoken since. He’s not a good teacher.”


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“Why is everything in the past so big? What is prehistory trying to prove?” Experiencing multiple mass extinction events in Ark: SurvIvAL EvOLvED ight now, almost 32,000 people are playing ARK: Survival Evolved. By current player count, it’s the sixth most popular game on Steam. I’ve always dismissed it, figuring that if DayZ was still unfinished, any newer Early Access multiplayer survival games would likely be even further from completion. That’s a dumb thing to think, and not at all how game development works. I’ve decided to give ARK a chance. I start the game, and chose a server at random. It’s nighttime. I pick myself off the ground and find myself face to face with a dinosaur. Score! It’s a dilophosaurus, and it looks familiar. Wasn’t that the one that, in Jurassic Park, spat venomous goop into Dennis Nedry’s eyes before eating him? Yes! It was! My suspicions are confirmed when it spits venomous goop into my eyes. Then, as if any doubt remained, it eats me. I respawn in a different location, and start exploring the beach. I learn that tapping E over bushes and rocks rewards me with stones, berries and fibres. I also find a tree and punch it. Wood is added to my inventory. This is for sure an Early Access survival game. Soon... hold on, what’s that sound? It’s a

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Dinos are pretty majestic when they aren’t trying to eat you.

PHIL SaVaGE THIS MONTH Failed to wear even a single pair of trousers.

ALSO PLAYED Forza Horizon 3, Thumper

raptor. I know about them from Jurassic Park, too. I’m dead. Again. I exit to the menu, figuring that a daytime server would at least enable me to see the creatures that are eating me. I spawn and, for a change, see gentle dinosaurs. I spend a moment admiring a brontosaurus up close, before a raptor runs up and eats me. I should try a different spawn point. I pick one to the west, and wake up on a tiny, floating patch of ice. I’m naked, and freezing to death. I jump into the water, planning to swim to the mainland. A megalodon is looking right at me. It does what I assume comes naturally to a massive prehistoric shark.

wasn’t that the one that, in Jurassic park, spat venomous goop into dennis nedry’s eyes?

I try spawning to the east, and wake in a tropical biome. I’m told it’s too hot. Before I can do anything about that, I run into a giant snake with a goddamn dinosaur face. Why is everything in the past so big? What is prehistory trying to overcompensate for? Instead of eating me, the titanoboa merely paralyses me. Then it eats me.

tyranosaurus kecks In a last-ditch attempt to make any progress, I go back to the eastern spawn point. I wake to a temperate beach, and, best of all, no dinosaurs. Instead, there are dodos. I punch one for a few seconds, and its meat is added to my inventory. After a little bit of scavenging, I start a fire and craft a weapon and pickaxe. Sure, I’m still 25 fibres away from owning my first pair of trousers, but it’s a start. I explore a bit more. Suddenly, my health starts to drain. I spin around, but see nothing. My health is still falling. I look down, and finally see the problem: a pack of compys – tiny carnivores that would be cute if they weren’t eating my bits. I run, but they keep up. I get out my hatchet, and start swinging wildly. I take one down, but it’s too late. I’m killed. I spawn in the south. It’s pitch black. It’s night. A titanoboa eats me.

I will never experience the warm safety of trousers.

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TOp 10 DOwnLOaDS free games stuff from the web by tom sykes

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simpleplanes vehiCleparts MODS Some nifty bits for the sandbox building game implePlanes is a game about flying, and building, aircraft out of an assortment of handy parts, so of course people have been using it to make cars, tanks, and pretty much everything with wings or without. Here are some of the best, but the Steam Workshop is absolutely teeming with more.

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“Duhrrevr”, “Ani Q S” – it’s not exactly JRR Tolkien.

highwaysystem

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C K2history generator

The world of SimplePlanes is, perhaps understandably, made with planes in mind, so here’s something useful for cars and such: an enormous network of roads linking the various islands together. www.bit.ly/SimPlanes1

TOOL Reroll history with this Crusader Kings 2 mod istory can be a useful asset when it comes to strategy games, providing centuries, no, millennia of conflict (and maybe a few minutes where we all got on) for developers to draw on for their assorted factions and systems. But it can also be something of a hindrance, bringing all the politics and prejudices of the real world into games where you sometimes just want a bit of escapism.

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Here’s a tool for Crusader Kings 2 that procedurally generates a fresh history for the world, replacing countries, religions, and all the horrible stuff that went on in humanity’s past with an entirely new world that carries none of that baggage. After generating a random culture, the tool creates a 116

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unique language to name the various characters, kingdoms, religions and gods that will be present in your game – however, as this is CK2 we’re talking about, it doesn’t stop there. The generator goes on to spread that culture across the map, and across time, morphing it in the process of creating empires and dynasties, and of populating its history with wars, marriages, births and deaths. It’s like that bit at the start of Dwarf Fortress, but for an epic medieval strategy game. The only constant is geography. You’ll recognise the UK and the boot of Italy, but there will be different countries (rudely) sitting there. You can also use the tool to generate a new history for CK2’s Westeros mod, preferably one where the Stark family is totally fine.

smoKetrails

It takes years of training to be in a daredevil plane troupe such as the Red Arrows, but if you’d rather just fake it, here’s a mod that adds fancy customisable smoke trails to your aircraft. www.bit.ly/SimPlanes2

gpsmap

This GPS system differs from most of the minimaps you get in games in that it’s a physical object: not a UI overlay but an actual in-game screen that you can slot into any of your vehicles. www.bit.ly/SimPlanes3

DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/CK2gen


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loveCraftin rimworld

MOD Inflict cosmic horror on your unwitting colonists imworld is a sci-fi colony sim where an emergent AI storyteller hovers, godlike, over your game, throwing disaster after disaster in your path in order to generate the sort of stories you can only get from games. Some of these are funny, some are tragic, and most are improved by naming your settlers after your friends. If you’d like to enhance them even further, add HP Lovecraft as storyteller. If you’ve read his stories, you’ll be aware that Lovecraft favours

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narratives where the protagonists either die or are driven utterly mad, and so it goes if you install the author as a god here. A Lovecraftnarrated game adds more frequent threats to your colony, and to your colonists’ sanity, generating a tale of cosmic horror that will probably not end happily for anyone. The mod’s creator also has a download that adds the monsters from Lovecraft’s stories – bosh them together for best results. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/RimCraft

hP Lovecraft, contemplating the horrors of the galactic rim.

superContinentltd

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FREEwaRE It’ll leave you hanging on the telephone n a cyberpunk future, you are asked to use an ancient telephone to crack your way into a company. You do the dialling using your actual keyboard, pleasingly. Discover numbers around the office and type them in to uncover clues, passwords, or other phone numbers that will draw you closer to your goal. It’s a simple game of

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conversations under all that, but the premise, presentation, and dialling mechanic make the most of the game’s purposely limited scope. When you’ve had your fill, you could always try Deconstructeam’s Zen and the Art of Transhumanism, a similarly cyberpunk game about pottery. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/Supercontinent

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2 YoUR nUmbeR’S UP This red scrawl on the window is presumably a clue, but I couldn’t decipher which numbers they’re meant to be.

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FUTURe Shock You’re a 21st century hacker. Although initially baffled by a landline telephone, you soon pick it up.

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mouthsweet FREEwaRE Dodge invisible foes in a creepy adventure f you’ve ever worked in an office, you’ll recognise the drab environment, the general air of despair, and the invisible monsters of LoveGames’ Mouth Sweet, a creepy adventure set in a shifting office block. It’s not the dead bodies, murderous sandwiches or your weird boss you have to watch out for here, although yes, all three are pretty freaky. No, it’s the invisible creatures. Your only clue that one is near is the telltale shuffle of footsteps, at which point it’s best to whip out your revolver and use your stereo speakers to locate the sound. These novel combat sequences slot perfectly into Mouth Sweet’s ominous atmosphere – I just wish they posed more of a threat.

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Phone home You also have a handy voice-manipulation tool that will let you mimic any other person. Just as well, really.

DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/MouthSweet

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fallout4subwaysystem

MOD Connect the game’s subways in vast underground network he heart of fallout 3’s open environment was its metro system, which linked a number of locations from the overworld via underground tunnels. You could, and probably did spend a lot of the game under the surface, battling ghouls by the bucketload as you tried to remember which of the near-identical subway intersections you’d already been to. It was a great idea that added an extra layer to the world, but boy did the metro feel like a maze at times. Here’s a mod for fallout 4 that reinstates this grand network, connecting the recent game’s more

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discrete underground tunnels into one giant subterranean structure, and one that aims to be more convenient – eventually. While 90% of fallout 4’s stations have been mashed together into one system, they’ve also been populated with a ton of ghouls, super mutants, and other creatures you should probably best avoid. However, once killed they’ll stay dead, giving you the chance to take advantage of the additional beds dotted around the place, and the new subway stations that have been bolted onto the surface. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/FalloutSubway

maybe for Fallout 5 we’ll get working metro trains.

You can finally chop trees and harvest crops with friends.

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vestige FREEwaRE Explore the ruins of an old cathedral his little showpiece highlights how sound can be used to breathe life into a digital patch of land, its rich audio system piping in layers of background noise that subtly fade in and out as you explore. As you linger by the lush ruins, inside the ominous cathedral, or by a stretch of long grass, you hear the comforting sound of crickets, the soft rustle of leaves, and echoes from a long-gone church choir. All this offers a level of presence that many “walking simulators” lack, and it’s a smart way to make a place feel more real, without having to throw in gamey switches, notes or puzzles. There’s nothing to do, particularly. Instead, it’s a virtual postcard you can hop into for a moment’s respite.

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DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/VestigeGame

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stardewvalley multiplayer

MOD Reap, sow, enjoy polyamorous relationships reakaway indie hit Stardew Valley doesn’t have multiplayer (yet), so in the meantime here’s a cheap and cheerful mod that will let you play the farming life sim with a few friends. Installation is a bit fiddly, but once you’ve downloaded the Stardew Modding API, forwarded a port on your router, then convinced your friends to do the same, you’ll be able to farm, cultivate NPC friendships, and do odd

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jobs for the local villagers online with your chums. There are some interesting caveats: if the host is in a relationship, all the other players will share that relationship status. You still get unique farmhouse interiors, along with separate skills and inventories. So it’s still some way off the proper co-op experience many are hoping for, but it’ll do in a pinch. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/StardewMulti


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fermi dynamics Three games about our place in the universe

1paradox

A space sim from a top-down perspective, with a lovely cRT filter effect. Take on jobs, shoot pirates, and die a lot in a game that realises the brutal indifference of space. www.bit.ly/FermiJam1

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fermiparadoxJam

2marlowe’spath

You basically play a computer terminal in this atmospheric, lo-fi charmer. Pick destinations for a blocky space vessel while its two pilots chatter and bicker. www.bit.ly/FermiJam2

FREEwaRE Something sweet to spread on your paradoxical toast ight out of ten scientists agree that alien life probably exists somewhere in the universe, but if so, why hasn’t it got in touch? Why haven’t the Turians come knocking, and why won’t ET pick up the bloody phone? That dilemma is at the heart of the Fermi Paradox, which, wonderfully, has just had its own game jam. I wouldn’t say that many of the entries really grapple

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with the central theme, but there are a few that tackle the mystery, including H.O.M.E. This vast game has you scanning the entire universe for another planet with Earth-like qualities, and as you can probably imagine, this takes some time. I didn’t find Earth when I played it – and I’m not sure it’s even there – but H.O.M.E. reflects the futile nature of our search remarkably well. Here are three other games loosely based on the paradox.

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3  n o  s t a r s ,  o n l y Constell ations

Robert Yang’s games tend to be fairly penis heavy. There are penises here, but it’s mainly a game about staring at the stars. www.bit.ly/FermiJam3

deteCtiveland wEBGaME Play one of the highlights of this year’s IFComp obin Johnson’s branching story takes the clever parser-meets-hypertext interaction system of its fine predecessor, Draculaland, and expands it with occasional images, a more interesting, jazzy soundtrack, and a fun new setting based on detective comics from the early 20th century. There are four separate cases to solve here, which are chock-full of

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duplicitous dames, shifty gentlemen, and even an absurdly fully featured pizza-making section, allowing you to select each individual topping of your irrelevant order. Detectiveland is one of the highlights of this year’s Interactive Fiction Competition, and it’s been a particularly great year for choose-your-own adventures. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/Detectiveland

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GTA Online A fun Sons of Anarchy roleplay session is marred by griefing and hacking. By Tom Hatfield ’ve played over 100 hours of GTA V, and I haven’t even tried the first singleplayer mission yet. I’ve spent that time working my way through the heists with a band of friends, or just relaxing, cruising around the city raising money with stolen cars and simple missions. This doesn’t seem to be Rockstar’s vision for the future, as such. No new heists have been added in the last 18 months, and the developers have implied we shouldn’t expect any more. Instead the focus has shifted from co-op experiences with friends to a more open-world approach, with more adversarial modes. This is where the Biker update comes in. Much like the CEO update before it, you purchase a business, then run missions to buy supplies (usually drugs). Each time you run one of these missions, a signal will go out to other players in the session, offering them the chance to destroy the supplies you’re hauling for a small reward and the satisfaction of screwing you over. In theory this provides a Dark Souls existential threat, where any

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mission can be interrupted by another player at any time. In practice it’s a lot more frustrating than that. Destroying someone else’s product can be achieved in seconds by players flying overhead in a Hydra jet or whizzing past with a sports car and a sticky bomb. Meanwhile the player trying to stock their warehouse is at the mercy of the random number generator, some missions saddling them with large slow vehicles that are sitting ducks. It makes drug running more infuriating than entertaining. And that’s before we get to the rampant cheating. I’ve encountered teleporting cars and modded vehicles, and heard tales of invincible players punting people over skyscrapers. When the community is constantly sharing tips on how to run the game in empty public lobbies to avoid the hassle, it becomes apparent that things aren’t working as intended. It’s a shame, because the simple act of owning a motorcycle club and hanging out in it with friends is a lot of fun. GTA Online excels at these minor moments of camaraderie and roleplaying. The clubhouse in particular is a great customisable den, complete with sassy bartender, dartboard and optional bike customisation shop. A bunch of well-paying biker-themed missions spawn from a noticeboard menu on the wall. The actual drug running is a significant improvement on the CEO

The biker-gang chain of command

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Whoever bought the clubhouse. Takes the lion’s share of the cut.

Drops body armour and can call in a squad of goons.

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Can call in Bull Shark Testosterone. Look, they can’t all be winners. Can call in club vehicles.

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Drops ammo and Molotov cocktails. Noobs don’t even get a picture on the wall.

warehouse missions too, with less cash required up front from the President and greater rewards for lesser gang members. There’s plenty to enjoy even without venturing onto a public server. It’s just a shame a big chunk of the update feels hidden behind a wall of griefers.

hardy davidsons

One of the nicest features is the gang hierarchy. Instead of one CEO and a bunch of muscle, players can be appointed different roles (see Club Together). Even better, the President or Road Captain can trigger the gang to ride in formation, regenerating health and repairing bikes through the magic of looking like badasses. The theme of griefing ruining a good time sadly also runs through

It’s a shame a bIg chunk of the update feels hIdden behInd a wall of grIefers GTA Online’s other recent update: Cunning Stunts. The big draw here is stunt races on giant TrackMania-style courses towering over Los Santos. There’s even an editor that lets players construct their own. The community unsurprisingly loves them, so much so that it’s difficult to get enough players for a regular non-stunt race anymore. Unfortunately those teleporting cars and custom vehicles are even more of a problem here, and even those griefers without an unfair advantage can easily ruin a race for you by shunting your car off the course rather than actually trying to win. At least the new stock cars are a lot of fun to drive. GTA Online is still a great game. The heists haven’t gone anywhere, you can still chill with friends. But it’s hard to believe that Rockstar’s vision of a tense, semi-hostile open world is ever going to materialise on PC.


I shall sit here and contemplate my thirdness.

Set meeting table stance to Riker.

“Heh, wouldn’t it be funny if our world was just some kind of model too?”

Cunning Stunts does strange things to Los Santos.

Malc is the caretaker of the Clubhouse. He’ll get you acquainted.

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Turns out those shoulder pads are great for barging.

Space Marine A brawler that’s a sequel or two away from brilliance. By tom senior aptain Titus stands seven feet tall, clad in his holy armour. He has a pistol the size of most shotguns and a chainsaw for a sword. He has a rectangular head, the voice of Mark Strong and the chiselled chin of an Olympian, and he lives to kill Orks in their thousands.

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Captain Titus is a man too big for the game he’s in. His blue and gold armour is designed to stand out among hordes of enemies on huge battlefields. He is genetically tailored for the front line of a huge war. He should be clearing out entire enemy mobs in the shadow of mountainsized titan war machines, but here he is, in the third-person brawler Space Marine, clearing out some brown warehouses instead.

He doesn’t care. There are dozens of Orks in these warehouses, and they explode in spectacular ways. They charge the space marine with endearing vigour, waving their axes and cleavers above their heads and yelling incoherently. Their animations and mannerisms almost perfectly communicate the ’ere we go ’ere we go Ork mentality. The idea that any of them could take a space marine captain is laughable, but they can’t resist a scrap. When Titus chops off a limb or crushes a head the victim is merely outraged. Beaten by a human? How could this be? They

need to know releaseD

DeVelOPer

September 2011

Relic

PUBlisHer

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Sega (formerly THQ)

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don’t understand that they have charged a god. Deep in a fight, between bloody swings of a chain axe, the game transforms. The limited, repetitive environments are forgotten. There is no finesse to the combat system, but that doesn’t matter. You are mighty. You are a holy Roman centurion in the 41st millennium. There is no block button. There is no cover button. There is only stamping, slashing, and the crunching impact of a lightning hammer against a ribcage. Space Marine is a game about the joy of violence, and the fiction carefully shaves off the more uncomfortable aspects of that. Orks don’t really feel pain, and space marines famously know no fear. Orks lose blood and limbs at an alarming rate, and Titus takes hundreds of axe blows, but everyone’s happy to be involved.

gears of warhammer

I keep playing Space Marine for those moments, and because there are few games that are so ambitious, and yet so constrained. In an alternate universe, Space Marine sold better, THQ didn’t collapse, and the sequels went on to supplant Gears of War and all other pretenders. In that universe Christmas 2016

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Floating skulls mean you can execute these Orks for health.

Nice bridge. Shame if some Orks happened to it.

Space Marine 3 puts you in drop pods and slams you into huge conflicts against hordes of aliens. In 2011 the resources simply weren’t there. But Relic still found away to put a titan in the game. You fight around its enormous shoulders and use its gun-arm to blow up a space elevator.

In another section you drop onto a moving train to chase down an Ork warboss. The game constantly tries to generate the spectacle you might expect from a Naughty Dog or Crystal Dynamics game. It only variably pulls it off. There are nods throughout the game for

Mean and green everything you need to know about Orks in one picture

1 np eorcSoonncaelpSt aoffe t y Orks will do anything for a laugh, including strapping themselves to rockets to fight planes.

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Orks kitbash all their gear and other races have no idea how they manage it. Their stuff frequently explodes.

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Orks strongly believe that the colour red makes things go faster.

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Machine gun noises, or “dakka dakka” as they call it, are deeply pleasing to Orks. They find loud noises hilarious.

Warhammer 40K fans, but many – such as the sight of a Predator tank behind an impassable waist-high barrier, give the game the feel of a 40K wax museum where you get to see the legendary vehicles of the fiction, but only in noninteractive dioramas. Nonetheless, I appreciate the intent, and the set-pieces successfully vary the pace for the first two-thirds of the game. The jetpack sections are the best. Space Marine’s assault pack fights let you boost high above the battlefield, and at the peak of your jump as you slow and start to fall, you can target the ground and crash down into combat. The impact stuns enemies who aren’t instantly reduced to bloody mist, which enables Titus to follow up with a series of executions. The first half of the game is better than the second. A new enemy army arrives and the squishy Orks are replaced by much tougher Chaos space marines and demons. Space Marine works best as a power fantasy about chopping through mobs, and


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The space marine equivalent of a good Friday night.

I always feel sad when the door closes on tItus for the last tIme the combat system isn’t geared to create interesting fights with more resilient foes, particularly when you have to tackle annoying airborne enemies at range. Space Marine’s guns can be fun when used to thin out a charging horde at mid-range, but long-range sniping doesn’t feel good, and works against the fantasy.

guarded respect

Though the game suffers from the introduction of Chaos towards the end, generally – whisper it – the story isn’t bad. It manages to capture some of the subtler elements of the fiction, while successfully joining the dots between boss fights and set-piece encounters. Notably, you get to meet the imperial guard. These are the ordinary human soldiers that hold

the front of the Imperium. Compared to Titus they are fragile underdogs who regard the space marines with a mixture of reverence and fear. You’re the reason why the Imperial facilities they work in have huge arches, wide gantries and elevators that have to carry tons of weight. You’re a monster to them. Nonetheless, Titus respects the guard and shuts down his squadmates’ lofty attitudes toward them. Through these incidental interactions Titus shows his compassionate side. It would have been easy for Relic to make him a generic frothing warrior, but the writing, and Mark Strong’s fine performance, give him a strong sense of dignity, even nobility. Spoilers ahead, but the story also confronts the space marines’ key character flaws: fanaticism and dogmatic thinking. In this paranoid world, policed by inquisitors who can find corruption and heresy in a gesture or a misplaced word, Titus is doomed by his competence. After a very silly sequence in which he

punches the head off a Chaos champion while falling 30,000 feet from an exploding platform, he is led away by the Inquisition, accused of heresy by his own squadmate. I always feel sad when the door closes on Titus for the last time, not because he’s about to be tortured in some horrible Imperial interrogation vault, but because that moment should mark the beginning of a series rather than the end of an experiment. If Space Marine was made today, it would have have skill trees, gear choices and other features that have become popular thanks to the cross-pollination between action and RPG genres. Going back now, it feels unusually pure. You occasionally have the chance to swap out weapons and guns, but all you really have to think about is living the fantasy of unending war in the 41st millennium. I love how simple and immediate that is, and I shall continue to play Space Marine over and over, whenever I feel the urge to put a big blue boot to some Orks. Christmas 2016

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WHY I LOVE WhAt mAKes gAmes speciAl

The lo-fi Tech of Alien: isolATion The Creative Assembly looked to the past to build a believable future. By Andy Kelly

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lot of 1970s science fiction has aged badly, but Alien hasn’t. This is down to several factors, including director Ridley Scott’s insistence on realism over flashy effects, and the practical, industrial designs of concept artist Ron Cobb. In the Alien universe, space travel is not glamorous or exciting; it’s completely matter-of-fact. The crew of the Nostromo aren’t in awe of the fact that they’re travelling between the stars. They just want to get paid and get home. And this is reflected in the stark, functional design of the Nostromo, which is more like an oil rig or a submarine than the fantastical ships we’re used to seeing in sci-fi cinema.

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In Alien: Isolation, The Creative Assembly used Scott’s 1979 film as the basis for the game’s bold art design. Fox gave the developers access to a colossal 3TB archive of production material, including unreleased photos of the sets, and from this they created their own world using the same utilitarian design philosophy. The result is a setting that doesn’t just look like Alien, but feels like an authentic part of its universe. Sevastopol, like the Nostromo, is the product of a society where all the wonder and adventure of space travel has been replaced by business. I’ve always loved that about the Alien series. Much sci-fi is optimistic, dreaming of a brighter future, but in this universe, space is just another way to turn a profit. It’s remarkable that, even with the presence of chunky IBM-style keyboards, flickering CRT monitors, and reel-to-reel tape players, Isolation’s setting doesn’t feel like an

future imperfect

In an interview in Paul Scanlon’s Book of Alien, Ron Cobb says: “I resent films that are so shallow they rely entirely on their visual effects. I’ve always felt that a lot of effort should be made to render each environment as convincingly as possible, but always in the background.” And that’s what Isolation, and the film, do so well. They invite you to credible sci-fi worlds that don’t rely on far-fetched technology and fancy special effects to convince you that you’re in the future. You believe you are because it seems real. The more grounded a setting is, even if it’s fantasy or science fiction, the easier it is to relate to it. That’s why something like prequel Prometheus, with its showy holographic computer interfaces, isn’t as convincing as Alien, despite major advances in effects technology. Alien: Isolation also takes deeper inspiration from the film’s design.

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The cold claustrophobia of the Nostromo is a big part of Alien’s power as as horror film, but the lo-fi technology plays a part here too. In a lot of sci-fi there’s some magical device or weapon that saves the day, but all the crew of the Nostromo have to fight the alien is a cattle prod, a primitive motion tracker, and some rusty old flamethrowers. This establishes that, even in this advanced spacefaring future, technology won’t save you; you have to rely on your wits. And the game echoes this brilliantly. The crude technology actually adds to the horror, because you never feel like there’s a miraculous technological solution to your problems. Alien: Isolation is proof that, when it comes to science fiction, less can be more. Videogame sci-fi is often shiny and ostentatious, as artists strive to show you just how incredibly futuristic they can make their worlds look. But Sevastopol is more convincing than any of them, because it keeps it in the background. Granted, the artists at The Creative Assembly had some incredible source material to work with. But rather than just recreate the film’s sets, they used that enormous archive of reference material as a starting point to craft their own distinctive extension of the film. Alien: Isolation is a passionate, faithful homage to the film, but it’s also a worthy addition to the universe and mythology in its own right.

scReen BURn hey, that looks familiar You occasionally see this image on screens around Sevastopol. If you recognise it, that’s because it’s in two of Ridley Scott’s most famous films. Its first appearance is in Alien, when Ripley is escaping in the shuttle. Its second is

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October 2014

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archaic throwback to the 1970s. You completely buy into its retrofuturistic design, a result of how artfully understated everything is. You get the sense that this technology is a natural part of the setting, rather than something included to evoke a particular time period or aesthetic. It’s an attention to detail and a dedication to believable worldbuilding that sets both Alien and Alien: Isolation apart in their respective genres.

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in Blade Runner, appearing on a screen in Gaff’s spinner. It’s almost certainly just a reused effect, but it’s a nice piece of connective tissue between Alien and the similarly retro-futuristic Blade Runner – and now Alien: Isolation.

RIGHT: Nostromo’s dippy bird: the direct ancestor of all kitsch cockpit-clutter in all sci-fi films and videogames.

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Phil Savage

Are games art? Probably. Are games science? Kind of. Are games cooking? No. Are games crochet? I don’t know what that is.

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Kill a boar

Solve a murder

hold on tight

Far Cry Primal

iCaruS Proudbottom’S World oF tyPing WeeKly

thumPer

www.holywowstudios.com/worldoftyping

I’m just a couple of levels in, and already Thumper is a blur of speed and fury. Your metallic beetle hurtles through abstract levels, giving you barely a moment’s notice to execute the simple button combinations that let you avoid its many obstacles. Its unrelenting pace and ominous tone work to create something special.

www.bit.ly/PrimalPC

I get why people were cool on this latest Far Cry – it’s very similar to the last few games in the series – but it still works for me. The pre-civilisation setting puts a greater emphasis on Far Cry’s excellent stealth systems, and I’m a fan of the ridiculous ways it repackages Far Cry’s tools for the stone age. It looks gorgeous, too.

Pl ay With melody

botaniCula www.botanicula.net

A daft point-and-click adventure that favours mellifluent, joyful interaction over convoluted and frustrating puzzles. In one section, you pull a dangling creature’s tongue to shift the pitch of his “aah” noises. This causes a giant tortoise to emerge from his elaborate shell. A playfully weird experience.

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This free episodic adventure is part typing tutorial, part murder mystery. Your job is to accurately type out the phrases that appear on screen, using the magicks of the tilde key to rack up mundo points. Your other job is to enjoy the ridiculous story’s many jokes.

MUST P L AY A personAl list of the best gAmes you cAn plAy right now by phil savage

www.thumpergame.com

drive dangerouSly

Forza horizon 3 www.forzamotorsport.net

I’ve played this for more than 50 hours, even though a recent patch designed to fix the widespread framerate problems caused me to experience framerate problems. Hopefully Playground Games will sort out the performance issues, because this is a wonderfully varied and satisfying racer.

tWeet liKe Kanye

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hitman

SoniC 3 & KnuCKleS

www.galactic-cafe.com/kanye

www.hitman.com

store.steampowered.com/app/71162

A darkly surreal black comedy about Kanye West’s Twitter account, created by The Stanley Parable’s Davey Wreden. When inspiration hits, you bash the keyboard to post Kanye’s tweets, and watch as your feed reacts. It’s a few years old now, but this short, free game is funny and memorably eerie.

Another game I’ve played a lot of, mostly because Samuel keeps making me review it. Thankfully, it’s great – a real return to form for IO Interactive. The fifth episode is a refreshing change of pace, with a greater emphasis on stealth, but still supplies the toilet-based drownings I’ve grown to love.

One of the hotter takes of recent years posits that Sonic was always bad – even the original 2D platformers. This is nonsense, and should be called out as such. Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a fine game, filled with beautifully designed levels and an unforgettable soundtrack. It’s well worth the £4 it costs on Steam.

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OVER...

NEXT MONTH Issue 300 spectacular! PCG reaches a milestone. Game of the year awards Overwatch? XCOM 2? Doom? dawn of war III All-new hands-on details inside. O N 130 S A L e d e c eOCTOBER m b e r2016 15

High risk of evasion Probably in cafeteria Eating a sausage roll EngagE whEnEvEr

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