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51

We’ve played it!

MASS EFFECT ANDROMEDA

PC games you need to PLAY IN 2017

Hands-on: combat and multiplayer revealed

Issue 301 february 2017

MEET THE NEW BIOSHOCK

PREVIEWED Mechwarrior 5 kingdom come for honor & MORE!

10-page special

Why Prey is the successor you’ve been waiting foR HARDWARE

PC’s best villains

How they’re created

The future of RPGs Experts speak!

SSDs RATED Fast storage for your PC rated


#301 FEBRUARY 2017 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, Ben Tyrer, Robert Zak, Jody Macgregor, Rick Lane, Leif Johnson, Edwin Evans-Thirlwell, Samuel Horti, Daniella Lucas, Ben Griffin, Steven Messner, James Davenport 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:​Marketforce, 2nd Floor, 5 Churchill Place, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5HU Overseas distribution by:​Marketforce 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 Creative Director, Magazines Aaron Asadi Editorial Director Matt Pierce Group Art Director Rodney Dive

NEXT ISSUE ON SALE… February 9 Amember of theAudit Bureau of Circulations

18,786 January-December 2015

ta lk to PC GAMER

Have your say! Tweet us @PCGamer

Shocking behaviour This issue’s cover feature convinced me that Arkane is building an even more ambitious game than Dishonored 2, our 2016 game of the year. Prey sounds like the perfect storm of immersive sim influences – exactly the sort of game that appeals to PC players. Horror, art deco and tons of tools at your disposal. Let Phil’s feature convince you too: you’ll find it on p44. So, we’re already kicking off 2017 on PC Gamer with a potential Game of the Year candidate – just one of the 51 games coming this year you’ll read about in this issue. Enjoy.

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

samuel.roberts@futurenet.com @SamuelWRoberts

The PC Gamer team P h i l S a v a ge

A n d y Ke l l y

Tom Senior

Specialist in Immersive sims, aliens

Specialist in Taxis, Silicon Valley

Specialist in Warhammer, robots

Twitter @Octaeder

Twitter @ultrabrilliant

Twitter @PCGLudo

This month Went to Texas for the second time in six months. Almost died of the heat. Again.

This month Confessed to his secret life as a San Francisco taxi driver in Watch Dogs 2. See p126 for details.

This month Took a break from the internet to share his current PC gaming picks with us on p128.

FEBRUARY 2017

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Contents

#301

february 2017

Subscribe to Check out our digital bundle! See p68

44

Monitor 08 THE TOP STORY Where is Red Dead Redemption 2?

10 THE SPY Industry rumours shaken and stirred.

12 FACE OFF Will VR ever become a reality?

Previews 16 Mass Effect: Andromeda 20 Kingdom Come: Deliverance 22 MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries 24 Nier: Automata 26 Tokyo 42 28 Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 30 For Honor

Features 36 2017 Preview

Discover the most exciting games due for release this year.

44 Prey Why Arkane’s latest immersive sim will make mugs of us all.

56 Great gaming villains Developers explain how they make the guys we love to hate.

70 The future of RPGs More developer insight, this time on how to evolve a crucial PC genre. 6

february 2017

MASS EFFECT andromeda

36

44

the great Prey cover games of 2017 feature

Ben Tyrer has played the new Mass Effect. Let him tell you the secrets of a different galaxy.

An exhaustive guide to this year’s coming releases. These are the titles you need to keep track of.

Phil talks to the Arkane team about their latest immersive sim, set on an alien-infested space station.

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36

Network 64 PLAY

The latest news from PCG’s servers.

Reviews

80 Watch Dogs 2 84 Orwell 86 Steep 88 Killing Floor 2 90 Dead Rising 4 DLC REVIEWS 92 Total War: Warhammer – Realm of the Wood Elves THEY’RE BACK 94 Prey 95 Alien: Isolation 95 Quest for Glory: Shadows of Darkness 95 Halo 3 95 Abe’s Exoddus

Hardware 98 GROUP TEST

Seven top SSDs reviewed.

104 REVIEWS

Even more gaming-related hardware.

108 BUYER’S GUIDE

The best PC components at any price.

80

Extra Life 112 NOW PLAYING

Suffering homebuyer’s remorse in Final Fantasy, and other gaming tales.

116 TOP 10 DOWNLOADS

This month’s round-up of the best free games and mods online.

120 UPDATE

No Man’s Sky has had a major update – Andy checks if they’ve added any fun.

122 REINSTALL

56

96

56

80

98

Developers tell us the secrets of creating some of gaming’s most memorable antagonists.

James Davenport pulls up his hoodie and plays Ubisoft’s game of hacktivists, exploits and lulz.

SSDs are faster and cheaper than ever, but don’t spend your money until you’ve read Ed’s reviews.

Making Great Watch dogs 2 SOLID STATE VIllaIns REVIEW DRIVES TESTED

Phil revisits Obsidian’s much overlooked spy thriller, Alpha Protocol.

126 WHY I LOVE

Andy lives out his Travis Bickle fantasies in Watch Dogs 2.

128 MUST PLAY

Game recommendations from the unique mind of Tom Senior.

120 february 2017

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O P I N I O N

T E C H

G A M E S

T he P C G a m er v i e w o f the w or l d This art suggests multiple playable characters.

THE TOP STORY

Will Red Dead Redemption 2 come to PC?

Rockstar’s Wild West epic hits consoles this year, but a PC release is still uncertain

T

he original Red Dead Redemption is one of Rockstar’s best games, but it never made it to PC, and probably never will. So what does that mean for the sequel? Red Dead Redemption 2 was announced last October with an evocative trailer revealing its improved Wild West setting. There are no details about the story or setting yet, but if it’s anything like the original it’ll be an open-world cowboy fantasy set across a sweeping expanse of the Old West. In the trailer we see shots of a lush forested valley, an idyllic homestead at sunset, a vividly starry sky above a glowing campfire, a herd of buffalo stampeding past a steam-belching train, and some grimylooking frontier towns that remind us of 8

February 2017

HBO’s Deadwood. It’s a beautiful, understated few minutes of atmospheric scene-setting, showing off some incredibly pretty environments. But there’s no mention of a PC version on the game’s sparse official website, only Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Red Dead Redemption is a hugely popular series, with the release of the trailer raising the stock price of Rockstar owner Take-Two Interactive by nearly 6%. And a petition was launched shortly after the trailer went live

if the PC version of GTA V is anything to go by, it could well be worth the wait

pleading with Rockstar to bring the game to PC, which was signed by almost 50,000 people. So I think we can hazard a guess that Rockstar will bring it to PC, but possibly not until several months after it appears on consoles. The enhanced PS4 and Xbox One versions of Grand Theft Auto V were released in November 2014, but didn’t make it to PC until April 2015, so perhaps Red Dead 2 will follow a similar schedule. And if the PC version of GTA V is anything to go by, which was brilliantly optimised and came with a selection of exclusive features including the superb Rockstar Editor and 4K support, it could well be worth the wait. So we might get it later than the console owners, but we’ll hopefully get the best, and best-looking, version. Andy Kelly


OPINION

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GAMES

T H E S P Y

I

TECH

W

elcome to 2017. Once upon a time that would be the title card for a dystopian science fiction film, but now it’s reality. The Spy embraces the future and moves with the times, but hopes you can find some solace in the fact that, no matter what happens in the world, The Spy will always be there, inexplicably uncovering rumours for the readers of PC Gamer. And if The Spy somehow fails to stop a nuclear missile launch (which hasn’t happened yet, touch wood) then your heroically dedicated rumour merchant will escape to a private bunker and tap them out in Morse code. If your hands haven’t melted off, tune your radio to emergency frequency 140.52 to hear them. But The Spy digresses. Here are rumours, relayed in the traditional fashion. An amusing side mission in Watch Dogs 2, named “Ubistolen”, involves Marcus hacking into a PC in the game publisher’s San Francisco office and stealing an E3 trailer for an unreleased game. It’s a curiouslooking sci-fi thing with a colourful art style, but is it a real game? According to Kotaku, yes. It’s a space exploration game code-named Pioneer, and if their source is to be believed, it’s having some development troubles. “The project was supposed to be

w h o wat c h e s t h E s p y ? announced next year,” the source said. “That won’t happen now because it’s being retooled. When they decided to put the Easter egg in Watch Dogs 2 they didn’t know it was going to be like this, so it’s a bit awkward.” Ouch. Ubisoft has been the victim of some major leaks, including early concept art for what would become Assassin’s Creed Syndicate. So the fact that it’s made itself the victim of a virtual leak in the game shows it does at least have a sense of humour. In The Spy’s experience, people generally don’t see the funny side when you abseil down the side of their mountain fortress, slip through the ventilation system, copy their top secret blueprints to a USB stick, then leak it to a rival superpower. Not that The Spy has ever done that.

tunnel vision

The Metro series has a big following on PC, but there hasn’t been a game since 2013’s excellent

won’t be any more Metro books, but added that “this doesn’t necessarily mean that Artyom’s story can’t continue in other media.” “As exclusive rights holder to games set in the Metro universe, we have ambitious plans for the hugely successful series,” says Deep Silver. “But just to manage our fans’ expectations, releasing the next Metro game in 2017 is not one of them.” The Spy is well acquainted with the Moscow metro system, having once used it to smuggle a defector out of the Kremlin. Somewhat inevitably, the ‘defector’ turned out to be a Russian spy, and a dramatic fist fight ensued on top of a moving train. It’s a good thing The Spy took those fighting-atop-aspeeding-train evening classes, otherwise another convoluted character would be typing these rumours out for you. Rocksteady is done with the Arkham series, but a rumour has resurfaced that WB Montreal (the team behind so-so prequel Arkham Origins) is working on a new game in which Damian Wayne replaces his father Bruce. A recruitment video showing the WB Montreal team at work included a few shots of an early open-world city environment and Batman running around in it. The fact that the video was quickly deleted suggests this was something unannounced that WB didn’t want us to see. A less exciting theory is that it’s some kind of remaster of Origins. Let’s hope it’s the former. An anonymous post on NeoGAF, which The Spy is taking with a mountain of Himalayan rock salt, claims the game will feature the batcycle and remixes of famous villians, including a female Black Mask. Whether any of this is true or not, you can be sure that WB won’t just let their lucrative Batman series die now that Rocksteady has moved on to something else. The Spy has always admired Batman, particularly his love of gadgets. In fact, inspired by him, The Spy once ordered a batarang to use on a covert mission in the Swiss Alps. Unfortunately the entirely fictional batarang doesn’t actually work like a boomerang, and it just flew off into the distance instead of spinning back and hitting the henchman on the back of the head. Spy out. The Spy

a less exciting theory is that it’s some kind of remaster of arkham Origins

The Spy knows all your secrets. Even that one.

2

MONTHXUK 2017

Last Light. Rumours were floating around recently that a new game would come out this year, but publisher Deep Silver released a statement saying that’s not the case. However, in an AMA on Reddit, Metro creator Dmitry Glukhovsky suggested that the next game, whenever it decides to show up, may continue the story of series protagonist Artyom. He said there


OPINION

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GAMES

I

TECH

S H U T U P, I ’ M R I G H T

F A C E O F F

Is virtual reality gaming dead already? Yes The magic has

worn off, and I can’t see things changing any time soon. Andy: When I joined PC Gamer, there was an Oculus

Rift DK1 in the office hidden under a pile of jumpers. So I rescued it from its knitwear hell and began a love affair with VR that would last a good few years. I was mad for it, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the DK2, and whooping with joy when we finally got an HTC Vive. But over time the magic has slowly worn off, and now that VR is no longer a novelty, I’ve lost all interest in it. I can’t help but think we’ll look back at how excited we all got about VR in a few years and laugh.

Samuel: I think the proponents of VR are facing a far longer battle than they realise. We’re still so steeped in the early adopter phase that it’s hard to imagine any major developments happening until there’s a headset for under maybe £200, and the gaming hardware required to run it costs a similar amount. I’m serious. PC gaming is hobbyist, and I love that about it. It’s more expensive than console gaming, but also much more customisable, with many more benefits. But to ask someone to spend more than £400 to be part of a niche club within that hobby is still way too much money for most consumers. And as for finding the VR headset under a set of jumpers, Andy, where else are we supposed to store it? We don’t have any cupboards, and a pile of jumpers is basically as good. Andy: The cost of a headset and a PC that can run the

ANDY KELLY used to live in a VR world, but found it to be a world of lies.

SAMUEL ROBERTS wants a future where his family and friends are all glitchy replicas.

12

thing is definitely the biggest problem facing VR right now. And this probably explains why articles about VR get a lot less interest than almost anything else on our site. It’s hard to get excited about a review of a game on a platform you could never afford. But I think the tech has problems beyond that. Even if they sort the price out and make it more affordable, it’s still something you’ll stick on your face as a novelty rather than a conventional means of sitting down and playing a game for a few hours. The headsets are too cumbersome and uncomfortable for long sessions of play, which makes virtual reality feel like a gimmick to me rather than a long-term game changer. Samuel: My concern is that while VR is this niche, even

something made by an acclaimed developer will struggle to find an audience, and that this will lead to fewer big studios wanting to have a crack at VR in the

FEBRUARY 2017

No It may take

a while to win gamers over, but we’ll get there.

future. But then again, we haven’t seen any recent official figures for how the Vive and Oculus have sold, so there are a lot of unknowns here. Besides, we haven’t even seen everything VR can do yet, Andy. I still haven’t walked around inside an episode of Cheers, leaning into the face of Ted Danson at will. VR has miles to go. Andy: I do think the true potential of VR has yet to be

tapped into. Right now there are some amazing experiences, at least in short bursts, but it feels like a tech that’s destined for something more than just games. Of the many hours I’ve spent plugged into the Rift and Vive, the most memorable experiences haven’t been games. Stuff like the app that lets you watch movies in a virtual cinema, or The Blu, in which you just sit back and watch some fish swim around your head. That’s what I look back on fondly. And I think that’s something that might work against it. Honestly, I think it’s a bad way to play games. I genuinely felt like I was going to puke after trying to take a long drive in Euro Truck with the Rift. And after a game of EVE: Valkyrie my first instinct was to pull the thing off my head and get some air. And I think this is what will hold it back from being embraced by the mainstream.

Samuel: Do you think that maybe the headsets need to

get lighter and more comfortable in order for VR to take off, just so it feels less intensive? That, and all the wires involved, may be a boundary to people even trying it. I know, for example, that my mum would look at the wires that come with the HTC Vive and go, “no way am I putting that on”. Let’s face it, if my mum doesn’t want VR, does anyone’s mum? And don’t get me started on dads, Andy.

Andy: The headsets have come on a lot since the

earliest Rift dev kits in terms of comfort, but they’re still generally quite unpleasant to wear for more than ten minutes. And yes, the wires are a nightmare, and not just for your mum. When I set the Vive up in my flat, I have to push all the furniture to the edges of the room and trail the leads everywhere. That’s another reason why, most of the time, I can’t be bothered setting the thing up. When it gets to the stage where you can just stick the thing on your head and it works wirelessly, then virtual reality might be ready for the mainstream.

The debate is over, but whose version of reality made you want to throw up? Let us know @pcgamer


Why the PC Gamer Weekender 2017 will kick arse Join us at the Olympia in London on February 18-19 for a weekend packed with PC gaming goodness. By Samuel Roberts

I

n March last year, we launched the PC Gamer Weekender to a warm reception from a devoted PC-playing audience. The atmosphere at London’s Old Truman Brewery was extremely positive, and not just because the chicken wings stand outside the venue served the best blue cheese sauce I’ve had in my life (I’ve been back five times since). It was because it felt like a new kind of event, one so specifically about celebrating PC gaming culture that it had its own enthusiastic vibe. I got to meet readers of the website and magazine all weekend, and as such I’m delighted we’re bringing the event back on February 18-19, at the Olympia in London. For the 2016 show, we provided a mix of hands-ons, including Dark Souls III and Total War: Warhammer, and stage presentations of Star Citizen, Stellaris, Killing Floor 2 and many more. Lots of hardware vendors were on hand too, and VR stations for guests to try out, as well a host of indie stands, showing off such games as Stardew Valley and Shadowhand. Everyone got a free Sega Steam key, too. I won Crazy Taxi! Several people won Sega’s complete catalogue on Steam. That’s enough Sonic to last a lifetime. This year we’re going to create an even bigger and better show. We’ve already announced the first of the games you can play at 2017’s Weekender, which include Dawn of War III and Halo Wars, and there’ll be many more announcements the

closer we get to the time – including our developer-led stage presentations, which I’m arranging myself. Expect a great mix of big studios and indies, as well as a few exclusives. You’ll also get to meet the PC Gamer team (yay!) and ask us your burning questions about PC gaming. This was one of my favourite parts of 2016’s show, where our readers threw a few friendly questions at me and the rest of the UK team on Saturday evening, then joined us for drinks afterwards. It was a genuinely warm session that encapsulated the very specific, friendly nature of the show – and no one asked us why we gave Dragon Age II 94%. You’re the best. We’ll be bringing that session back on the Saturday night. We’d love you to come and meet us if you’re a fan of the magazine. It’s going to be fantastic and I’d love to see you there. Like the title says, with no bias whatsoever from a man who is literally the UK editor of PC Gamer, it’ll kick arse.

BUY TICKETS NOW! www.pcgamer.com/weekender 14

FEBRUARY 2017

RIGHT: The Weekender is the place to be for PC players in February.

NEW VENUE!

The PC Gamer Weekender 2017 will be held at Olympia London.


BELOW: The brilliant-looking Dawn of War III will be playable this year.

E-SP ORTS PARTNER

FEBRUARY 2017

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February 2017


PREVIEW Mass Effect: Andromeda

need to know release Spring

Developer BioWare

Publisher EA

M a s s E f f e c t: A n d r o me d a A short hands-on in the new galaxy reveals major changes number of changes to the old formula make BioWare’s coming space opera a exciting proposition. A new galaxy to explore, unexpectedly fast combat, and the demise of the old Paragon/Renegade binary moral choices. Mass Effect: Andromeda is a sequel that quickly establishes it’s more than just what’s gone before plus rudimentary tweaks.

A

My hands-on time is with the returning multiplayer mode, where the improvements to movement, such as the ability to jump, feel particularly immediate. In another intriguing change, character classes are returning to multiplayer but not to singleplayer. So while you’ll have to decide between playing an Infiltrator, Engineer or Sentinel online, when playing new hero Ryder in the campaign you’ll simply pour skill points into the abilities you want to upgrade, free of class restrictions. This makes sense for a story that’s all about discovery. You’ll have the freedom to experiment and mould your character in the way you want. For my multiplayer session, however, it’s handy to have a definite role on the battlefield that complements the other players. Having plumped for the Sentinel, I find myself taking on waves of enemies as part of a gang of four. The familiar third-person action is made instantly slicker thanks to the removal of a cover prompt. Instead, my character hunkers down behind chest-high walls automatically, helping me move around the tiny circular map much more easily than in previous games. It’s the first sign that combat is less static, but it’s nowhere near as significant as the versatile jump. This handy universal ability means I can launch myself into the air to get to higher ground easily and pin down the enemy from the safety of a

pl ayed It

Link www.masseffect.com

defendable platform. The real fun is when I start combining it with other attacks. It’s possible to hover in the air for a brief time by aiming mid-jump. By leaping and meleeing, I also get a chance to slam into ground, disrupting a pesky group of enemies that make the mistake of clustering together. Even the dependable action roll is out, replaced by a dash move that lets me slide quickly out of harm’s way and back into cover. All these changes come together to place emphasis on outwitting enemies through assertive, fast thinking action rather than defensive strategy. Aggressive AI addresses the balance of this empowering new skillset. The grunts I go up against also move fast, flanking and attacking as a unit. Trying to take them on by hiding behind cover for too long will lead to a merciless death. Producer Fabrice Condominas tells me about redesigning the enemy AI. “You’ve got open layouts – that’s way more complex – so the AI needs to understand the space, needs to understand where to flank you and that they can come in from every angle. Then add in the layer of switching to Frostbite and you get the recipe for a lot of work!” I find this dynamic AI helps push me around the map, forcing me to quickly adapt to a more mobile character and creating a tactical challenge that feels new to the Mass Effect universe.

Right Path The singleplayer demo I’m shown is hands-off, but introduces a thoughtful balance between exploration and combat that promises Andromeda won’t emphasise on the running and gunning over actual roleplaying. Starting in the year 2185 – which puts it just after Mass Effect 2 and before Mass Effect 3 – the Andromeda Initiative is a collection of Milky Way races who decide to leave their galaxy in search of a new home. They aren’t fleeing from the Reapers, they just yearn to see what lies beyond the stars of

The grunts I go up against also move fast, flanking and attacking as a unit February 2017

17


PREVIEW Mass Effect: Andromeda Mysterious vaults are a feature.

their own galaxy. Getting to the adjacent one, Andromeda, is a 600-year, one-way trip and, naturally, things don’t quite go according to the script once these colonists make it there. It’s an intriguing premise, giving us the chance to define humanity’s role during the first contact phase with new alien races. One of which is the Kett. Their imposing, bipedal frame is only made more intimidating by their bony, jagged bodies and oddly human features. Their role in the story isn’t too clear yet, but that’s why new hero Ryder’s role as the Pathfinder is different to the one Commander Shepard had. Creative director Mac Walters explains: “You have military training, of course, but this isn’t a military trip you’re going on, this is a scientific adventure and one for humanity’s betterment. You’re also an explorer, an adventurer, you have to be somebody who can meet people and talk to them, know how to be a diplomat even, and be much more than a space marine.” The Pathfinder’s personality also means the end of the Paragon/Renegade system, as BioWare aims to introduce a little more subtlety to how Ryder interacts with people. Now, there are four types of response – heart, head, professional and casual – that can shape the way you play. Don’t worry, you’ll still have chances to interrupt chatter and romance certain characters, but hopefully they’ll provide more pause for thought instead of funnelling you down an easily visible moral path. It’ll be interesting to see how many friends we can make through diplomacy, and who will decide they don’t like the cut of humanity’s jib. Another aspect of the emphasis on exploration is your scanner. “Anywhere you explore,” Condominas says, “it’s actually a fairly important part. We have a number of exploration mechanisms, whether it’s an environmental puzzle or discovery, which can have a direct impact on gameplay. For example, you can learn something that will allow you to unlock a blueprint for crafting or just lore.” Yes, you’ll be able to craft mods for weapons as you discover what this strange new place has to offer. The depth and freedom to these refinements

“We got some people on the Need for Speed team to review the Nomad” 18

February 2017

combine to give a greater sense of ownership over your Ryder and your decisions. No mean feat considering how easy it was to get attached to Shepard. One of the other key structural changes is the idea of story planets. These are large levels you explore to find side-quests and information on the new galaxy you’re in, but they’re optional compared to the critical path missions that make up the bulk of the main story. The story planet I get to see is Elaaden, a beautiful, arid world where the heat is deadly enough to turn Ryder into a pile of ash if she (or he) isn’t careful. Various planets will have environmental hazards you need to pay attention to, and while it might be the unforgiving temperature on Elaaden, it could be a ferocious thunderstorm on another.

Nomad’s try Fortunately, you have the Nomad to help. A redesign of the Mako, it promises to be helpful in ways the first incarnation never quite managed. Planetary surfaces are divided up into wide-open spaces specially designed for it, Walters tells me. “There’s a lot of cool things you can do, a lot of environmental challenges and hazards and we also have on-foot areas.” Studio director Yanick Roy also assures me BioWare is aiming for a smoother rider this time. “Sometimes you just need the know-how. We got some people on the Need for Speed team to review the Nomad, for example, and give us some pointers.” You won’t find any weapons on this buggy, but at the very least it makes for a handy spot of cover should you find yourself suddenly in a fight, while the mix of open areas to drive through and small on-foot ones should keep these planets interesting. It’s not the only vehicle getting an upgrade. The Tempest replaces the Normandy as your home in the stars. While its design means it’ll be smaller than Shepherd’s ship, thankfully we’ve seen the end of lift-based loading screens. The little things can sometimes make the biggest difference. By stepping away from the threat of the Reapers and the ending of Mass Effect 3, which can still prompt cries of anguish, Andromeda serves as a soft reboot for the series, overhauling combat, location and class structure, while still providing those moments that make BioWare games special. This new intergalactic playground is a bold and confident step forward for the series.

Ben Tyrer

Worst. Foam party. Ever.


PREVIEW Mass Effect: Andromeda Using height is an important part of combat.

February 2017

19


PREVIEW Kingdom Come: Deliverance Don’t expect many +2 swords in this gritty medieval setting.

need to know release 2017

Developer Warhorse Studios

Publisher Deep Silver

Kingdom Come: Deliverance The first quest showcases a uniquely interconnected world ingdom Come: Deliverance is an ambitious game – as evidenced by its realistic combat system and topographically accurate recreation of the Kingdom of Bohemia in the 15th century. It may have a small map for an open-world RPG, but that compactness becomes an asset for the interwoven world Warhorse Studios is creating.

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affair that I’m told is based on authentic medieval unarmed combat – will end with you face down in pig faeces. If you lose the fight, the game continues, and you’ll need to get more creative in your approach (best not tell your father of your drubbing, as that’ll lower your reputation with him). You could always kill Kunesh when no one’s watching, but that would remove a possible encounter later in the game when he’s been taken prisoner, leaving his fate is in your hands (you can even pull him up on that debt he still owes).

bad company

As you wander the village, wondering how to complete daddy’s deceptively difficult task, you may bump into a trio of local mischief-makers, who invite you along to pelt some poor guy’s house with shit (presumably the medieval answer to The condensed map is a web of egging when eggs were still a valued overlapping systems that encourage commodity). Because events in the world player improvisation, and it also makes happen whether you’re there for them or you accountable for every NPC interaction not, they’ll still go off to do the dirty deed – however minute. Fail a quest and the even if you say no, and you can always game continues, forcing you to find turn up for the fun later. another solution; walk through a Doing so is likely to lead to a village covered in blood and your scuffle with local law enforcement, pl ayed reputation in that area, as well as with i t but the ruffians will teach you the art each individual who sees you, will of lockpicking for your troubles, plummet (though it may open which you can then use to break into opportunities with the local bandits). Kunesh’s house and retrieve your father’s Contrary to the RPG norm where you can goods (as well as anything else in Kunesh’s undertake hundreds of disparate quests house you consider reasonable collateral). that have no bearing on each other, in Your lockpicking skills will also butterflyeffect how you approach the rest of the Kingdom Come you’re best off assuming game. I’m told that getting involved with that all of the game’s 80 or so quests are this trio will give them a big part to play connected in some way. later. No event exists in isolation. This is showcased in the opening And that’s just the first quest, an chapter, where your father asks you to introduction to a game that’s embracing a retrieve a debt from a local tough called ‘small world’ ethos; quests overlap, Kunesh. In these simple times of serfdom, chance encounters can tie back into the nothing says “pretty please” quite like a main story later, and every interaction hook to the jaw, and it quickly becomes leaves a mark. The importance of apparent that this is the most direct way considering your actions is punctuated by to deal with the rowdy debtor. But the guy the fact that you drink plum brandy each can hold his own, and there’s a good time you save, which can have debilitating chance your fight – a strange open-fisted effects if you overdo it. Where many RPGs dazzle us with their scope and inundate us with quests to the point of paralysis, Kingdom Come wants to offer us a more focused, persistent world of emergent scenarios and meaningful choices.

mischief-makers invite you along to pelt some poor guy’s house with shit 20

Link www.kingdomcomerpg.com

february 2017

Robert Zak

The map is small for a modern RPG.


PREVIEW Kingdom Come: Deliverance

OK, so you don’t like bonnet jokes.

Medieval life was rubbish, basically.

february 2017

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PREVIEW MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries The emphasis is very much on singleplayer, and player freedom.

Does that sign really say ‘Hidden Death’?

Aren’t you a little short for a mechwarrior?

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February 2017


PREVIEW MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries

need to know release 2018

Developer Piranha Games

Publisher In-house

MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries The first singleplayer MechWarrior in 15 years t MechCon 2016, Piranha Games sent audiences into a frenzy with a teaser showcasing a brief slice of FPS action behind the cockpit of a towering Shadowhawk. We’ll have to wait until 2018 for the release, but in the meantime, I talked to Piranha Games president Russ Bullock to get an overview of everything MechWarrior 5.

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Tanks have been retired, and are all going to live on a farm.

The game will be a singleplayer shooter with an emphasis on strategic combat and in-depth management of your own mercenary company. Over the course of a 34-year campaign, players turn their fledgling mercenary company into an elite unit piloting the most badass of mechs. Ending just before the clan FIRST invasions of 3049 AD, MechWarrior 5 L o o k won’t feature the OmniMech clan technology prevalent in other games. Though it’s using Unreal 4 instead of MechWarrior Online’s CryEngine 3, the combat will build off the same weighty, nuanced foundation. “We don’t want to reinvent the wheel in certain areas,” Bullock tells me. Instead of a team of humans following you into battle, you command “lances” of hired mercs: Piranha Games are hoping to capture the intensity of MechWarrior Online’s 12-versus-12 matches. Enemy mechs won’t be the only thing occupying your crosshairs, however, as various land and air vehicles will require new tactics to defeat. Shooting to kill isn’t always the best solution, as skilled pilots can salvage damaged enemy mechs –

pilots can salvage enemy mechs, even shooting their weapons off to re-use

Link www.mwomercs.com

even shooting their weapons off to use against them later. Doing so can significantly cut the repair bills that eat into your profits after each battle. At the heart of every singleplayer MechWarrior game are customisation and freedom, and MechWarrior 5 looks to take that to new frontiers with its sandbox campaign. Here players are free to fly around the Inner Sphere taking on contracts and aligning with the Great Houses however they see fit. “Our goal is to create a very in-depth manager experience,” Bullock says. “It’s sort of like taking – and this might be overdoing it – Football Manager wrapped over the top of MechWarrior 1.” While more scripted missions will drive the campaign at certain places, MechWarrior 5 is first and foremost your story. “Since Mechwarrior 2 onward, there was not nearly as much of the freedom and replayability that we want to go for,” Bullock says. “I think 95% of MechWarrior players will never have had this much freedom when it comes to where and who they fight for.”

meching money Driving that freedom will be a “dynamic” economy that changes based on the year and where you are in the Inner Sphere. Unlike MechWarrior Online’s freeform “Mechlab”, MechWarrior 5 is likely to return to the traditional variant-based system where each chassis has a specific loadout and role to fill on the battlefield. Missions will also be dynamic, using “seeded” level generation to create maps based on factors such as climate and geography. With a new turn-based BattleTech game due in 2017 from series creator Jordan Weisman, the series could be on the edge of a new era. MechWarrior 5 will certainly appeal to those who never had a chance to play these games growing up, but Bullock is serious about ensuring it’s primarily for the fans. “Being a smaller independent developer, we know who our customers are and we’re in this for them,” he says. “We’ve always felt like MechWarrior Online was, at most, half of the MechWarrior market. There’s a huge portion out there that’s just waiting for a singleplayer experience.”

Steven Messner

February 2017

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PREVIEW Nier: Automata

It’s an incredibly stylish game.

Combat robots don’t need eyes.

One of the many weird mechanical enemies.

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February 2017


PREVIEW Nier: Automata

need to know release 2017

Developer PlatinumGames

Publisher Square Enix

Link www.nierautomata.com

Automata’s combat. Both swords in my playthrough have their own animations, moves, and counters, and you can wield both of them at once, which opens up even more attacks. They even behave differently depending on whether you equip them in your light or heavy slot. And that’s just the two swords in my demo: in the final game there will be dozens of other weapons available for you to wield – including a giant hammer – which will result in a head-spinning number of potential combinations. Plug-in chips add further depth. he original Nier was something of a cult hit on console, but never made its way to Installing these grants 2B special abilities, PC. Automata is a sequel in the same including automatically using a health post-apocalyptic world, but a standalone item if her HP gets dangerously low. Chips story, so prior knowledge isn’t required. Replacing use power, however, of which you have a developer Cavia is the mighty PlatinumGames, limited supply. But it’s possible to disable creator of some of the best action games ever other chips to give yourself some extra made, including Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising. power, including ones that govern basic functions like the HUD and minimap. So if you’re short on power, have an upgrade A robot army from another world has you want to install, and fancy a challenge, conquered Earth, forcing the last you could always disable 2B’s health bar. remnants of humanity to flee to a colony It’s a clever and unique system. on the Moon. Combat androids called There’s even a chip that runs 2B’s YoRHa are sent back down to the planet to operating system, which the game warns fight the machines, and you play as one of you will kill her if you disable it. So, of the most powerful: YoRHa No. 2 course, I did. And I got a Game Over Model B, or 2B for short. From her pl ayed screen. I mean, it did warn me. This is first battle, it’s clear this is a Platinum i t game. 2B is beautifully animated, an example of director Taro Yoko’s and the flowing, fluid combat looks sense of humour and love of messing and feels incredible. with the player, which is arguably the main reason the original Nier developed such a HEAVY METAL cult following. It’s great to see him returning for the sequel despite the I’m in a weapons factory that’s been taken change of developer, and the game should over by machines. I’m fighting swarms of be full of mischievous, self-referential dumpy little robots with spinning arms, moments like this. which serve as cannon fodder to help me My demo was a linear series of get used to how the combat system works. If I squeeze the back-right trigger to combat-focused set-pieces, ending with one of the most exciting boss battles I’ve dodge just as a robot enemy attacks then ever seen in a game with a robot the size immediately strike back, 2B transitions of a skyscraper. I ended the battle by into one of several stunning-looking climbing into a mech suit, ripping one of counter combos, which include juggling its giant arms off, then beating it to death her attacker in the air and spinning her with it. It’s a classic Platinum boss, and sword like a deadly helicopter rotor. wonderfully absurd. As I play, I realise there’s an The main game will feature an open extraordinary amount of depth to Nier: Zelda-style overworld, towns to visit, people to talk to, and other RPG elements. The idea of a sprawling JRPG with Platinum’s deep, nuanced combat is hugely exciting, and I’m glad Square Enix is bringing this Nier to PC.

Nier: Au to m ata

Action master PlatinumGames tries its hand at an RPG

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The height of android fashion.

I RIP ONE OF THE GIANT ROBOT’S ARMS OFF AND BEAT IT TO DEATH WITH IT

Andy Kelly

February 2017

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PREVIEW Tokyo 42

need to know release 2017

Developer SMAC Games

Publisher Mode 7 Games

Tokyo 42 A fresh perspective on open-world action ’m watching a naked man do yoga through his window. Behind him, a woman is lying in bed, smoking. The implication is obvious. SMAC Games’s Maciek Strychalski makes the comparison to Where’s Wally. Not the post-coital tableau. Rather, he’s referencing all the hidden jokes and details found in each picture.

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Link www.tokyo42.com

– a Suit – by selecting their clothes in the menu. This drains the Juice meter, used to power abilities, but gives him enough time to get into cover. Eventually, Wright reaches the temple. This is about sending a message, and so the mission is to take the target out with a sword. Tokyo 42 takes place in a world where people don’t die. Instead, death is an inconvenience that raises a person’s insurance premium. The stealth systems are basic: if you’re spotted, every guard is alerted. Weapons like the sword allow Wright to move through the temple silently, and by taking a route around the outer rim of the pagoda’s upper floor, he’s able to avoid the guards and snipers.

crowded mouse

After the mission, stealth gives way to combat. A line of sight extends from your character to the mouse cursor, letting you Tokyo 42 is full of hidden jokes and details. know where (and at what elevation) a It’s a 3D action game that takes place in a bullet will travel. This is a consequence of colourful cyberpunk city. Zoom out, and the perspective – it can be hard to know the world is a surreal, vibrant diorama set exactly where you’re aiming, so the UI is atop an intricate sprawl of rooftops that designed to be as informative and poke above the clouds. Zoom in, and you transparent as possible. It’s a slightly start to see the intricacies, Easter inelegant solution, but it seems to eggs and in-jokes. work. Wright is able to clear a path by NEW The action is reminiscent of the running into cover and lobbing INFO early, top-down Grand Theft Auto grenades to flush out guards. games, but Tokyo 42 is played from The streets are full of NPCs, which an isometric perspective. As you make is an important aspect of Tokyo 42’s your way through the world, you’ll have to challenge. Completing the mission awards rotate the camera to reveal what’s waiting reputation, which puts a target on the around the corner of a jumping puzzle, or player’s back. Wright is alerted to a to get a better view on the guards trying to nemesis – an assassin hired to take him shoot you. down. Wright doesn’t know where they SMAC’s Sean Wright takes me through are, or what their loadout is – intriguingly, an assassination mission. His target is in a they could be any NPC in the crowd. To Japanese-style temple, but first, he must find them, he deploys Tracker Cat, who cross a guardpost. This is a restricted prowls around the nearby area trying to zone run by one of the game’s factions. As identify the killer. Wright steps in, a detection indicator pops This is a charming and inventive up to let him know that he’s about to be open-world game with a distinctive look discovered. But Tokyo 42 offers a and an anarchic approach to systems design. I’ll be interested to see how selection of powers that can help you get combat looks when it’s not being played out of tight situations. Wright is able to by its developer – whether battles viewed disguise as one of the faction members from an isometric perspective will feel natural when you don’t have countless hours of playtesting experience. But that lingering question aside, I’m looking forward to this smart approach to old-school, arcade action.

Tracker Cat prowls the nearby area, trying to identify the killer 26

February 2017

Phil Savage

The cube-based design is surprisingly versatile.


PREVIEW Tokyo 42 You can’t tell from a screenshot, but this game is one of constant activity.

It’s a targeting device. It just looks like a giant selfie stick.

February 2017

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PREVIEW Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 I’m not sure you can headshot radar dishes.

need to know release April 4

Developer CI Games

Publisher In-house

Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 It’s training its sights on the open-world genre here’s something romantic about being a sniper. You have to monitor your targets carefully, learn their patterns, and be mindful of their tendencies to lean, yawn, or pick their nose lest you miss your shot and all hell descends upon you. It’s a morbidly intimate experience, and one that makes you value each sporadic kill.

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In one mission, I headed to a graveyard to assassinate a militiaman forcing local civilians to dig their own graves. As I ascended a cliff using the (slightly clunky) climbing system, I came across the corpse of a man who fell, or was thrown, to his death – his skull split open. In another mission, I interrogated a guard who told me the hostage I was trying to rescue was in the basement. When I went in, I discovered piles of corpses suggesting a massacre had recently taken place. Grim world. Good world-building.

use of weapons

North’s arsenal is no-nonsense: a sniper rifle, silenced pistol and assault rifle in my session – the latter revealing CI Games’ intention to offer players more freedom of approach. The one tool that sticks out is his plucky little drone, which you can set off to scout out enemy bases, tag enemies The Ghost Warrior series has been and hack terminals to kill CCTV. attempting to capture that experience for Despite CI Games pushing the two games now. How successful it’s been somewhat generic point that you can play seems to depend on whether you’re a as a “Sniper, Ghost, or Warrior” (doesn’t reviewer or a gamer, the combined sales that describe most open-world figures – north of five million – having shooters?), the game still invests heavily in defied lukewarm critical opinion. its sniping. During a late-game Ghost Warrior 3 marks a break mission, I had my sights trained on a pl ayed with the past, replacing linear, heavily i t watch-tower guard. It was far more scripted missions with open-world than a matter of whipping out my rural Georgia. The country is in the scope and pyew, Grigor Shalikashvili’s midst of a civil war and you, as former your uncle. I first had to make several marine Jon North, must go in and take out adjustments based on wind direction, whoever’s pulling the strings. It’s a stark bullet drop, even rain. It didn’t take long, but beautiful place: everything, from the but fiddling with the dials made the formidable forests and mountains to the process feel more involved and tactile. sad neon signs on abandoned hotels and Your suppressor also wears down, making obscure Georgian music playing on car each shot more precious. radios, enhances the sense of solitude. It’s I took a deep breath (in-game, and in the perfect setting for a lone wolf like you. real life), lined him up and pulled the While CI Games acknowledges the trigger. The kill felt satisfying, capturing inspiration, it doesn’t want Ghost Warrior that sniping intimacy I mentioned earlier. It’s in these moments, along with the 3 to be Far Cry in the Caucasus. It’s more decent sneaking – which takes into subdued, more grounded, and there are account noise, light levels and foliage – no generic outposts to capture at your that Ghost Warrior 3 thrives. To me, it leisure. Instead, enemy bases are tied into somewhat broke the spell when I missions, each with its unique design and discovered that I could equally well have snippet of environmental storytelling. carried out missions by running in AK blazing and ‘nades booming. Ghost Warrior 3 has an intriguing setting, and enough little design flourishes to make it worth setting your sights on. But don’t pull the trigger just yet.

I had to make adjustments based on wind direction, bullet drop, even rain 28

Link www.sniperghostwarrior3.com

february 2017

Robert Zak

Get up close and personal if you want.


PREVIEW Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3

I may have been spotted.

Enemy bases are tied to individual missions.

february 2017

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PREVIEW For Honor Execute an opponent and they can’t be revived. Like so.

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February 2017


PREVIEW For Honor

need to know release February

Developer Ubisoft

Publisher Ubisoft

FOR HONOR Multiplayer sword-battler with some great strategic moments or Honor is an unusual prospect for Ubisoft, as indeed it would be for any major videogame publisher. A medieval melee combat game focusing on multiplayer, there’s more Chivalry in its DNA than Call of Duty.

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It’s best understood as a product of the same change in attitude that brought us Rainbow 6: Siege. They’re very different games, but they have a shared intensity of focus – something that separates them from the jack-of-all-trades open-world adventure games that Ubi has become associated with over the past few years. Like Siege, For Honor provides a well-rounded simulation of a very specific combat fantasy. You’ve got to approach it with an enthusiasm for swordplay and a fighting game player’s willingness to practice. Combat plays out differently for each class, which are divided between light, heavy and medium fighters across three factions – vikings, knights and samurai. Even so, the basic principles are the same: you lock on to a target and adjust the angle of your blade in three directions. You can block, parry, and pull opponents into guard breaks and jabs. When you start playing, it’s often enough to spam light attacks and pick on wounded or outnumbered foes. As you get better – or when you try your hand at one-on-one duels – you need to learn how to match your approach to the situation and your opponent’s class and playstyle. The matches you play online will contribute to the progress of your chosen faction in a world-map-spanning metagame. Somewhat confusingly, your choice of faction doesn’t limit you to one set of characters in-game: you can declare your allegiance to the knights overall, but play a viking in every game if you want to.

pl ayed it

Link forhonor.ubisoft.com

Control of territory changes the way maps look, from the banners that hang on castle walls to the time of day and season. The metagame is played in seasons and your participation in a given season will be rewarded with unique cosmetic rewards. Like Rainbow 6: Siege, For Honor’s microtransactions will be restricted to these kinds of cosmetics – all future maps and character classes will be free. I tried two new character classes at an Ubisoft event. The peacekeeper is the knight’s light skirmisher, a hooded dual-wielder whose speed makes her an ideal objective-capper. The shugoki is a massive samurai armed with a heavy club whose powerful strikes and durability make him a dangerous frontliner.

going solo We played a few rounds of Dominion, the capture-and-hold mode I’m familiar with from the alpha, before playing Elimination. This is a round-based team deathmatch where each player has a single life – a bit like Overwatch’s new three-on-three mode (or, indeed, Rainbow 6: Siege). I liked For Honor in the alpha but it was these rounds of Elimination that really sold me on the game. Unlike other modes of this type, your team doesn’t spawn together. Instead, you’re paired off with a member of the enemy team at random. This creates a really exciting strategic element. If you fancy your chances in a one-on-one duel, and you can win it solo, then you’ve just put your team at a substantial advantage early in the round. You’re also free to run away and help a teammate – but doing so frees up your opponent to either chase you or rush off to outnumber one of your allies. It’s an interesting dilemma, and one that rewards knowledge of matchups and punishes over-confidence. That said, winning your initial pairing and being able to rush off to save a teammate is a great feeling. This mode also helped me come to understand more about For Honor’s underlying design. In one early round, we

It’s an interesting dilemma, and one that punishes over‑confidence February 2017

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PREVIEW For Honor

faced an enemy team that picked exclusively light attackers and we got destroyed. The ability to spam rapid light attacks and stunlock opponents is very powerful, particularly when players are new and don’t know how to deal with it. Expect much wailing and gnashing of teeth about this when the game launches. The downside of killing somebody with light attacks, however, is that this puts them into a down-but-not-out state and (rather counter-intuitively) they can’t be executed when they’re on the ground. In Elimination’s wide open maps, there are lots of opportunities for somebody to escape the battle, run off and revive their teammates, and reset the match. Light attack spam might win you the duel, but it also condemns you to babysitting the body of the person you just beat. If you take somebody out with a more-difficult-to-land heavy strike, however, you can chain this into an execution finisher that means your opponent can’t be revived (typically because they no longer have a head). This is a much bigger deal in Elimination than it is in Dominion, and when we faced that team again – and they picked all light attackers again – we took it more patiently, waited for the right moment to strike, and were sure to finish off our opponents with an execution if at all possible. Even if only half of our team won their duels, the difference is that our teammates had merely been downed by light attacks where theirs had been decapitated. This gave us map control and allowed us to completely dominate the next set. This is exactly the kind of strategic layer that I love and it’s confirmed that I’ll play For Honor when it comes out next year. That said, I wouldn’t underestimate how much more fun these matches were because I was playing with friends with voice chat. As with most competitive team games, solo play will lose a lot of this depth and likely won’t be as fun. Rainbow 6: Siege is another good comparison, in that regard: expect salty behaviour when you play on your own and brilliant fun if you’ve got a full team of friends. Speaking of solo: the singleplayer campaign is the weakest aspect of For Honor, or at least the portion that I’ve

I kicked my opponent into a flaming brazier that toppled onto a nearby hut 32

February 2017

tried. I played one mission as Mercy, a peacekeeper infiltrating a viking stronghold under the cover of darkness. This boiled down to a series of one-andone and group encounters on cliffside paths and ultimately in the stronghold itself. Stealth didn’t seem to be viable and there were few alternate routes. It was enjoyable as a showcase for the game’s melee combat system, but didn’t offer much depth beyond that. The next mission, the first in the viking campaign, took place in a village with multiple objectives to complete and provided a few more dynamic moments. In one instance I blocked an incoming blow, countered with an armour break, and kicked my opponent into a flaming brazier that toppled onto a nearby hut, burning it down and stopping the flow of reinforcements. It was a cool moment, but relied on systems specific to that mission. For Honor’s environments are not reactive in that way as a general rule.

horsing around The mission concluded with an on-rails horseback chase drawn straight from the middling action-adventure playbook. I dodged debris and swung my axe left and right to unseat riders attacking from the sides. If you’ve played any fantasy action-adventures over the past few years, you’ve done this sort of thing before. There are mini-campaigns for each faction, and you’ll play as several different characters (read: multiplayer character classes) over the course of each. The enemies you fight are, likewise, drawn directly from the pool of online character archetypes. This makes singleplayer a decent way to get to grips with the various matchups you’ll face online, but I can’t see it being a draw in its own right. It’s best thought of as the equivalent of a fighting game’s story mode: nice to have, but not worth the price of entry on its own. I’m excited to spend more time with For Honor’s multiplayer, though, and I can see myself investing hours in it on release. After all, swordfighting games are my jam. I’m curious to discover how big the audience for them really is, however: this is a niche, after all, and even in the era of Game of Thrones it’s less marketable than a shooter. I wouldn’t be surprised if For Honor was a slow burner, starting life with a small passionate audience with the potential to grow from there if it receives the right support. I hope it does – it’s always good to see originality rewarded.

Chris Thursten

Maps change depending on who owns them.

Rank-and-file soldiers are easily slain.


PREVIEW For Honor

‘Peacekeeper’ is probably meant to be an ironic name.

February 2017

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THE BIGGEST PC GAMES OF

2017 Loads of cool-looking PC games to keep your eye on in 2017. By Samuel Roberts & Andy Kelly

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February 2017


F E AT U R E The Biggest PC Games of 2017

Star Citizen: Squadron 42 The singleplayer component of Star Citizen arrives in 2017, starring Mark Hamill, Gary Oldman, Gillian Anderson and a host of others, and aims to capture the sandbox nature of the MMO. When Andy met the team in 2015, they explained how it will seamlessly transition between space flight and first-person action. Space bases will have multiple approaches, for both action-oriented and stealthy egress. Airlocks in the latter case, and if you think that sounds suspiciously like ventilation ducts in space, you’re right. This sounds a lot like it’s in the mould of Deus Ex – just with an entire chunk of space to explore. Squadron 42 will apparently let you travel anywhere in its corner of the galaxy at any time, building on the impressive space piloting systems seen in Star Citizen proper. There’ll be a main story path but also optional quests to track down. The big caveat here is we still haven’t seen it in action – much of what we know is based on Andy’s studio visit from last year, so we’ll have to wait a while to see how Squadron 42 is coming together. With Star Citizen proper looking so promising as of the 3.0 update we saw at Gamescom, however, we’re willing to believe that a strong singleplayer offering is within the Foundry 42 team’s capabilities.

Tekken 7

This is the Tekken series’ long-awaited debut on PC. Developer Bandai Namco is promising a story mode, an enormous roster of characters (including several previously only playable in the arcades), and a new practice mode.

Call of CTHuLHU

This investigation-based RPG adapts the boardgame of the same name, and aims to capture the feel of Lovecraft in a way that’s more faithful than previous games based on the same universe.

February 2017

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2017 PREVIEW

Vampyr

Worlds Adrift

Life is Strange developer Dontnod returns with this action roleplaying game, where you play a vampire doctor in a Spanish-flu-ridden London after the Great War. Featuring a freeform progression system and attack styles that alter depending on how much blood you’ve drunk from the city’s residents, it sounds like an unusual combination of ideas. Feeding from civilians allows you to level up and unlock new vampiric abilities, for example, yet excessive killing apparently has an unwelcome effect on the city and the narrative. This is one to keep an eye on, for the Parisian team’s previous output if nothing else.

From Bossa Studios, this player-driven exploration MMO impressed Andy earlier in 2016 with its combination of miles of floating islands, physics and landscapes that permanently bore the marks of other players. Players gather materials, use them to craft airships and then go on adventures together. If you see a bunch of wreckages floating around one area, for example, that’s perhaps a sign not to go there in case the same fate awaits you. It’s extraordinarily ambitious, and you can already contribute to the game’s many worlds by downloading the Island Creator on Steam.

Halo Wars 2

Absolver

The Creative Assembly brings Halo back to the PC (sort of) in this pretty real-time strategy game, which we got to sample a couple of issues back. It’s familiar and a little more streamlined than PC players are used to – basebuilding is in fixed locations and the way the units’ strengths and weaknesses interact is very easy to get to grips with. A lot of the appeal is in watching Halo’s beautiful sci-fi units engage in large-scale battles. This is intended to be high-end fan service, essentially, but with the traditional RTS having a quiet spell, it’s still one to look forward to for fans of the genre.

This 1v1 combat game is about perfect dodging, counters and building combos – somewhere between Devil May Cry, Dark Souls and Shinji Mikami’s obscure PS2 brawler God Hand. Absolver is a melee fighting game built on instinct and strategy, and it was the best thing we played at E3 2016. It’s so immediately satisfying to pick up and play, and to learn how to perfectly counter competing players, that it instantly won us over. The option to build combos yourself out of individual moves with specific speed and damage values offers much potential depth. And if you don’t fancy competing, there’s a comprehensive PvE element too.

Mount & Blade II: Bannerlord

The long-awaited medieval sandbox strategy sequel should hit this year, with larger maps and battles, in-depth customisation options and extensive revisions to Warband. It looks gorgeous, too.

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February 2017

Ni d h o g g 2

The competitive jousting game gets a follow-up with a divisiveyet-beautiful-in-motion art style, as well as new weapons and more than ten new levels to battle across. There will likely be a way to customise the rules for swordfighting purists, too.

Hellblade

We first saw Hellblade in 2014 where a small team at Ninja Theory were using kit parts to quickly fashion the grim Norse world of this third-person action game. Since then, the game’s gone into full production – we should see it this year.

Outlast 2

This nasty sequel to 2013’s breakout first-person horror game is full of almost comically awful stuff – when Tim played it he wandered over some charred corpses of children, and generally found the scares to be of a high standard.


F E AT U R E 2017 Preview

Metal Gear Survive The contentious sequel to The Phantom Pain, our 2015 Game of the Year. It may not feature the input of creator Hideo Kojima, but it’s still made by many of the talented people who worked on that title. The main cause for alarm is the presence of zombies instead of the clever AI soldiers MGSV had – the result of a confusing story twist in which a group of Snake’s soldiers get dragged from Mother Base through a wormhole into another dimension. It was one of the

Cuphead

This stylish shooter/platformer hybrid is inspired by 1930s animation. Studio MDHR has captured the look perfectly, with beautiful art that’s straight out of a Max Fleischer cartoon. But it’ll be tough too, with 30 punishing bosses to beat.

most controversial game reveals of the year, so different did it appear to MGSV. Then again, MGSV featured a silent sniper lady who had a condition that meant she had to be barely clothed at all times. Playing the narrative-logic game is always risky with Metal Gear Solid. Survive does drag Metal Gear into the realm of four-player co-op, however, which is undeniably exciting, plus it offers new tools with which to mess with enemies, such as bows and spears. Expect it to get very sci-fi, and for Metal Gear fans to be a little sceptical until more is learned.

Litt l e Ni g htm a r e s

This puzzle-platformer from Tarsier Studios sees you playing as a child sneaking through a nightmarish world populated by bizarre creatures. Expect a Tim Burtonesque art style, physicsbased puzzles, and a creepy, dreamlike atmosphere.

Quake Champions

Quake is finally returning to PC as a fast-paced arena shooter. It’s designed around skill rather than unlockables, which harks back to the series’ heyday. And there will be multiple ‘hero’ characters to play as, each with their own unique abilities.

The main cause for alarm here is the presence of zombies

Ab a n d o n Shi p

This FTL-style ship-command game sees you dealing with the perilous high seas, where obstacles range from enemy ships to tentacles grabbing your vessel. If you sink you can escape on a lifeboat, or wash up somewhere and carry on.

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F E AT U R E 2017 Preview

Ghost Recon: Wildlands The long-running Clancy series has been rebooted as a more accessible, open-world co-op jolly, allowing Just Cause and GTA Online-style parachuting and assorted vehicular hijinks. You’re dropped onto a massive patch of drug cartel-ridden Bolivia, and you’re tasked with dismantling the operation bit by bit, using a combination of drones, guns and vehicles. In a hands-on at E3, Sam was impressed by how open-ended missions

Ri s i n g St o r m 2 : Vietnam

This sequel to our 2013 multiplayer Game of the Year brings its hardcore, realistic combat model to the Vietnam War. Automatic weapons and grenade launchers will make battles even more intense.

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seemed. “Me and three other players picked our approach towards stealing some intel from a small occupied town. The whole thing then plays out like a slightly simpler MGSV, but in co-op – I managed to get caught almost instantly upon entering the base and the enemies rallied to try to stop my team, before we made a fraught escape in a vehicle.” From what we’ve seen so far, Wildlands seems versatile enough to satisfy players looking for lighter co-op experiences and those into the more traditional sim-like challenge of older Ghost Recon games.

S n i p e r E l it e 4

Set in Italy in the aftermath of the previous game, Sniper Elite 4 sees you teaming up with the Italian resistance to fight the fascist regime. Which you do by shooting people from far away and watching their guts explode in slow-motion.

Crackdown 3

An open-world superhero game with a completely destructible city made possible by Microsoft’s Cloud tech, this is another Xbox game making the jump to Windows. The first two games were slickly entertaining crimefighting fodder.

the whole thing plays out like a simpler MGSV, but in co-op

B a tt l e T e ch

Cult turn-based mech combat returns to PC for the first time in years, under the direction of Jordan Weisman. Battletech raised $2.5 million on Kickstarter, enough for a singleplayer campaign and PvP multiplayer modes.


2017 PREVIEW

Oxygen Not Included

Resident Evil VII

Klei, who has an unbelievable track record with games such as Don’t Starve and Invisible Inc, returns with this space colony management game, revealed to the world at our very own PC Gaming Show at E3 in 2016. Your goal is to first dig out a base for your colonists to live on, then try to keep them alive, as well as disease and stress-free. You’ll encounter creatures who aren’t always on the friendly side – but it’s not a game about combat. It sounds more like a combination between a strategy and survival game, with a semi-familiar art style that Don’t Starve players will undoubtedly appreciate.

After a reasonably impressive demo, which finally came to PC in December, this first-person reboot of Resident Evil feels much more contemporary than other recent entries in the series. Players contend with the fierce Baker family and a host of messed-up creatures on a plantation in Louisiana. Classic Resi elements such as inventory management and green herbs return, along with the sense of struggle that defined the combat from the earlier more horror-oriented entries in the series. Helpfully, it’s one of the few games coming out in January, so check back for a review next issue.

South Park: The Fractured But Whole

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III

A superhero-themed spin on the South Park universe, this follow-up to The Stick of Truth adds a layer of depth with class systems and the ability to move around in combat. The RPG classes adhere to the superhero format, so you’ve got gadgeteers, cyborgs and speedsters, with the UI elements looking nice and comic booky too. As for the story, the kids are in their own version of Marvel’s Civil War – you’ll see Cartman’s The Coon, Kenny’s Mysterion and Kyle’s Human Kite, among others.

Gracing our cover twice, Relic’s third strategy game based in the 40K universe recaptures the scale of the first, along with the elements of hero characters and the in-depth customisation of the second. A best of both worlds RTS, then, with the most vivid large-scale depiction of 40K yet. You’ll get the Orks, Space Marines and Eldar in the base game. The Space Marines can summon a gigantic laser from outer space, and the Eldar can use warp gates to get positional advantages over enemies.

St a t e o f D e c a y 2

This sequel to Undead Labs’ zombie survival game was announced at E3 and lets players carve out The Walking Dead-like stories in a more lavish-looking open world, with four-player co-op and improved settlement-building tools.

Sc a l e b o u n d

Making the leap from Xbox, this dragon-themed action RPG from Devil May Cry creator Hideki Kamiya sees you control Drew, with his dragon Thuban controlled by the AI. But you’ll take charge of the creature to perform certain moves.

Di l u vi o n

Explore a mysterious flooded world by submarine in this RPG inspired by the writing of Jules Verne, and with more than a hint of Sunless Sea about it. You have to manage your crew and supplies to survive treacherous journeys into the deadly deep.

Frozen Synapse 2

Frozen Synapse 2 aims to be the simultaneous turn-based tactics series’ version of X-COM: Apocalypse. The clever battle system will be enhanced by a sandbox campaign set across a fully simulated city.

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2017 PREVIEW

Lawbreakers

Outer Wilds

Cliff Bleszinski’s Boss Key Games has had this low-gravity arena shooter in the works for over a couple of years now. Our impression of the still bare-bones alpha in June – which only had four characters and one map – was that the movement needed a little work. PC Gamer’s Chris Livingston found the couple of maps he got to try – Grandview and Promenade – a little uninspired, with everyone settling into common and not-all-that-different routes after a few rounds. However, chances are the game has changed a lot since then, and there’s no doubting the pedigree of its creator.

The alpha for this crowdfunded space exploration game triumphed at 2015’s IGF Awards, and with good reason. The sun is going to explode in 20 minutes, wiping out the system you’re living in. Hop into a spaceship and see what you can find out there before it does. In the alpha, this included a giant monster shrouded in a misty asteroid, an explorer stuck alone by a campfire in deep space, and some trippy whale-like creatures inside a liquidy moon – the sort of cool, weird stuff you wish No Man’s Sky could’ve shown you, but it didn’t. The full game will gussy up the visuals from the simpler-looking alpha.

Full Throttle Remastered

Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite

Another of LucasArts’ beloved graphic adventure games gets the re-release treatment from Double Fine, following Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle. For those who missed it in 1995, Full Throttle is a biker-themed point-andclick game set in 2040, about Ben, the leader of the Polecats gang, who gets dragged into a world of trouble: double crosses, murder and assorted corporate shenanigans. With remastered voice acting and sharper 2D and 3D visuals, we look forward to Phil Savage playing through Full Throttle for the first time without a walkthrough and losing his temper, before calling Andy up for help.

Announced late in 2016, this is the first in the frantic Marvel vs Capcom series to come to PC – although you’ll be able to get a fancy version of the older Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 on PC in March, too. This 2v2 fighting game mashes up characters from Marvel’s superhero roster and Capcom’s backlog of overacted protagonists. Revealed so far on the Marvel side are Iron Man and Captains America and Marvel, while Capcom has Ryu from Street Fighter, Mega Man and Morrigan (from Darkstalkers, sadly, rather than Dragon Age). If you’re not invested in the competitive side, expect a big story element to let you bask in the fan service.

Agents of Mayhem

This Saints Row spin-off swaps out customisable player characters for 12 pre-made heroes with different weapons and abilities. You can switch between a loadout of three of them mid-game and alter your roster between missions.

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Yook a-L aylee

Created by a team of veteran devs, this homage to classic Nintendo 64 3D platformers like Banjo Kazooie is shaping up to be a lot of colourful, challenging fun. This is a confident reimagining of a genre that’s not seen enough on PC.

Pyre

This fantasy action-RPG is the next project from Supergiant Games, which describes its intriguing lane-based combat system as a mix between DotA, Rocket League and Transistor, and it’ll include a local multiplayer mode.

S e a o f T hi e v e s

Developed by Rare, this light-hearted open-world piracy game has a multiplayer focus. Gather a crew and take to the seas in your own pirate ship, engaging other players in cannon battles and searching desert islands for treasure.


F E AT U R E 2017 Preview

Tacoma The long-awaited follow-up to Gone Home from developer Fullbright is a first-person sci-fi game set on a space station, where everyone has vanished. Holographic representations of the crew help you to piece together what happened – the opening stretch of the game very strongly suggests foul play by an apparently sinister AI known as Odin. You travel through some parts of the ship in zero-g, downloading new AR

B a tt l e C h a s e r s : Ni g ht w a r

This RPG is being developed by the founding members of defunct Vigil Games. It features deep JRPG-influenced turnbased combat, challenging dungeons, intricate visuals, and a Diablo-style overworld.

Sh e n m u e 3

This $6 million-funded Kickstarter campaign is one of the most anticipated sequels ever. It continues the tale of Ryo, a teenager hunting for the man who killed his father in China, mixing martial arts with RPG and simulation elements.

snippets of the crew’s interactions with Odin. Kubrick’s 2001 is the obvious frame of reference here. Tacoma is a beautifullooking locale, with very specific, lived-in sections of the ship – it’s certainly more ambitious than Gone Home in the scale of the environment. While the mystery of what happened to the crew is a compelling overarching story, there seem to be plenty of vignettes featuring the inhabitants and detailing their backgrounds. A game befitting Fullbright’s skillset, then, and no doubt a candidate for 2017’s best first-person narrative game.

St r a f e

no doubt a candidate for 2017’s best narrative game

A roguelike inspired by ’90s PC shooters, Strafe is more than just a nostalgic throwback. The focus is on fast-paced combat, with customisable weapons designed for mastery. The powerful railgun, inspired by the one from Quake II, is a highlight.

St y x : Sh a r d s of Darkness

The original Styx was a flawed but interesting stealth game starring the titular thieving goblin. He’s back for the sequel, and Cyanide is promising deeper systems, a bigger budget, and Unreal 4-powered visuals.

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C O V E R F E AT U R E Prey

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Sh

ck

to the

Is Prey the BioShock successor we’ve been waiting for?

SYS TEM By Phil Savage

mmersive sim is less a genre than a design philosophy. Its roots extend back to Looking Glass and Ion Storm. Ultima Underworld, Thief, Deus Ex and System Shock were the template for a new way of thinking about first-person design – where immersion is heightened through dependable systems and NPCs who respond to the player’s actions. It’s why JC Denton’s boss admonishes him for walking into the women’s toilets.

Immersive sim developer Arkane Studios has, in recent years, been more focused on action and stealth. Dishonored’s combat is fast and decisive – you can disable a guard instantly by a chokehold or sword to the neck. Prey feels different, more deliberate. “Dishonored is probably the legacy of Thief,” says Raphael Colantonio, CEO of Arkane and creative director of Prey. “Prey is the legacy of something like System Shock.” And, just like that game, it takes place on a space station. February 2017

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Prey is set on Talos I, an orbital space station created to research shadowy non-terrestrial lifeforms that, surprise, has now been overrun by shadowy non-terrestrial lifeforms. Built from the shell of a Soviet satellite, the station is owned by the TranStar Corporation. It’s a lavish art deco space, augmented by futuristic technology – reminiscent of BioShock, albeit more functional and without the whale. You play Morgan Yu, a man (or woman) with ties to TranStar’s neuroscience research program. As part of Yu’s involvement in Talos I’s psychotronics division, you’re able to scan and acquire powers from the aliens – known as Typhons. There are survivors, but Yu will spend much of his time alone in the abandoned sectors of Talos I. Survival is a matter of using your tools, upgrading your powers and manipulating your environment. And sometimes transforming into a coffee mug. Arkane’s attitude to systems design is summarised by a picture hanging on the wall of its Austin studio. Among a selection of motivational posters depicting Prey’s core design pillars is an image of Just Cause 2’s Rico riding on top of an airliner. The accompanying text reads, “Say yes to the player.” “It’s an instinct we try to cultivate,” says Ricardo Bare, Prey’s lead designer. “When you’re playing a game and you hit an obstacle, you’re just naturally like, ‘I’m going to try this.’ We try, as developers, to remember that instinct and say yes to it.” Arkane doesn’t create context sensitive, situational abilities. Everything that happens is a result of the way each individual system reacts. “Rather than saying, ‘this power interacts with this short list of things,’ and therefore building a lock and key

The G.U.T.S. are literally Talos I’s inner service pipes. Gross.

relationship,” says Seth Shain, Prey’s lead systems designer, “we say, ‘this power has this effect, it creates this phenomenon in the world. That’s where the simulation part of ‘immersive sim’ comes in, and we expect everything else in the world to have a reaction to that.” One of those powers, Mimic, lets Yu take the form of any item he can target – be it something innocuous, like a mug, or something more deadly, like a turret or drone. Another, Kinetic Blast, lets him place a powerful psychic explosion. What Arkane discovered was that the two can be used in combination. Yu can become a physics object, and use his physics power to propel himself across the room – even up to heights that would otherwise be I hate when someone else also picks sci-fi cyclops for Halloween.

difficult to reach. “No one really thought about that until a level designer tried it and then sent us a video that just blew our minds,” says Shain. “We were like, ‘oh my God, this is a great traversal tool!’” The difficulty is in anticipating the things the player can do. “We don’t really do a lot of armchair design where we sit back and we just think about the matrix of possibilities,” says Shain. “Instead we just play the game, you know? We play the game as if we didn’t know any better, and we just look for opportunities for something to be cool.” Part of Arkane’s playtesting process is identifying solutions to see if they work the way a player might expect. “If the player has the expectation that A plus B equals C, then A plus B better equal C. Or something cooler,” says Shain. “Or, let’s take A or B out of the game so that the combination doesn’t present itself as an opportunity for disappointment. That’s a really important value for us. That’s basically what ‘say yes to the player’ means to us.” Shain offers me a recent example. “We have this explosive tank in the game,” he says. “If you shoot it, it starts venting gas and flies around and stuff. You can mimic those.” That raised a question: what happens if Yu, when in the form of a tank, gets shot? “The expectation is that you get to fly around as that thing,” Shain says. “We’re definitely going to support that! Once we thought about that, we’re like, we’re not going to not do that now. Of course we’re going to do that! It’s one of those things that I’m glad someone thought to try it. Because it would be disappointing if we released that into


C O V E R F E AT U R E Prey

the wild and then players tried it and were disappointed that it didn’t work.” It was the tools and powers that sparked my interest in Prey when I saw its debut footage at Quakecon. Like Dishonored 2, these abilities are designed to encourage creative problem solving, but, of those shown so far, the majority seem more multipurpose. You can Mimic an item to hide from an alien, but also to make yourself smaller in order to fit through small gaps. At Arkane, Bare plays through some new sections from a couple of Prey’s levels for me. In one, we meet a survivor holed up in the cafeteria kitchen. He offers a sidequest: visit the crew quarters to retrieve an item. Instead, Bare tries to Mimic a small item to roll through a gap in his barricade. He fluffs the execution, and we move on. Had he persisted, the suggestion is that we could have skipped that mission entirely – Prey’s quest system

Immerse Yourself

what happens if Yu, in the form of an explosive tank, gets shot?

The precursors to Prey

1992

Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss

Blue Sky Productions From the studio that would become Looking Glass, Ultima Underworld was the first to merge RPG with first-person action, laying the template for immersive sims to come.

dynamically updates based on Yu’s relationship to the quest giver. “If I had managed to get in there,” Bare says, “the objective he gave me would have failed because he doesn’t like me any more. But then I could have just done whatever I wanted in there, I could use his recycler, take all his stuff, and that would have just bypassed that whole section of the game.” And when Bare says he could have done whatever he wanted in there, he means it. “One of the things that we decided up front was – and it’s a little bit of a throwback to some of the older games like Ultima Underworld – any time you run into a character ... you can kill them. We try not to make it easy for you to do that, but it’s totally possible.” Unlike Dishonored, however, there’s no binary Chaos system to punish you for your lethality. “It’s more what I would call natural consequences,” says Bare. “If you kill this person then the

1994

System Shock

Looking Glass Technologies Cyberpunk sci-fi that improved on Underworld by more elegantly integrating its core systems. Was bettered by its sequel, which was codeveloped by Looking Glass and Irrational.

2002

Ar x Fatalis

Arkane Studios Arkane’s first game, also heavily inspired by Ultima Underworld. When Arkane started work on Prey, the developers were keen to make something with more RPG systems than Dishonored.

2006

Dark Messiah of Mi g h t a n d M a g i c

Arkane Studios Not a direct influence, but Dark Messiah excelled at physicsbased slapstick. Prey has some of that spirit, like when you Gloo Cannon a Telepath hovering over a flight of stairs.

2007

Bi o S h o c k

Irrational Games BioShock is a descendant of System Shock 2. More than that, it’s a game about choosing when and how to initiate big fights against powerful enemies. Prey taps into that.

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Weapons are cheap to print, but also frail.

thing they would have done at the end of the game is not possible … there are natural consequences to being a jerk.” In addition to alien powers, Yu has access to other tools and abilities. A recycler charge causes a large implosion, sucking up nearby physics objects and converting them into resources for crafting. The Gloo Cannon shoots globs of glue that can disable enemies, or create temporary blocks Yu can use for cover or to climb to new areas. In addition, Yu can spend his upgrade points on more human traits, such as hacking or strength. If you were in any doubt over Prey’s immersive sim credentials, know that you can unlock the ability to pick up and throw larger, heavier boxes. Given the sheer range of possibilities, there are plenty of ways for players to solve a particular problem. “We know as part of our cultural design DNA that if you put something that the player can see,

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we’re probably not going to be able to prevent the player from getting it,” says Shain. “The player’s going to be able to use the Gloo Cannon to make a platform to climb up there, or level up their jump power and jump up there, or have the chip set on the propulsion suit that lets them zoom up, or use the Lift power to get up there, or use Kinetic Blast to blast the thing down.” Where many of Prey’s challenges can be solved creatively, or bypassed entirely, Arkane still needs the player to follow the critical path of the story. I’m shown one such mission, which requires Yu to open a biometrically sealed lock. That means hunting down multiple voice samples of a specific crew member, Danielle, in order to fool the lock into granting access. While the mission itself can’t be skipped, you have options as to how you go about finding the relevant samples. Do you hack into Danielle’s emails; repair her transcribe, which records her communications; or

follow the clues that lead to the recording of her girlfriend’s pen and paper RPG session? How you accomplish your goal will be different based on the build of your character. More than the setting, it’s these design touches that remind me of System Shock. Prey features more RPG systems than any of Arkane’s games since their first, Arx Fatalis. “When we started conceiving the kind of game we were going to make next, it was a deliberate choice to go back to something like Arx Fatalis and have more RPG components into it,” Bare tells me. Not only is there a crafting system, enabling you to 3D print weapons and items, but the upgrade systems feel more geared towards specialisation than in Dishonored. “My prediction is that the easiest way to deal with the opposition and challenges of the game is going to be the most direct path,” says Shain, when I ask him about the character builds he expects to emerge. “I think a lot of players will choose to go that way: focus on their shotgun, pistol and other weapons, and make sure that they’re upgrading those, keeping them in good repair and fabricating a lot of ammo.” Doing so, however, will define what the player can’t do. If you spend your points improving combat skills, and your resources fabricating ammo and repairing weapons, you won’t have as many Neuromods to invest in Typhon powers, or be able to fabricate as much Psi (think mana, but for alien stuff ). Players less interested in the path of least resistance could instead enhance stealth. Prey isn’t specifically a stealth game, though. “It’s one axis that players


C O V E R F E AT U R E Prey

can specialise in, if they want to,” says Bare. “Or they can just dabble in it. I imagine if people are going to be scanning the aliens, then stealth is probably the easiest way to do that.” In keeping with the RPG focus, Prey’s more powerful enemies have larger health bars. By default, you won’t be able to take them down instantly, although you can upgrade sneak attacks to maximise damage. “If you have the maximum sneak attack and your wrench is levelled up I think we’re going to see a lot of players just sneaking up and just one-hitting some enemies,” says Shain. Bare encounters one such enemy in the Telepath – a hovering Typhon type that can mind-control survivors. He’s not specced for maximum wrench, and so it’s a long fight, made easier by the fact that before initiating, Bare is able to sneak around the arena, using a stun gun to render the Telepath’s thralls unconscious. Alternatively, they can be killed, but, as with the earlier quest giver, such choices have consequences. Once again, I’m reminded of BioShock. The combat looks frantic, but the pace lets you to react to what’s happening. Bare starts by unloading shotgun rounds, but soon the weapon starts to jam – a byproduct of the prevalence of 3D printing is that weapons in Prey are cheaply made and unreliable. Instead, Bare switches to Kinetic Blast. Time stops when you’re aiming

The Gloo Cannon is either a powerful tool, or the hot new kids’ toy.

Could Prey be the next BioShock – even the next System Shock?

Shadow Warriors

P oltergeist

Meet the Typhon, and their unusual abilities Phantom

Your basic, humanoid grunts. They’re fast and strong, and the Etheric type is able to create clones of itself.

A Typhon with the ability to turn invisible, and so easily ambush the player. Listen out for its creepy whisper.

Mi m i c

Small, spider-like Typhon that can camouflage as any item they can target. Detectable via their eerie chittering.

Cyst Nest

Thermal Phantom

Telepath

Large, powerful and able to float. It can mind-control people, and has a psionic attack that disables your own powers.

Cystoid

Less a creature than a security system. These blobs track movement in zero-g environments, exploding on impact.

alien powers, and moves in pace with you as you position the reticule. This Superhot-style system creates pockets of space for players within such protracted encounters. “These are pauses during which you can make tactical choices and switch gears,” Bare explains. “It can get incredibly lethal and some of the monsters are super difficult. ... Hit the targeting button, freeze everything for a second so you can go, ‘OK, what am I gonna do? I have three shotgun shells left, I’m also out of Psi, but I still have plenty of health.’ You pick something and go.” Kinetic Blast works at first, but then the Telepath hits Bare with a Psychoshock attack, temporarily disabling his powers. Switching gears, he equips the Gloo Cannon, coating the shadowy blob and sending it crashing to the floor. This buys him enough time to scan it and thus unlock Psychoshock for himself, while also learning details of the creature’s resistances and weaknesses. Now Bare can turn the tables, disabling it and making the final stage of the battle far easier. I’m impressed, and excited. I enjoy Arkane’s games, but wasn’t sure how Prey would distinguish itself. Having seen it in action, I’m convinced. There are plenty of familiar elements, but also things that seem to set Prey apart from its immersive sim forebears. With Dishonored 2, Arkane proved it had a gift for designing complex and entertaining systems, and Prey seems incredibly generous in its offering of clever, varied tools and abilities. Could Prey be the next BioShock, perhaps even the next System Shock? It’s too early to call, but the signs look good. February 2017

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INTERVIEW

Raphael Colantonio

Raphael is the founder of Arkane Studios, and creative director of Prey. We talked to him about the history of the studio, and the resurgence of the immersive sim. What was it that you wanted to achieve in founding Arkane Studios, and why did you settle on Arx Fatalis as your first project?

Back then I was 28, I think. And my favourite games were Ultima, Ultima Underworld and Thief. I wanted to make one of those. A PC game, hardcore, first person, somewhat RPG – a mix of action and shooting. I had no idea about the market; was that going to work or not? And it actually was super hard, because as a first game, being there directly on PC, making your own engine was just a crazy idea. But it kind of worked out. The game back then was not successful – it’s probably more successful now than it was back then – but it kind of announced to the rest of the industry, “hey, these guys over in this small city in France are into these kinds of games.” That brought some bigger publishers, and then eventually Bethesda came to us and they wanted the really big, triple-A version of all of that. That’s kind of what I wanted. There was no specific roadmap for it, because you can’t really plan something like that, to be honest, but it was all about passion and what we wanted to do. After Arx Fatalis, you partnered up with Ubisoft for Dark Messiah which was more of an action-focused

thing. Was that in response to the difficulties of making Arx?

A little bit, yes. Arx was more of a critical success than a financial success back then, and that did hurt us. Publishers knew we had some potential, but at the same time we could not back up our potential with sales numbers. So yes, when we worked with Ubisoft back then, I think both them and us wanted the kind of games that we liked, but this time maybe going with a more commercial approach. Something that was less obscure and less hardcore. It was still in the continuum of RPG/action, but this time around it was way, way more action, which was a great experience, I think, because it allowed us to really push on the physicality aspect of our game and the combat, and that part was very successful. Thinking forward, we then kept that with us and went deeper with it on Dishonored. You also worked with Valve on Return to Ravenholm, which was never released. Were there a lot of constraints in having to work on projects in the Half-Life or Might and Magic universes?

Yes. We like to do things, and it’s never fun to have constraints based on previous work or whatever. It’s just how we’re set up. We like to renew ourselves, but

LEFT: It’s not just Prey’s swimming pool that’s deeply immersive.

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ABOVE: System Shock never let you turn bananas into crafting materials.

BELOW: Prey is Arkane Austin’s first solo project.


C O V E R F E AT U R E Prey

even back then during Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, there was not much of Might and Magic in as far as the lore itself, right? So it wasn’t too bad. Ubisoft did not push us specifically in the lore or anything, and then... well, Valve was great to work with. With Electronic Arts, we worked as well with some games that eventually did not ship – it was fun actually, but yeah – it’s been a lot of effort and it’s something that didn’t ship so it was a disappointment. But then, again, we still learned from it – we worked with amazing people such as Doug Church and Steven Spielberg. Was that part of the reason for accepting the acquisition by ZeniMax? Was it a case of “Well, this is the financial security we need to push our own projects?”

I don’t think it’s part of our culture to go for security. We went with Bethesda because they were probably, at that time anyway, the only publisher we could think of that understood the kind of game that we make, and not only understood but wanted them, supported them and knew how to sell them. Because those games are a selection of different genres, and usually they scare people off. Like, “hold on – is it an RPG or an action game? You have to tell me.” Whereas they know how to do that. The VP of development at Bethesda, Todd Vaughn, was a big fan of all of our games before so it was a no-brainer. It was just “oh, we found the publisher version of us!” It was a very natural alliance.

added some really strong people in that category as well. We got Harvey Smith coming from Deus Ex at Ion Storm, Ricardo Bare, who is now our lead designer on Prey. He was also from Ion Storm, so yeah. At some point we just reached a maturity on everything and the stars aligned together. The maturity of the team, the people, the good publisher, the right experience and the very, very clear desire for a specific type of game. There was no ambiguity about what we were going to do. I think many of our readers still see the early immersive sims – Deus Ex and Thief – as some of the best in the genre. Then it felt as if something like Invisible War, either for audience reasons or technical reasons, struggled to match the same depth. To me it seems like we’re coming back into a renaissance of what the immersive sim genre can do. Is that a case the technology falling into place, or that the audience are more literate and ready for those experiences?

I think it’s the audience that is more ready for this kind of experience, and, for this kind of experience to be successful, you need the audience. You also need the sales and marketing forces and the finance, so basically the publishing side believes in it. And, of course, you need the game to be good. But without those two first things, and specifically the publisher understanding of them and belief in them, then you’re not going to go anywhere. As far as technology goes, I think it was already good enough a generation ago. Now we can do better looking, etc, but, to some degree, the more technology you have those games are also a little harder to make. You lose the benefit of the simplicity of your image. There is something to be said about an environment where you can parse in a fraction of a second everything that is interactive around you. The enemy over there, the thing over here. Like the clear shadow where I can hide over there. Now with all these bleeding lights and refractions everywhere, and the colour that you want everywhere so that your environment is beautiful, it becomes a big challenge to define your clarity as well as the beauty of your world.

“I think the technology was good enough a generation ago”

It was around 2006 when Arkane Austin was founded, specifically – was that mostly just to hire a lot of the developers floating around after Ion Storm disbanded?

No, no. Sometimes you have agendas in life and things you want to do, and I think coming to Austin was in my mind for a long time. I was a big fan of Origin and Ion Storm and so I did come a few times to Austin just for fun, just to meet these guys that I was a fan of, and at some point I knew that staying in France – the full company staying in France – was probably not enough if we wanted to really open ourselves up to a bigger market and work closer with the big publishers. So I basically achieved a personal objective, which was to move to America because it was an experience I wanted to have, and come to Austin because it was a place I like and also there was a strong ground for the kind of games that I liked. Yes, potentially the fact that there were some former Ion Storm and Origin people was a good reason. It was also good for the business of our games, so everything came together. You moved onto Dishonored with Bethesda, and it seems like that was almost a midpoint between the depth of systems with Arx Fatalis and the action side of Dark Messiah.

Yeah, that’s a great way to summarise it. The depth and interactivity of Arx Fatalis combined with the action and physicality of Dark Messiah, and also we

Beyond the fact that you’re a studio that has made all these immersive sims – it seems to be the genre that you’ve focused on – what would you say is Arkane Studio’s identity? What is the philosophy that underpins what you do?

I think we’ve always been a bunch of passionate developers and we had to do business because it was a means to an end, but we never approached the industry with the thinking of “what is it that sells the most?” otherwise we would have never have made this game or these games in general. And I think that’s still there. We are a very, very developer oriented company – and that’s all that matters to us. The fun, saying “yes” to the player, as many simulations as possible, empowering the player with tools so that they can have their own experience. That’s what we love. February 2017

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F E AT U R E Virtual Villainy

Is the Alien a ‘villain’? Try being stalked by it in Alien: Isolation.

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Virtual Villainy

A n a t o m y o f E v i l We ask some of the industry’s finest writers what makes a great villain. By Rick Lane

February 2017

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F E AT U R E Virtual Villainy

M

ore than any other artform, gaming is defined by antagonism. From the earliest arcade machines to the most extravagant FPS, pitching the player against an external threat has been one of the industry’s foundational elements.

As gaming evolved beyond the quickfire pleasures of the arcade, so have the opponents the player faces. The barrel-lobbing, space-invading pixels of the ’80s have been replaced by evil fantasy overlords, megalomaniacal dictators and rogue AIs. Many of gaming’s most iconic characters are its villains, from Monkey Island’s ghost pirate LeChuck, to System Shock’s almighty SHODAN. At their finest, villains can challenge the player not just on a physical level, but on a moral and ethical one, and gaming is uniquely equipped to portray these scheming, deceptive opponents. It can enable them to get inside the protagonist’s head – literally, in some cases – or allow the player to judge their twisted morality for themselves. Soon, gaming may even be able to present us with villains that adapt to the player’s behaviour. “Everyone likes villains,” says Tom Jubert, the writer behind Frictional’s Penumbra series, The Swapper, and the Talos Principle. “They’re just more fun… you can have them do some crazy, really far-out stuff. They’re super-interesting because they have to be conflicted, and they have to wind up doing these terrible things for plausible reasons. So everyone likes villains before you even start.” Villains are particularly enticing because they allow us to explore thoughts and actions which are unacceptable in everyday life, embracing and exploiting power or anarchy without being burdened

by feelings of guilt or shame that would normally accompany such behaviour. “Who isn’t a little bit moved by the anarchy of the Joker?” says Jubert. “There’s always something a little bit glamorous, a little bit attractive about their worldview. That’s what makes it really exciting.” This idea of villains being more fun as characters is particularly relevant to games, where the player often fills the protagonist’s role. Much of Jubert’s work has been on projects where the game is first-person and the main character is mute. “That in itself means that the villain is going to take on a hell of a lot more of the character of the game than the central character is,” he points out. It’s not surprising that this style of storytelling has produced some of the industry’s most memorable villains. System Shock’s SHODAN, BioShock’s Andrew Ryan, and Portal’s GlaDOS are frequently ranked among gaming’s best villains, and they all star in games where the player character is barely fleshed out at all. Devoid of a compellingly written protagonist, the antagonist must shoulder the burden of making the game spark with character. Jubert’s own villains are very much in this vein, although intriguingly, many of them don’t take physical form either. “There’s a weirdly high proportion of my villains who don’t even exist before the game starts,” he laughs. The most well-known of these is Clarence, the antagonist of Penumbra: Black Plague. Clarence emerges as the result of a strange virus that infects the protagonist early in the game. Initially part of the protagonist’s mind, Clarence gradually forms an identity of his own. Jubert first conceived of Clarence as a computer virus with whom the player would interact in a branching narrative, but the Frictional team were uncertain about developing interactive dialogue, so he came up with something else. “I wanted to do something that took advantage of the few resources that we had. We knew we were never going to have an on-screen character,” he says. “So to put it inside the character’s head was a nice way of how to avoid another radio character going on.” As a character, Clarence bears many similarities to Batman’s Joker. He is by turns comical and sinister, and likes to manipulate the player into dangerous situations and committing morally compromising acts. But what makes Clarence memorable is how he

“Good people are capable of terribly evil things”

L e ss e r o f tw o e v i l s

Not all great game villains are criminal masterminds

Combine Soldiers Half Life 2

HL2’s cannon fodder are fascinating for one reason. What’s behind those masks? Are these once-human entities controlled directly by the Combine, or are they just trying to get by?

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T h e C i t y W a tch D i sh o n o r e d

The Watch come to life through Corvo’s magic Heart, which offers insight into their lives, and reveals a complex moral spectrum from noble soldiers to depraved psychotics.

Sligs Oddworld

The cybernetic, tentaclefaced guards of Rupture Farms, Oddworld’s sligs are a prime example of lacing humour and menace into even the lower orders of your game’s enemies.


F E AT U R E

Virtual Virtual Villainy Villainy

What is it with games and psychotic, matriarchal AI?

messes with the player’s perspective. Early in the game, Clarence discovers he can alter what the player sees. At first he uses this to play practical jokes on the player, making doors vanish and reappear. But as he grasps the extent of his power, his pranks become far more malicious. “I was really proud of those bits, because they cost nothing to do,” says Jubert. “It’s just teleporting the player around some cheap level design. But the impact combined with the writing can be, I think, quite powerful.” This technique is also used by Rocksteady’s Batman games, particularly in the Scarecrow sections of Arkham Asylum, and Batman’s projection of the Joker in Arkham Knight. It’s a simple but effective way of demonstrating the villain’s power over the player, while exploring the relative nature of the player’s perspective, inviting them to question the nature of their identity.

incarnate

Games excel at portraying these kinds of villains, the post-human puppet-masters who pull the player’s strings. Rarely seen yet ever-present, they manipulate the player remotely, often forcing them to run a deadly maze while they await a final confrontation in some distant ivory tower. Yet while the likes of Clarence and Arkham’s Joker are showstopper characters, always ready with a memorable one-liner or a brilliantly insane plan, they’re difficult to empathise with, to relate to on a human level. The most terrifying villains are not all-powerful AIs or gleeful psychopaths, but people who you can see yourself in if you had just made different choices. These more human villains are considerably rarer in gaming, simply because creating convincing characters in a game world is one of the hardest things a developer can do. Nevertheless, there are some superb examples of human villains in gaming, and one of the best is Loghain Mac Tir, the main antagonist of BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins. Loghain commands the armies of king

Cailan in the fight against the Darkspawn, but he abandons Cailan during a climactic early battle. Leaving the king to die, Loghain declares himself regent, seizes power for himself and declares any who might oppose him traitors to the crown. David Gaider was lead writer on Dragon Age: Origins, and he explains that Loghain formed part of the game’s general shift toward a more morally ambiguous form of RPG. “A lot of Dragon Age was us at BioWare reacting to things we did or didn’t like about Dungeons & Dragons as a game system or a setting, so I’d say the effort to move to something more morally grey was intentional. Good people are capable of terribly evil things, and terrible people are capable of great good.” The reasons behind Loghain’s betrayal of Cailan are deeply complex, stemming partly from a concern that Cailan plans to abandon queen Anora – Loghain’s daughter – in pursuit of a marriage alliance with another realm, and partly from his view that Cailan’s reliance on bravery and valour over a sound tactical advantage will prove poor weapons against the Darkspawn. Nevertheless, for Gaider, the core motivation behind Loghain’s decisions remained the same. “It was always that Loghain would

February 2017

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F E AT U R E Gamenamexxxx

Virtual Villainy

A face only a deranged prison psychiatrist could love.

be someone who perceived himself as the good guy,” he says. “I think those are the villains that intrigue me the most, the ones where you can put yourself in their shoes and imagine you’d make exactly the same decisions even if you opposed them.” This is a concept that’s been explored further in games such as The Walking Dead and The Witcher 3, where the line between good and evil is so blurred that at times it’s difficult to tell them apart. In Dragon Age the water isn’t quite so muddied. Many of Loghain’s actions are undoubtedly evil, but motivating them are visibly human emotions: fear, conviction, and love for his daughter, Anora. Where Dragon Age goes farther than most games is in how it allows the player to make a final judgement on Loghain. In a climactic encounter at a gathering known as the Landsmeet, the player can duel with Loghain and, if he is defeated, decide whether to kill him, spare him, or even recruit him into your party (at the cost of another party member, Alistair). “Part of making Loghain’s motives understandable is allowing for the possibility that a player might not hate him, and might picture him as simply misguided. It was intentional, and in many ways I myself viewed him more as a tragic figure,” says Gaider. “It made the decision to kill him more poignant, I think, in that there was also the option for redemption.”

Criminal errors

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T h e h e n ch m a n k i l l e r

February 2017

silent villain

One game that demonstrates many of these elements is Alien: Isolation, The Creative Assembly’s stealth horror game in which the player is stalked through Sevastopol station by the Alien. Because it is ultimately an animal, the Xenomorph has no dialogue and therefore no script through which it can be infused with personality. Instead, the Alien’s character is formed systemically, through how it dynamically hunts the

Three of the many potholes on the path to writing a great villain

One of the laziest characterisation tropes for a villain is that, with minimal provocation, they will brutally murder one of their own subordinates. Just to show us how terribly evil they are. “It’s ineffective, because we immediately lose any sense of this being a real person,” says Tom Jubert.

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This kind of flexibility in a villain’s character and how the player can respond to it is entirely unique to gaming. It isn’t just the remit of RPGs either, games like The Stanley Parable offer an antagonist whose relationship constantly alters toward you depending on the choices you make. That said, nearly all the games mentioned above rely heavily on the ability of the writer to create such memorable villains. Is it possible to construct a villain entirely through a game’s systems? Certainly, developers can create antagonists this way, a practice you can see anywhere from racing games to computerised chess. But a villain is more than a mere opponent. They are singular, with a clear identity and motivation. And they need to be cunning, capable of deceiving and manipulating the player.

2

The mind-controller

The original plan for Dragon Age’s Loghain was that he would be mind-controlled by the more powerful Archdemon. “My feeling was that this deprived Loghain of agency,” Gaider says. This is true, but it also deprives the mind-controller of depth. The best villains are those who subtly manipulate others to do their bidding, rather than using force.

3

T h e w o r st c r i m e i m a g i n a b l e

Early in the story, they will do something unspeakably depraved. “We see a lot of terribly rapey villains, just because it’s the worst thing, it’s the most emotive thing someone can think to put in there,” Jubert says. Not only is this lazy, it deprives the villain of any moral complexity, and puts them beyond redemption in the player’s mind.


F E AT U R E Virtual Villainy

player. Far from simple patrol paths, the creature is scripted to be unpredictable yet deliberate, to exhibit all the cunning and moment-to-moment decisionmaking of an apex predator. To achieve this, The Creative Assembly built a unique, multi-layered AI system. “Our basic premise for the AI was ‘not to cheat’,” says Clive Gratton, technical director on Alien: Isolation. “The level is pre-processed to find interesting places for the Alien to search. We then drop it in with a few parameters to say how fast to search, where and what size radius. If the Alien hasn’t spotted the player then it’ll do a leisurely search of a large area.” By comparison, if the Alien has spotted the player running into a room, then it will do a far more thorough search of that particular region. Part of this “honest” approach to AI design was to keep the Alien’s presence in the ship consistent with how the player perceives it, and this applies equally to when the Xenomorph is not on screen. “If you can hear the Alien in the vents close to you then there’s more chance that it can hear you and will come down. It is actually traversing through the vent network,” Gratton says. This approach is a fascinating inversion of how villains like Clarence and Loghain are designed, where deceiving the player with narrative tricks is a key part of making them “feel” villainous. Here, any trickery would simply make the player feel like the game was cheating and spoil the immersion. Alongside its artificial intelligence, Isolation’s level design is almost as important in making the Alien’s character convincing. Not only do the environments aid the Xenomorph’s navigation, containing objects that “call out” to the Alien as locations it should

search, but the overarching level design had to be extremely precise in size and layout to sustain the threatening atmosphere. “We wanted the Alien to be big so that it had presence.” Gratton says. “We wanted the environment small so that it was claustrophobic. This made animation, AI and locomotion difficult at times because the character had to negotiate the world very accurately so that it didn’t bump into doorways and look silly.” This potential for slapstick and weirdness, a feature that is actively encouraged in open-world games and management sims, is what makes creating a systems-driven villain so difficult. Even for an enemy as fundamentally inhuman as the Xenomorph, creating a convincing effect requires a meticulous design. But Alien: Isolation has shown that it is possible to frame a horror game around a single character, and now other developers are looking to build on its template. Capcom’s Resident Evil 7, for example, has a similar structure to Isolation, but switches out the Xenomorph for a family of virusinfected hillbillies, attaching those deadly hide-andseek behaviours to human adversaries. It’s also no great stretch to imagine Isolation’s design applied to a game like System Shock. Imagine a SHODAN who doesn’t just taunt you over the space station’s intercom, but can lock and open doors, switch off gravity or suck the oxygen out of a room at will, all through systemic decision making rather than scripted narrative. Gaming is becoming increasingly adept at engendering character through systems. This, I believe, is where the next big leap forward in virtual villainy lies.

any trickery would feel as if the game was cheating

The Stanley Parable narrator’s frequent attempts to murder you mark him out as a villain.

February 2017

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network The latest from the friendly PC Gamer community

g e t in volv ed You can subscribe to the podcast in a variety of ways. If you’re using iTunes, search for ‘PC Gamer UK’, or visit www.bit. ly/PCGtunes. For other podcast apps, our RSS feed is at www.bit.ly/ PCGfeeds. If you want to listen to a single episode, or for more information, head to www.pcgamer.com/ pc-gamer-ukpodcast/. Join our Discord channel at www.discord.gg/ pcgamer.

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Cast Aways

The rebooted UK podcast enters its second year. Join us for more PC gaming insights, recommendations and tangents very week, the PC Gamer UK team gets together to chat about the latest in PC gaming. OK, that’s not entirely true. Sometimes there’s a deadline, so we don’t have the time. Or too many members of the team are away on trips, so we don’t have the personnel. Or we haven’t played anything new, so we don’t have anything interesting to say. Or one time I couldn’t log into the FTP server, so it just wasn’t possible. It was Friday afternoon and the IT department had gone home. What was I supposed to do, manually email the recording to every listener? Most weeks, the PC Gamer UK team gets

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together to chat about the latest in PC Gaming, is what I’m trying to say. Some timekeeping issues aside, the UK pod is going from strength to strength. It’s part of our commitment to providing insightful PC gaming commentary in a multitude of ways – be it the carefully crafted pages of this monthly magazine, or the looser, slightly less polished medium of speaking words directly from our brain into a microphone. In the recent Episode 30, we looked back at the history of the magazine – celebrating the milestone of reaching issue 300 by talking through some of our personal highlights. Previously, for Episode 29,

we talked about some of our personal Game of the Year picks. Next episode, we’ll be digging into PCG’s official end of year picks. Mostly, though, we just talk about whatever we’ve been playing recently – new or old – and attempt to get only moderately distracted by tangents. We’ve also got a new community hangout, courtesy of the official PC Gamer Discord channel. It’s a place where PCG listeners (or readers) can chat about the latest games, ask us questions, find people to group up with, or, thanks to our Canadian staffers, talk about ice hockey. To join in, visit www.discord.gg/pcgamer. Phil Savage


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69


F E AT U R E The Future of RPGs

Lev el -up p oi n t s The creators of Darkest Dungeon, The Witcher 3, and Sunless Sea weigh in on how roleplaying games need to evolve. By Edwin Evans-Thirlwell

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F E AT U R E The Future of RPGs

February 2017

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F E AT U R E The Future of RPGs

Was Inquisition more shallow an RPG than Dragon Age II?

magine a roleplaying game in which you aren’t Champion of the Realm, but a homely bystander such as an innkeeper or a carpenter’s apprentice. Imagine an RPG in which you aren’t able to hand-craft your own posse of adventurers, fussing over everything from eye colour to movement modifiers, but must do your best with the character or characters you’re given. Imagine an RPG in which you aren’t there to save the world but simply find your way through it, as cleverly as you can. If there’s a common theme to my discussions with developers about the future of roleplaying games, it’s that the old “pick your stats, level up by killing stuff, decide the fate of the universe” premise is in sore need of an overhaul, or at least some decent alternatives. 72

February 2017

“There have been dozens of attempts to reinvent the RPG story, but the heart of the gameplay is always bodding from one combat to the next, gathering rewards that make you better at combat,” says Alexis Kennedy, creative director for Failbetter’s acclaimed Sunless Sea, who now divides his time between the forthcoming boardgame Cultist Simulator and freelance design work for major studios like BioWare. “So characters tend to be warrior-adventurers and stories tend to have a big showdown fight conclusion and generally you’re combing the countryside for things to fight. That’s a really compelling core, and it’s been perfected, but I like seeing other activities emphasised in RPGs. There are other loops than these.” “I feel like in spite of what some people have been saying, there’s been a lack of really amazing RPGs for a few years now,” says Katherine Holden, a Cumbria based manga artist and designer whose projects include the RPG series Vacant Sky. “I’m sure that’ll be an unpopular opinion, but I feel like all these ‘create your own character, run around doing busywork in a sandbox and meet NPCs who all fall over themselves to give you power and authority’ games get a little tiresome after a while.” Holden points to 2015’s incredibly accomplished but slightly uninspiring Dragon Age: Inquisition as evidence of this stagnation. “Inquisition wasn’t bad, but it was such a shallow, toothless game compared to Dragon Age II, which featured deeply flawed, yet likeable characters and also a very timely story about refugees, prejudice and religious tension.” Subverting well-worn approaches to RPG design is both artistically desirable and profitable, says Tyler Sigman, the co-president of British Columbia developer Red Hook and designer of the masterfully unpleasant

P RO F ILE

Chris Payne Previously a senior programmer at Traveller’s Tales, Payne co-founded indie studio Quantum Soup earlier this year.


SECTION XX Gamenamexxxx

Designer Katherine Holden on developing empathy “As a lesbian who used to be a literal church choir girl, I discovered the hard way that sometimes a person can be lovely, virtuous and charitable and still hold an utterly hostile opinion towards something about you that you may not be able to help. Not only that, but it’s easy to fall into this trap yourself. I thought I was better than those ‘other girls’ who wore ‘slutty’ clothes and giggled while smoking in the bushes at school. Now one of those girls works in the nursing home doing a great job looking after my gran who has dementia.

“That’s a hard job, it takes a lot of grit to do that. Perhaps those girls all had admirable qualities I was too wrapped up in my own Hermione Granger cleverness to have the empathy to notice. Maybe we could have actually been friends. I want RPGs to teach a player to deal with this kind of thing in a healthy way. Mass Effect has a great message about working together with people who aren’t like you, or who traditionally ‘your people’ are antagonistic towards – I really love that trilogy!”

Darkest Dungeon, a game that uses psychological modifiers such as paranoia and claustrophobia to unsettle the otherwise familiar turn-based party combat. “People are quite open to new experiences that make them think about the whole party-building and dungeon crawling thing they’ve been doing for 30 years, but in a new way. Remember Ultima IV? It totally did that at the time: suddenly putting the burden of morality on the player, whereas other games had sort of assumed that since you are The Chosen One, you can do whatever you want.”

Go with the flow

The perennial answer to the question “how should X videogame genre evolve?” is to add more choice – more unlocks to pick at, more variables to explore, more ground to cover. “Roleplaying games nowadays allow players to immerse themselves in the game world, but that immersion is still plagued by numerous constraints,” says Marcin Blacha, narrative director on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt at CD Projekt RED. “Sometimes the story forces particular behaviour on the character and you need to surrender yourself to the flow of events to advance to the

Character backstories

Alexis Kennedy Failbe t ter Games

“Baldur’s Gate was the first game that made me feel like I was inside a genre novel, and it was the first game that made me care about my companions. They showed that you can take the elements of an RPG – the loot mill and the explorable map and the rest – and combine it with a tabletop sensibility, where context and motive and dialogue are important. Since then other developers have done similar things, and in some ways BioWare has gone even more mainstream, but that’s still at the core of what they do, and their body of technique has accumulated around it.”

Maybe we’ll find the future of RPGs in this gaping maw.

next chapter. There are a lot of things that aren’t interactive, and the systems fuelling the RPG elements are full of limiting conventions that we decide to turn a blind eye to in the long run.” Blacha doesn’t think every game needs to be as gargantuan and packed with opportunity as The Witcher 3, and notes that credible, stirring character relationships are just as important as breadth. But he suggests that the key difference between RPGs today and those ten years from now will be the sheer quantity of options. “Because roleplaying gamers love to have options available to them. Just ask anyone who spent hours creating their perfect avatar over and over again before even touching the story. The Holy Grail developers will be striving towards will be a game in which, upon reaching the top of a mountain, you see a breathtaking vista and revel in the thought of the possibilities that await you – as far as the eye can see and beyond.” The Witcher 3 is a tremendous game, and several of my interviewees cite it as an inspiration and a model. But it’s worth noting that CD Projekt’s achievement rests not just on its number of choices, but on having specific options in

Which major roleplaying games have influenced you most?

Tyler Sigman Red Hook Studios

“The RPGs that have inspired us the most are rather old. The C-64 era and the early PC era have far more influence on Darkest Dungeon than anything recent. Ultima, Eye of the Beholder, and so on. That’s not to say that important RPGs have not been made recently. But, almost as a matter of dogma, we wanted to avoid making something too similar to recent games. We felt that we are never going to ‘out-Diablo Diablo’ as a small team, so our approach needed to add a new twist to the genre. Personally, I’m really stunned by the scope of some recent games – for example, The Witcher 3.”

K atherine Holden P r o j e c t BC

“Final Fantasy XIII is so underrated. It takes the guy you play in so many RPGs – the cocksure hero who always believes he’ll save the day and his girlfriend, and... doesn’t make him the protagonist. Oh no, you’re playing his sister-in-law-to-be who hates his guts, and from her perspective, that guy you play in all the other RPGs comes across as obnoxious, short-sighted, naive and actually kind of selfish. That is some superb writing, which people miss because they’re so wrapped up in wanting to play a character more like themselves. Or rather, how they see themselves or want to be seen.”

James Silva SKA STU D IOS

“I got so into the Souls games, their mechanics and presentation, and the big thing for me is the level of danger. You get invested in your character, you feel like you grew up with them. You’re building up this muscle memory, this mastery on one hand, and then you’re also building this character with decisions you can’t take back. That is unparalleled in other games. I don’t care about Master Chief, I don’t care about the guy in Assassin’s Creed, whoever he is now. But the character I’ve built in a Souls game, I have a level of investment with them you just don’t get in other games.”

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F E AT U R E The Future of RPGs

specific narrative scenarios – an assortment of deftly told side-stories with multiple endings that revolve around the villages and towns you’ll visit while scouring troubled kingdoms for your adopted daughter. The game may be a sprawling epic, but it’s an epic composed of brilliantly directed moments – tiny decisions that add up to more than their sum. “I think that game has set a new standard for making all quests dramatically meaningful,” notes Tyler Sigman. “It’s amazing how much care and attention seems to have gone into every single sidequest.” Meaningful choice, he goes on, should take precedence over scope or variety for its own sake. “Skyrim blew my mind with all the emergent things, the great open world – I played it many times with different characters and never even came close to finishing it. I just wandered around and created my own stories. But I think the next level of achievement in games like that might be to slightly reduce the amount of things that you can do, but make each one a little deeper. I’d rather have fewer NPCs simulated, for example, but for each one to be more meaningful. It kills the immersion when you murder someone, and their buddy comes in to sleep and doesn’t even notice the body.” Another of The Witcher 3’s accomplishments is to walk the line between a character you define and an existing character with a past and a given purpose. A taciturn mercenary, Geralt of Rivia is dispassionate and detached enough that you feel able to make your own decisions about his actions in most situations, but his gravelly personality bleeds through to the player over time, colouring your approach. By the end of the game, acting just as Geralt would in any given situation feels as important as acting freely. It’s a reminder that, for all the

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talk of “maximising interactivity”, one of the most entertaining, enlightening things an RPG designer can do is guide or even require you to act a certain way. “I really like how, in Japanese RPGs, you don’t make a character – you are given a role to play,” says Kate Holden. “Whether you like it or not, that’s the person you’re playing and you need to empathise with that to get the most out of the game.” RPGs should do more to inspire this kind of empathy, she adds, rather than letting players customise their protagonists as they please. “There’s so much to learn from stepping into the role of somebody you’re not, or at least, don’t think you are. Wearing that mask can help you to discover so much about yourself.”

BIG VS SMALL CD Projekt RED’s Marcin Blacha foresees plenty of creative exchange between smaller independents and big studios in years to come. “The school of RPGs focusing on player immersion will work to perfect the art of cinematic storytelling and depicting believable characters,” he says. “Big-budget games will continue to try and reach as broad an audience as possible, and smaller studios will focus on innovation and explore the genre’s nooks and crannies. Developing and publishing games will become easier, but the rapidly growing number and diversity of games will result in only the most innovative titles standing out of the crowd.

P RO F ILE

Michelle Juett Silva

Michelle is an artist and designer at Ska Studios, who released Salt and Sanctuary earlier this year.

“I think mainstream role-playing games will look to ambitious indie games for inspiration more often, which even now was the case for some of the stories that we featured in The Witcher 3. And it was a good decision. Gamers today like the freedom that open world games offer, but apart from the physical freedom of vast expanses of land, more and more players will be looking to explore the emotional sphere and the relationships between characters.”


F E AT U R E

Holden points to Dragon Age II, again, as an act to follow here. “From the beginning, it sets you up as a refugee, an immigrant, and then it forces you to work with people who are really cool, really nice, really strong, but who hold some ideas and prejudices that are actually kind of terrible. Merrill is an absolute sweetheart who just wants to be loved and to see her people, the elves, stop being abused and marginalised, to have some pride in their heritage. The problem is, she embraces dark forces beyond her comprehension to this end, and stubbornly ignores the warnings she is given about the risks.” Salt and Sanctuary was influenced by Dark Souls.

Local Hero

There’s something to be said for telling a story on a more modest stage, too. In casting you as a saviour or destroyer of worlds, many RPG stories sacrifice a sense of credibility and intimacy. For Michelle Juett Silva, one half of Salt and Sanctuary developer Ska Studios, narrative-driven adventure titles such as Dontnod’s smalltown sci-fi drama Life is Strange have much to offer developers like CD Projekt. “RPG lends itself to fantasy a lot, we see a lot of fantasy or cyberpunk, but I haven’t seen a whole lot of ‘slice-of-life’ fiction,” she says. “I would really love to be able to see day-to-day kind of stuff, maybe diving into relationship issues, just things you deal with on a daily basis. A closer view on individuals, rather than ‘you are the hero, you are the Inquisitor who saves the world’.” Another way of encouraging players to empathise would be to take the emphasis off battle for narrative and character progression. Asked about specific areas for innovation, Alexis Kennedy points to “non-combat, long-term activities – finding or making your place in the world”. That might mean intrigue, training, base-building, choosing sides, or growing old, he says. “Things which are commonplace in novels or even board games, but tend to be plot-driven or absent in games.

“There have been dozens of attempts to do this, and some have been pretty good, but generally it tends to be ‘downtime’ – a base or hub you go in between playing the actual game, to move furniture around or hoover up resources. It’s a genuinely hard design problem to crack, especially alongside the current gameplay focus, and I wouldn’t say it’s been neglected – but there’s tremendous opportunity for innovation.” “I think we have thoroughly explored combat,” adds Chris Payne, a Traveller’s Tales veteran and managing director at Welsh indie Quantum Soup, which was formed to work on original narrative-driven games. “So much combat! Don’t get me wrong, good combat is fun, but there’s a limit to how much story you can tell with it.” Evolving away from fighting as a narrative device is tricky, he adds, because it’s relatively straightforward to model – a primarily physical, inherently dramatic affair that produces digestible binary outcomes. “I’m hoping to see more studios experimenting with new forms of character interaction, but the trouble is you’re moving away from a physical model of weapon range, damage, and bullet trajectories into a much woollier psychological model, where it’s harder for the player to understand the effects of different choices. “And if you expose the mechanics – like Fable’s opinion modifiers popping up like damage reports – then it kills the illusion of interacting with real people. There’s a lot of work to be done there.” Payne’s hope is that the increasing sophistication of videogame acting will help subtler kinds of encounter take priority in RPG design. “I’m pleased to see Ninja Theory’s amazing performance capture work, because a good actor can communicate a lot about what’s going on in their character’s head. As game characters get better, we can rely more on performance to convey the mechanics of character interaction – reading a character’s

“I would really love to see day-to-day kind of stuff, maybe relationship issues”


F E AT U R E The Future of RPGs

And maybe we’ll find the future of RPGs in this gaping maw.

“Imagine a character with AI that responds to your virtual body language”

face to see if they liked what you did, instead of text messages saying ‘Solas approves’.” Can new technology such as virtual reality play a part in all this? Possibly. Payne thinks VR has a lot of untapped potential. The sense of being present “applies to characters as well as places,” he says. “When I first played the Oculus Rift intro experience, and you’re spawned face-to-face with a photorealistic alien – that was quite a shock. Having a character like that inside your personal space, looking directly at you is incredibly powerful. Imagine a character equipped with AI that responds to your virtual body language, so it might step back if you get too close. Or it might not, and just look you in the eye and demand you back off.” Again, this could support better performance-driven storytelling and dispense with clunky interfaces. “There’s definitely potential to get away from the trusty multiple choice dialogue selector in VR.” Ska Studios’ James Silva is less impressed, noting that enabling player movement without confusion or discomfort is still a “huge barrier to feeling present in a VR world, and being able to explore it”. This is a problem all first-person VR games share, and in theory RPGs are an easier fit because the pace is slower. But RPGs also typically involve more to-ing and fro-ing, and it’s hard to imagine roving the moors of Skyrim comfortably using a look-and-click teleport-jump, let alone the Vive’s roomscale motion-tracking. In a perhaps telling show of how transformative VR really is, Ska Studios’ founders have spent a fair chunk of their time in virtual reality playing Dungeons & Dragons via the AltspaceVR platform – poring over a lovingly recreated simulation of the classic table-top game. “It’s this crazy ouroboros of technology where we all want to be there in person playing this analogue, real-feeling game – none of these icons on a battlefield or anything like that,” says James Silva. “So we’re going to do VR and now we’re all present again, but none of it is real!”

Engine Room

Katherine Holden also confesses to feeling “a little leery” about VR’s applications for RPGs, commenting that the bigger tech revolution for indie developers, at least, is the 76

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SECTION XX Gamenamexxxx

Wasteland 3 could feature multiplayer as a storytelling tool.

InXile’s Brian Fargo on multiplayer storytelling Having helped resurrect the old Infinity Engine style of RPG with Wasteland 2, Brian Fargo and InXile hope to introduce multiplayer to a roleplaying campaign without, somehow, causing the entire project to implode on the launch pad. “Multiplayer in narrative-driven RPGs has been surprisingly unexplored, and I think there are many possibilities there. For example with Wasteland 3,

we want the multiplayer to be an extension of our singleplayer story, one where you and your friend make choices and overcome challenges together. But again, our hallmark is choice and consequence, so it’s also possible your friend makes certain choices you disagree with and you both have to live with the consequences. This is a natural extension of our story-driven, reactivityfocused design.”

current plethora of free, high-quality game engines. “Unreal Engine and Unity in particular allow even a small-time dev to be on even tech footing with the big kids,” she says. “Mostly I develop lower end kind of games, so unless tech is viable for Joe Average on their serviceable but long-in-the-tooth i5 machine, it’s often not really relevant for me.” InXile CEO Brian Fargo also talks up the lower bar of entry for underfunded teams who are looking to make a splash alongside the likes of Bethesda. “We’re making gigantic strides in presentation and immersion,” he says. “And as hardware improves this becomes more accessible too, meaning even non-AAA developers can make some amazing-looking games.” Gloomiest of all on the subject of VR is Alexis Kennedy. “I’m going to make some preposterously specific predictions,” he says. “Half-hearted VR support will start showing up in some big RPGs, and generate forum threads full of people angry that it’s only halfhearted. There will be some carefully budget VR-first indie RPGs which are in other respects extremely traditional, and which will do OK. There will be a high-profile indie Kickstarter by AAA veterans for,

approximately, VR-first off-brand Skyrim, which will make like a million dollars on a half-million ask despite commenters pointing out that’s not remotely enough money, and ride the hype train right off a cliff.” Kennedy does allow that “better pipeline technology – voice synthesis, say, or better content tools, or smart use of procedural generation to create raw material for creators to customise – means the cost of RPG content will gradually drop off in real terms, and the sophistication of content will continue to improve.” But he also argues that roleplaying games are too heavily rooted in convention and nostalgia to benefit greatly from injections of exotic hardware. “RPGs are a bundle of beloved traditions. If you radically change one tradition, the others suddenly make less sense. The games which are transformed by technology will be more innovative forms which have repurposed RPG mechanics and are no longer really recognisable as RPGs.” If RPGs are bundles of beloved traditions, there’s plenty left to achieve within the ambit of those traditions. There will always be a place for RPGs in which you don the armour of a legend, mix-and-match abilities to create devastating class builds, and make decisions that shape the story without interference as you tour a vast, opulent landscape. But my conversations with developers reveal a hunger for more provocative, directed and personal experiences, that aren’t as beholden to the old stereotypes or notions of ‘freedom’ and ‘fantasy’ – games in which ‘choice’ doesn’t just mean reshuffling your party composition, or trying to work out which dialogue responses will lead to the greatest reward. “I’ve always found the definition of a ‘roleplaying game’ a bit frustrating myself, because the actual mechanic that defines the ‘genre’ doesn’t reflect what makes a great RPG to me,” Katherine Holden says. “The actual definition of an RPG seems to be: you have numbers that represent your abilities, you gain a resource called experience for doing things – usually, for making stuff die – and that makes your numbers go up. I’ve always felt this is a million miles away from the actual experience of playing a role, stepping into the shoes of another person.” February 2017

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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

Every dog

Goodbye, 2016. Whatever your thoughts about the year, it definitely happened. And it contained some great games. We awarded 13 scores of 90% or higher across 2016, from Pony Island (91%, PCG 289) to Dishonored 2 (93%, PCG 300). Now we end things with Watch Dogs 2. Is Ubisoft’s open-world hack-’em-up the last great game of the year? Not according to our reviewer, who gave it an unspectacular 68%. For James, the lack of depth to combat and stealth systems is the cited reason for his disappointment. (Although – as a cheeky counterpoint – I’ve had a lot of fun mucking around in its gloriously detailed open world, doing cyber-crimes and getting into some ridiculous antics.) Ubisoft’s other release, Steep, also gets a mediocre rating – here thanks to skiing an awkward path between simulation and ‘Xtreme’ gratification. At least we’ve got the dumb violent fun of Killing Floor 2.

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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PHIL SAVAGE DEPUTY EDITOR

phil.savage@futurenet.com

Let us know w ha t y o u t hi n k

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


80

84

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Contents 80 84 86 88 90

Watch Dogs 2 Orwell Steep Killing Floor 2 Dead Rising 4

Realm of the Wood Elves THEY’RE BACK

Downloadable Content

92 Total War: Warhammer –

94 95 95 95 95

Prey Alien: Isolation Quest For Glory: Shadows of Darkness Halo 3 Abe’s Exoddus

This month’s armchair hacktivists...

J a m es Dave n p o r t Specialist in Action, cyber Currently playing Watch Dogs 2 This month Achieved peak San Fran by playing Watch Dogs 2 in San Fran.

P hil S avage

A n d y Kell y

T y le r Wil d e

L ie f J o h n s o n

J o d y Ma c g r eg o r J o n B l y t h

Specialist in Adventure, voyeurism

Specialist in Xtreme, snow

Specialist in Shooters, violence

Specialist in Zombies, Christmas

Specialist in Strategy, trees

Specialist in Sphincter doors

Currently playing Orwell

Currently playing Steep

Currently playing Killing Floor 2

Currently playing Dead Rising 4

Currently playing Total War: Warhammer

Currently playing Prey

This month Watched the internet habits of millennials. It’s about 90% Poe Dameron shipping.

This month Once climbed a mountain, thus was the most qualified to review Steep.

This month Became so entranced by KF2’s gore that we’re now questioning if he’s really Canadian.

This month Forgot that zombie entrails don’t make for a suitable Christmas tree decoration.

This month Fashioned a hat made of twigs. And that was before we asked him to review Wood Elves DLC.

This month Asked to rename his section “They’re Backsides”. It’s been a long time coming.

february 2017

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R E VI E W Watch Dogs 2

Hack-neyed Despite a smooth transition to the PC, the stealth can’t quite hack it in WATCH DOGS 2. By James Davenport

H

ackers are often portrayed as computer savants hunched over a keyboard, sucking down a Diet Coke and writing script faster than the characters can appear on a dirty CRT. They’re performing sorceries a half-step removed from actual magic, exploiting people and systems without leaving the house. Watch Dogs 2, an open-world action adventure set in the San Francisco Bay Area, turns hacking into a full contact sport. passive to be reliable, and as slapstick It’s the GTA template of a city, cars, guns, and ragdoll physics, but you can as it can be, relying on the same also use a phone to remotely overload powers throughout the thirty-hour runtime turns the game’s best a circuit box and knock security abilities boring far too soon. guards comatose or hack The biggest lesson Watch Dogs 2 underground pipes to blow up huge learned from its predecessor is that sections of the street. (Yes, you can we’re a bit tired of mopey, edgy hack pipes.) It rarely feels like you’re videogame protagonists, which Aiden using technical expertise to give big, Pearce embodied insidious tech completely. This time companies the run around, Marcus and his around. Instead, you’re This time, cast in the using brute force, Marcus and his support hacker collective whether by equipping a support cast DedSec are likable, drone with shock are likable, funny people, and it’s mines to knock out your enemies or funny people good to see a black lead in a big-budget game. wielding a literal Marcus and his friends grenade launcher to are upbeat and know how to laugh. I ‘hack’ them to death by the dozen. didn’t feel like I was best friends with Even if you’re murdering people the DedSec crew, but they were nice to steal data, Watch Dogs 2’s loose faces to return to after every mission. take on pop culture hacktivism They’d clap me on the back, high five assumes a more bizarre, self-aware one another, toss some beers around, direction for the series than before. and get to planning the next attempt There’s a lot of goofy open-world fun to stick it to The Man. to be had mostly as a byproduct of the chaos your abilities enable, and especially by combining abilities in Why-fi the free roam co-op mode. But the Stick it to The Man we did, over and game’s stealth systems are over again. The main missions undermined by hacking and combat typically task Marcus with extracting abilities that feel too unwieldy and or sabotaging data from a heavily

dogs on th e catwa l k Denim vest Needs no explanation.

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White polo Tuck it in or take off.

N e e d to K now What is it? A silly open-world action game starring a powerful hacker. EXPECT TO PAY £40 Developer Ubisoft Publisher In-house Reviewed on Windows 10, i7-6700K, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 980 Ti Multiplayer Two-player co-op, PvP invasions Link www.watchdogs.com

guarded building, often an obvious stand-in for the known Silicon Valley giants (Google is Nudle, for instance). Simple AI guards patrol the arenas, and using two new RC drones – one wheeled and the other airborne – you can scout out the area, marking enemies and interactive tech. Because you have hacker smarts, you’re able to use drones, security cameras, or Marcus to interface with CTOS, an operating system embedded into city infrastructure, which means you can remotely influence anything connected to the system, like traffic lights, robots, and those handy explosive pipes, just by looking at them and pressing a button. For instance, if you’re trying to climb a building to get a clear vantage point, you can hack a massive construction crane, rotate it and lower the platform on the end to scale the tallest buildings in the city. Drive a motorcycle onto that thing, take it up to the highest point, and you can attempt to infiltrate a few outdoor enemy bases. It didn’t work for me, but I laughed a lot, and it was more interesting than shocking guards with circuit boxes or calling in mob hits to murder them all. To truly be stealthy, you’ll spend a lot of time controlling your drones. Snaking around most spaces are ventilation shafts just big enough for a small RC robot to roll through, but I never have a sense I’m being stealthy or subverting the enemy threat when using them. I’m infiltrating through the same obvious path that everyone

The best clothes in Watch Dogs 2 Checkerboard Take a garish boardgame on the go.

Bridge tank For bridge fans.

Horse sweater Shows intellect, taste, horse.

Bowtie If you’re into being Tom Marks.

Donut shirt If you like torture.


R E VI E W

My main 1s and 0s.

Gamenamexxxx

The city’s hills won’t exhaust Marcus.

Speeding across the Golden Gate Bridge. Moving yourself around on a huge container = stealth.

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RDrones E VI ’n’E vents. W Gamenamexxxx

Red = bad, in case you were wondering. Hacking and hangovers.

Rearranging shipping containers is pretty wild work.

The commute is cake in Watch Dogs 2.

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R E VI E W Watch Dogs 2

else will, just going through the motions so I know where my objective is and where all the guards are. There’s no tension in mapping out an arena with drones since 2 everything is always in its designed The PC Gamer place. It’s busywork. US office There were entire floors I’d scout It doesn’t exist in-game, 3 with a drone, sneaking by unseen to but do swing by for an idea of what we see download classified files or plant a every day. virus, only to find that Marcus’s physical presence was required to tap The Golden some keys in the end. And so I’d G at e B r i dg e essentially replay the whole level, but It’s a bridge. A big red bridge. as Marcus, who is easily spotted unless he’s “in cover”, meaning I’ve pushed him against a wall. I moved through the same rooms, the same billboard or hack a CTOS service box guard paths, and to the same for a quick scene that pokes fun at objective only to die from getting Silicon Valley bigwigs. There’s a caught by a guard whose red outline whole series of mundane missions was barely visible against a visually where you just hack ATM machines busy scene. Then it’s back to square and mess with terrible people trying one, scouting and setting up with the to withdraw money, which I’d be into drone again. if it wasn’t the same joke told six If you do get spotted, Marcus has times via what amounts to a fetch a very different toolset. At your HQ, quest. You can race your drones, you can 3D print everything from a drive San Franciscans around in a shotgun to a grenade Crazy Taxiesque series launcher. It’s strange of challenges, and take that lethal weapons are selfies near famous It can feel included at all, given landmarks to gain like playing the peaceful ends followers and upgrade GTA with a DedSec is shooting for, your hacking skills. measured God There’s a glut of stuff to and Marcus doesn’t seem the type to mode enabled do, but none of it is murder. Shooting your particularly focused way out of a situation or exciting. isn’t much fun, either. The cover As mundane as the main missions system is serviceable, but with can feel, they at least take place in enemies that like to make a beeline one of my favourite open worlds in for your position and no dodge roll to recent memory. Watch Dogs 2 is set in dance around them with, there isn’t a scaled down recreation of the Bay much you can do once you’re flanked Area, USA, including San Francisco, except run and shoot. Marcus is soft Oakland, Palo Alto, and a small chunk too, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed of the Marin Headlands. San and torn up from any distance. Francisco is the primary location, and So the hacking abilities are too it feels like a real place. NPCs scream passive to be as playful as Saints Row to one another about how good wine 4’s superhero sandbox and the is over the familiar clank and whoosh shooting feels dated in comparison to of the city’s signature cable cars, just GTA V, which is over three years old. like the real thing – without the Without many ways to stack abilities omnipresent poop smell, that is. or exploit the world and enemy AI Huge sections of the city are beyond bullets and electrocution, missing, but as a big mashup of the Watch Dogs 2 is suspended wealthy and tourist-heavy bits it somewhere in the middle, and gets works as satirical backdrop for an tired over 30-plus hours of play. endless stream of Silicon Valley jabs and dick jokes. Even so, the parts it recreates are captured with eerie side lulz realism. I could intuit where such Watch Dogs 2 has a massive list of famous landmarks might be located, side missions. Some are fairly involved and funny – in one, you hack and found them just based on my sense of direction. Ubisoft’s office to leak a trailer for an Most striking are the vistas. Head unreleased game – but most want up a hill in the evening for a beautiful you to climb a building to tag a

san f r an s i ghts

1

2

3 GP ao rl dk e n G at e

5

The actual park is much bigger, but this one smashes a few together, including the Presidio. Green stuff.

1

4 AT&T Park

Where the Giants play, but Watch Dogs 2 has a hokey stand-in. 4

5 pr ei chop loel d

In high-waisted shorts.

and fairly accurate skyline. Do it on a nice PC if you can. No short attention was given to the port, which features a huge selection of graphical options, including frilly features such as built-in upscaling and downscaling tools that let you change pixel density independent of the window resolution, and advanced shadow effects. There are enough knobs and switches to make Watch Dogs 2 both run on an older rig without sacrificing too much detail and push newer PCs to their breaking point. Furthermore, the user interface has been completely retooled to work with a keyboard and mouse. It doesn’t make driving as precise as it is with a controller, but I played the entire game that way without trouble. If you have a controller plugged in, you can seamlessly switch back and forth between them, too. After the first game’s dodgy port, it’s clear Ubisoft didn’t want to repeat the same mistake. Watch Dogs 2 never made me feel Hella Cyber, but when used to leverage as much chaos as possible in the open world, it can feel like playing GTA with a measured God mode enabled. Silly, strange things happen often, but only if you ignore the missions and mess around in the beautifully realised open world. That’s where Watch Dogs 2’s true enjoyment lies – not in its cheeky Hot Topic hacktivism story and frustrating, bland stealth scenarios, but in the nonsense you can pull off in a big sandbox with wacky toys and fast cars. verdict A great PC port and lovely open world don’t give depth to Watch Dogs 2’s shallow combat and stealth design. February 2017

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R E VI E W Orwell

Camera Obscure Watch over the lives of others in Orwell. By Phil Savage

T

he government is spying on its citizens. Don’t worry, I’m not about to launch into a rant about the Investigatory Powers Act. Rather, this is the set up to Orwell, a five-part episodic adventure about the tension between privacy and national security. Set in The Nation, Orwell is a visual novel in which you voyeuristically watch over a group of activists, trying to determine who is responsible for a series of bombings.

You play an investigator, and your job knowing what to upload. Sometimes that’s easy – plenty of chunks are is to analyse the digital footprint of either quirks of language, or any citizens The Party has marked as obviously tangential. Others are a potential threat. At first you’re clearly important. The tricky part is scouring public and state records – when you have conflicting newspapers, websites and police information. There can only be one databases. Soon, the intrusion truth, but which one is it? deepens. You read emails and chat And therein lies the drama. Is logs, listen in on phone calls, and, in your target a naive extreme cases, dig into activist or a terrorist? your target’s PC. Were they once Orwell is the software that highlights There can only unfairly arrested for a relevant passages of be one truth, crime they didn’t or did their text as data chunks for but which one commit, corporate parents pay you. It’s incredibly is it? to have the charges literal, unable to dropped? That’s up to distinguish nuances of you. Orwell’s subversive language. It can’t, for twist is that while state surveillance instance, tell that by listing their is often shown as dispassionate and current location as “The Internet”, your target is making a funny joke. In unthinking, here I find myself earnestly trying to discern the truth. I fact, if Orwell was analysing that last want to do a good job. It’s not that sentence, it would offer a data chunk the invasion of privacy is portrayed as saying I thought putting “The benign, but it’s flawed in a different Internet” as your location is a funny way to how you might expect. joke. It doesn’t do sarcasm. A quirk of the system is the That’s why you’re there. You’re relationship between investigator and literally the brains of the operation, analyst. At first Symes, your analyst, and a big part of the challenge is

Suppressing Ire Alternative takes on speculative misery 1984

Equilibrium

Mirror’s Edge

Year Zero

The king daddy of dystopias, written by George Orw… hey, that’s the name of this game!

It doesn’t all have to be grey misery. Mirror’s Edge’s dystopian city is at least bright and clean.

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Sean Bean has illegal emotions, and Christian Bale knows gun-fu. This is not a good film.

A Bush-era concept album that’s less subtle than a jackboot. Some good tunes, though.

N e e d t o K no w What is it? A five-episode adventure about spying on potential criminals. EXPECT TO PAY £7 Developer Osmotic Studios Publisher Surprise Attack Reviewed on Windows 10, 16GB RAM, i5-6600k, GeForce GTX 1070 Multiplayer None Link www.orwellgame.com

acts as a tutorial – guiding you through how to use the program. But soon, he’s reliant on you. It’s an asymmetrical relationship. Symes doesn’t have access to the information you’re reading. And while he can talk to you, you can only respond via the data you upload. His job is to act on that data.

final edit

Your ability to control and shape the situation comes from the data you do or, often more crucially, don’t upload. Orwell teaches this lesson early on, when a target jokes about stealing her boyfriend’s credit card. Upload that data and Symes, who can’t see the couple’s playful dynamic, has the card cancelled. In later episodes, some decisions can have a profound effect on the story – albeit, as is often the case with episodic games, the story follows the same major beats regardless. Doing what seems to be the noble thing doesn’t always lead to the best outcome. It’s complicated and messy, which feels right. It can also feel a bit limited. Often, the drama hangs on you deciding between two conflicting pieces of information – a gut instinct guess. That’s part of the message, but it’s not always satisfying. Mostly, you’re unlocking and cataloguing a procession of story beats. Despite its problems, Orwell is a success. It lets you watch over a spiralling thriller, and throws in enough twists to keep things interesting. It’s an enjoyable way to interact with a world – the voyeurism creating a distinct, enjoyable power dynamic that I refuse to self-reflect on any further. It’s not subtle – it’s called Orwell, after all – but it’s a well told mystery framed by a captivating storytelling device. verdict A novel perspective on totalitarian surveillance. Orwell may not make you think, but it should keep you entertained.

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Identify a suspect and you can start investigating.

That bow tie screams subversive wrongdoer.

Orwell’s only cutscene. Enjoy the graphics while they last.

The bigger mystery is why The Nation is so polygonal. There’s no voice acting, but it still feels invasive.

Expect hackers, and memes.

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R E VI E W Steep

THIN ICE Traversing the Swiss Alps in the most extreme way possible in the beautiful, frustrating Steep. By Andy Kelly

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teep’s recreation of the Swiss Alps is enormous. Activate map view and you fly around a vast 3D model of its snowy peaks, then pick a drop point and transition seamlessly into the game. Being able to hop around this colossal open world without any loading breaks creates a wonderful sense of freedom. Even choosing your desired extreme sport, whether snowboarding, skiing, wingsuit flying or paragliding, is as simple as bringing up a radial menu.

But my favourite events are the Countless events and challenges are ones that set a distant waypoint, scattered around the mountains. So many, in fact, I often felt paralysed by perhaps the peak of a mountain miles away, then ask you simply to reach it. choice. You steadily unlock more as you level up, and that’s really all there Here the freedom of instant sportswitching and the scale of the world is to Steep. There are races, time come into their own. Mixing trials, and freestyle events where you disciplines to navigate treacherous have to score as many points as glaciers, forests, and peaks to reach possible by pulling off death-defying your goal is enjoyably tricks. All fairly challenging, and these standard stuff for an extreme sports game, The sense of events make use of the world in a way and all ranked by freedom is soon open more traditional ones difficulty. An easy event replaced by don’t. I just wish there might take you down a weary were more of them. lovely powdery slope, a I love the freeform hard one down a frustration structure, but Steep has nightmarish ravine of a fairly deep-rooted jagged rocks. problem that’s impossible to ignore: it’s not that fun to play. Snowboarding is the best of the four sports by far. It’s the most polished and refined, and carving through the snow at high All the sports, from best speeds, leaping off rocky outcrops to perform a spin or grab, feels great. to worst But when you start delving into the GNARLY other disciplines you realise Steep might have been better off if it was S n o w b o ar d i n g just a snowboarding game. By far the highlight of the game. Paragliding is a useful way of getting around, and gives you some stunning views. But it’s painfully slow Skiing and interaction is limited to finding The best way to go thermal pockets to lift you slightly downhill fast. higher. Wingsuit flying is more exciting, but strangely weightless and twitchy, as if gravity suddenly Wingsuit weakens the moment you put the suit Weightless and twitchy to control. on. Far Cry’s wingsuit is a lot better. And the skiing is decent, especially when you’re bombing down a slope Para g l i d i n g at speed, but it’s heavier and clunkier Amazing views, but than snowboarding. Every sport – really slow. snowboarding included – feels like it could have done with a few more BOGUS months of testing and refinement.

E X T R E M E W AY S

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Need to Know What is it? An open-world winter sports simulator. EXPECT TO PAY £40 Developer Ubisoft Annecy Publisher Ubisoft Reviewed on GeForce GTX 970, Intel i7-5820K, 16GB RAM Multiplayer Up to 4 Link www.steepgame.com

A general feeling of inconsistency and imprecision only adds to the disappointment. The SSX series nailed jumping and performing tricks on a snowboard 16 years ago, which makes the numerous times your rider simply won’t respond to your inputs in Steep baffling. Ollies and tricks should feel fluid, but there’s a frustrating clumsiness to the basic controls. These and other issues – many events being poorly explained, objective markers obscured behind trees – begin to pile up, and soon that initial sense of wonder and freedom is replaced by weary frustration.

MEET AND GREET

If you’re online you’ll encounter other players randomly on the mountain, usually at the starting point for an event. This is a cool idea, and sharing moments with strangers makes the Alps feel nicely alive. But each session only supports four players, including you, which doesn’t quite give the impression that you’re one of thousands of people at some massive winter sports event. Steep would be fantastic as an MMO, but these small four-player events you’re randomly thrown into at least make the experience feel less lonely, if only for a few minutes. I enjoyed Steep the most when I was ignoring events and exploring at my own pace. There’s something appealing about seeing a distant glacier, making your way to it, then screaming down it on a snowboard. And you can create your own lines on any part of the mountain and share them online, which is a nice touch. Steep’s world is beautiful. I wanted to love it, and there aren’t enough games like it on PC, but the problems with how it plays are just too fundamental for me to forgive. verdict Steep’s freedom is exhilarating and it looks stunning, but clunky, imprecise controls tarnish the experience.

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The Alps make for a beautiful setting.

This isn’t as fun as it looks.

It’s like a Bond film.

The trick system needs work.

This isn’t even the highest you go.

The sense of scale is really impressive.

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R E VI E W Killing Floor 2

GORE HONOuR Paint your masterpiece with guns and zombie blood in the brutally fun Killing Floor 2. By Tyler Wilde

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y favourite gun is the medic’s HMTech-201 SMG. It makes a tinny plink plink plink sound as it arcs glowing blobs in a tidy line, kicking toward the sky like a scalpel swiping upwards. It’s one of the least deathcore weapons in Killing Floor 2, where other players are carrying bloodied sawblades, katanas, or double-barrel shotguns, but it’s delightful to me. I’ve never killed zombies with a more enjoyable weapon.

can spend in-match money on Like many of KF2’s great weapons, armour, ammo, and weapons. my little medi-SMG is imprecise but It’s a fundamentally repetitive controllable, to the point that I can game. You’re playing the same waste almost no bullets if I’m in the challenge again and again, with zone. A delicate tap of my mouse magnetic enemies and a few button to launch one bullet into a predictable specials that’ll charge failed science experiment’s head, forward, swing their glowing red popping it like an overripe melon, arms around, and so on. KF2 lacks and then another gentle squeeze to the journey of a Left 4 land one in the chest to Dead 2 campaign, put it down. I play Killing Floor 2 to chase The squishing where a modder can with the pace and that zone, to feel the sounds, liquid play the scenery, and even satisfaction of violently explosions and introduce platforming. clearing up a mess of flying limbs are But there’s enough joy pasty mutant zombie in the weapon handling flesh without ever fantastic and explosive gore to looking down my sights make it fun for hours. if I don’t want to. It’s an The squishing sounds and liquid excellent way to kill time. explosions and flying limbs – which Killing Floor 2 is primarily played are even better if you can turn on in Survival mode, with a simple Nvidia Flex without taking a massive ruleset that sends increasingly performance hit – are fantastic. challenging waves of monsters – called Zeds – screeching and slobbering at a group of players. Meet your server (Typically six or fewer players, KF2’s levelling system presents an though custom servers can have 50 unnecessary barrier to the harder or more, at which point you’re just modes (which are far more fun than goofing off.) Between waves, players Normal) and encourages experience

Why they’re mad The most basic Zeds, adorably named Cysts, Clots and Slashers, are deeply mad. I’ve taken some guesses as to what’s stressing them out.

2

Need to Know What is it? A co-op horde shooter with detailed gore and lots of weapons. EXPECT TO PAY £20 Developer Tripwire Interactive Publisher In-house Reviewed on Windows 10, Intel Core i5-3570, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GTX Titan Multiplayer Online co-op best with six players, but can go much higher Link www.killingfloor2.com

3

1 4

1 Not seeing gains at the gym.

grinding, and it’s my least favourite part of the game. What makes KF2 great are its less modern qualities. There are microtransactions – just cosmetic stuff – but I don’t have to buy anything to connect to a server that spawns Half-Life 2 Striders as enemies, or a map modelled after Super Mario 64’s hub world. At a time when matchmaking is usually all we get, watching an expansive server list populate is heartening. Killing Floor 2’s harshest critics bought it in Early Access and were disappointed by how Tripwire bullishly implemented changes and features they didn’t want. The PvP mode, where one side plays the specimens, drew a lot of criticism— and they’re right, it’s not much fun. I’ve also read complaints about balancing and the loss of particular tactics from the original. I last played that years ago, and not for 500 hours, so I can’t honestly speak to those complaints. I don’t play KF2 to min-max my tactics and beat it flawlessly on the hardest mode: I like running around healing my team, doing a bit of crowd control with a flame thrower, kiting and beheading monsters, and saving the day with a slow-mo shower of gore. Killing Floor 2 isn’t a perfect replica of Killing Floor. But it is a visual spectacle, and a challenging, fun co-op shooter with an active mapmaking community. You can play it for the struggle against overwhelming odds, you and a few friends constantly pushed to the edge of death, or you can play it like I’ve started to, when I’ve had a long day: put on a podcast, join a ridiculous 50-player server on a ridiculous player-made map that includes a literal staircase to heaven, and enjoy the headshots.

2 Twitter account suspended.

verdict

3 Psoriasis. 4 Doesn’t want any part of this. 5 Ate a pie in the bath and was subsequently shamed publicly for doing so by a close relative.

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5

Repetitive but fun, a hellish challenge or a relaxing, spectacularlooking gore bath – it’s down to you.

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You get two of these lovely pistols. This is Lefty.

The no-scope crossbow kneecap shot is one of my specialities. Chopping off Zed limbs is almost as satisfying as shooting them off.

The most basic Zeds are the most fun to kill, as they don’t soak up bullets.

Fire takes a while to kill, but can distract zombies.

February 2017

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R E VI E W Dead Rising 4

Season’s Beatings It’s way too simple, but Dead Rising 4 at least puts some Christmas-themed fun back in the series. By Leif Johnson

Z

ombies often herald the end of all things, but for Frank West their reemergence marks a new beginning. This third Christmas-themed sequel finds him eking out his days as a college professor. But when the dead come, he again finds life. Even in Frank’s opening nightmare in which he knocks back zombies like a wrecking ball, there’s a sense amid his snarky complaints that he wants this. And I was surprised by how much I wanted this as well.

of zombies in a city park with a Capcom’s approach here stumbles in lawnmower. It’s about strapping on parts but when Dead Rising 4 works hulking (and rare) exosuits after it’s because it steadfastly refuses to zombies overrun the Willamette take itself seriously. Frank is 16 years Memorial Megaplex after Black older now and looks and grumbles Friday and cutting them down with (thanks to a new voice actor) a little an electrified battleaxe or using like The Last of Us’s Joel. But even blueprints to make quirky weapons though he journeys back to fictional from scattered items. The melee Willamette, Colorado with student controls are satisfying Vick Chu, the and intuitive, although lightweight but enjoyable tale is never Never has the the removal of melee weighed down with series tossed throwable weapons stings and musings on surrogate the undead at ranged weapons suffer fatherhood and hope. you with such from poor aiming. But Neither is it entirely dismissible, even relentlessness the yuletide slaughter is consistently though it largely dumps enjoyable and never the main conspiracy premise a handful of chapters in, as it has the series tossed the undead at you with such relentlessness. handles its characterisations well. However, this comes with a price. Frank drops lines about setting his balls on fire and other wisecracks, but Dead Rising 4 is at no time difficult. I could shrug off piles of undead with there’s enough gravity mixed in with ease and, when I died and had a the goofiness to make the chance to check out the generous relationships seem believable. checkpoint and autosave system, it No, this is a tale about blasting was only because I’d stepped away zombies with a gnome-capped staff and forgotten to pause. There’s not called the Gandelf or gleefully even a way to ramp up the difficulty, ploughing through literally hundreds

Ranking the Franks

1 YF ro au nn kg W e s t

A once revolutionary ‘ordinary guy’ hero, Young Frank West is a bit of a jerk and he’s willing to let people die for a prize-winning photo. But he finds his heart, making clever and corny jokes.

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2 CGrh eueckn e

Need to Know What is it? A sandbox zombie slaughterfest filled with crazy weapons and eyerolly one-liners. EXPECT TO PAY £50 Developer Capcom Publisher Microsoft Studios Reviewed on Windows 10, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 980 Multiplayer Up to four players, but only in a specific setting. Link www.xbox.com/en-US/ games/dead-rising-4

A look at the four big stars of Dead Rising

A former motorcycle racing champion, Chuck’s more serious than Frank, but it works due to his love for his infected daughter, who needs daily medicine to keep her from turning.

3 OF rl da n k W e s t

The shift in voice actors jars a bit, but Dead Rising 4 shows us an older, more cynical Frank whose humour has shifted to the dad joke variety.

4 NR iackm o s

The only things that make Ramos stand out are his mysterious past and his growth as a character as Dead Rising 3 goes on. He’s more crass than funny and more generic than his forebears.

so if you’re looking for a singleplayer combat challenge or any degree of tension, you won’t find it here. But you might find cause to stick around if your interests lie elsewhere. Capcom removed much of the series’ previous urgency by ditching the timer, which frees up Frank’s time to track down a sleigh’s worth of blueprints and assorted collectibles as well as stopping off from time to time to save survivors stranded in the undead sea. So heavy is the sandboxy exploration emphasis that Frank doesn’t even have to head elsewhere to craft his sometimes silly murder devices: he can cobble together firework-shooting crossbows or electricity-shooting go-karts right there in the field. The approach works well because the small-town setting is so well-realised, partially thanks to its Christmas theme, which adds a touch of flavour to exploring parts of town beyond the mall.

identity crisis

Frank’s camera even adds to the fun, as not only can you take great shots to build a few extra XP points, you can also stop to take goofy selfies with the shambling corpses. It all makes for a nice change of pace, but I could never shake the feeling Dead Rising had sacrificed much of its identity in the process, especially as, weirdly, there’s now no co-op option. It’s a strange entry for the series – a reboot of sorts – and makes for an experience that’s unlike anything we’ve seen for Dead Rising before. But it’s one that I found I generally enjoyed, even though it’s marred with a first-launch crash bug. A Steam version is supposedly in the works but, by the time we see it, Dead Rising 4’s cheeky Christmas theme will likely be long out of place. verdict Much too easy but this sandboxy zombiekilling adventure still manages to recapture the series’ fun.

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You can now only throw specifically categorised weapons rather than melee weapons.

Photojournalism is a many-faceted discipline.

The battery-powered mall cop cart leaves a bloody trail.

Assault with a deadly Casio.

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Orion looks like Mel Gibson got cast as Oberon.

Defending the Oak of Ages is your main task.

Spell effects are still a bit cheap-looking.

Got wood Elf it up with Total War: Warhammer’s Realm of the Wood Elves. By Jody Macgregor

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ost Warhammer armies start with a Tolkien base, then add off-kilter ingredients to create something familiar but warped. Wood Elves, for example, may seem like typical hippie archers and their Treemen Ents by another name, but the forest home they share is a gestalt entity they’re symbiotically linked with, and what you end up with is a mix of expected Elfy types and rather more unusual units.

mohawks, topknots, and dreadlocks. The Tree Kin, living dead plants, are Here they’re the same blonde lady solid melee specialists with a fire copy-pasted, but sometimes with weakness. Legendary lord Orion has different facial tattoos, a half-mask, or antlers and deer legs, and hurls a greenery in her hair. Wood Elves, like magic spear – a hybrid character Chaos, could do with more variety. effective at range and up close. You can play Elves Elves can also move in the Grand Campaign while shooting, keeping Wood Elves add or a new map that them manoeuvrable. expands Loren Forest Shootiness combined a different Bretonnia into a with fragility means playstyle to an and mini-campaign called they need a lot of micro already varied Season of Revelation. to manage – leave them The objective is to alone and they crumble game improve the magical like pastry. I got the Oak of Ages while most out of them by setting up on a wooded hill, harassing protecting it from attack. The Oak uses a new resource, the enemy with cavalry archers and amber, which Wood Elves acquire by then shifting formation, the weaker conquering settlements, making Glade Guard falling back into the alliances, or finishing quests. It trees while Tree Kin advanced. encourages a mix of warmongering Giant trees look great stomping and treatymaking, but sadly, into battle, but the Elves are a little diplomacy remains one of Total War: underwhelming. In the wargame the Warhammer’s few disappointments. Wardancers (those moshpit The talking heads of the diplomacy dramatists) have dyed hair in 92

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Need to Know What is it? A new army and campaign map for Total War: Warhammer. EXPECT TO PAY £14 Developer The Creative Assembly Publisher Sega Reviewed on Windows 10, GeForce GTX 960, Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM Multiplayer 2 players campaign mode, up to 8 in battles, online and local Link www.totalwar.com

screen sometimes scream “Traitor!” even while allied and at high friendliness, and factions offer money to join wars every turn no matter how many times I say no. There’s a lot to get used to. As well as the campaign mechanics and all that micro, there are two new lores of magic – shadow and life, which feel more powerful than the old spells (though that’s subject to patching) – and new units that are unusually balanced. Early Elf choices are so strong that by the time I unlocked elites the levelled-up beginners were more effective and better value. Some details will bug Warhammer nerds, but Wood Elves add another extremely different playstyle to an already varied game. The mad scramble for amber makes for tough decisions, and the need to constantly reposition is demanding. They feel like an advanced choice, balanced for players who’ve clocked up over 100 hours already. Get ready to practise your micro and multitasking. verdict Want to make Total War: Warhammer harder? The Wood Elves are here to ruin your peace of mind and your mouse buttons.

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TH E Y ’ R E BA C K SI D E S Games with sphincters for doors re-reviewed by Jon Blyth Is it me or did it just get generic in here?

STOP, LOOK, GLISTEN

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Gape in nauseated wonder at the puking steel meat of Prey

rey was the first time I’d been asked to leave the office, get on a train, and play a game in the publisher’s office. I expected one of two things: a bustling fantasy factory of chuckling, aroused centaurs, or, worst case scenario, a grey marketing ditch full of frowning, bespectacled centaurs with clipboards. Imagine my sadness when the entire games industry seemed to be populated by the same fully clothed humans I’d long grown bored of in my own workplace. would unite the world in fury at my I was given one day to play the game contented incompetence. Leave me through. This led to a sense of dull alone. I’m happy. progress panic, and an inability to Luckily, Prey was an easy ride. A savour and explore. I mean, you’ve got to mention the ending in a review, Flamin’ Hot Monster Munch Grab Bag of ideas. A Dyson sphere where just to prove that you’re good at physics can be games. And I’m the tweaked, a sceptical kind of idiot who loses with undiscovered needless hours. I spent And yes, those hero spiritual powers, and an hour circling the doorways portals in 2006, one chamber before the BFG in the new Doom, definately are year before Portal said “pfft – I think this is because I couldn’t find sphincters what you meant by a corpse to desecrate to portals.” All slathered fit the bio-lock with over the fact that Prey their relevant bits. was a “collect the guns until you’re I lost an hour in Shadow Warrior, done” FPS classique. because I didn’t realise a demon on a Some of it worked cosmetically, bridge needed taking out with a gun like the pointless but pleasing portal before a door would somehow across a tiny planet in a glass jar. unlock. If I ever streamed my Some disappointed in retrospect, like sessions, it would be like every those portals. Portals that you can’t episode of the Crystal Maze, every manipulate are just doors, guys – even outraged shriek of frustration if you do hide them in a crate. bellowed through every window of Wall-walking was fun, if sensibly every puzzle room, all at once. I 94

February 2017

Need to Know What is it? A disturbingly shiny space abduction adventure. EXPECT TO PAY Not currently available Developer Human Head Publisher 2K Multiplayer Yes FIRST REVIEWED PCG 164, 82% Link humanhead.com/ games-prey.html

limited in scope to stop you twisting your neck off as you played. But it’s the meat and the metal that gives you pause: the Sphere is partially alive, built from the meat of its victims. Walls will vomit on you. Grenades are scuttling animals, armed by pulling out a leg. And yes, those doorways definitely are sphincters. There are bits that outright fail, too. Wailing in remorse while I clubbed my girlfriend’s face to death with a wrench was one of those moments when I looked around me to make sure no one could see how rubbish games were. But, it’s a happy kind of rubbish. A sound-as-a-pound shooter, spearheaded by a frustrating hero who refuses to believe in his heritage, even as he walks across invisible spirit floors in a planet-sized spaceship. Tommy. Mate. There’s a point where being a sceptic stops being the most sensible path. When you actually get given a mana bar, I’d say it’s time to give atheism a rest. verdict The original is no longer available, and the sequel is a ‘reimagining’. Treat this review as a protest. Give us back our Prey.

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R E VI E W

Come one step closer and I swear I’ll scream.

COME ON ALIEN At this moment, ALIEN: ISOLATION means everything

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ow, as you know, I am a solemn individual, who loathes the cheapening of videogame discourse. But once I get my teeth into a subject, I like to dive in. And Prey’s sphincter doors were genuinely captivating. Watching them quiver in anticipation, and then enthusiastically go full goatse when you got near them... Whoa. Bit on the keen side there, doors. Have a bit of self-respect. Anyway, this isn’t the only game to feature this bold art direction. My friend, former boss and writer on Alien: Isolation, Will Porter, told me about the doors in The Creative Assembly’s tense psychological thriller. A game that is mature and sophisticated like what me am. “They are circular tightening vent hatches, that could be imagined as crimping off some poo,” Porter

Need to Know What is it? More space, more dirty doors. EXPECT TO PAY £30 Developer The Creative Assembly Publisher Sega Multiplayer None FIRST REVIEWED PCG 272, 93% Link alienisolation.com

confessed in a WhatsApp chat, as I imagined him licking his lips and traversing the room on his Space Hopper. “They’re based on the original movie’s vent hatches – so the original design is that of Rob Cobb, as brought to life by the direction of Ridley Scott.” So there you go. Some people will go to any lengths to justify the inclusion of a slurping wet arse door in their universe. As for the rest of the game, Alien: Isolation is a great stealth title that understands the raw power of making you wait for your scare, and dares to add flavour to the Aliens universe beyond the usual “space corporations! Tchoch! Oh God an Alien help.” Every jealous bone in my body wants to shit on my friend’s success to console myself about my own squalid position in life. But damn it, this game is good.

The screaming! It does nothing!

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Those rocks look phallic too.

This isn’t even a thing. It isn’t a THING.

Let’s never mention this month’s theme again.

QUEST FOR GLORY: HALO 3 SHADOWS OF DARKNESS ou know when you’re being an

I

f you’re hungry for a classic adventure from an unfairly overlooked series, this should fill your Quest For Glory hole. Not only is it the best, but you get to explore a cave with rooms delineated by juicy, suppurating hoops. There’s a good lore reason for this, and it’s a fun Lovecraftian reason that contains phrases like “Eldritch Abomination”. As if that wasn’t enough to make this essential, it’s also an unexpectedly sophisticated story of sacrifice and bittersweet triumph, with puzzles largely solveable without calling up a long-defunct premium rate tip hotline. Excellent game, would bumhole again.

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ironic self-parody, and it occurs to you that you’ve become a patchwork of self-deprecating insincerity as fragile and translucent as a pensioner’s skin? Well, it turns out that doing a “bumholes for doors special” really tests the elastic limit of your own tee-hee-willies schtick. When you find yourself rummaging around in your brain for memories of a slurping egress, and clutching at Halo 3, because... well, that counts as a PC game, right? I mean, modders have ripped up Halo Online and turned it into Halo 3, haven’t they? Anyway, that bit with High Charity definitely has bumholes for doors. So let’s hear no more on the matter.

N/A

ABE’S EXODDUS

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et’s bring this down in scale. After all, what is the actual, 1:1 scale bumhole, if not a doorway – for farts? Many videogames have risen admirably to the challenge of reproducing this vital task of secondary ventilation: The Sims, Saints Row’s fart in a jar, Fable’s heroic flatus. But none so elegantly or essentially as Abe’s Exoddus. To the Oddworld Inhabitants, a fart is a tool that can be enhanced with beer, possessed and detonated. Bravo, Abe’s Exoddus. I stand at my desk, and I applaud.

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contents

h a rdwa re In Association With

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reviews

The latest in UK hardware rounded up by Zak Storey, including an I7 CPU, a headset and two motherboards.

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GROUP TEST Ed Chester reviews modern SSDs. They’re cheaper and faster than ever – is it time you upgraded?

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BUYER’S GUIDE

Want to build a PC from scratch, or just upgrade a single component? Our guide has you covered.

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SSDs reviewed this month include the Samsung 960 Pro.


UPGRADE

group test By Ed Chester

Solid State Drives

Give your level loads a lift with a new SSD

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In AssociationTE With CH

T

Q&A

Dictionary

Do I need a really fast SSD? As a gamer you won’t see much benefit – levels will only load fractions of seconds faster. They’re more useful if you work with very large files, such as when video editing.

NVMe/AHCI – The protocol a drive uses to talk to the PC. AHCI is an old standard designed for hard drives and used with SATA drives. NVMe is designed specifically for SSDs and can be much faster.

Should I worry about drive life? Early SSDs suffered from performance degradation and they weren’t rated to last all that long. These days most SSDs will last the better part of ten years with average usage.

M.2/SATA/PCIe – The physical connection between drive and PC. SATA is the classic hard drive connection, PCIe the same slot that your graphics card plugs into, M.2 is a new storage-specific slot for tiny SSDs.

he speed advantage of SSDs has been known for a long time, but low capacities and high prices have previously meant we had to make compromises. Usually, pairing it with a bigger conventional drive and having not quite the best of both worlds. But now capacities have risen and prices dropped, so much so that there’s little reason to buy another conventional hard drive at all.

SLC/MLC/TLC – Single- multi- or triplelevel cell. SSD memory cells can store one bit of information or several. The fewer, the faster information can be written to them and the greater the longevity of the drive. Sequential/random – Sequential tests measure how fast a drive can continually read/write a big block of data, in MB/s. Random tests are where the drive has to constantly look all over the place for separate bits of data and so is measured in Input/ Output Operations per second (IOPs).

Stick to the traditional 2.5-inch SATA SSD route, and while you won’t find a much faster device than those of a few years ago, you will get far greater capacity: 500GB is now available for under £100. Meanwhile, new connection standards have opened up the maximum speed of the most expensive drives to astonishing levels. The latest M.2 NVMe drives are seven times faster than the fastest SATAs. Here’s our pick of what’s out there. february 2017

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H ARD W ARE Group Test

1

2

3

Intel SSD 750 Series 400GB

Samsung 960 Evo 500GB

www.intel.com £350

www.samsung.com £230

Intel’s 750 Series was the first drive to arrive with the new NVMe connection standard. But rather than an M.2 slot, the 750 Series uses the classic PCIe slot, and there’s a version that looks like a 2.5in SATA drive but uses an SFF 8639 connector.

The little brother to the 960 Pro, the 960 Evo is essentially the same drive but rather than using MLC (two-level) NAND it uses TLC. This means you get much of the same performance when it comes to read speed but write speed is slower.

1

This makes it decidedly bulkier and less convenient than most other SSD options, but top-line performance still makes it a tempting proposition. This 400GB version is quite a bit slower than the largest capacities but it can still hit 2200MB/s sequential read and 900MB/s sequential write, and that’s a sustained write speed too. What’s more, if random read and write performance is what you’re after then Intel is still the fastest you can get. This 400GB drive can manage 430,000 read IOPs and 230,000 write IOPs, which is 100,000 IOPs faster than the 512GB 960 Pro for read, though 100,000 IOPs slower for write. One advantage of the 750 Series over M.2 drives is heat management. The larger drive enables Intel to add metal heatsinks that keep it cool. However, nearly two years have passed since its launch, and the 750 Series is let down by Intel’s uncompetitive pricing. With the arrival of the 960 Pro it doesn’t look like great value for money anymore.

70%

100

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2

Where the 512GB 960 Pro can maintain up to 2100MB/s sequential write, the 500GB 960 Evo can only hit 1800MB/s, and only for a short period. This is because the Evo uses the same trick as many other TLC drives where it converts a small portion of the drive to work in an SLC mode to enable fast writes. Once it’s full, write speed drops until the SLC memory can be cleared. Here the speed drops to 600MB/s after 22GB have been written. The Evo also has a lower rating – 200TB vs 400TB – for the total amount of data that can be written to it. All that, though, is in comparison to the fastest drive you can buy. Compared to everything else the Evo is lightning fast for both sequential and random workloads. In many ways it’s still overkill, but the Evo is priced more competitively than the Pro. All told, the 960 Evo is the performance SSD to buy right now. It does demand a premium but it’s super fast yet far cheaper than any drive of comparable speed, and has all the performance you’ll ever need.

95%


4

Samsung 960 Pro 512GB

Samsung 850 Evo 500GB

www.samsung.com £320

www.samsung.com £145

Samsung’s new 960 Pro SSDs are the fastest you can buy. They can hit sequential speeds up to 3500MB/s read and 2100MB/s write. That’s 1000MB/s and 600MB/s faster than last year’s 950 Pro drives and way beyond any other SSDs.

The Samsung 850 Evo line has been the champion of mid-range SSDs ever since it first arrived last year. That’s because it strikes a near perfect balance of performance and value, making it ideal for gaming PCs.

3

Several factors enable such high speeds. First is that these drives use the M.2 interface and NVMe protocol. This removes the inherent speed limit of SATA, which maxes out at around 550MB/s. Samsung also packs in its latest V-NAND memory technology for even higher data densities. V-NAND is a form of 3D NAND and this latest version moves from 32 layers to 48 layers. This has allowed Samsung to offer the 960 Pro in a maximum capacity of 2TB, which has never before been possible on an M.2 drive. The result is it monsters every test you could imagine and, unlike some far more expensive, specialist SSDs, it isn’t only fast according to a few criteria – it’s a complete all-rounder. It also has a healthy five-year warranty. But all that performance is totally overkill for most users. Load times for games, Windows and other applications are hardly improved over far cheaper SSDs. So a slower drive with more capacity for the same money is likely to be a better option.

90%

4

Based on Samsung’s older 32-layer V-NAND technology, the 850 Evo is a SATA drive so can claim maximum read and write speeds of 540MB/s and 520MB/s respectively. Even then it’s not the fastest SATA SSD around, but with random performance figures of 98,000IOPs read and 90,000IOPs write, it comfortably outpaces most other SATA drives. Being a TLC drive, it uses a form of SLC caching, but the sustained write speed on the 500GB and larger drives is still fast enough to nearly max out the SATA interface. The 120GB version does drop to as low as 150MB/s, though. As with other Samsung Evo drives, the 850 Evo has a three-year warranty while the 500GB is rated to last for up to 150TB total written data. To put that into perspective, my three-year-old 750GB 840 Evo still only has 17TB total data written to it. All told, the Samsung 850 Evo is still the single best option for those on a budget but who don’t want to compromise too much on performance.

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february 2017

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5

SanDisK Extreme Pro 480GB

Crucial MX300 525GB

www.sandisk.com £190

www.crucial.com £110

The SanDisk Extreme Pro and Samsung 850 Pro are the two top dogs of the SATA SSD market. Both have near identical performance and are priced very similarly, so whichever you pick you’ll be happy, but for this test I opted for the SanDisk.

Crucial’s MX300 line is the first commercially available SSD not made by Samsung to use a form of 3D NAND. It should bring the same speed and capacity advantages, but, unlike Samsung, Crucial is debuting it in a mid-range TLC model.

5

That performance doesn’t come in the form of maximum sequential read and write speed, which is as limited as any other SATA SSD – 550MB/s read and 515MB/s write. Instead, what sets these drives apart is that they use MLC NAND, so can maintain that write performance right until the drive is full. Random performance is also fantastic, with 100,000IOPs read and 90,000IOPs write, making these an excellent choice for demanding workloads. What’s more, you get a whopping ten-year warranty, though only an 80TBW total data rating – great for gaming PCs but less so for applications where masses of data is regularly written to the drive. You also miss out on drive encryption, which is something most other SSDs now offer. But if data security isn’t a massive concern, then the Extreme Pro – while markedly cheaper than the ludicrous M.2 NVMe drives – still offers the sort of sustained load performance that means your work won’t grind to a halt because of your SSD.

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The MX300 is available in both 2.5in and M.2 versions, but unlike the other M.2 drives featured here it still uses the SATA interface, so can’t hit the speeds of NVMe drives. This 525GB model, which is notably larger than other ~500GB TLC drives, can reach 530MB/s sequential read and write as well as hit 92,000 IOPs read and 83,000IOPs write in random operations. Like other TLC drives, the MX300 uses a form of SLC write-caching but here it’s a completely dynamic system where any portion of the drive can temporarily act in an SLC fashion when needed. As a result, while you do get a drop in performance, it’s not until half the drive has been filled with data (in one go) that you’ll see performance drop. Overall, however, in benchmarks it can’t compete with other MLC drives and even trails the Samsung 850 Evo for raw speed, making it a drive you’d buy for similar reasons to the 850 Evo but with even more of a focus on capacity over speed.

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H ARD W ARE Group Test

STACKED UP PRICE (£)

sequential read sequential write (MB/s)

Random Read Random write (IOPs)

1

Intel SSD 750 Series 350 1652

1063

250k

6

332k

2

Samsung 960 Evo 230

7

3406

1766

342k

272k

3

Samsung 960 Pro 320 3566

2007

336k 358k

4

Samsung 850 Evo 145 530 551 69k 98k

5

SanDisk Extreme Pro 190 526 562 77k 98k

6

Crucial MX300 110 514 535 81k 90k

120 515 528

Form factor

NAND mode

Warranty

TBW

1

PCIe

MLC

5

127TBW

2

M.2

TLC

3

200TBW

3

M.2

MLC

55

400TBW

4

ESSENTIALS

2.5in SATA

TLC

3

150TBW

5

70%

76k

2.5in SATA

MLC

10

>80TBW

6

That’s not a great starting point and it’s only made worse by the fact the UV400 has a markedly lower capacity than the MX300 – 480GB vs 525GB. As for that feature set, it’s an entry-level 2.5in SATA model that uses TLC planar NAND. As such, it has modest performance figures, particularly for the lower capacity models. This 480GB version has decent sequential speeds of 550MB/s read and 500MB/s write, as well as a reputable 90,000IOPs random read. However, its random write speed shows why it’s considered such an entry level model – it hits just 35,000 IOPs. That’s still far faster than any hard drive, mind, which measure in the hundreds of IOPs. If you can find it for £100 or below, this drive is a decent buy for an entry-level SSD, and you’ll still get fast boot, app load and game load times. But if you regularly move big files or work on IO-intensive apps it’s not the best choice – by spending only a little more you can get much better performance for the money.

35k

2.5in SATA

TLC

3

160TBW

7

Kingston’s UV400 should be the cheapest drive on test both based on past pricing and its feature set, but at the time of writing price fluctuations mean it’s more expensive than the Crucial MX300 in the UK – in the US it’s still a little cheaper.

7

Kingston SSDNow UV400

7

Kingston SSDNow UV400 480GB www.kingston.com £120

2.5in SATA

TLC

3

200TBW

february 2017

103


UPGRADE

REVIEWS The very best in gaming hardware, reviewed By Zak Storey

1

Power Draw

2

Core Count

At idle the Core i7-7700K runs rings around the 6700K, pulling a mere 43W vs 56W. However, under load the tables turn with the 7700K drawing 110W vs the 6700K’s 93W.

Kaby Lake still hasn’t brought six-core processors to the consumer market. Although available for HEDT processors, Intel doesn’t seem to want to include them yet.

3

www.intel.com £340

Temper atures

My testbench is a Core i7-7700K with a NZXT Kraken X61 280mm radiator. At idle I saw temperatures stay steady at 27˚C, and under load (@4.5GHz) they only rose to 42˚C.

4

Intel Core i7-7700K processor

PC I e L a n e s

Although the core only supports 16 PCIe 3.0 lanes natively, the Z270 chipset supports an additional 24. More than enough for dual SLI GPUs and any PCIe storage you can muster.

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Since the launch of its first Core i series processors, Intel has been following a manufacturing concept known as Tick Tock. One year, shrink the size of the transistors (Tock), and the next, introduce a new architecture based on that transistor size (Tick). With the launch of Skylake, Intel adopted a new concept known as PAO, or process, architecture, optimisation. Process and architecture remain the same, but optimisation is designed to maximise the potential of both the architecture and the die shrink. And that is what we have here: Kaby Lake is Intel’s first optimisation under this new system. Across my benchmarks I saw an increase of 6-8% in performance over Skylake. However, what really impressed was the overclocking. At stock the Core i7-7700K clocks up to 4.5GHz. With no alterations to the voltage

you can easily increase that to 4.8GHz. Go up from 1.2, to 1.25 and you can net 5GHz with ease. My sample tapped out at 5.2GHz, at 1.4V and 80˚C under load. All in all, the chip is cool, powerful, and well worth your time if you want the best. However if you’re currently running Devil’s Canyon or above, and aren’t bothered about the chipset, stick with what you’ve got for the time being.

82%

Base/Turbo Clock: 4.2GHz / 4.5GHz / Cores/Threads: 4/8 / Lithography: 14nm / Cache: 8MB / Memory Support: 64GB DDR4 @ 2400MHz / Max PCIe Lanes: 16


In Association With

ROUND-UP

ASUS Maximus IX Hero

Cloud Stinger HyperX £50

www.asus.com £210 With a new processor comes a new chipset. Z270 doesn’t add a lot compared to the change from Z97 to Z170, but a few neat additions include an extra four PCIe lanes for PCIe SSDs, and greater support for USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 3. A new chipset also gives motherboard manufacturers a chance to update aesthetics and overall design. Here that means a flashy rear I/O cover and solid audio. Performance in general remains solid too – nothing out of the ordinary here. Memory bandwidth and

SATA performance are right where I’d expect them to be, and overclocking seems identical across the two boards I’ve had in for review so far. Overall it’s a classy evolutionary upgrade for an otherwise traditionally uninteresting piece of hardware.

HyperX’s budget headset is a fantastic offering. Delivering a crisp, clear soundscape thanks to its 18Hz to 23KHz frequency response, it also has a comfortable feel and sleek looks. It fits the bill without being overly expensive. My only niggle? No retractable microphone. That said, no other headset compares at this price. % www.hyperxgaming.com

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Chipset/Socket: Z270 / LGA1151 / Form Factor: ATX / Memory Support: 64GB DDR4 / M.2 / U.2 Support: 2x M.2 / SATA Support: 6x SATA 6Gb/s / Rear I/O: 4x USB 2.0, 4x

93%

USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1 Type C, 1x USB 3.1 Type A, Intel Gigabit Ethernet, 5.1 channel audio, optical out, HDMI & DisplayPort

Naos QG Mionix £110 Mionix is trying to revamp the gaming mouse, with a heart rate and galvanic skin response sensor. Seeing your heart rate spike during a game is entertaining, but the Naos is crafted to suit palm grippers with large hands, and it doesn’t feel as wellrounded as the Castor. % www.mionix.com

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Asus TUF Z270 Mark 1 www.asus.com £240 The TUF brand is the workhorse of Asus’s motherboards. This time around there are a few design changes from last year’s Z170, but not a lot. The board’s thermal armour remains intact, for example, keeping most of the heat off of the PCB. There’s still the hidden M.2 slot for all your PCIe needs, and the capacitors and many fan headers look much the same. What is different is the lack of a central mini fan to shift cool air around the board. It also comes with Asus’s now signature AURA RGB lighting technology.

It’s still the performer that the original Sabertooth set out to be, matching the Maximus IX hero like for like, and performing equally as well in the overclocking benchmarks, although we won’t know for sure until other boards start making it into the office. Chipset/Socket: Z270 / LGA1151 / Form Factor: ATX / Memory Support: 64GB DDR4 / M.2 / U.2 Support: 2x M.2 / SATA Support: 6x SATA 6Gb/s / Rear I/O: 5x USB 2.0, 2x

86%

USB 3.0, 1x USB 3.1 Type C, 1x USB 3.1 Type A, Intel Gigabit Ethernet, Killer Gigabit Ethernet, 5.1 channel audio, optical out, HDMI & DisplayPort

Kraken 7.1 V2 Razer £100 This variant resolves a lot of issues I had with the Kraken. The frequency response is wider, upper treble improved and the general soundscape feels a lot broader. I still have niggles regarding comfort, and RGB lighting on headsets continues to baffle me, but mainly I wish it was £20 cheaper. % www.razerzone.com

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105


PROMOTION HP Omen

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February 2017


Promotion

Reinvent domination Meet the Omen by HP family of killer PCs If you want to enjoy the competitive edge in gaming, and spend hours practising and improving your technique across the gamut of PC titles, you’re looking for something to help. Something positive. Dare we say, a good Omen? Well, we do dare even though it’s a bit cheesy, because OMEN by HP’s range of high-end gaming PCs is good enough that you’ll overlook that rotten pun.

F IND O U T M O R E ONLINE hp.com/go/omenbyhp TWITTER @OMENbyHP HASHTAG #DominateTheGame

First up, the OMEN X by HP. This beast is designed for gaming from the ground up – a revolutionary tower with no equal, frankly ludicrous amounts of power and an innovative cooling system utilising (in some builds) liquid cooling and an ingenious tri-chamber design to keep everything ticking along. It can knock any recent game out of the park even on ultra settings and – best of all – it serves as an upgradeable base upon which to build and evolve. The OMEN X by HP is not there to hold any hands or walk you carefully through things – this beast of a machine makes a statement in your gaming room while making even more of a statement under the hood. All builds of the OMEN X by HP sport Intel’s incredible i7-6700K CPU and have phenomenal Nvidia or AMD GPUs running the graphics, up to and including dual 1080s in SLI, as well as featuring up to 32GB DDR4 RAM. In short, you’re not going to get left behind any time soon. Those looking for something a bit different – maybe you want to at least pretend to do some work on your PC, for example – you might want to look instead at OMEN by HP’s range of desktop tower PCs. The gaming tower range offers a wide selection of components under the hood, right up to the i7-6700K behemoth and a range of Nvidia and AMD GPUs pushing the pixels along. You can use OMEN by HP’s tower range to go from just a gamer to a true legend, utilising the intense amounts of power true competition demands. Combined with the aforementioned latest hardware, the tower range also brings

cutting edge design to the table (and to your desk), and is another of OMEN by HP’s offerings that’s all too ready to tackle the latest AAA games with ease. Maybe you’d like to go out and about with your OMEN in tow? Well, those of you who want a more portable option aren’t left out of the fun – OMEN by HP’s gaming laptops offer all the punch of the desktop series with all the convenience of a notebook. Featuring processors up to and including the i7-6700HQ alongside GPUs such as the Nvidia GTX 1070, multiple SSD configurations and 4K IPS screens on selected models, they’re certainly not lacking compared to their desktop competition. Why stop playing? With OMEN by HP’s laptop range you can work harder, train longer, and rise up to the relentless competition. Equipped with powerful hardware and a venomous design, the OMEN by HP laptop range is ready for the challenge any time, any where. Whichever machine of the OMEN by HP range you choose, you’ll be in safe hands. OMEN by HP knows gaming. With the DNA of the Voodoo brand coursing through its hardware, OMEN by HP’s high-end gaming PCs are built on... well, a legacy of high-end gaming PCs. And you can’t ask for better experience than that. OMEN by HP isn’t a novice entering the arena for the first time – this is a range of power, quality and great design coming together in perfect harmony. OMEN by HP understands that to a lot of PC gamers, it isn’t just a hobby – it’s a lifestyle. As such, OMEN by HP’s range of high-end gaming PCs aren’t just about putting together the best components into one incredible package – they’re about helping you to better yourself as a gamer. OMEN by HP is, in short, the gateway to reaching your full gaming potential. To be the very best player, you have to use the very best hardware. OMEN by HP is just that.

Whichever machine of the Omen range you choose, you’ll be in safe hands

1

5

dominate in st y le

Whatever you need, OMEN by HP has stylish, cutting-edge hardware to help

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In Association With

your next PC

BUYER’S GUIDE Build the best PC for your budget

ADVANCED

MID-RANGE

BUDGET

KEY Budget build

Mid-range build

Advanced build

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

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

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

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FEBRUARY 2017


HARDWARE

Motherboard PROCESSOR

Core i3-6100

GRAPHICS CARD

RX 480

HyperX Fury Black 8GB @2133

Kingston £29 DDR4 packs higher speeds, better energy efficiency, and larger capacities. 8GB is still perfect for most games, too.

EVGA 500W 80PLUS Certified ATX12V/EPS12V

SSD

EVGA £33 A reliable PSU with enough juice to run your CPU and a reasonably power-hungry GPU. Patriot £29 This SSD is insanely cheap, and the perfect size to house your Windows system and most-used programs.

CASE

VS247HR 60Hz 1080p

KEYBOARD

DISPLAY

Seagate £30 500GB of additional storage for all your games and other programs. Spend a tiny bit more and you double its capacity.

Nova

CONTROLLER

T O TA L £813

AMD £200 AMD’s new budget card has incredible performance for the price, just pipping the GTX 970 in our benchmarking tests.

500GB 7200RPM HDD

HEADSET

Enjoy 1080p gaming without breaking the bank

Intel £96 Grants access to that brilliant Z170 chipset, is super energy efficient, and delivers meaty performance even in AAA titles.

Torch LE 120GB SSD

MOUSE

BUDGET BUILD

MSI £81 Our budget build’s gone through an upgrade thanks to this new Z170 chipset. Plenty of capacity for upgrades in the future.

HDD

POWER SUPPLY

Z170-A Pro

MEMORY

Buyer’s Guide

Bitfenix £30 Not the fanciest of cases, but for £30 you can’t go wrong. There’s even room for a 120mm AIO cooler inside.

Asus £101 1080p resolution, 60fps – it’s a monitor made for PC gamers. Coupled with the RX 480, playing on this will be silky smooth.

CM Storm QuickFire Rapid

Coolermaster £83 A no-frills mechanical keyboard with a standard layout and Cherry switches. We recommend Browns or Reds for gaming.

Rival 100 Steelseries £30 Steelseries’ Rival lineup is ideal for those looking to get a quality gaming mouse at a respectable price.

HyperX Cloud

Kingston £50 Our favourite gaming headset, and it happens to be as cheap as plenty of inferior cans. A good buy for any gaming rig.

Xbox 360 Wired Controller

Microsoft £21 The king of controllers, and cheap at the price. When you’re button-mashing, this USB device won’t let you down.

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HARDWARE

T O TA L £1,511 110

FEBRUARY 2017

Motherboard PROCESSOR GRAPHICS CARD

GTX 1070 FE

COOLER

Kraken X31

Savage Black 16GB @2400 MHz CAS 12

Asus £111 The latest revision of our favourite gaming motherboard, with an M.2 PCIe x4 slot, Intel network port, USB 3.1 and SLI support.

Intel £195 Intel’s new Skylake processor is nearly as fast as an i7 for gaming. Comes with some important memory/storage speed boosts.

Nvidia £400 The new king of midrange, this card is perfect for high refresh rate 1440p gaming, and gives you a monitor upgrade path.

NZXT £60 To get the most out of a good CPU you need a cooler to match. The Kraken X31 is powerful, quiet and great for overclocks.

POWER SUPPLY

RMx 650W

SSD

850 EVO 250GB

HDD

Caviar Blue 1TB 7200RPM

CASE

Carbide 270R

DISPLAY

Q2778VQE

KEYBOARD

Kingston £60 Thanks to insanely low timings, these two 8GB sticks of DDR4 are more than enough.

K70 Vengeance

MOUSE

Our recommended build for playing the latest games

i5-6600K

Deathadder 2013

HEADSET

MID-RANGE BUILD

Z170 Pro Gaming

MEMORY

Buyer’s Guide

Corsair £80 Nothing like having a quality power supply. Get a decent cable kit for this one and you can easily spice up your rig.

Samsung £70 Samsung retains its top spot on the SSD pile with the fantastically priced, very speedy 850 EVO. Still the best price/performance.

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

Corsair £70 That sleek front panel coupled with a multitude of building features, including a PSU cover, makes this case a no-brainer.

AOC £210 This entry-level 1440p monitor is perfect for those looking to upgrade from 1080p. It’s cheap and still looks sleek.

Corsair £101 A great, full-size mechanical keyboard with an ergonomic wrist rest. We recommend Cherry Brown or Red switches for gaming.

Razer £59 There’s not a huge range of price differences on great gaming mice, so go with the best for your mid-range build.

HyperX Cloud

Kingston £55 Even for our medium build, we still recommend this decently-priced headset. There’s nothing better for the money.


Intel £260 Intel’s top-of-the-line Skylake processor. Its new chipset includes important memory/ storage speed boosts.

GTX 1080 Founder’s Edition 8GB

COOLER

EVGA £620 Nvidia’s GTX 1080 is the new king of the hill. Although a little pricey, this superfast card is perfect for 4K gaming.

Corsair £100 Quiet, cool and capable of providing even the most aggressive overclocker with more than enough headroom to hit that 5GHz mark.

POWER SUPPLY SSD

950 Pro 256GB M.2 SSD

SSD 2

850 Evo 1TB

CASE

909

DISPLAY

Kingston £60 The low timings make these mid-range DDR4 sticks perfect for our advanced build, too.

HX750i 80 Plus Platinum

PG279Q ROG Swift G-Sync

HEADSET

T O TA L £3,052

Core i7-6700K

Savage Black 16GB @2400 MHz CAS 12

MOUSE

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

Asus £174 Fantastic overclocking and stability, with a great UEFI BIOS from Asus. M.2, USB 3.1 and on-board power, reset, CMOS, etc, buttons.

Hydro H110i GT 280mm

KEYBOARD

ADVANCED BUILD

ROG Maximus VIII Hero

MEMORY

GRAPHICS CARD

PROCESSOR

Motherboard

In Association With

Corsair £116 Modular, custom cable kits, and a platinum efficiency rating. What’s not to love about this Corsair PSU? Nothing, that’s what.

Samsung £138 PCIe SSDs surpass the limitations of SATA, delivering speeds four times faster than traditional 2.5” variants.

Samsung £246 Say goodbye to those slow old hard drives with this almost affordable 1TB SSD, perfect for all your games and media.

In Win £300 Composed of tempered glass and an aluminium chassis, this architectural feat tips system building on its head.

Asus £659 165Hz, IPS, G-Sync, 27 inches of pure perfection. Don’t let the price put you off, for the money this is a dream come true.

Ducky One

Ducky £100 An elegant set of keys from mechanical keyboard fan favourite Ducky. Renowned for their impeccable feel and build quality.

Deathadder 2013

Razer £59 Even if you’ve got money to burn, the Deathadder really is the best mouse you can buy right now.

Siberia 800

SteelSeries £220 Our favourite wireless gaming headset, with great sound quality and a convenient battery swapping system for long gaming sessions.

FEBRUARY 2017

111


e x t r a l i fe CONTINUED ADVENTURES IN GAMING

Even music won’t save you here.

“My arm hairs raise like a million tiny power windows” Nodding along to the music in Forza Horizon 3 ’ve driven a car before, and I’ve listened to Thus Spoke Zarathustra before, but not at the same time, and never at 250mph. So as I’m staring down the barrel of an airstrip in a Hennessey Venom, twinkling runway lights stretching to infinity, the hairs on my arms raise like a million tiny power windows. It’s the perfect music for going somewhere very quickly, and when the sun rises majestically behind a mountain, it’s an almost Kubrickian moment – the ascent of man on fastforward. It’s just one of many brilliant uses of music in this Australia-set racer. There are eight radio stations, and as boss of the fictional Horizon festival, l can sign them by winning events and gaining exposure. My favourite is hip-hop station Horizon Block Party, which at one point powers a mad jungle sprint to the furious barks of DMX’s X

I

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February 2017

Ben Griffin THIS MONTH Fell in love with a car at the car show.

ALSO PLAYED Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Gon’ Give It To Ya. That madness couldn’t be further from a peaceful nighttime drift through a sleeping city as a Drive-like electronica beat plays, soft and muted. Later my task is “forge your own path to the city in the #2 Sport Quattro”, an event that regrettably doesn’t use Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way, because you can’t have everything. I also like the one in which I must “experience Australian madness in the HSV Maloo ’14”, since the theme is You’re Not Pretty But You Got it Going On by Band Of Skulls, a song containing

the lyrics “You’re tone deaf but you’re singing a song”, which speaks to all my karaoke experiences. Also the car is called “Maloo”. The music always fits the time and place. You can create your own events with custom soundtracks. I make a sunny coastline course for Lamborghinis set to Runaway by Galantis. If you’ve never heard Runaway by Galantis, YouTube it and then try to tell me you don’t want to race a Lamborghini. I do wish I could pick more than one song for a race, though, blending them to complement the dynamic weather and day/night cycle. Imagine driving through a dramatic lightning storm to Beethoven’s

YouTube “runaway” and then try to tell me you don’t want to race a Lamborghini


n o w pl a y i n g The games we love right now

Not the most reassuring sight, that.

Hot air balloons improve pics by roughly 30%.

“I just came to see the bloody trout” Enjoying the sights of Dragon Age: Inquisition Currently listening to Woodn’t it Be Nice by The Beech Boys.

Allegro con Brio, then White Lies’ Come On suddenly starts up as clouds break and sunlight streams down. In fairness, radio stations don’t usually change tracks according to your scenery.

BURT OUTBACHARACH The channels crackle with static as you drive through an area with poor signal. Where this is used as a device to emphasise isolation, the DJ imparts story information. After I earn enough clout in the festival to unlock a showdown against a speeding train, for example, one guy says, “Strewth, it’s all going down in the desert!” I’ve never been to Australia so I don’t know if this is accurate or offensive. I love discovering songs I wouldn’t otherwise have encountered. M83’s Go!, Miike Snow’s The Heart of Me, Lykke Li’s I follow Rivers (The Magician Remix), and Shine by Years and Years, are, in my humble opinion, bangers, and I regularly listen to them outside of the game. That’s another aspect Horizon 3 does well: it incorporates your wider music tastes by linking your Groove account and importing thousands of your favourite tracks. If only anyone actually had a Groove account. Never mind. In Horizon 3, Playground Games shows a keen understanding of music’s power to shape, elevate, and transform.

Samuel roberts THIS MONTH Mocked two people for finding love and happiness.

ALSO PLAYED Bully: Scholarship Edition, BioShock Remastered

ragon Age: Origins straddled the classic RPG format and the modern BioWare version of the genre. Dragon Age II was a stripped back, character-focused and contentious RPG set in one primary location. Dragon Age: Inquisition is about bants in large areas. I returned to it this month after a two-year hiatus. While the combat can be a bit of a slog and a lot of the sidequests in the open-world areas are too dull or fetch questy, the real game is simply about exploring places with your party and enjoying their interactions. Since BioWare’s writing and characterisation is so strong, I’ve come around to the idea that it’s totally OK to hang an entire game off of that.

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trout marks replica

in front of us. I go for its legs, and manage to scrape about a fifth off of its health, before it twats Varric, Iron Bull and Solas aside with its tail attacks. I’m the last one left, so I scarper. Hey, I just came to see the bloody trout farm. I didn’t sign up for this. Later, after recovering from that embarrassment, my party gets back on the critical path. We have to go under a pub called the Rusted Horn to drain a lake and take care of an open rift that’s been causing trouble in a nearby town. As we walk in, there’s a couple on the left clearly having an affair in secret. “Please don’t tell anyone!” the bloke asks me in a panic. “I see you couldn’t resist the thrill of a decrepit pub,” my Inquisitor replies sardonically. This is one of my favourite moments of the game so far. Forget fighting big monsters or being a big fantasy hero – although all that stuff is still pretty good – it’s all about the people you travel with and the places you see. You’re having an adventure, and Dragon Age: Inquisition’s sprawling, quest-filled environments arguably do that better than either of the other two entries in this constantly changing series.

On one jaunt, I notice a trout farm marked on the map, and I’m suddenly keen to see what BioWare’s version of a trout farm looks like. Will I be able to see actual trout flopping around? I can’t resist. I head there with my party, and guarding the trout farm for some reason is an enormous dragon, which swoops dramatically through the sky then lands February 2017

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n o w pl a y i n g The games we love right now Went on a dinner date with this guy for decorating tips.

I’ve got six butlers, but I still feel lonely.

My new flat is empty, just like my heart.

“The ‘help’ are starting to worry because I’m gone so much” Becoming a property tycoon in Final Fantasy XIV fter moving servers to buy myself a little cottage in the Lavender Beds in the last patch, I thought I was set for life. I even bought some comfy sofas. Then patch 3.4 landed, and thousands of apartments with it. Now I can have two homes. If I love home ownership this much, I figured, getting a second would be double the fun. I figured wrong. Opting to get a flat in Ul’dah for the desert sunshine, I was initially excited. The apartments had a shared lobby so I was bound to meet loads of people and make new friends, right? But then, after handing over my 500,000 Gil and walking into my home away from home I suddenly felt cold. It was all so empty and sterile. It felt like I was cheating on my lovely cottage. You’d think that being the Warrior of Light, saving Eorzea several times, as well as dealing with some rather naughty interdimensional travellers, you’d earned the right to two homes. Not to mention that you almost singlehandedly stopped a 1,000-year war. I’ve placed a few cursory potted plants and a painting to make the place a bit more homely, but it still feels empty. I’ve even employed a pair of butlers so I won’t feel so alone. And yet I find myself avoiding my new apartment

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Daniella Lucas THIS MONTH Got too greedy, lost soul.

ALSO PLAYED Stardew Valley

entirely because I feel so weirdly greedy for having it. I’ve taken up fishing as an excuse to get away from the house. The ‘help’ are starting to worry because I’m gone so much. By getting an apartment I feel I’ve cheapened the experience of desperately saving all that imaginary cash for my first cottage. All that drama of changing servers and leaving my old friends behind to get it, and now that I’ve got more than I ever imagined I suddenly don’t care any more.

buy-to-regret For the players on large servers who weren’t able to get on the housing ladder before, apartments finally give

I feel I’ve cheapened the experience of desperately saving all that imaginary cash

them a small slice of the joys of home ownership, but for me it brings the realisation I’ve turned into everything I hate. I’ve become one of the greedy and entitled – one of those people who drop 2 million Gil on a minion without thinking and then get a bit confused when something isn’t easily attainable ingame because I’ve got used to it being that way. Next thing you know I’ll be throwing tantrums on the internet because I have to put some actual effort into getting a weapon or mount that’s supposed to be special. Oh God, please don’t let me turn into that person. I think it says a lot about the richness of FFXIV’s world that I’ve got this far and become so unexpectedly invested in virtual property. It feels so engaging and lived-in by its NPCs that I’ve become emotionally caught up in owning a moderate slice of it. I feel greedy for owning two nonexistent homes because I might be denying someone a potential home of their own even though I’m definitely not. There is no shortage of apartments, and there is no value in tiny plots of internet, I’ve done all of these guilty mental leaps to myself. And yet I think I’m going to give up my flat anyway so I don’t feel quite so morally bankrupt. It feels very unbecoming for a Warrior of Light to be a property tycoon.


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“My character, a sharp-talking elf, has turned into a bit of a monster” Robbing homeless old men in Shadowrun: Dragonfall our hours ago, I mugged a homeless old man for his battered DVD player. I didn’t even need to: he would’ve handed it over for a hot drink. But the only shop in town that sells proper, Turkish coffee – he’s fussy, apparently – is on the other side of town, and I needed the tech sharpish. “I won’t forget what you’ve done here today,” he says, “and you shouldn’t either.” A comment I’d pay no notice to in any other game. But in Shadowrun: Dragonfall, it’s the kind of thing that festers at the back of your mind. From that moment on, I’m constantly getting pangs of guilt thinking about Schrotty Buchman, the old man who lives in a junkyard in Berlin, cobbling together scrap just to get by. In fact, my character, a sharp-talking elf, has turned into a bit of a monster. I’ve shipped a cyberzombie – a troll horribly mutated into a killing machine – to a morally shady organisation just to get a few extra Nuyen in my pocket, when I could’ve put the poor thing out of its misery. I’ve sold the names and addresses of members of a political organisation to anonymous bidders through a pay phone, and I’ve put a bullet in the head of an innocent, unarmed man just because the goons

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Zoom through the combat on Easy to get to the story.

Samuel Horti THIS MONTH Robbed a man in Spandau, just to see him cry.

ALSO PLAYED MGSV, Frozen Synapse

that hired me told me to. “That’s a little cold, boss,” Dietrich, one of my companions, says. Each time, I’ve felt genuine remorse. Other RPGs give you tough choices, but Dragonfall makes them tougher than any other I’ve played. It’s got more heart and more atmosphere than most AAA titles, thanks to its blunt, poetic writing.

berlin fall That writing has made me feel a part of Dragonfall’s dystopian vision. I’ve been able to justify all the terrible things I’ve done by pointing to my ultimate goal: I need to raise money as quickly as possible to pay an information broker

I’ve been able to justify all the terrible things I’ve done by pointing to my ultimate goal

for details about Feuerschwinge, a human-dragon hybrid about to wreak havoc on war-torn Germany. I’ve just finished one of the crucial missions, blowing up the HQ of the world’s second largest corporation, Aztechnology. If I’m bad, then they’re worse: they’re cloning humans, in vats, to conduct blood magic experiments. I’m feeling pretty good about myself, and I’ve now got enough money to mount my final assault. I head back to the safehouse and flick on the computer. One unread message. It’s from Maliit, a blue-haired dwarf who’s been rescuing corrupted DVDs to help piece together the story. “I’ve recovered one last DVD for you,” it reads. “Actually, that’s a lie. I was forced to subcontract.” And who could this mysterious subcontractor be? Who else? “Schrotty is very good with old things such as this. All credit where it’s due.” I run back to the scrapyard to find the old man, to apologise, to help him find a new DVD player, to buy him a coffee – anything. He’s still there, but his back is turned, and I can’t talk to him. It’s too late. My chance has gone. A story in just two scenes has had more impact on me than other games’ entire plotlines. Well played, Dragonfall.

Old man Schrotty can’t bear to look at me – and I don’t blame him.

The writing is split between dialogue and description.

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top 10 downloads free games stuff from the web by Tom Sykes

Heretic’s weapon animations don’t quite fit.

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Civ VI mods Mods History is written by the modders ivilization VI is finally here, and PC Gamer is extraordinarily fond of it (PCG 299, 93%). For a change, they’ve actually given us what we want. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon. The modding has begun in earnest, and while it’s still early days on the Steam Workshop, here are three quick downloads to grease the wheels of the historical machine.

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Quest for Glory 3D

Mod Explore the other side of Mordavia: the z-axis hy would you remake the fourth (and some say the best) Quest for Glory adventure using Heretic and its modern ZDoom engine? Because you can, obviously, and because it’s in these interminglings that pioneering experiences often emerge. Specifically, this huge demo

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offers a fresh take on the early sections of Quest for Glory IV, modder Blake having painstakingly recreated 2D adventure screens as full 3D environments, using sprites and textures taken from mod packs, the original game, or from screenshots of Sierra’s heroic point-and-click game. Blake has helpfully supplied a bunch of images showing how the maps compare to their 2D counterparts, and they do a bang-up job replicating the creepy, gothic world of Mordavia with the help of one extra dimension. First-person, real-time battles replace the cutaway encounters of the original game, while conversations and interstitial scene transitions take the form of 2D text boxes floating eerily in a 3D void. Again, it’s an early demo, so we can forgive a few cut corners, particularly when the rest of the mod is so impressive. Modern experiences that recreate beloved game worlds are particularly exciting for us older folks, obviously less so if the words “Quest” and “Glory” mean nothing to you. But this could also be a fine gateway to the adventure series proper. Blake spent the last two years on this project, and it seems we’ll have to wait a while longer for him to return to Mordavia, so there’s plenty of time to revisit the originals meanwhile.

Production Queue

Civ VI didn’t ship with a production queue, so here’s a homemade one that does the job. You can add items with a single click, and rearrange existing ones by dragging them around. www.bit.ly/CivMods1

Better trade

Trade is a big part of Civilization, so anything that makes that easier is welcome indeed. You’ll want this for the option to make trade routes repeat, but there are lots of other features included, too. www.bit.ly/CivMods2

Historicity

Civ takes a few liberties with historical accuracy, so here’s a mod that goes through its text with a fine-tooth comb, swapping erroneous descriptions for (hopefully) more accurate ones. www.bit.ly/CivMods3

DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/QuestForGlory3D

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xperience life as a tiny, free-roaming cog in Daniel Linssen’s aptly named Cognizance, a minimalist Metroidvania game that revolves around your ability to, well, revolve. That’s because the world of this 2D platformer is primarily made of riveted floors and walls, and of moving conveyor belts, and you explore it by rolling around on these various surfaces, going with or against the flow of its moving parts to travel faster or much more slowly, respectively. It’s an arrangement that makes for some inventive, skilful platforming challenges, many of which take full advantage of your coggy nature, and of the grooves plastered all over the monochrome world. After a while, that environment begins to feel like one giant machine – and you are a vital cog in it, appropriately enough. Linssen excels at these small jam games that take a novel central idea and run with it, and you’d be hard-pressed to say that in this case he doesn’t explore the nature of cogs in great depth.

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Freeware One good turn deserves another That cheeky chappy in the middle is you.

DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/Cognizance

She Remembered Caterpillars

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Demo A puzzler without mushroom for error eveloper Jumpsuit Entertainment describes this as a “fungipunk fantasy”. That’s code for “hex-based, philosophical puzzle game”. Using point-and-click controls, you direct little colour-coded characters towards exit pads, overcoming a range of obstacles along the way. The main ones are the caterpillars: basically, living

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bridges who will let only similar colours pass. There are also gates that keep red or blue or purple types out – and, oh yes, the ability to merge two separate colours. Add all that up and you have one of the smartest puzzlers I’ve played for quite some time, not to mention one of the most visually striking. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/CaterpillarsDemo

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Get here If everyone reaches these white pads, they’ll float away and transport you to the next puzzling level.

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Wait here This blue gate won’t let blue or even purple people through (the colour purple containing blue as well as red).

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Cross here These bridges are caterpillars, and they’ll only let certain colours pass. Merge colours to pass, or go around.

Forager Freeware Winter is coming, so eat up he description text for this would make a fine to-do list for the Christmas season: “explore an autumnal forest, forage for food, find a warm, dry den to make your own and prepare for winter.” It’s missing only “buy a big bottle of Bailey’s” and “watch some awful telly with mum and dad”, but I’ll forgive it that because Forager is a lovely little thing. From Cat Burton, and Trawl developer Nate Gallardo, Forager is a first-person exploration game. You get to crawl up trees, through burrows, and leap across much of the forest in a single bound, in your hunt for bits of mushroom and clumps of straw. The controls are fiddly, but the game really captures the beauty of autumnal forests.

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DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/ForagerGame

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top 10 downloads free games stuff from the web by Tom Sykes

6

Assassin’s Creed Overhaul When you’ve just heard everyone prefers Ezio.

Mod Nothing is true, everything is upgraded bisoft gave the Ezio trilogy a quick goingover for the current generation, so it was about time someone did the same for the original, much-maligned Assassin’s Creed. That someone is modder Hecumarine, and they actually revamped it way back in 2014. Now it’s been revamped again – re-revamped, if you will – with even higher-resolution textures, fancier shader effects and particles, and more vibrant colouring so it no longer looks like a murky, muddy old game from 2007. Of course, looks aside this is still a murky, muddy old game from

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2007, but in its minimalistic approach, in its paucity of missions and its relative lack of pointless collectibles, it’s still worth a play today. These several coats of new paint help you to appreciate that. Unity, Syndicate and the leaden ACIII were so bloated with content they wore me out after just a few hours, but this is leaner, if a little dull in places. Hecumarine hasn’t fixed the easily exploitable stealth, or patched out dreary Desmond and the tedious Abstergo corporation, but the Holy Land has never looked better. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/ACOverhaul

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Coffin Counselling Webgame You’ve Vlad it up to here with your boss ou’re Dracula’s new therapist – congrats on the gig, by the way – and while you work your way up to the big man, there’s a castle full of monsters to practise your therapy on. These creatures have problems of their own, ranging from trouble in the bedroom to self-esteem issues, not to mention kvetching about the castle’s mobile reception. This is essentially a game about chatting, but the consistently funny writing and the downright adorable sprites mean you’ll be happy to converse with all and sundry. You can also use your vampiric powers to canter about on the ceiling, chatting to the other beasties who can do the same.

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DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/CoffinCounsel

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There’s no mistaking this for a 2017 game.

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Heroes Unleashed

Mod We could be heroes... finally fter 15 years in development, and on the 15th anniversary of the game’s release, Ghost Recon 1 mod Heroes Unleashed has a new beta version. It’s the final version of the open beta, ahead of the upcoming 1.0 launch, which doesn’t yet have a date. It’s also the work of just one modder: an industrious developer by the name of Apex. Heroes Unleashed expands, improves, or otherwise embellishes the original Ghost Recon with a comprehensive list of additional

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gubbins, including far more realistic armaments, and advanced enemy AI. It also whacks in around 400 new weapons, over 200 extra maps and – as if that wasn’t enough – a random mission generator. The new missions take place in open-world environments, with randomised elements to keep things fresh over multiple playthroughs, and with none of the regenerating health or helpful indicators you’d expect from a modern shooter. One for fans of Arma or Operation Flashpoint. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/HeroesUnleashed


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three infinities Neverending games from this year’s ProcJam

1 Silent Crossing

There aren’t enough foggy, haunted towns in games, so hooray for this nifty tool that randomly generates spooky hamlets – hamlets that look like they’ve escaped from the PlayStation era. www.bit.ly/ProcJam1

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Brendan Chung’s Cookie Clicker-style RPG rewards the player with bountiful quests, loot and XP, as they wander around an endless fantasy world. A bit hollow, but funny and very slick.

Freeware A few random acts of kindness

www.bit.ly/ProcJam2

his year’s Procedural Generation Jam invited contributors to “make something that makes something”, and 177 developers took that onboard to create a variety of randomly jumbled games.

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You’ll find a few highlights in the column to your right, but you might also like to check out the stylish Accurate Coastlines, which lets you zoom in, in and again in on a procedurally generated coastline. This coastline gradually becomes more detailed as

you close in on it– it’s like a low poly Google Maps, only without the blurred-out photos of pedestrians forever frozen in time. In a similar vein, you can marvel at Adrian Forest’s Road Trip, a game about watching a landscape hurtle by. It’s an endless car adventure featuring a selection of themed backdrops, which are randomly selected by your computer and its set of digital dice. As night turns to day, and as the desert turns into a forest somehow, pass the time by getting the following games downloading to your PC.

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3 Werewolf in the Wild

That moody, flickering art style wouldn’t look out of place in a horror film (one that would ideally come with a seizure warning). As a werewolf, explore a frightening landscape at high speed. www.bit.ly/ProcJam3

Sara is Missing Freeware But her smartphone is not here Digital: A Love Story invited you to poke around on an old Amiga, and Her Story asked you to explore a bunch of video files on an outdated PC, Monsoon Lab’s more timely Sara is Missing wants you to invade a woman’s privacy by snooping around on her mobile phone. You’re doing this because the woman in question has gone AWOL, and the only way to

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discover where is to check her messages, photos, video files and so on, piecing together a picture of Sara’s life as you do so. The interface is obviously the most impressive element of SiM, and while the effect is lessened a bit by playing this PC version, it still has much to say about social media, and the modern world. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/SaraMonsoon

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u pd at e what’s new in the biggest games

No Man’s Sky Foundation update adds prettier planets, base-building, and more. By Andy Kelly fter weeks of radio silence, Hello Games has released a huge update for its colourful space sim. It’s called Foundation, and the studio describes it as “a foundation for things to come”, promising that it’s the first of many free updates. Many felt short-changed by the original release, specifically by how shallow it was compared to the endless breadth of its procedural galaxy. And that’s one of the many things this update addresses, giving you a lot more to do besides mining, crafting, and travelling between near-identical planets. It’s a step in the right direction, but is it enough to tempt back lapsed players?

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One of the best new additions is Creative mode. This gives you infinite resources, so you can freely explore the galaxy without the constant need to harvest materials and craft warp cells. It turns the game into the space tourism simulator I always wanted it to be, and will be a blessing for anyone who rightly finds the idea of pointing a mining laser at a rock a waste of the only life they’ll ever have. But if you want to go in the

need to know release

DEVELOPER

Out now

Hello Games

PuBLISHER

LINK

In-house

www.no-mans-sky.com

F RE I G HT EX P E C TAT I O N S The benefits of owning a freighter Once purchased, it can be summoned from anywhere in the galaxy. You can teleport stuff you’ve gathered on a planet directly to it. No more inventory-faffing.

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opposite direction, the new Survival mode makes the game even more gruelling, forcing you to use shelter and to mine resources to keep your life support charged. Survival is not my thing at all, but I’m glad these modes have been introduced to give you more control over how you play. The real meat of the update is base-building. While exploring planets you’ll now find abandoned buildings you can claim and expand into a base of operations. It seems a weird thing to put in a game that’s all about being a transient explorer, but it’s there if you want it. And you can teleport back and forth from any space station, so it’s not like you have to stay on your chosen planet forever. If, like me, you play No Man’s Sky for sightseeing, then settling down and building a space-house is probably the last thing on your mind, but for those desperate for something to do on the worlds they discover, this could be a valuable addition. Construction is as simple as selecting an object you want to build – whether a corridor or a stylish futuristic chair – then pointing and clicking. There’s a decent selection of bits and pieces to choose from, giving you some freedom to make something that looks unique. Some people have already created massive trading posts with landing pads and multiple floors. You can fill your base with containers to store materials, and hire NPCs from space stations to work for you. Hire a farming specialist, for example, and they’ll research and grow plants for you that can later be harvested. This stuff won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s arguably a far more interesting way to spend your time than listlessly lasering another bit of old rock.

worlds apart Customise the interior using the new base-building system. Transport goods to worlds where you’ll make more money. Recruit NPCs to join the crew and research stuff for you.

Hello also says the update tweaks the generation and colourisation algorithms to produce “more aesthetically interesting planets”. I don’t know how much of this is to do with the update, but I definitely feel like there are more rivers, valleys, and

plains. And I’m sure the mountains are taller. But this could just be a placebo effect at work. Even after the upgrade, 90% of the planets I land on I find myself leaving after a couple of minutes because they’re boring toxic deserts or barren moons. After 30 hours with the game, I still haven’t seen anything approaching the lush, exotic worlds shown in those earliest trailers. I wonder if they even exist. Given the size of the galaxy in No Man’s Sky, that could just be my bad luck. The patch notes specifically mention reducing the proportion of lifeless planets and increasing the chance of finding “lush and tropical” ones. They’ve also introduced planets with no buildings or sentient life, an important addition that should have been in the first release. Finding

CREATIVE MODE TURNS THE GAME INTO THE SPACE TOURISM SIMULATOR I ALWAYS WANTED outposts and aliens on every single planet you visited really undermined the discovery aspect. Also welcome are the improvements to the user interface, which now lets you quickly recharge stuff without bringing up your inventory every time. The Foundation update is impressive, adding new systems and improving many of the things people complained about at launch. But as someone who was already burned out on No Man’s Sky, it’s not quite enough to reignite my short-lived love for the game. If you like the idea of building and managing a base, owning your own freighter to carry materials around for you, and a hardcore survival mode, you’ll probably get more out of it than me. The important thing is that Hello Games is making good on its promise to support and improve the game, even after many people have written it off as a failed experiment.


Barren worlds can still be pretty.

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I gave this guy a name far too rude to print.

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Survival mode is incredibly tough. Stations are busier but still feel lifeless.

My freighter, which I was unable to give a rude name.

Flying to a new planet is still quite exciting.

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Is that a gun on your... Oh, right, it is. Carry on.

Alpha Protocol Obsidian’s clumsy spy RPG gets a thorough debriefing. By Phil Savage lpha Protocol is peak Obsidian – or, at least, peak Obsidian before Pillars of Eternity set a new, more stable direction for the studio. It’s a wonderful mess, full of great ideas, but hampered by the sort of behind-the-scenes development troubles that plagued the studio for so much of its life. It was delayed multiple times, spent the early part of its production cycle with no project director or lead designer, faced numerous production issues, and, due to differences in opinion between Sega and Obsidian, had time consuming, pricey scenes cut.

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ambitious undertaking, and the ideas shine through even as the execution is so obviously lacking. The first, best idea is the setting. Alpha Protocol is an RPG about espionage, in which you play a Bourne-style rogue agent attempting to thwart a global conspiracy. This is fertile territory for an RPG adventure – a fiction that lends itself to complex stories full of branching possibilities. And it works. There’s intrigue and drama, and a cast of people all with hidden motivations. How your character, Michael Thornton, navigates these relationships is one of the best parts of the game.

bad character

Unfortunately, Thornton himself is not a great character. He comes in three basic flavours, depending on

your dialogue choices: professional, suave or aggressive. Too often those choices manifest as bland, smarmy or needlessly psychotic. Thornton is, it has to be said, a bit of an asshole. At times, it fits the tone – I found a decent balance alternating between suave and professional, roleplaying a cocky jerk who nevertheless knows when to break character and get down to business. But looking back from the perspective of multiple Bourne, Bond and Mission: Impossible films, Thornton’s act feels stale. Alpha Protocol wastes no time in laying on the conspiracies and intrigue that prop up the dialogue system. It opens to a fake kidnapping, in which Thornton is drugged for the purposes of an extended tutorial. Soon after, a handler challenges him to retrieve information pertinent to an upcoming operation – a covert side-op that suggests you’re not being given the full picture. And, of course,

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DEVELOPER

May 2010

Obsidian Entertainment

PUBLISHER

LINK

Sega

www.obsidian.net


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Dance moves get weirder every year.

Either a threat or a pastry recommendation.

Ha n d l e W i t h Ca r e Meet the people who will talk incessantly in your ear

M i n a Ta n g

Your primary handler after going rogue. Nice, but also maybe lightly betrays you? Even though you never get the chance to broach the subject? It’s a bit confusing.

Albatros s

Your contact in the G22 organisation – and a potential ally for even-headed, stealthy types. Hangs around with a mute teenager. Definitely not creepy.

there’s a narrative framing device, with Thornton debriefing to an unknown figure. It’s a blunt-force intro to the world of skullduggery. Untangling this mess, however, takes time. First, you’re forced through a lacklustre opening that forgoes much of Alpha Protocol’s best systems. In place is a series of infiltration missions set across Saudi Arabia. The mission structure works well – Thornton must take on various

SIE

A Russian stereotype with a large machine gun and a penchant for innuendo. You can have aggressive sex in the final mission if that’s what gets you going.

S c a r l e t La k e

A journalist. She’ll publish any info you send about Halbech’s wrongdoings. Also she’s an assassin who shoots the guy you’re trying to protect. Surprise!

preparatory missions to track down a shipment of missiles stolen by the terrorist organisation Al-Samad. There’s an airfield to bug, a weapons stockpile to investigate, and an arms dealer to intercept. The problem is Alpha Protocol gets more interesting later on. The structure becomes more varied and freeform, and everything you choose has an effect. Saudi Arabia has none of this – the most subversive thing you can do

Steven Heck

Nolan North, here playing a wacky yet lovable psychopath who loves torturing colleagues for comedy. Voted most likely to become an Adam Sandler spin-off movie.

is talk your way past an opening fight – and it makes for a monotonous opener. It’s a problem heightened by the fact that Alpha Protocol’s combat is not very good. Remember in Deus Ex, when shootouts involved standing still while your reticule slowly targeted the person you wanted to shoot? It wasn’t a good system then, and, unsurprisingly, hadn’t become a good idea a decade later – years after the third-person cover shooter craze of the late-aughts. This is one of the problems of pairing shooter design with RPG mechanics. Mass Effect had shields, and monstrous enemies that could support lots of hit points – shifting the levelling focus to sci-fi skills that caused major damage. But Alpha Protocol is predominantly an RPG set in the real world. Most of the enemies are lightly armoured humans, easily killed by anyone proficient at aiming a mouse. Alpha Protocol attempts to redress the balance through limitations – artificially lowering your aim, and offering skills designed to reduce its self-imposed handicaps. Unsurprisingly, it makes combat inherently unsatisfying. February 2017

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r e in s ta l l Old games, new perspectives

Has no one told her not to look directly at the camera?

A bit of light torture for you all to enjoy.

The state of this reticule.

That’s bad news for the Soldier class, but the other two styles benefit from some more rounded specialisation trees. The Tech Specialist is able to use more gadgets, which is a more enjoyable way to play – albeit one hamstrung by the need to predict and manipulate enemy AI. The best, Field Operative, favours stealth, and is comfortably the most powerful build. While a pure non-detection run is difficult – a casualty, again, of the AI – the pistol and stun gun are both so overpowered they negate much of the challenge. An upgrade, fairly early in the pistol skill tree, lets you line up shots from cover. With this, and a couple of damage upgrades, you can reliably, quickly and silently take down enemies with a single headshot. It’s absurdly effective and allows you to concentrate on exploration and the challenge of bypassing security systems.

mini shame

I’ll get to Alpha Protocol’s laudable qualities soon, but I can’t skip over the hacking system, which is among the worst minigames I’ve ever encountered. It’s one of three you’re 124

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regularly asked to complete, but the other two – lockpicking and bypassing – are inoffensively bland. Hacking, meanwhile, requires you to find two passwords in a grid of scrolling numbers. Once found, you need to overlay the corresponding number string – one controlled by WASD, the other by mouse. To add a fun extra wrinkle, the mouse string doesn’t keep pace with the cursor. Also, failing triggers an alarm. It’s a spectacular failure – an important part of the challenge of espionage reduced to a finicky abstraction. After Saudi Arabia, and the reveal of the conspiracy that leaves Thornton a rogue agent attempting to bring down the corrupt Halbech corporation, everything changes pace. Thornton is no longer following the agency’s guidance, and instead builds his contacts by delving into each location’s murky underworld. Do you bribe a Triad leader, securing his short term co-operation at the cost of a more long term friendship? Do you play along with a psychotic and possibly delusional CIA operative in order to secure his explosives expertise? Do you befriend the Russian informant, or smash his face

The World Is Not Enough Places to go, people to kill

1 G( Arme ye rb iocxa ) 2 SaA r ua db ii a Alpha Protocol HQ, located somewhere in America. You work for them for a bit, but then you don’t. That’s 21st century job security.

3 Rome

You’re here to find out Halbech’s connection to terrorist group Al-Samad. Doing so involves putting a civilian’s life in danger. The feels!

I think that we can all agree that terrorists are bad. Let’s just hope that this doesn’t lead down a rabbit hole of betrayal.

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5

6 2

4 Ta i p e i

Stop the assassination of Ronald Sung, Taiwan’s leader and an advocate for independence. This requires a dry cleaning employee.

5 Moscow

Discover the connection between Halbech and the Russian Mafia. If you’re wondering if this will result in a disco boss fight, it will.

4

6 Greece

You visit Greece twice, both times to stand in a room and talk to your handler on TV before leaving. Hey, you’ve got to build those air miles.


E X TRA L I F E N O W P LA Y I N G

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My face when I find the source of the sky-high electric bills.

The revelation of Scarlet as the assassin you were chasing has a nice payoff in with a bottle? These are all interesting questions and, while the overall plot is broadly fixed, individual story arcs can resolve in a multitude of ways. This globetrotting second act ups the mission variety, too. There’s still plenty of infiltration to be done, but each mission is a different length and intensity. There are some real highlights, from taking out a hit list of Triad lieutenants across the streets of Taipei, to bugging a small CIA listening post in Rome. Other missions are simply dialogue and choices. Another, also set in Rome, requires Thornton to steal evidence from an NSA outpost. He goes in disguised as an IT guy, armed with a passphrase that should get him through the door. But the NSA agent doesn’t respond to the phrase the way he should, causing your handler to question whether something is wrong. Do you hold

your nerve and possibly walk into a trap, or take action at the cost of a potentially useful lead? Alpha Protocol’s most memorable moments are all clichéd spy fiction scenarios, but made more powerful by the branching dialogue. It’s a system that rewards exploration, too. By completing dossiers you can unlock special conversation options that can alter your relationships. Early on, you’re taught that befriending people isn’t always the best tactic, and that angering contacts can be a powerful tool. For the most part, that just means that whatever you do, there’s always a way to progress. But the fine details feel important. Major characters can be killed or spared, and some can even be persuaded to switch allegiances. On paper it’s an elegant system, although – this being Alpha Protocol – the execution doesn’t always work.

sudden end

Unfortunately, the ending feels rushed. The final act threatens the imminent arrival of WWIII – a scenario that never felt earned based on my broadly competent handling of previous missions. The conspiracies

start to collide, from Halbech’s corruption of Thornton’s bosses, to the treachery of journalist Scarlet Lake and the manipulations of your primary handler, Mina – something you never get the chance to resolve, even if you end up riding off into the sunset together. Some of this works. The revelation of Scarlet as the assassin you were chasing in Taipei has a nice payoff, and checks another important spy cliché off the list. But everything else feels like it needs more time to breathe. The final revelations come quickly, reducing their impact, and are paired with a final mission that features multiple, terrible boss fights. But it’s hard to stay mad at Alpha Protocol. It throws a lot of design spaghetti at the wall, and some of it sticks. More importantly, there are lessons here that should be learned from and built upon. There’s potential in the idea, be it of letting players experience a more open, branching form of spy fiction, or just not letting RPGs languish in the realms of fantasy or post-apocalypse. Alpha Protocol isn’t a classic, but it’s earned a place as a cult favourite – just like everything Obsidian does. February 2017

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WHY I LOVE What makes games special

Being a San Francisco taxi driver in Watch Dogs 2 It makes something special out of what could have been a forgettable side mission. By Andy Kelly

LEFT: The famous San Francisco sea lions can be found at Pier 39. But get too close and they’ll dive into the water.

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E X T RA L I F E NOW PL AYING

s an exaggerated snapshot of life in the 2010s, it was inevitable Watch Dogs 2 would include an Uber-like taxi company. In this alternate reality it’s called Driver San Francisco – a nod to Driver creator Ubisoft Reflections, who designed the game’s vehicle handling – and allows Marcus to make some extra money on the side as a taxi driver. Grand Theft Auto had taxi missions years ago, but there wasn’t much to them besides driving from A to B against the clock. In Watch Dogs 2 they’re more bespoke, with stories and a few surprises, and this elevates them above the usual open-world filler.

A

Uber is famously controversial, with stories emerging of drivers being attacked by traditional taxi drivers who feel their livelihoods are being threatened. I don’t know how accurate or widespread these stories are, but they’re common enough that Watch Dogs 2 directly references them in its ‘Just Earning a Living’ Driver mission. You pick up a guy called Roman who’s asking a lot of questions about your job, and being slightly passive aggressive about it. Then when you arrive at his chosen destination you’re ambushed by a group of armed men. It doesn’t actually say they’re disgruntled taxi drivers, but it doesn’t have to. This is a good example of how the game’s taxi missions often have unexpected, and sometimes violent, outcomes. But others are more light-hearted. In one mission a paranoid conspiracy nut asks you follow a drone buzzing over Silicon Valley, which involves a challenging section of fast-paced off-road driving. In another a baseball

need to know releaseD

developer

Nov 2016

Ubisoft

publisher

link

In-house

www.watchdogs.com

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coach hires you to search the local dive bars near the stadium for a star player who’s gone missing on the day of the big game. These little microstories are simple and throwaway, but they give the taxi missions some added personality. You’ll rush a bride to the church to get married, hunt for a stolen car, search for a programmer’s missing robot, and more. They’re little comical snippets of life in the city you don’t otherwise get a taste of in the main game, which helps flesh out the setting in an entertaining, interactive way. Special passengers like these are referred to as VIPs, which means their journey will have dialogue, set-pieces, and often multiple objectives. But once you’ve finished all 16 of them and reached the highest Driver SF rank, you don’t have to hang up your driving gloves. Open the app and you’ll find an endless selection of randomly generated taxi missions. They’ll have certain rules like never dropping below a certain speed or taking as little damage as possible, but they’re pretty easy, making them a great way to explore the game’s beautiful, detailed recreation of the San Francisco Bay Area. As far as open worlds go, I think Watch Dogs 2 is second only to Grand Theft Auto V in terms of atmosphere, attention to detail, and world-building. Open-world games are guilty of filler missions more than any other genre.

Lost in T r a n sl a t i o n

WHY I LOVE

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Developers stuff their worlds with pointless tasks designed to artificially extend the game’s length or make it seem bigger than it actually is. However, Watch Dogs 2 is different – for the most part, Ubisoft makes every distraction and side mission worthwhile by giving it a handcrafted charm. The ScoutX app, which tasks you with taking selfies next to famous landmarks and points of interest, is a great way of exploring and getting to know the city – and I love how your DedSec pals leave comments under the photos when you post them. Compare this to running around catching fluttering bits of paper or collecting feathers in Assassin’s Creed and it’s clear which one respects your time more. And even when you’re just doing randomly generated taxi missions, the city is so stunning that there’s value in that too. It’s relaxing in the same way as something like Euro Truck Simulator, and I’ve spent a good hour just driving around and taking in the atmosphere. The Golden Gate Bridge, which is often shrouded in fog, is a remarkable sight. And although the city feels pretty small, especially compared to Grand Theft Auto V’s sprawling Los Santos, it captures the look and feel of San Francisco perfectly. I don’t think I’d enjoy being an Uber driver in real life – especially when people start spilling out of pubs and clubs and puking on your upholstery – but it’s certainly fun pretending to be one in Watch Dogs 2.

FILLER UP

FARE GA M E

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Some of the people you’ll meet

A tourist who doesn’t speak English. Use a dodgy translator app to find out where he wants to go.

Daredevil Liv

Perform a series of increasingly dangerous vehicle stunts while vlogger Liv films you and takes all the credit.

Paradroid

This guy thinks a flying drone buzzing over Silicon Valley is a surveillance device. Chase it down and catch it for him.

Fragile Cargo

Deliver some fragile, and possibly cursed, ancient Egyptian artefacts to a museum in the city without damaging them.

RIGHT: This is one of the prettiest virtual cities on PC, and the Driver San Francisco missions are a great excuse to explore.

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EXTRA LIFE NOW PLAYING

TOM SENIOR

I’m only truly alive when I’m inside a robot punching another robot to death.

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C omm a n d a f orest

G o in a ro b ot ’ s t u mm y

Do a m u r d er

Total War: Warhammer

Titanfall 2

Dishonored 2

www.totalwar.com

www.titanfall.com

dishonored.bethesda.net

The Wood Elves, also known as the best elves, have invaded Total War: Warhammer. Get a treeman or two and a million archers and smash up some Orcs. This is not the deepest or most complex Total War that The Creative Assembly has made, but it’s got bags of character for a wargame and is surprisingly easy to dip into.

The pilot compartments of Titanfall 2’s mechs look so cosy I want to crawl inside and have a nap. There’s no time for that, though, on account of all that raucous man vs bot warfare. This magnificent FPS has some of the best movement systems in any shooter, and the singleplayer is great too.

This delicious stealth sandbox keeps on turning up thrilling new ways to murder guards and get away with it. I’m enjoying Emily as a quick, brutal killer who cases the scene before eliminating everyone with a brutal combo, but I keep having to stop and stare at the gorgeous world Arkane has built.

C on q u er t h e st a rs

Stellaris www.stellarisgame.com

Civilization VI is nice, in a plodding sort of way, but if you’re looking for excitement and discovery, this space-based 4X, where you guide your alien race to galactic greatness, is where it’s at. Stellaris looks lovely, has a terrific exploration phase and is improving all the time with the aid of regular updates.

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K i l l a mi l l ion nin j a s

One Finger Death Punch www.silverdollargames.com

Left-click to attack left, right-click to attack right. It’s that simple. But enemies storm in from both directions, forcing you to click together quick combos and batter hundreds of stick men into submission. This is a great game if you’ve got ten minutes to kill, or if you just want to work off some stress.

G o reneg a d e

D u a l wie l d

P u nc h a w a l l to d e a t h

Tyranny

Seraph

Rainbow six: Siege

www.tyrannygame.com

www.seraph-game.com

rainbow6.ubi.com/siege

Obsidian’s RPG about being the bad guys doesn’t let you be evil enough, for my tastes. But it’s still a quality old-school RPG with interesting party-building systems. If you’re looking for a modern iteration on the Baldur’s Gate template and haven’t played Pillars of Eternity yet, this is your next RPG.

The levels and enemies get a little samey in this roguelike action game, but the core action is great. Your dual-wielding seraph aims automatically while you vault acrobatically around the scenery, producing spectacular and moreish gun-fu. You can use two-handed guns, but it looks way less cool.

A year after launch, this clever tactical multiplayer shooter with destructible scenery is still going strong. A second season of new operatives has been announced and there are plenty of people playing. That makes it a worthy back-up shooter if Titanfall 2 doesn’t retain a community (but let’s hope it does).

FEBRUARY 2017


s e m a ! G d t e s Fir Announc

18 – 19 February Olympia London FEATURING

WARHAMMER 40K: Dawn of War III

Halo Wars 2

Mirage: Arcane Warfare

PLUS the latest tech, PC workshops & more BUY TICKETS NOW! E-SP O RT S PA RTN ER

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P RI ETV’ IsE WA L L

OVER...

Mass Effect: Andromeda is replacing the Paragon/ Renegade system with a more nuanced set of emotional responses.

“Ryder, shall we go and do the thing that has been asked of us?” Yes, I will perform this task. Oh snap!

They say the neon lights are bright, on the Nooooormandyyyyyyyyy! Did you bring any sandwiches?

What is the DEAL with the Rachni?

To the Chantry!

Look, I finish at five. Let’s get this going. Ow, shit! I stubbed my damn toe! Ugh, what was in those sandwiches?

I blame the Hanar. Wait, did anyone else hear a bear? Why bother? They’ll still complain about the ending to ME3.

Key

NEXT MONTH The biggest RPG of 2017 Huge feature inside! Resident Evil VII First-person horror reviewed. The history of the RPG Baldur’s Gate and tons more. O N S130A L E F e b r u aOCTOBER r y 0 9 2016

Showtune Hungry Wrong game Anti-Hanar Bear? Ennui Nauseous Sick of this shit Jobsworth Seinfeld Oh snap! Normal


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