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The world’s n u mber one P C g ames mag a zine

REvIEwED! DishonoreD 2 TiTanfall 2 Tyranny Call of DuTy PlaneT CoasTer & More!

2016 EXCLUSIVE HANDS-ON

the eldar rule the battlefield in relic’s stunning rts issue 288 february 2017

REsIDENT EvIL vII

Could this be 2017’s best horror game?

GAMING MICE reviewed inside

DEus Ex REINsTALL

return to one of PC’s masterPieCes


#288 february 2017 EDITORIAL Global Editor-in-Chief Tim Clark Editor-in-Chief Evan Lahti Executive Editor Tyler Wilde Features Editor Wes Fenlon Editor Samuel Roberts Production Editor Tony Ellis Art Editor John Strike Deputy Editor Phil Savage Section Editor Andy Kelly Staff Writer Chris Livingston Assistant Editor Tom Marks Associate Editor James Davenport

Who wins? 2016’s game of the year candidates cross so many genres, from strategy to 2D platformer to farming RPG (you can probably guess that one). When you see the list, and the personal picks of all our writers, I’m sure you’ll agree it was another extraordinary year for PC gaming. Enjoy the issue.

COnTRIbuTORS Elizabeth Elliott, David Lyttleton, Tom Sykes, Andy McGregor, Zak Storey, Ed Chester, Matt Thrower, Tom Stone, Fraser Brown, Hannah Dwan, Steven Messner, Paul Walker-Emig, Jody Macgregor, Kieron Gillen, Craig Pearson, Graham Smith, Ian Birnbaum, Shaun Prescott, Joe Donnelly buSInESS Vice President, Sales Stacy Gaines, stacy.gaines@futurenet.com Vice President, Strategic Partnerships Isaac Ugay, isaac.ugay@futurenet.com East Coast Account Director Brandie Rushing, brandie.rushing@futurenet.com East Coast Account Director Michael Plump, michael.plump@futurenet.com West Coast Account Director Austin Park, austin.park@futurenet.com West Coast Account Director Brandon Wong, brandon.wong@futurenet.com West Coast Account Director Tad Perez, tad.perez@futurenet.com Southwest Account Director Jessica Reinert, jessica.reinert@futurenet.com Director Of Marketing Robbie Montinola Director, Client Services Tracy Lam Director, Retail Sales Bill Shewey

SAMUEL ROBERTS EDITOR

samuel.roberts@futurenet.com @SamuelWRoberts

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0 28,658

460 0 0 62 522 29,180 39,890 69,070 98.2

16. Electronic Copy Circulation Average No. Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months a. Requested and Paid Electronic Copies b. Total Requested and Paid Print Copies + Requested/Paid Electronic Copies c. Total Requested Copy Distribution + Requested/Paid Electronic Copies d. Percent Paid and/or Requested Circulation (Both Print and Electronic Copies)

No. Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date

98

70

29,015

28,728

29,537

29,250

98.2

98.2

70,782

69,070

I certify that 50% of all my distributed copies (electronic and print) are legitimate requests or paid copies.

19,578

19,436

17. Publication of Statement of Ownership for a Requester Publication is required and will be printed in the February 2017 issue of this publication.

0

0 18. I certify that all information furnished on this form is true and complete. (Signed) Mark Constance, Head of Production Date: 10/21/2016

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4

FEBRUARy 2017


Contents #288

REVIEW

february 2017

Monitor

10 THE TOP STORY 12 THE SPY 14 SPECIAL REPORT

30

Previews 16 Resident Evil 7 22 Beat Cop 26 Project Wight

Features

30 Dawn of War III: The Eldar 38 Game of the Year 50 Interview 52 GMod Tower

Reviews

58 Dishonored 2 64 Tyranny 68 Titanfall 2 72 Hitman 76 Football Manager 2017 80 Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare 82 Planet Coaster

Extra Life

84 NOW PLAYING 90 TOP 10 DOWNLOADS 94 UPDATE 96 REINSTALL 100 WHY I LOVE 102 MUST PLAY

104

Hardware

104 GROUP TEST 110 BUYER’S GUIDE

58 68

6

february 2017

30

58

104

An extensive hands-on with the Eldar portion of Relic’s muchanticipated strategy game.

Phil explores this beautiful, complex follow-up to 2012’s brilliant and original stealth game.

We test seven of the latest, sleekest and sexiest gaming mice to find the best of breed.

DaWn of WaR III: ThE ElDaR

DIshonoRED 2 GamInG mIcE REVIEW GRoup TEsT


P l ay Check in with our servers, guilds and battlegroups. Join our Steam group! Find other PCG readers to shoot pilots with on our Network.

g e t in volv ed No application needed. Just head to www.bit.ly/ TitanfallPCG, sign in with your Origin account, and click ‘Join This Network’.

Clash of the titans Join our TiTanfall 2 network to earn bonuses, chat to fellow readers, and find friends to help you take down enemy pilots itanfall 2 is a game about big, shooty robots and their fast, shooty pilots. It’s exciting, and one of the best FPS campaigns you’ll play this year—as you’ll discover by reading Chris’s review over on page 68. It also promises some great multiplayer experiences. There are plenty of modes available, from classics such as capture the flag and control point, to new modes like Bounty Hunt and Pilot vs Pilot. The more you play, the more options you’ll unlock, until your arsenal of weapons and tools has grown to support incredibly specific playstyles through a variety of different loadouts.

T

8

february 2017

In other words, there’s a lot to sink your teeth into. If you’re planning to get involved, consider joining our official PC Gamer network for Titanfall 2. Networks are communities within the Titanfall 2 in-game client. In ours, you can meet up and matchmake with your fellow PC Gamer readers. And you can join as many networks as you want, so becoming a part of PCG doesn’t have to stop you from also following your weird friend’s Evanescence fan club, which they made inside Titanfall 2 for reasons that nobody has ever entirely understood. On the multiplayer menu, you’ll be able to join our network’s channel,

letting you meet up, chat and matchmake with fellow PC Gamer readers. We’ll also net you extra rewards, if you turn up at 8pm each day during our network’s designated ‘Happy Hour’. Titanfall 2 is just one of many games in which we’ve set up an informal PC Gamer group. You can also find us in Forza Horizon 3 and GTA Online, as well as through one of the more formalized guilds listed in The Index to the left. If you’d like to see a PC Gamer presence in any other of your favorite multiplayer games, let us know by dropping us an email at pcgamer@ futurenet.com. Phil Savage


O P I N I O N

T E C H

G A M E S

THE PC GamER viEw Of THE wORld Agent 47 still believed he could hide behind his own gun.

THE TOP STORY

Hitman gets a second season

IO Interactive’s episodic experiment with Agent 47 evidently paid off

M

uch to the despair of PC Gamer’s Phil Savage—who quickly regretted volunteering to review every episode of Hitman’s opening season when he realized it meant he had to review the same game six times—IO Interactive is insisting on making a second season. “Yes, there is a second season,” said production director Hakan Abrak in an interview with French outlet GamerGen. In the same interview, it was suggested that the second season will bring us a selection of

10

February 2017

new cities, along with the possibility of remixed settings from season one, but visited at different times of year. Will returning to Paris or Sapienza but with snow on top be the thing to finally push Phil over the edge?

episodic hitman was a bold experiment that ultimately proved successful

The first season of IO Interactive’s newly episodic Hitman was a bold experiment that ultimately proved successful—see Phil’s review of the series as a whole on p72. By the final episode, set in a labyrinthine high-tech Japanese hospital, it had begun to explore design possibilities beyond the fundamentals of the older Hitman games. A second, more inventive season is an exciting prospect, and hopefully this time we won’t have to wait over three years to see Agent 47 again. Phil agrees, but then he doesn’t know we’re going to make him review Hitman Season 2 as well. Samuel Roberts


HEAR YOUR ENEMIES BEFORE YOU SEE THEM!


OPINION

I

GAMES

T H E S P Y

The Spy can be in two places at the same time.

10

Feb

I

TECH

P

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

eople think espionage is all about air vents, tight pants, and elaborate pulley systems. And sure, that’s part of it, but often it’s more efficient to infiltrate through the front door. The Spy has had thousands of jobs over the years—moonlighting at a variety of corporate installations, state-sponsored hideouts, and, after a night out that ended with a particularly potent sodium thiopental chaser, as a columnist for a games magazine. Maintaining such an impressive résumé means always being up to date on the latest interview techniques. For instance, never tell your prospective employer that, in 23 years’ time, you see yourself torturing an FSB agent into revealing the location of a 19th century tsar’s hidden cache of Fabergé chicken Kievs. And whatever you do, don’t answer the question, “What is your greatest weakness?” by jumping on a desk and shouting, “The Spy bets you think it’s the trachea, but The Spy’s throat is reinforced with metal plates! The Spy is literally immune to garroting!” Definitely don’t follow this outburst by throwing down your piano wire and challenging the assorted panel to strangle you, before narrowing your eyes and declaring they wouldn’t have the balls to try. If it can at all be helped, do not then finish by disappearing in a cloud of smoke in order to

escape the approaching throng of security guards. Now that The Spy thinks about it, it’s also a good idea to use a fake name and not constantly refer to yourself in the third-person. It’s for this reason that The Spy won’t be announcing a move to Blizzard, as the new lead software engineer on its tantalizingly titled Unannounced Project. Typically, Blizzard is upfront about what project each job advert relates to. This one is more mysterious. “Blizzard Entertainment is seeking an experienced engine engineer to work on a robust first-person engine for an unannounced project.” Work on a first-person engine is interesting because Blizzard recently made a first-person game. Surely, then, this engineer will be

serving writer, and has never met any other team member. The trick, reader, is to keep changing it up. Be sure to employ a variety of outfits, elaborate disguises, or even a complete makeover—around issue 270, for instance. Consider Ubisoft, a publisher that has conspicuously made the same Assassin’s Creed games over and over again. After years of attention, the Assassin’s Creed series has retreated into the shadows, and the suggestion now is that it could reemerge as something different. See? Changing things up. Ubisoft wants every one of its games to become an “anecdote factory”. “I don’t want the player to go through a story created by someone,” chief creative officer Serge Hascoet told Le Monde. “We have games like that still, but I ask more and more that we let the player write their own story— that they set themselves a long-term goal, identify the opportunities that are open to them and choose not to follow a path that was decided for them.” Does that mean the next Assassin’s Creed— planned for 2017, and rumored to be set in Egypt—is going to be an immersive sim? Maybe. According to Hascoet, the developers have “created a system in which what I do doesn’t just affect the moment, but the long term as well”. Finally, EA has registered a trademark for Need for Speed Arena. Assuming it’s not some free-to-play thing, it could be the title of Ghost Games’ next entry in the bewildering racing series. That’s The Spy’s last tip: when starting a job, be consistently good enough that you aren’t buried in the final paragraph of an irreverent rumor column, barely worth even a passing mention. Spy out The Spy

Does that mean the next AssAssin’s Creed is going to be an immersive sim? responsible for shoring up the Overwatch engine, perhaps in preparation for something new. The unlikely return of Starcraft: Ghost? The more likely introduction of an Overwatch campaign? The definitely not happening The Lost Vikings: Revengeance. Or maybe it’s none of the above, however strange it would be to launch a new first-person fiction so soon after introducing fans to the world of Overwatch.

incognito

If you do manage to secure a job— and, if you follow The Spy’s tips, you will—the next step is protecting your identity. The Spy has been doing this for two decades. In fact, The Spy is PC Gamer’s longest


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2017


specia l rep o rt

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

playing aT War The military has been using simulation games to train officers since the days of Napoleon. Nowadays they’ve grown so complex and so realistic that only a computer can handle all the parameters. But while the armed forces use bespoke software for their training, they keep an eye on consumer strategy games too. Most of those in use are heavyweight titles designed with some military input. But, increasingly, games developed independently for entertainment are making the simulation grade.

14

Wargaming: The home FronT

PC wargames have become so accurate they’re now starting to replace their professional military equivalents

I

n late 2016, two missiles launched by rebel forces in Yemen shot toward the USS Mason, an American destroyer patrolling the Red Sea. The crew picked up the missiles late on their radar and launched defensive measures. The missiles ditched short, into the sea. It wasn’t the first time rebels attacked shipping in the area, but this was notable for a most unusual reason. A PC wargame was able to predict almost precisely the way the event unfolded.

The game in question is Command: Modern Air/ Naval Operations from Slitherine. “Simulations don’t give specific outcomes,” says development director Iain McNeil. “They let you try out strategies multiple times to see what kind of plans work better and what kind of capabilities are more interesting to invest in. They give you estimated probabilities, which is as good as it gets in warfare.” Which makes it all the more surprising that the game was able to model the real-life action with such accuracy. Slitherine are no stranger to working with the US military. A decade ago, the Pentagon used modified versions of their games Harpoon and Close Combat in training exercises. During their latest review of their

FeBruary 2017

training software, they went back to Slitherine asking about these titles. The publisher, instead, showed them Command. They were immediately convinced of its value. “Apparently there is nothing that comes close to Command’s capabilities,” says Iain. “Otherwise they would already be using it. We’ve got a unique product and they know it, so it’s pretty exciting.” After the demo, things moved fast. Slitherine hosted a delegation of two-star generals and technical staff from the Pentagon. Then they started doing presentations, first to the Air Force, then the Navy. The feedback was immediate, and positive. “The Air Force have started using the professional version now,” says Iain. “There are also a number of large contractors using Command to supply services to the military. We’re expecting a wider roll out later this year and in to next.” It’s easy to assume these sorts of games are only used in the military for training. But as Iain’s example of use by contractors shows, they have wider applications too. When pressed for details, he was maddeningly evasive. “Every department seems to have a different idea of what they could do,” he says. “There are plans to use it for future force development, weapons and tactics training, and even logistics. Some of the idea for how to use it have been quite surprising, but I can’t talk details.”


opiNioN

I

GAMES

I

tecH

replicating reality reCreating the USS MaSon inCident in CoMMand

1 r a n g e o f at tac k

the rings show the ranges of missile attacks, defensive measures and radar for ground forces and the target ship.

2 f l i g h t pat h

Before launching the attack, the player draws waypoints, as if programming the missile’s flight computer.

3 r a da r e va si o n

the marked icon shows the how the missile is successfully evading radar as it flies over mountainous terrain.

4 countermeasures

as the missile approaches the uss mason, it picks it up on radar again and defends itself with countermeasures.

The Pentagon: basically just full of gamers.

To further enhance Command’s simulation credentials, it has an ongoing range of DLC which model possible real world events. One of them posits a potential war against Russia, as a consequence of the vote for Brexit. When I put it to Iain that this seemed a little bit extreme, his response was far from reassuring. “I’m guessing Neville Chamberlain didn’t see World War II coming when he announced peace in our time after giving Czechoslovakia to Hitler,” he replies. “However, the point about training is that the more prepared you are for bad outcomes, the less likely they are to happen. Having plans for how you would deal with a Russian invasion of the Baltics makes it much less likely Russia would want to try it.” This goes back to his original comment about the limitations of these games. “They are military simulations, not political ones,” he continues. “They don’t predict if Russia is going to attack, or if North Korea is going to launch missiles. What they do is allow you to experiment with what would happen if they did.” Most in-game data comes from hard science like weapon ranges and hit probabilities. The soft factors of human political behavior are still way beyond the capacity of even bespoke computer systems. What’s surprising, though, is how much of hard data and detail there already is in more approachable military games. Command is very complex: casual players could break teeth on its interface. But Iain told

me that many less intimidating games in the Slitherine range have just as much going on under the hood. The difference between consumer and professional gaming isn’t the detail, but the entertainment value.

the fog of war

“While we model the fog of war in many games, we generally model it like the Borg,” he explains. “So when one unit on a side sees something, they all do. That’s not realistic, but it keeps things fun. In real life you often don’t even know where friendly troops are, let alone the enemy. This results in confusion and ultimately blue on blue casualties. While this is realistic it’s not fun for most gamers and as a result we rarely model those aspects in commercial games. These features are, however, wanted by military clients. This is the type of issue that causes commercial and professional editions to diverge.” Command bridges that gulf. Indeed the game’s enthusiastic community who already use it to model events as they’re reported on the news. Search Twitter for CMANO to see the results: many make for bleak reading. “There are no simulations that will accurately predict a situation,” says Iain. “Anyone who tells you they can is lying.” As I sit, watching possible future horrors unfold on my monitor, I keep hoping Command isn’t as clever as the Pentagon thinks. Matt Thrower

In real lIfe you often don’t know where frIendly troops are, let alone the enemy

FeBruary 2017

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February 2017


PREVIEW Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

need to know release January 24, 2017

Developer Capcom

publisher In-house

RESIDENT EVIL 7: BIOHAZARD Refined first-person horror that pretends Resi 6 never happened he fun thing about a first-person perspective is it’s great at making you feel trapped and vulnerable. No swinging the camera for a cheeky peek around the corner while our hero sits in safety. No crouching in cover but getting a full view of the immediate environment anyway. If you can see someone in first person, they can sure see you.

T

Case in point, Jack Baker, violent, axe-wielding new Resident Evil antagonist, is standing at the end of the corridor. I know this, because I’m halfway down said corridor and it’s suddenly a long walk back to relative safety. Jack’s peering out of the window right now, but all he has to do is turn 90 degrees to his immediate left, and I’ll have nowhere to hide. He does exactly that, because of course he does. Jack grins, stomping towards me and raising his axe. I turn and run, my panicked footsteps barely audible over his laughter. Panic makes me shove open the wrong door, so I miss the safe room and find myself back in the Baker’s disgusting kitchen. There’s a sickening view of the dinner table where I started this nightmare, waking up as Ethan Winters and immediately being force fed rotten grub by the insane Baker family. Now, with Jack on my tale, every potential hiding place in the dining room looks comically useless. Jack is a murderer, kidnapper and near-invincible threat, but sadly not an idiot. He’s almost certainly going to find a grown man cowering under a dinner table. He’ll probably laugh some more at my ineptitude, before hacking me into bits. So I dash into the living room instead, just as I hear the kitchen door being booted open. “Boy!” Jack roars, suddenly angry, such are the emotional swings of a murderer who doesn’t care for rude dinner guests.

pl ayed it

link www.capcom.co.jp/residentevil7

I learned that earlier, when I failed to eat his wife’s cooking and he stabbed me in the face.

back on track I bring up the map, something I haven’t done this regularly in a Resident Evil for years. Backtracking, collecting keys and solving contrived door puzzles used to be as much series’ staples as the zombies, and I was surprised to see them back. When I chugged through the re-release of 2002’s Resident Evil Zero earlier this year, with its seemingly endless trips across the map to fetch more bloody keys, I certainly wasn’t hoping this idea would make a comeback. Even more unexpected is how much I’m enjoying it. Backtracking across old Resi games has lost its power to scare me over the years, but the Baker household is a modern masterpiece in tension. A creaking Louisiana estate that has you constantly questioning if that noise was your footsteps, the house settling, or a member of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired Baker clan creeping up behind you to rip out your spine. Maybe it was just the wind. Limited inventory space still feels like a frustrating holdover, but backtracking doesn’t feel like padding when fresh scares keep jumping out at you or oozing from the walls. That’s how The Moulded, 7’s new footsoldiers, like to introduce themselves. It’s intentionally hard to make out just what they are. Oozing, writhing shadow men with sharp claws who fight like faster versions of 4’s Regenerators. They drink handgun bullets and you’ll need to master the block move quickly if you’re forced to resort to knives. Combining items in your inventory lets you make more powerful ammo. Learn to do that fast, or you’re not going to survive multiple Moulded blocking the exit. This might be the series debut in first person but it’s already showing clever workarounds for clichés that are becoming tiresome to the genre. Take Layers of Fear, a somewhat effective

He’ll probably laugH some more at my ineptitude, before Hacking me into bits February 2017

17


PREVIEW Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

horror title that loved using the old ‘the room changes when your back is turned’ trick. So much so that it never stopped using it. This sort of hallucinatory nonsense is getting really tired, with everyone from Batman to Lara Croft tripping their tits off just to allow developers to throw logic out the window for the videogame equivalent of a lazy dream sequence. Resi 7’s ways of changing how you view the environment is far more effective. I find a VHS tape and decide to watch it, despite a family of deranged killers being on my tail. Suddenly the action cuts to the terrified woman in the tape, Mia, and I start playing from her perspective. It’s high stakes hide-and-seek in a different house, with all the skills I’ve learnt with guns and knives now useless, because Mia is completely unarmed. All I can do is cower in the shadows as Marguerite Baker, Jack’s charming wife, stalks each room, the light from her lantern gradually sucking the darkness from each corner as she screams at me to show myself. The voice acting is excellent throughout, with no tin-eared “Jill Sandwich” quips breaking the tension. Later I revisit the house I saw in the tape as Ethan, but since an undisclosed amount of time has passed, the level designers can make nasty changes and fill the place with killer bugs, playing on my expectations. It’s a Metroidvania that doesn’t indulge in the padding that early Resis lived on. A series of borderline photorealistic rooms are excruciatingly tense to explore no matter how many times the game makes you return to them, using backtracking to lull you into a false sense of security. It’s impressive to see a trick from 1996 modernized and just as effective 20 years later. A new item, however, should be immediately patched into every old-school Resident Evil. It lets you temporarily see all the hidden items in your environment. You’ll be amazed how much is tucked just out of sight in nearly every room you visit. It rewards you for paying attention. When it’s not punishing curiosity. You can’t keep making progress without eventually triggering a Baker confrontation. A visit to the garage is

suddenly Jack is on top of tHe veHicle. He rips tHe roof off witH ease 18

February 2017

spiked with a brief glimpse of escape, but soon I’m running rings around Ethan’s car as Jack closes in on me. Both my knife and handgun feel hopeless against him and Jack’s smart enough to keep doubling back, punishing you if you don’t constantly shift the camera to keep him in your line of sight. I find Ethan’s car keys and, confident in what I need to do next, hop behind the wheel. Jack snarls and grabs me before I can even get my seatbelt on, dragging me out of the car and throwing me painfully to the floor. I had the right idea, but I didn’t leave enough space between us. Jack isn’t a zombie, or even a Las Plagas. He’s more human, smarter, stronger and far more terrifying for it. This is the jump in enemy AI that earns this Resident Evil that 7 on the end. The Bakers have successfully restored the scares into a franchise I’d written off to dumb action years ago. If the atrocious and bloated Resident Evil 6 was your first Resi game, you’re in for one hell of a shock.

car wars I get in the car again, this time managing to start it while Jack is still staring daggers at me through the windshield. I waste no time in running him down, smashing the car and my would be killer into the wall. I reverse, wait for him to start getting back up, then run him down again. I repeat this pattern three times, desperate. The cuts and deep wounds on Ethan’s arms (all I ever see of the protagonist) are gruesome reminders of how close Jack had me to death. I reverse as far back as this tiny garage will allow. The music has cut out. From this angle, I can’t see beyond the bonnet, so I can’t see the spot of floor where Jack’s corpse should be. Oh come on. Nuh-uh. I wasn’t born yesterday. I am not getting out of this car. I never get a chance to. Suddenly Jack is on top of the vehicle. He rips the roof off with ease. Somehow I manage to escape just before it bursts into flames. An enflamed Jack casually gets out and grabs me by the throat, lifting me high into the air. Only the car exploding knocks him off his feet and me free from his grip. This is Resi 7’s first boss fight and it’s fantastic. The series is finally done playing catchup to 4. This is the confident re-imagining we should’ve got two sequels ago. All that matters is that it’s here now and it’s terrifying. If the remaining hours are as consistent as the five I got to play, few games in 2017 will come close to touching it, horror or otherwise.

Tom Stone

Help yourself to this gun. What could possibly go wrong?

The Moulded, about as threatened by that handgun as a tank would be.


PREVIEW Dartboard, pool table, crap TV… Wait, this house is lovely.

Collect coins to get these cages open.

February 2017

19


PREVIEW The pixelated art style helps create a gritty world.

The writing could do with some work.

22

February 2017


PREVIEW Beat Cop

need to know release Spring 2017

Developer Pixel Crow

publisher 11 Bit Studios

Be at C op Protect and serve a pixelated city block in this unusual adventure nce a respected detective, after being framed for murder you find yourself back on the mean streets of New York City, working the beat, writing tickets, and finding lost cats. Beat Cop is a game about the often mundane work of a police officer, but threaded with a tale of revenge as protagonist Jack Kelly attempts to clear his name.

O

Enforcing the law.

link www.beatcopgame.com

support, it can be a tempting proposition. Do you give them a ticket to get your quota up, or accept the backhander for a bit of extra cash? The game takes place across a set number of days before you attempt to prove your innocence, and the decisions you make leading up to that moment will determine how you go about it. Through a reputation system you can make friends or enemies, which changes the outcome of the story. For example, if you cut a gang member some slack, you’ll earn a point of favor with them. But if you arrest them for some petty crime, you could lose a few points. I like how the system forces you to choose between sticking rigidly to the law, or bending the rules for your own benefit. This gives you some freedom to shape your character, and should give the game some replay value.

Set in the 1980s, Beat Cop has you patrolling a single city block. Pixel art bad company might seem like a weird stylistic choice, The game is constantly keeping score as but it works surprisingly well. By focusing you interact with people, from other cops on one area, the artists have been able to to mafia bosses, and although there isn’t squeeze in an incredible amount of detail. enough in the pre-alpha build I played to It’s an intricate urban diorama, see the long-term consequences of teeming with traffic and pedestrians, p l a y e d this, the developer says it can have a and it’s here that you pound the dramatic effect on the story and how it sidewalk, looking for crimes. But Kelly goes about dealing with the before that, you have to introduce people who framed him. If you’re yourself to the locals. Your first day on the going up against powerful people capable job is spent meeting people, getting your of that, it couldn’t hurt to have some face known in the area. buddies in the mafia, as morally dubious Then, after some more tutorial as that might be. It’s not exactly The Wire, sections, you’re set loose on the streets. but I’m glad Beat Cop at least attempts to These sections are a mix of scripted include some moral grayness in its story. events, such as a dead body being found I love the concept of this game, and I’m in an alleyway or chasing a girl’s missing intrigued to see how dramatically the cat, and crimes that occur randomly. decisions I make will impact the storyline. Check the meter next to a parked car and My only gripe at the moment is the writing, if it’s expired, you can bring up your ticket which is fairly terrible. The adolescent book, write up the owner, then call in the sense of humor and slightly cringeworthy tow truck to remove it. swearing in the dialogue feels at odds with Sometimes the car’s owner will turn up the subject matter, and it’s not even at the last second and offer you a bribe, slightly convincing as a depiction of New and since you also have to make a set York in the 1980s. amount of money each day to pay child But putting that concern to one side, Beat Cop is an interesting game, combining the bureaucracy of Papers, Please with an unusual adventure game/ RPG hybrid. And it presents its one-block slice of the Big Apple with some impressively intricate pixel art.

a set number of days passes before you attempt to prove your innocence

Andy Kelly

February 2017

23


PREVIEW Wight won’t be out for a while, but it’s shaping up nicely.

need to know release 2018

Developer The Outsiders

publisher TBC

link theoutside.rs

Project Wight Play as the monster in this unique spin on the fantasy RPG avid Goldfarb is the co-founder of The Outsiders, a small indie studio developing an intriguing new RPG known only as Project Wight. “We have a pretty broad mixture of experience,” he tells me. “Ben Cousins (co-founder) and I come from DICE, and we also have experience from Starbreeze, Sony, Guerrilla, Paradox, and Avalanche. Lots of Swedish game dev in the house for sure.”

D

First look

26

Project Wight is a long way from finished, but after seeing some early footage of the game in action, I had to know more. Set in the Dark Ages, you play as a creature facing extinction. “You’ll experience life on the other side of the sword as you attempt to survive the extermination of your species by humanity,” says Goldfarb. “The creature starts out young and vulnerable, but will eventually grow strong enough to turn the tables on its persecutors.” In the footage you get a taste of this. It begins with the young creature creeping February 2017

through a cave. Near an exit it encounters a pair of warriors hacking at the corpse of another creature. They spot it and give chase, but it escapes through a narrow opening in the rock. Then we jump forward in time to when the creature is older. It encounters some more humans, but instead of fleeing it pounces, ripping them apart and tossing them off a cliff. I ask Goldfarb if he thinks it’ll be difficult for players to relate to these monstrous creatures. “It would be great if they did,” he says. “There’s a universality of experience that lets us have empathy for animals, robots, and whatever else the imagination can come up with in fiction. “The chief inspiration for the game is a book by John Gardner called Grendel, which is the Beowulf epic written from the

“The lower fanTasy angle lends iTself To mysTery and whaT-if scenarios”

monster’s perspective,” he adds. “That inversion was super interesting to me. The feeling of not understanding the world you’re in or why you’re there or why things are cruel in it. As time wore on it became clearer that there was a game there.”

IN THE DARK As for the setting, Goldfarb explains that it allows the team to root the game in history, but also gives them some creative freedom. “The lower fantasy angle lends itself to a lot of mystery and what-if scenarios,” he says. “What if there was a species of creature that the Vendels exterminated in the course of their conquest? We know comparatively little about the Dark Ages, but enough to ground some of the more fantastic concepts of the game.” Project Wight has been in development for a while, but Goldfarb and his team still have lots to do. “It’s too early to be sure, but we’re not making a linear experience,” he says of the overall structure. “How it all takes shape is something we’re working hard to figure out.” Andy Kelly


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F E AT U R E Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III

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February 2017


F E AT U R E Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III

Eldar domination PC Gamer goes hands-on with 40K’s space elves in dawn of war iii. Watch your backs, Space Marines. By Fraser Brown

A

few squads of burly Space Marines, members of Dawn of War III’s Blood Ravens Chapter, are

hanging around a communications device, probably swapping tips on the best oil to use on their bulky armor. Little do they know, right next to them, Eldar are gathering. Cloaked warriors hide in the open, while the rest of the army lingers in the tall grass, essentially invisible.


Call them Space Elves and you’ll be impaled by a boomerang spear.

Bringing out thE Big guns Three Eldar Elites

1

wraithknight taldEEr

Taldeer can charge at enemies, killing them or knocking them back in a broad path. The big damage comes at the end, with a massive sword slash. This attack can also be activated early, ending the attack but allowing players to hit specific, dangerous enemies. The mech’s second ability is a shield, which can be dropped to assist not just Taldeer but the rest of the army, while debuffing enemies.

32

February 2017

2

farsEEr macha

The Eldar protagonist tasked with retrieving the Spear of Khaine, even though she’s not convinced by the prophecy. She’s got history with her Space Marine counterpart, Gabriel Angelos, so there are personal stakes. Her key weapon is her Singing Spear, which she can throw at rows of enemies, recall—damaging them again—and even use to harm foes with psychic energy. She can also support, and put groups of enemies in stasis as a holding tactic.

3

Jain Zar

Jain is a fast melee unit with two main attacks. With the first, she throws her weapon at enemies and it then returns to her position, damaging even more foes in the process. This can be combined with her other attack, a dash, where she’ll jump onto her weapon in flight, grab it, and do even more extreme damage.

Before the Marines have time to ask “Who is that running toward us?” one squad of them is already dead, sliced and diced by a dashing Eldar who moves with preternatural speed and grace. The second squad opens fire, only to be sniped by the previously invisible Rangers and the infantry in the grass. The final group, maybe because they’re smart, or perhaps they’re just cowards, run for it. Farseer Macha, the leader of this band of hunters, tosses her Singing Spear at their backs. Those who don’t die instantly fall a second later, as Macha recalls her magical weapon and it cuts through them once again. If the Space Marines are Dawn of War III’s crushing hammer, the elegant Eldar are its scalpel: efficient, precise, and often subtle. I’m a lot more intimidated by the scalpel. Also that boomerang spear. While the previous games focused on the Space Marines, leaving the other factions to mess around in Skirmish mode until they got expansion campaigns, the third game’s campaign jumps between the Space Marines, Orks and the Eldar, as they race to claim a superweapon hidden on a frozen world. For the Eldar, it’s not just a race for a weapon, though; it’s a race for survival itself.


F E AT U R E Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III

“The Eldar are sort of the origin of the story,” game director Phil Boulle tells me. “There’s a prophecy that there’s this mysterious planet, Acheron, that emerges from the Warp every 5,000 years or so, and on it is meant to be the Spear of Khaine, the weapon of their war god. They believe that it will be able to reignite the Eldar, bringing their species back from the brink. Our protagonist, however, Macha, she’s got her doubts about this prophecy. She represents the player’s cynical view. She’s the voice of reason.” Unfortunately, Macha’s not in charge, and must bow to the demands of her zealotic superior. In the Eldar campaign mission Relic fired up for me, set on the world of Cyprus Prime, Macha’s been ordered to assassinate her enemy-turned-friend-turnedenemy, Gabriel Angelos, to stop him from reaching Acheron, and thus end his quest for the spear. Like the Space Marine mission that we’ve already played, there are multiple objectives, some optional, several enemy bases, and lots of pesky reinforcements and patrols that necessitate protecting your base as well as hunting down foes. But the focus, at least at the start, is on stealth and fast strikes, encapsulating what sets the Eldar apart from the other factions.

cause for alarm

Dotted around the appropriately battle-torn and gloomy map are resource points and communication towers, all guarded by Space Marines. The former are obviously important because you need to fund the war machine, while the latter are the first primary objectives. The wrinkle? Each of these points has an alarm, and if a Space Marine squad manages to call for help, reinforcements will rapidly show up. The trick, then, is to get close without being spotted, and take out either the alarm itself, or anyone who’s running to activate it.

The Eldar are hunting for the Spear of Khaine, their war god.

I confess that, on my first go, I largely failed to do this, instead contending with the additional enemies. This didn’t stop me from claiming victory in the end, but it did cost me squads that might have otherwise been saved. Feeling more confident, I experimented a little when I took the mission for another spin, and managed to take out all but one alarm. Like most fights, it was my units’ flashy special abilities that were key. While sheer numbers can win some brawls, it’s these extra-powerful attacks that have the might to turn the tide of a battle. They range from simple plasma grenades to situational combos that can decimate entire squads, and then some. Farseer Macha’s boomerang spear is one of those. You activate the ability, launching her spear and impaling a row of very surprised enemies. With them dead, you reposition, preferably putting

another batch of victims between Macha and the spear, before activating the ability again, recalling the now very bloody weapon. While it’s stuck in the ground it can buff allies, but it can also be made to explode with psychic power, as spears are wont to do. The visual impact of these abilities reflect their strength, so the more powerful ones are presented with more flair. Conveniently, there’s also unit priority when you’re commanding a group, so the unit with the strongest abilities will remain your primary unit, allowing you to use their hotkeyed powers even when you’ve selected a dozen other troops. Since the number of troops in Dawn of War III is so much greater than in its predecessor, the attacks, particularly those belonging to Elites like Macha, are free to have a much larger effect. The cooldowns are also fairly quick,

the spear can also be made to explode with psychic power

February 2017

33


Acheron is not the only world you’ll fight on.

and it was rare for me to select an Elite and discover that I couldn’t do anything. The result: fantastic momentum. The action is frenetic and the battle lines are always shifting. That’s why cover has completely changed, too. “We moved to larger armies, larger squads, with the camera pulled out, and it’s a lot more finicky if you have to line them up along walls,” Boulle explains. He adds: “The other thing was clarity, one of our huge mantras. Directional cover is clear as long as you’re close enough to understand who is on what side of a wall, for example. When your camera is pulled out, it becomes a lot harder to tell. “That’s why we came up with the shield bubbles, which work similarly to buildings in Dawn of War II. You’re either in them or out of them, and when you’re in them, you don’t take damage, but the bubble does and can be destroyed. The final reason, and ultimately the most important reason, was to give an important role to melee units. With bubbles, enemy ranged units just can’t go in them at all. Melee units can go in, so it makes them much more central to how you play because they’re your storming units.” While the Space Marines like to leap into the fray, a tactic typified by the 34

February 2017

jetpack-sporting Assault Marines, the Eldar are a little more fragile, relying on hit and run tactics, shields, and no small amount of precision. Getting into prolonged battles is very dangerous. At the mission’s climax, I found myself besieging the Blood Ravens’ fortified base in the hopes of drawing out my target: Gabriel Angelos. By this point, I had a veritable army, diverse and battle-tested, and I’d just mopped the floor with the last group of Space Marines. I was cocky, is what I’m saying. On the first push forwards, I lost half my army. A siege needs a battering ram, I thought, so I gathered every unit and just charged. The plan was to disperse when we got into the base, but there wasn’t even time. As my valiant Eldar warriors got to the top of the ramp leading up to the battlements, they took out the sentries huddled underneath an energy dome, and then the Whirlwind happened. From its distant position the tank unleashed its devastating payload, annihilating everything in the blast zone. My floating anti-vehicle Shadow

Spectres, my beloved Falcon troop transports, my big, sexy Wraithblades— all of them gone. The other half survived in large part thanks to Wraithknight Taldeer, another Elite unit. It’s a massive mech, housing twin pilots—though one of them is a corpse—and wields an equally massive sword. As well as being able to charge at enemies and carve them up with its blade, it can also drop down a shield. This soaks up damage and slows enemies down when they pass through it, while buffing allies. It saved a lot of lives. Not a great start to the siege, then, but it was a lesson learned. I had to be sneaky. I had to take advantage of the Eldar’s mobility. I really, really needed to use Webway Gates. These structures are perhaps the neatest trick up the Eldar’s sleeves. They make every Eldar within its influence—which is rather large—regenerate shields faster and move faster, allowing a small force to run in, take out dangerous enemies like the Whirlwinds, and then get out of

not a great start to a siege, then, but lesson learned


F E AT U R E Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War III

Eldar bases are entirely mobile thanks to teleportation.

there before the rest of the army arrives. Gates can also be linked up, creating a teleportation network. An army goes in one and comes out of the other. This is especially handy when you take into account the fact that you can move entire buildings, teleporting them to any area within an Eldar unit’s line of sight. The front line, for example. Or inside the enemy’s base. Even better: right behind it.

Gated community

This is, of course, a risky strategy. If the gates are spotted, anti-armor foes can knock them down quickly, either stopping the Eldar from arriving or, worse, trapping them in a sustained fight. “I’ve seen it used to spectacular effect,” Boulle recalls. “And to spectacular failure.” You have to think about how you’re going to control your mobility, he says. “How you’re going to make sure you have Webway coverage before you go in and attack. And then make sure you’re drawing enemies into the zones where you have the advantage. Making sure you’re attacking when you have your weapons and shields up, and pulling back when you’re not.”

In multiplayer, though their speed gives them an edge, their hit and run attacks can also be undermined by smart opponents. Boulle offers some tips for Space Marine players who find themselves dealing with the sneaky xenos, particularly when they’re being played by a devious human mind. Disrupting the flow of their attacks, the wave of assaults that pull back as quickly as they roll in should be the focus. The Space Marines’ plethora of knockback and stun attacks are important tools here, as is scouting to find the Gates—not just to destroy them, but to get an idea where the next attack may come from. Compared to the Marines, the Eldar feel more complex. Trickier. Their red, armored opponents are direct and unrelenting, while playing as the Eldar requires a lot more patience and control. The pay-off comes in perfectly timing an impressive attack—finding the right moment to unleash hell and charge in with the Wraithknight, activating its sword uppercut right when it reaches an enemy elite, and sending them hurtling into the sky. “I think they’re going to appeal to players who like to pull off a fantastic

mastErs of surprisE How Webway Gates work The first use of the Webway Gates is enhancing your forces. It makes them much faster, which is handy for both attacking and retreating, and it makes shield regeneration considerably quicker. Placing a gate near enemy bases gives the Eldar a big advantage when they begin their assault. Eldar buildings can be teleported to other areas within a unit’s line of sight, so gates can be moved to wherever they’re needed, and after a

cooldown, they can be moved back again when they’re no longer required, or are in danger of being destroyed. Once you tech up, the gates can also move entire armies from one place to another, setting up sneak attacks potentially anywhere on the map. Other buildings can also be used this way eventually, but it’s a much riskier strategy, as losing a barracks can have a bigger impact than losing the cheaper Webway Gate.

move,” says Boulle. “It can require a little more finesse depending on your ability selection or unit selection than Space Marines, who tend to do OK if you leave them be. Eldar only come into their own when you’re making sure to use all their abilities. Players who like tricking the enemy into moving out of position, flanking, or pulling off the gate at the back of the base tactic... it should appeal to them.” Not available in the Cyprus Prime mission were two of the Eldar’s most dreaded weapons: the Wraithknight super unit, who looks like an even bigger Taldeer, and the faction’s terrifying superweapon, their version of the Space Marine orbital cannon. The former is so huge that the screen shakes every time it plants one of its titanic, hoofed feet on the ground, and it can trap and then eradicate big groups of enemies with terrifyingly powerful guns. The latter summons an immense psychic storm that can damage and disrupt enemies, and it can also be attached to a unit, temporarily transforming it into the eye of an even deadlier storm. The area of effect is massive, and you definitely don’t want to get trapped inside it. So while the Eldar might be fast and subtle, underneath that is almost unimaginable power, reflected by their top tier units and abilities. Killing enemies very quickly is the Eldar’s bag. And when you’re popping abilities left, right and center, and tearing apart Space Marine after Space Marine, it feels like you’re taking part in a battle ripped straight out of some over-thetop concept art. It’s impressive. “What we’re going for is the fantasy of the faction,” Boulle explains after I finally send Gabriel Angelos packing. “So it’s not always a direct manifestation of the ruleset, it’s more this is how they’re portrayed in the fiction, this is how they’re portrayed in all the art. This is the fantasy that they represent.” February 2017

35


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T

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It was another banner year for PC gaming, bringing us a variety of future classics. Here are the best.

A R AW

W

hen we started judging the best games of this year, it was telling that we had four strong contenders for the ultimate prize. As with every year in PC Gamer’s recent past, we first picked the games we wanted to spotlight in these awards then selected award titles to suit them. There are also personal picks from the PC Gamer team for those great games this year that didn’t quite get enough love to win an award themselves. We hope you enjoyed 2016 as much as we did. 38

February 2017

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2016


PerSOnAL PICK

Phil Savage

Oxenfree

I played Oxenfree in one sitting, back in January. A creepy tale about teens facing off against a mysterious island force—armed with nothing but a torch, a radio, and the ability to make branching decisions when presented with difficult questions—it’s stuck with me ever since. Oxenfree uses its eerie atmosphere not to scare, but to create an escalating sense of unease. The dialogue isn’t as realistic as that of Firewatch, but this is still one of 2016’s best written adventure games.

PerSOnAL PICK

Tom Marks

D u e Ly S t

Duelyst is a blend of turn-based tactics and collectible card game, forming a CCG seemingly tailor-made to my tastes. Its pixel art animations are the best of any game out today, and it’s staggering to think about the ramifications each tiny decision I make during a match can have. When to move forward, where to place minions, whether or not to trade blows with the enemy general, and a million other choices make Duelyst a game I imagine I’ll never master, but I absolutely love to play.

TH

E BEST

MuLtIPLAyer

2016

OVERWATCH Chris T: Blizzard is without equal

when it comes to taking a complicated genre and making it accessible. While savvy marketing has certainly played a role in securing Overwatch’s headline-dominating success, it’d all be for nothing without an elegant core competitive design that allows everyone to find a place for themselves. This is a shooter where you don’t really need to be good at shooting, a competitive game with dozens of different ways to successfully compete. That it’s managed to pull this off without substantially limiting the skill ceiling for the best players is a testament to the skill of the designers behind this ostensibly simple game. Evan: Bingo. Overwatch’s diverse healers are probably the best example of that. With Zenyatta, I can pre-emptively heal. With Ana, I can use my marksmanship skills to keep people alive. As Mercy, I can heal in the style of Team Fortress 2, if that’s familiar to me. Overwatch got a frontline-fighting, K:D-fixated, aggro CS:GO player like me to enjoy playing a passive, musical rollerblading support character.

Phil: It’s the variety of movement styles I love. The reason I played so much Scout in TF2 was his speed and double jump. Overwatch is that, but more so. Many of its roster have interesting ways to move— Pharah’s jetpack, Widowmaker’s grappling hook, Tracer’s rewind. Like Evan, I love the supports most of all. Mercy is a brilliant spin on the medic—sorry, Medic—in that her ability to escape dangerous situations is directly tied to whether or not she can see an ally. Such symbiosis may well be common in MOBAs, but I don’t play those. In an FPS, with the intricacies of moving through a 3D environment, it works incredibly well. James: As systemically bountiful as Overwatch is, I think one of its greatest strengths is its presentation. It’s as clean and colorful as a Pixar movie (with murder), with expressive animations in every character, gun model, and ability effect. There’s no corner of any map that hasn’t been made to feel like a cohesive part of Overwatch’s politically fraught cartoon world. And admit it, it might be fun to play, but we’re really in it for the fashion. Those Legendary skins are hot.

February 2017

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exPAnSIOn

2016

THE WITCHER 3: BLOOD AnD WInE Andy K: Bringing world-weary Geralt to Toussaint,

Blood and Wine’s vividly colorful fairytale land of pompous knights, merriment, and chivalry, was an inspired idea. He couldn’t be more out of place in this strange new country, but that’s one of the great things about this lengthy, substantial expansion. It’s wildly different from anywhere in the main game, and you feel as much like a stranger as the witcher does while you investigate a series of mysterious murders and hack your way through a bunch of interlocking plots. If this was a standalone game, I’d definitely buy it. Tom S: The Witcher 3’s best stories are about local quarrels between vivid characters. Free of the need to tell a grandiose tale of interdimensional knights and the end of the world, Blood and Wine is 20-or-so hours of no-filler Witcher goodness. There’s a gung-ho duchess, honorable but incompetent knights and a clutch of byronic vampires to enjoy amid the astonishing backdrop of Toussaint, a sun-drenched land of relative opulence, which itself lends this adventure a different flavor. As you ride around Toussaint’s outskirts, the glowing white spires of its castle are visible from almost everywhere, but the designers still carve out a few dark niches so they can tell a sinister ghost story or two. Creatures such as the spotted wight provide these memorable one-off encounters, while your ongoing camaraderie with the vampiric Regis provides the slowburn drama that keeps the story interesting. Look out for some good twists, too.

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PuZZLe GAMe

2016

THE WITnESS Chris L: The most wonderful moment in The

Witness came when I realized, after several hours of playing, that I wasn’t simply standing in front of a series of puzzles but actually standing in a series of puzzles crafted from the island itself. Beyond the linked flat puzzle panels, there are patterns etched into mountainsides, formed by tree branches and shrubs, looped around staircases and paths, in the shadows, in the reflections of the water, and even in the clouds. Some I passed dozens of times without even seeing until I happened to stand in just the right spot and peered at just the right angle, and then suddenly it was clear as day. And once you begin to see these environmental puzzles, you’ve already been taught how to solve them by the panels you’ve been tracing designs on all along. It’s brilliant. Tom M: The island itself is the most impressive part of The Witness for me. To start, it’s simply gorgeous. Its vibrant colors and perfectly reflective water is a wonderful contrast to the darker settings of most modern videogames, especially when compared to similar first-person puzzlers like Portal or The Talos Principle. But the island’s brilliance goes beyond visuals, as it’s been crafted to guide you through the game and teach you everything you need to know without ever saying a word. The puzzles themselves are simple enough, but the feeling of accomplishment The Witness evokes from exploring its world and slowly learning how those puzzles work is what truly sets it apart from other games. Phil: It’s as brilliant as it’s possible for 600-plus maze puzzles in a row to be.


THE GAME OF THE YEAR 2016 Awards PerSOnAL PICK

Tom Senior

TH

E BEST

ShOOter

2016

tOtA L WA r WArhAMMer

Games Workshop and The Creative Assembly finally had a baby together, and it’s a pretty fun baby. Warhammer’s vivid factions fit perfectly into Total War’s hybrid turn-based/realtime strategy formula, and the game does a great job of making each race’s campaign feel meaningfully different. The gorgeous world map and faithfully modeled units capture the Warhammer fantasy tone, which is a point of nostalgia for fans of the tabletop game.

PerSOnAL PICK

Tyler Wilde

TITAnFALL 2 Chris T: Titanfall 2 demonstrates a

Valve-style willingness to tinker with the game’s basic formula, remixing shooting, parkour and mech combat in a different way in each mission. The standout levels—Into The Abyss and Effect and Cause—match visual spectacle with brilliant sci-fi high concepts that would not be out of place in a Half-Life sequel. Yes, it’s really that good. Tom S: The interplay between titans and lone pilots creates the most tactically interesting and intense combat moments of the year. Nowhere else can I wrench a battery out of the back of a titan, hop onto the back of a friendly titan, slide-machinegun an enemy pilot, re-mount the enemy titan, and drop a grenade into the battery slot I just vacated. The movement systems that enable this are robust and intuitive, and easily some of the best I’ve encountered in an FPS. The feeling of chaining a series of heroic maneuvers into a multi-pilot or titan takedown is hard to describe. There’s almost no friction between thought and action in these moments, only the excitement of carving a path through a frenetic warzone.

Andy K: Titanfall 2 clicked for me when I

started reprogramming my FPS brain to take advantage of my character’s mobility. Confronted with a shield-wielding enemy, my first thought was to run behind him and shotgun him in the back. Then I realized I could knee-slide to a wall, run along it, flip over, land behind him and then shotgun him in the back. And suddenly it all made sense. This fluid character combines with chunky, satisfying combat and imaginative one-shot gimmicks to create one of the best singleplayer FPS games I’ve played in years. Phil: The movement and level design, especially that level, are deserving of praise. What surprised me was the feel of the weapons. Thanks to Doom and Battlefield 1, it’s been a good year for loud, chunky guns. I’ve spent much of 2016 enjoying the crack of a bolt-action rifle, and the deep blast of a super shotgun. By contrast, Titanfall 2’s weapons feel elegant and subtle. They feel impactful and deadly, too, but the feedback is handled in other ways—the combat doesn’t overpower the audio mix. It’s an approach that sets it apart from the year’s other great shooters.

CIvILIZ AtIOn vI

Few on the team voted for Civilization VI, and I get that. It’s an update of an old classic, and has too many little issues to get into here. But within a few weeks after launch modders made coastal cities more viable, added a production queue, fixed UI problems, and more. I mostly love the new city districts system, and everything I don’t like about it can be tweaked, which has always been the beauty of Civ games. Firaxis never gets everything right, but it’s built a fantastic grand strategy platform with Civ VI.

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PerSOnAL PICK

Andy Kelly

2016

DOOM Samuel: I didn’t expect Doom to be

as surprising or inventive as it was. The exotic weapons mods managed to make the traditional Doom arsenal somehow feel pedestrian, and the way melee combat was woven into the pace of this brilliant campaign created tons of thrilling, tight encounters with enemies. The machine gun that you can mod into an automatic micromissile launcher is my favorite FPS weapon in years—by the end of the game you’ve essentially accumulated Tony Stark’s armory, and then some. Tony: It took me a little while to warm to this. I was in a massively detailed, modern FPS environment, but I was whizzing around on 1993’s rollerskates. It was the UAC research facility, but it was also the generic iron-foundry-made-out-of-nuclearsubmarines setting of every id Tech game ever. Then I hit my first Gore Nest and nothing else mattered. Doom is about moving forwards very fast through a spray of meat fragments and bestial roars, and Doom 2016 delivers that brilliantly. Chris T: The singleplayer is a triumph because, unlike id’s last attempt, they didn’t

try to extract Doom from the ’90s: this formula dies when exposed to concepts like ‘slowing down a bit’ and ‘irony’. This is an absurd power metal knee-slide of a thing, gloriously content to be metal as fuck when nobody else is even trying. Phil: I remember nu-Doom as brief bursts of frenetic, explosive combat, followed by long periods of wandering down seemingly innocuous corridors in the hope of uncovering a secret. It’s become de rigueur to mock the linearity of 2010s-era FPS level design, but Doom’s levels do have a nice labyrinthine feel. For all the speed and fury of an arena fight against an army of demon pricks, Doom is also great at encouraging a more steady pace through exploration. James: Expression and style is as important as survival, and blowing the head off a Baron of Hell just before zipping up a dozen yards to rip a Cacodemon’s eye out is as satisfying as pulling off a 900 to a Darkslide. What I’m saying is that Hell is for skateboarders, I think. And that Doom marks a return to shooters prioritizing movement, precision, and style over big expensive set-pieces.

hItMAn

New Hitman is my favorite Hitman. Every one of its levels is a rich, intricate puzzle with dozens of entertaining solutions. The variety of terrain, weapons, gadgets, and ways to assassinate your targets makes it one of the most infinitely replayable games on PC. And the environment design is incredible. The level setups aren’t quite as absurd or imaginative as the mighty Blood Money, but it improves on IO’s last great game in almost every way. Absolution is a distant memory.

PerSOnAL PICK

Samuel Roberts

SuPerhOt

It’s all in the replay. Doom’s melee attacks aside, Superhot’s replays made me feel more like a superhero than any other game this year. Each level has you throwing swords, swapping guns and dodging bullets in slow mo— you control the flow of time, and die a lot in figuring out how to clear out a room full of enemies. When the level is emptied, though, your successful attempt is replayed in real time. That person doing the mad ninja shit and dispatching guys all over the shop? That was you.

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2016

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rPG

2016

DARKEST DUnGEOn Evan: Total artistic and creative cohesion. I still shout at my monitor when I fell a particularly troublesome cultist, fishperson, or boss, a testament to the mileage Darkest Dungeon gets out of its 2D art and ominous presentation. Along with XCOM, it’s one of the few games where you can be 40 hours in and then lose a huge chunk of progress if you botch a dungeon run. Chris T: Darkest Dungeon excels in every area. The artwork, music, and writing are all phenomenal—and, as Evan notes, they’re all cohesive parts of an intricate, punishing whole. Driving parties of doomed mercenaries deeper and deeper into your horror-haunted family manor, you’re tasked with managing their sanity along with their safety. Through a complex interweaving of RPG systems, random dungeon generation and ambient detail, stories emerge. There was the stalwart knight with a kleptomaniac streak, whose reliability as a front-line combatant meant I overlooked the fact that he’d steal a few thousand gold worth of artifacts on every run. Or the fraught scouting expedition where each of my warrior-priestesses went mad, in turn, until they started to refuse healing with increasing frequency and had to be pulled screaming through each encounter by a paranoid jester. It’s not the year’s flashiest RPG, but the memories Darkest Dungeon has created have stuck with me. Tyler: On my first quest I forgot to bring any torches. My party survived, barely, but by the end they were all on the edge of death and had become irrational or masochists. Darkest Dungeon is like playing D&D with a DM who secretly knows you regifted the box of artisanal cheese you gave them last year. You have not been forgiven. Roll a saving throw against a sudden heart attack, you clod.

Chris L: Inside isn’t as challenging as Playdead’s Limbo was, and I appreciate it. Rather than hurling myself clumsily at puzzles, dying again and again, I was able to complete Inside in two sessions without much frustration and thus much more freedom to soak up the details of the bizarre and nightmarish world. Those details are grimly fascinating, hinting at explanations without ever providing them. Samuel: A four-hour journey into an unusual, cruel and consistently surprising world. Inside’s mermaid section was probably the scariest moment I encountered in a game this year—a great fusion of unsettling imagery and inventive sound design. James: Inside’s violence is so plain, it made me wonder what it would feel like to drown, for a dog to clamp onto my neck and shake, what it would feel like to dissolve and become part of something—uh—else. All this from a side-scroller starring a faceless kid. Tony: It’s such a stark, cheerless, unfriendly setting, where men wordlessly throttle young boys to death and everything seems hopeless. And it’s presented so beautifully! The use of lighting and silhouette, and most of all animation, makes almost every moment a miniature work of art. Spending time in this bleak world, solving its puzzles and dying horribly, was a genuine pleasure. Phil: I wasn’t really on board with Inside until a section, fairly late on, where you cross a bridge while avoiding potentially fatal shockwaves. As a puzzle, it’s pretty good—although falls foul of Playdead’s usual fondness for trial-and-error. As an atmospheric experience, though, it’s marvelous. The shockwaves feel alien, and brutal, until one section—after you’ve solved a particular part of the puzzle— when the soundscape shifts to incorporate the noise into a tuneful ambience. It’s a memorably affecting section of an intriguing and mysterious game.

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StrAteGy GAMe

2016

XCOM 2 Tom S: Rarely does turn-based strategy mingle with survival horror, but for your squadmates, that’s what XCOM 2 is. It’s a cruel and beautiful strategy game that builds on everything that was great about Firaxis’s 2012 XCOM reinvention. The guns and gadgets are more interesting, the classes can be specced in more interesting ways and the enemies have a hundred clever new ways to destroy you. Procedurally generated levels provide some of the terrain variety that Enemy Unknown lacked, and expanded squad customization lets you personalize your little band of superheroes. I can think of few strategy games that offer XCOM 2’s suite of finely balanced risk/reward choices, and fewer games in any genre that so elegantly build player failure into the design. Squad wipes and disastrous objective failures are almost guaranteed. That means your finest heroes

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can be wiped out in moments, but they leave behind great war stories, and that’s what XCOM 2 is all about. You’re overthrowing an incumbent alien world government—it was never going to be easy. Evan: XCOM 2 is all your favorite action figures on the living room floor on a Saturday morning. I led Furiosa, Geralt, Trinity, and a collection of modded X-Men into alien bases, watched them sever sexy cobras, vaporize floating android Egyptian

the hQ just wouldn’t be the same without that stupid face around

torsos, and blow up big-ass generators, and that shit was canon. OK, sure, the sequel improved practically every aspect, from map generation to character detail to equipment progression. Mostly I love that the aliens XCOM 2 throws at you are so much weirder. The Andromedon is Advent’s answer to BioShock’s Big Daddy: durable, angry, and exploding on death. Stun Lancers lunge forward suicidally, neutralizing your heroes. Sectopods tower over the battlefield, crushing terrain and zapping the shit out of your dudes. And personally, I loved the greater focus on mission timers: XCOM isn’t a game you should play comfortably. Tom M: There was one member of my squad that I flat out hated. Something about his face drove me up a wall. But I was forced to take him out on a couple of missions and, before I knew it, this jerk was my highest decorated Grenadier and essential to my squad. Sure, I could have just customized his face to look less rage-inducing, but that felt like the easy way out. It also goes against one of the best bits about XCOM 2: its incredible ability to create compelling narratives out of pretty much nothing. These characters aren’t really any different under the skin, but I still had my favorites. Each one meant something to me, and that made the fear of losing them all the more real. It would be a blow to my strategies to lose my best Grenadier, but also the HQ just wouldn’t be the same without that stupid face around.


PerSOnAL PICK

Chris Thursten

SteLLArIS

This is a game of galactic strategy that, although glacially slow at times, has surprised me with its amount of evocative detail. If you want to play as your own custom race you can, but I’ve enjoyed playing it as boring humans. Managing humanity’s journey beyond Earth offers genuine sci-fi thrills, from first contact to federation politics—and there are enough anomalous signals blinking away in the endless dark that simply sending science ships off into the unknown feels like an adventure.

PerSOnAL PICK

Shaun Prescott

n++

When I first booted N++ for PC, I was determined to clear the high wall of difficulty I’d encountered after putting a hundred or so hours into the PS4 version. I completed roughly 500 levels in a matter of days on my desktop, and then ever so slowly managed to tick off the odd episode. It’s undeniable though: I’m crap at this game. I’ll never complete all it has to offer—it would eat my life up whole. But it can also be a temporary refuge, a stress ball, and I doubt I’ll ever own a system without it installed.

THE

SPIrIt Of the PC

2016

STARDEW VALLEY Phil: A twee, saccharine farming sim

RPG about community, magic, and getting a good return on investment for your organic parsnips, Stardew Valley is a compelling thing, following your new life in a remote community as you grow your farm, meet locals and take part in local events. If you’ve played a Harvest Moon game, this will all sound familiar. But Harvest Moon never came to the PC. Its absence created a demand in the market filled by Stardew Valley’s sole developer, Eric Barone, who singlehandedly did the design, coding, art and music. It’s easy to praise Stardew Valley as a technical achievement, and as a heartwarming PC success story. It’s also worth celebrating because it’s an incredibly good game. Whether you’re planting crops, tending to animals, or exploring the mines, it’s easy to get lost in the compulsive loop of integrated systems and crafting. Before long, you’re invested— in the farm, the town, or the individual people—and expanding your local business in an effort to complete the next major goal. Tom M: There was a solid month of

my 2016 consumed by thoughts of planting crops and wooing a redheaded bookworm named Penny. Neither are easy tasks, as Stardew Valley likes to take its time, giving me long days that somehow still feel far too short to get all my chores done. It doesn’t rush relationship building, completing tasks like the community center bundles can take a full calendar year, and raising enough money to make a respectable-looking farm takes even longer. In a similar style to Skyrim or The Witcher, it puts you in the driver’s seat of an immaculately detailed world with no wrong choices. The game is a little rough around the edges and not without it problems—tricky controls and a relatively light late game, for example—but what makes it so compelling is just how good it is at drawing me into that world. And in true PC fashion, it’s being updated for free with new content and fixes, mods are being made and shared, and a community is growing in a similar way to that of Terraria or the early days of Minecraft. Stardew Valley is an underdog success story, and a game I imagine I’ll be playing for years to come.

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PerSOnAL PICK

Chris Livingston

2016

FORZA HORIZOn 3 Phil: A brilliant midpoint between

arcade and simulation, Forza Horizon 3 takes the series’ obsessive love for cars and works it into a fantastic open world full of variety, challenge and simple, joyful fun. This is a game that rewards you for racing well, for completing challenges, for smashing signs, or for just mucking about in a field. The car handling isn’t fully realistic, but it’s a good enough approximation that each of its many vehicles feels different. They’re (mostly) a joy to drive, too, the car physics pitched just right. And Australia is an inspired choice of setting, offering a range of terrains. Andy K: There’s something about the handling in Forza that just feels right. The developers somehow translate the action of holding a button down and nudging a small rubber stick from side to side into feeling like you’re controlling a powerful, weighty vehicle. Whether you’re screaming along a highway in a Pagani Zonda or skidding around a city in a bouncy Ford Mustang, every car has a distinctive personality. And besides that, it’s just a lot of colorful, lighthearted fun. It’s utterly infectious.

James: It’s whatever game you need it to be.

If you’re into realistic street racing, take off all the driver assist features and tweak your car down to the tiniest variable. Or turn Forza’s Australia into a van-only event where you win every race with ease. Slap a dumb skin on that sucker and make it look like an off-brand coke can, turn down the AI and start a new, perfect van life. Evan: It’s just a relentlessly positive racing game. The setting is wide-open and idyllic, the narration is peppy and playful without being annoying, and you’re earning rewards at every turn. Some awful stuff happened in 2016. On the other hand, we got the second coming of Burnout Paradise. Phil: Evan, the narration isn’t peppy. It’s a crime against ears. Tom M: It’s the closest I’ve come to meditating. Bounding over hills, drifting through bushes, driving close to oncoming traffic. It’s very Zen, and all builds up to that terrifying point when I think I may have pushed it too far. Slow down, pump the breaks, try not to flip. Is there racing in Forza? I was too enraptured with just driving some damn cars.

DuSKerS

Piloting drones through procedurally generated derelict spaceships in the real-time strategy roguelike Duskers is a tense and harrowing experience, and it’s equally satisfying when things go your way and when everything goes terribly wrong. Navigating the ships mostly using commands entered into a console gives it a charmingly lo-fi vibe, and the alien infestations that can quickly overpower your drones means caution and cleverness are your two most effective weapons.

PerSOnAL PICK

Joe Donnelly

KentuCKy rOute ZerO ACt 4

Kentucky Route Zero’s fourth act is the runt of its litter. Arriving two years after its third outing, it pays no less deference to storytelling, self-reflection, and its Americana lineage; but its structure, tone and outlook is distinctly less overwrought than its forerunners. It feels like the calm before the storm as it swaps the open road for life at sea—yet how it turns itself inward to better examine the quirks of its idiosyncratic cast is nothing short of wonderful.

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2016

DARK SOULS III Andy K: No one makes evocative fantasy worlds

quite like FromSoftware, and Lothric is one of its most haunting, beautiful creations yet. It’s a bleak, broken place, like a faded memory of an idyllic fairytale world. Lothric Castle, which looms impressively in the distance, gives you a fleeting glimpse of the beauty and grandeur this world once had before it was overrun by demons, dragons, and the undead. From is also a master at telling stories through the worlds it builds, and Lothric is rich with an arcane history that’s revealed through its statues, architecture, and shrines. The evil-tainted Cathedral of the Deep, with its sinister sculptures of weeping women, is a highlight, and every step you take into it is more intimidating than the last. And the unforgettable introduction to the eerie, desolate Irithyll of the Boreal Valley is one of the best moments in the Souls series. James: Irithyll’s introduction is indeed unforgettable. One of the most gorgeous vistas in games, peaceful and shimmering under a soft moon. Then a giant ratdog chases you across a bridge. But if you survive, ghosts walk the streets, elegant warriors and witches from a bygone era lash out, and as you venture further into the city, the architecture begins to feel familiar. It should. Dark Souls has always done this, foregoing generic environmental design in favor of building out the history of entire civilizations in how a building looks, or in the posture and dress of statuary. Where most games fill out their world with light set decoration, it’s rare to encounter anything in Dark Souls 3’s world that doesn’t carry meaning.

Chris L: I can’t recall a game that so quickly had me invested in the story and characters. There’s the gut-punch of the opening choices you make to set the stage, presented as a series of simple text-based prompts that still manage to be emotionally powerful. This leads to wonderfully written dialogue between the game’s two main characters, bolstered by the fantastic voice performances—I would go so far as to say the best in a game, ever—by actors Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones. Though the plot itself eventually wanders into fairly ridiculous territory, the realistic and believable relationship created by the writers and performers remains strong throughout, full of humor, longing, regret, and sexual tension. Samuel: I loved exploring Firewatch’s hot Wyoming wilderness, but it’s the performances and writing that really made it worth talking about this year. Probably the most mature depiction of a relationship I’ve seen in a game. Tony: As well as artfully recreating the beauty of America’s national forest on screen, this game also creates a landscape in your head. Nebulous and shifting, but just as absorbing to explore, it’s woven out of lookout Henry’s evolving relationship with someone who exists only as a crackling voice on his walkie-talkie, and their shared, increasingly paranoid conspiracy theories. While the story ends in a pretty silly place, as Chris notes, the way this internal terrain maps onto the beautiful Wyoming wilderness as you play makes for a unique and remarkable game.

February 2017

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THE GAME OF THE YEAR

PerSOnAL PICK

James Davenport

TH

E BEST

GAMe Of the yeAr

2016 thuMPer

Violence is bad, unless it’s sound. And if that brutal noise is delivered on the back of a scarab twisting along an interdimensional highway, then I’m all for it. Mess me up. That’s Thumper’s speciality, using the familiarity of a traditional music game ‘note highway’ to make the player feel stress. Thumper is the relief from performing to complex rhythms as if a single mistake means you get thrown off a cliff. It’s the best music game in years and proof horror doesn’t have to be zombies and ghosts.

PerSOnAL PICK

Wes Fenlon

OverCOOKeD

This frantic local co-op cooking game really captured the hearts of PCG’s US office. Taking place in increasingly ludicrous restaurant scenarios, it requires careful concentration and coordination to fulfill specific orders in quick succession, but naturally everyone in the kitchen starts shouting at each other within just a few minutes. Intricately designed and immediately fun, Overcooked is pretty much the perfect game for any occasion when you’ve got three friends round.

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February 2017

DISHOnORED 2 Chris T: Arkane is creating a design

legacy worthy of Looking Glass or Ion Storm—appropriate, given that it’s doing more than any other studio to carry the legacy of Thief and System Shock into the modern era. Yet for all that Dishonored 2 owes to the PC’s long history of superlative stealth sims, it’s also a true original. Its fantastic movement systems and dynamic violence can trace their lineage back to Arkane’s underrated Errol Flynnem-up Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, while its artistic direction ignores games entirely and looks to traditional art and real history. I suspect that I’d love this game for its sense of place even if I didn’t also love it for the freedom it gives me to approach encounters in my own way. Andy K: The sheer artistry on display in Dishonored 2 is astonishing. Arkane excels at making worlds that feel organic, storied with history and culture, and the southern European Karnaca is its greatest creation yet. Bright and sunny, with expansive buildings sprawling across misty hills overlooking the shimmering water, it’s both a convincing, beautifully realized setting and a detailed, intricate playground for Corvo and Emily’s suite of imaginative supernatural powers. From Kirin Jindosh’s magnificent Clockwork Mansion, whose opulent rooms shift and fold away at the pull of a lever, to the faded beauty of the storm-choked Dust District, it’s an incredible artistic accomplishment. The game is, throughout, a perfect marriage of art and design, using its architecture to both evoke a rich sense of place and give you multiple ways to navigate and exploit its sprawling, complex levels. James: I’m halfway through my second playthrough and I’m still finding surprising ways to screw up. Emily’s Domino ability might be the best stealth ability ever, sharing the fate of one foe, however brutal, between

two or three others in a supernatural chain. Imagine my surprise when I grabbed one Domino’d guard the moment before his friend took a shot at me. One died in my arms and the other slumped to the ground immediately after. If you’re a monster, summoning a doppleganger at the bottom of a big drop and drop-assassinating it is, um, a handy way to get around. As Corvo, I’m discovering the joy of Blink-kicking guards off of high places and freezing time to arrange a deadly Rube Goldberg machine of crossbow bolts and bodies that turn dangerous situations into horrific contraptions. And the depth of Dishonored 2’s simulation goes beyond guard behaviors and whalepunk stealth abilities. Even when you’re halfway across a level, it’s keeping track of the proliferation of bloodflies between corpses, and if you left a mine somewhere, you may come back to a swarm of deadly insects poking at a pile of limbs signifying the former patrol. It’s simply one of the most complex, playful, gorgeous stealth simulations PC gaming has ever seen and likely will for some time. Phil: A Crack in the Slab is one of the best levels of the year—and this is a year that gave us Titanfall 2’s Effect and Cause, and Hitman’s Sapienza. It also shows off Dishonored 2’s dedication to providing consequences to your actions. James mentions the moment-to-moment depth of the simulation, but there’s a narrative depth too. Dishonored 2 feels reactive, and that lets you enjoy the effect your actions have on the world. This is taken to the extreme in A Crack in the Slab, where the conceit of the level lets you experiment in an ecosystem of cause and effect. Whatever you try, Dishonored 2 has an answer—a way to tip the hat, and acknowledge what you’ve done. Never mind being the best game of the year, this is one of the cleverest of the decade.

never mind being the game of the year, this is one of the cleverest of the decade


February 2017

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INTERVIEW

Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz CD Projekt RED’s principal narrative designer on telling more Witcher stories through Gwent singleplayer. By Andy Kelly went, the madly addictive card-based minigame from The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is being turned into a full game by CD Projekt RED. Even if you aren’t into card games or competitive online multiplayer, you’re covered because the studio is adding a singleplayer campaign with a story and quests written by the same people who worked on Wild Hunt. I asked Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, principal narrative designer on Gwent and The Witcher 3, what to expect.

G

In terms of storytelling, what have you brought from The Witcher 3 to Gwent’s singleplayer mode?

BELOW: The familiar Gwent playing board.

50

Our universe has a very unique vibe. We have a grim and gritty approach to storytelling. So even when you meet important characters like kings or sorceresses or queens or whoever, they’re presented in a very specific way. They’re important people in this world and people fear and respect them, but they have flaws and insecurities like real people. Their motivations can be petty and sometimes they abuse their power. Gwent is fundamentally a game about building armies, so we had to change the way we tell the story. It’s not from the perspective of a lone, neutral

February 2017

monster hunter this time. Now we’re seeing the world through the eyes of world leaders and army generals. But they’re humans too, and it was important to us not to lose sight of this when we were writing the quests for Gwent. The Witcher 3 was praised for the variety and quality of its quests. Are you taking a similar approach to the quests in Gwent?

We never do filler quests. This was a rule we set for ourselves in The Witcher 3 from the very beginning, and we’re doing the same thing for Gwent. When we’re designing quests we ask ourselves if there’s a meaningful reason for it being there, or if it’s just there for the sake of it. A quest shouldn’t be there just to add an extra hour of gameplay. We want all of our quests to feel substantial and important to the player. If there’s one thing we learned from the release of Wild Hunt it’s that people really respond well to this approach to story and quest design. It’s a lot more work, and each quest has to go through a strict and unforgiving process. You have to drop ideas if


INTERVIEW Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz But it’s your choice whether you do them or not—and it might have consequences if you don’t. If a character joins your army who is, for example, a notorious bandit, another more honorable character might not like that. They might even leave. Same with ignoring someone’s request for help. They’ll join you for a while, but leave if you don’t help them out. But if you invest time in helping a character, they could become a stronger card in your deck. All the characters in your army are represented as cards, and your actions will have a meaningful impact on how each battle plays out. Do singleplayer and multiplayer share the same cards?

The singleplayer cards are different from the multiplayer cards, which gives us a lot more freedom. You’re not playing other people, so it can be balanced differently. We can present a different kind of challenge, like breaking the deck-building rules for example. When we prepare bosses or special opponents for you, we can do a lot of custom things. It’s similar to Hearthstone’s adventures in this respect. It’s an opportunity to try different kinds of gameplay and custom game mechanics that would totally break multiplayer. But in the campaign we don’t have to worry about that, because it’s a one-time thing.

“if you invest time in helping a character, they become a stronger card in your deck”

How will our story decisions affect the card battles?

they aren’t working or massively redesign them. But the quality of the game makes it all worth it in the end.

Things you do on the exploration map and choices you make can affect battles. Things like the weather changing, or if you take a path through a swamp, which means you can’t use your siege machines because they’re stuck in the mud. You can also gather resources and items which will improve your army. There will be more features like this, which have been designed to support the narrative, but they’re still in development.

How is the singleplayer campaign structured within the wider context of the Gwent game?

So if someone isn’t interested in the competitive multiplayer, they’ll still be able to get something out of it?

You start out with a small army, exploring an isometric map with a 3D avatar. You interact with objects that will sometimes trigger interactive events, and talk to people using a dialogue system with animated characters and voice acting. Some characters might join your army, but they have their own goals, and they might ask you to do specific things for them in return.

A lot of people are waiting for more stories from the Witcher universe, and this is exactly what we’re doing with this. Filling that void. Some players might not really be into card games, but I think it’ll still be enjoyable. I think the stories we’ve come up with for the campaign are interesting. I know I’d like to play it, and that’s what we do. We make games we want to play ourselves.

LEFT: Once Gwent gets its hooks into you, it’s hard to break free.

February 2017

51


Two Towers

The

By Hannah Dwan

The rise, fall and future of GMod Tower.

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February 2017


F E AT U R E

here’s never been anything quite like Garry’s Mod, and I’d hazard a guess at there never being anything like it ever again. It’s a mod of the Source engine, made to enable just about anyone to build, pose or simply mess around with its tools and tricks. It’s a freeform sandbox designed to let you do whatever you want.

block parT y dec 2006—SepT 2008 GMod Tower goes through multiple design iterations and concepts, as well as a number of teams.

At least, that’s it at the base level. On top of making it easy for players to toy around, it also gives modders a framework to work on new, often absurd ideas. Entirely original game modes have been created in Garry’s Mod, short films have been made with it—using players as actors, or even stop-motion. And it’s one of the most popular games on Steam. It celebrated its 10th birthday in November, and it has sold over 10 million copies. Since its release in 2006, Garry’s Mod has grown into a hub for a host of other games and weird concepts, primarily developed by fans and small teams. There’s one, though, that really took the cake in its size and ambition: GMod Tower. First publicly available in July 2009, GMod Tower had one primary aim: to create a large social space within Garry’s Mod where people could chat, play together, and generally create a community that would accommodate and welcome anyone. A hotel-style lobby for people to meet and chat, with the capability for the infinite rooms of an endless hotel tower. It was developed by PixelTail Games, a group based in Washington, but brought together contributors from around the globe. A team of four, working under the names MacDGuy, Mr Sunabouzu, Nican, and AzuiSleet,

were the ones that worked on the first public release of GMod Tower, after some years of people dropping in and out of the project. It was one of the most ambitious things ever made in Garry’s Mod, and was greeted with the success that sort of ambition often warrants. Mere hours after release, GMod Tower’s website hit two million views. It was far too popular—so much so that Garry’s Mod’s server limit was upped by its developers just to cope.

fully furnished

Featuring at launch a couple of minigames, a mode akin to Half-Life Deathmatch: Source and another not dissimilar to Super Monkey Ball, the

Mere hours after release, GMod tower’s website hit two Million views mod was already fleshed out. There were even movie nights: players could get together and watch streamed videos while hanging out in the tower’s lobby. Its popularity was perhaps one of GMod Tower’s many downfalls: it was a mod of a mod, made by a few fans that wanted to create something new. It didn’t have the support of a regular income through sales, nor the power of a massive development team. As 2011 rolled into 2012, GMod Tower shut down, closing its doors without any clear intention to return. As with any social space that is shut down, closed, or built over, those who had enjoyed inhabiting it were left disappointed. In the Steam group for GMod Tower, users asked where it had gone. The development team were pretty quiet. One Steam user summed up the prevailing mood, saying simply, “I want to play again in gmod tower :(”. Then, in April 2012, GMod Tower returned almost out of nowhere, with a

A brief timeline of GMod Tower ocTober 2008

GMod Tower begins full development.

J u ly 20 0 9

The first public release of GMod Tower is made available.

January 2012

PixelTail Games shuts GMod Tower down.

april 2012 The return of GMod Tower!

april 2015

Tower Unite announced.

april 2016

Tower Unite released on Early Access, GMod Tower shuts for good.

February 2017

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F E AT U R E host of updates. Almost like a version 2.0, it arrived to a fanfare from those who missed their hub, their place to talk. It did come with a caveat, however: it had not been profitable or sustainable for some months. Hosting the servers was costly, and the team didn’t want to rely upon microtransactions or adverts to fund it. And yet, GMod Tower came back with a bang. New features, a new and improved lobby map, and more. Over time, the game grew to having seven individual modes wrapped inside the tower. From minigolf to a game inspired by Mother 3, PixelTail Games remained committed, and the players recognized that, rewarding it with their love and support. With its re-release, the initial core ethos was reinforced: this was to be a social hub. Be nice, friendly, and kind, and you were welcomed with open arms into GMod Tower. What distinguished it from many other projects with similar ambitions to be welcoming to all was that it worked, and it worked tremendously. The vast majority of stories from players are of a positive community.

ABOVE: The Lobby was the tower’s main hanging out space.

telling storeys

For the game’s fifth anniversary, in 2014, the devs held a small raffle. There was one requirement for entry: you had to tell a story of your experience in GMod Tower. Some of these stories were over in just a couple of sentences, but many were filled with emotion and love. Over a hundred people told lengthy stories of their experiences, archived on the game’s forums.

BELOW: Two Yoshis, one Chell, a skeleton, and more. A typical Gmod Tower party.

People were naming the many friends they had made, even partners they met through it. GhostDj told of how an admin changed everyone’s player models to dogs for an evening, and they ran around barking like one big pack. Boltaction17 said they managed to get over 20 people to dance to The Safety Dance by Men Without Hats, and it just made them happy to see everyone coming together for something so fun and silly. One user, Davem322, simply ended their story with “We are a group. We are brothers and sisters. We are the Gmod Tower.” Over the years, PixelTail Games finished off a couple other projects in Garry’s Mod, from a horror map called Gm_Apartment to Elevator: Source, the one true elevator simulator. But behind

the scenes, they were working on something new. Something beyond GMod Tower: Tower Unite. A standalone release, Tower Unite would move the concept on from Garry’s Mod, and onto its own two feet, the idea being to create an entire game that encapsulated the ideals upon which GMod Tower had been built. Once Tower Unite was released on Steam in Early Access, however, GMod Tower had to go down. PixelTail Games couldn’t host both games, and Tower Unite was now their sole project. There were no official tools ever released for hosting your own tower—the only way to play was through the official server. That meant that once PixelTail Games took their server down, that was it for the original GMod Tower.

an adMin chanGed everyone’s Player Models to doGs for an eveninG I spoke to Macklin Guy, the founder of PixelTail Games, about GMod Tower, and moving on. As for why the company had to do so, “the Source engine and Garry’s Mod itself limited us our creations and ideas,” Guy told me. “It was a constant battle for us. We knew we had to expand past being a mod when we had to take advantage of undocumented features of Source’s level format just to get it running. A good chunk of the things we have done (and continue to do) in Tower Unite would never have been possible in Garry’s Mod.”


Garry’S ModeS

prop HunT

It’s hide and seek, but the hiders dont’t hide behind items from the map, they are them. Chairs, lamps, cars—you name it—hiding in plain sight.

The most popular modes of Garry’s Mod

Trouble in TerroriST Town

One to three players are traitors, and must kill the other players without getting killed themselves. Chaos ensues.

On top of being a force for good in the community, GMod Tower meant a lot to the dev team working on it, too. “The project fostered countless connections made by the community across the world. This had a massive effect on the lives of all of us. People would log on daily just to hang out with their friends.” Guy even met his wife on GMod Tower. They’ve been happily married for a year and a half. “Tower brought a lot of people together. Just being a small part of that has had a huge impact on all of us and is one of the catalysts that drives Tower Unite forward.” The tower closed down in April 2016, after just under seven years serving as Garry’s Mod’s largest social space. The PixelTails Games team said

darkrp

Ever wanted to roleplay your daily life? Be a cop, a mayor, or a doctor? DarkRP is all about that: just living a life, in a fictional world.

Murder

One person is a murderer and must kill everyone else with a knife. One bystander has a revolver to take them out. More chaos ensues.

their goodbyes too, through a video reminiscing about everything that had gone on in the tower. There is no longer a way to play GMod Tower. While all the relevant files are available on the Steam Workshop, without the server it’s impossible to play as intended. The customization systems are gone, game modes no longer function, and, most importantly, there’s no one around.

space to let

Every map is now a ghost town, a set of what once was in GMod Tower, a relic of the stories told by those who were there. Without the chatter of people having conversations around the place, the lounge is eerily quiet. Many people who played GMod Tower have moved on to Tower

TOP: Over 70 player models, plus accessories, ensured everyone looked unique.

Unite—it picked up over $73,000 in an Indiegogo campaign, and has received regular updates since entering Early Access. It’s distinctly similar to its predecessor, but Tower Unite also has its differences: it’s not a part of Garry’s Mod, and so lacks that infinitely wide variety of players to join in on the fun. Because of that, those previous stories are being left behind, but that’s so that others can create their own—so that a social space like this can flourish on its own. GMod Tower, like Garry’s Mod itself, might well be a flashpoint in games, never to be recreated the same way again. While other social games have found success, the broad and absurd appeal of Garry’s Mod meant millions of players could be introduced to a hub that would welcome them. It’s still fun to walk around that ghost town, and find the places where those stories took place. The roof where someone was going on a wild goose chase for an item, the cinema where people gathered to watch funny videos, or the fountain where players waved goodbye to the tower. I don’t think anyone will ever recreate GMod Tower; the stars aligned to make it such a welcoming place. But it’s heartwarming to look around the place that made so many people—of all creeds, cultures, and types—happy. You can’t call GMod Tower abandoned: it simply moved on. But the patch of virtual ground it was built on will remain special.

February 2017

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REVIEW

HOw we review

Wherever possible, we finish a game before finalizing 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.

Our scOring system explained 00%-10% A game of absolutely no value. Are you playing one of these games? Take 3d6 emotional damage. Examples Big Brother 11%-39% Yikes. Technically broken, or so fundamentally flawed that it’s ultimately not worth any time or money. Bad. Examples The War Z, 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, Painkiller: Hell & Damnation 60%-69% An interesting idea poorly expressed, or a derivative idea executed averagely. Comes with caveats. Examples SimCity, Just Cause 3, Blood Bowl 2 70%-79% Good, but not a classic. This score is a recommendation, just not a glowing one. Examples Broken Age, Batman: Arkham Knight 80%-89% A great game with exceptional moments or features, and touches of brilliance. Examples Elite: Dangerous, Soma, Fallout 4 90%-94% A compelling recommendation for most PC gamers. Ahead of its time and important to PC gaming. Examples MGS V, Rainbow Six Siege, Undertale

two’s company

If you’ve been reading this mag front-to-back, and haven’t skipped straight to this page in order to enjoy the tiny version of me that’s been trapped here by a wizard, you’ll already know that Dishonored 2 is our game of the year. Naturally that corresponds with a glowing review—a six-page celebration of Arkane’s smart escalation of systems and design. Dishonored 2 isn’t the only sequel that gets an unconditional recommendation. If Titanfall 2 wasn’t previously on your radar, now’s the time to pay attention. As Chris explains in his review, it’s one of the best shooters of the year— with more than a hint of Half-Life 2 in its DNA. In other news, I’ve reviewed Hitman for the seventh (and final) time. I’m free at last, at least until IO starts working on Season Two.

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.

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FEBRUARY 2017

PHIL SAVAGE DEPUTY EDITOR

phil.savage@futurenet.com


YOUR COMPLETE GUIDE TO RPGs

F E AT U R I N G

The compleTe hisTory

Where nexT for rpGs?

The WiTcher 3’s BesT QUesT

ON SALE NOW!

The elDer scrolls


REVIEW Dishonored 2

“as good as iTs predecessor, and frequenTly beTTer” 58

February 2017


REVIEW

public emily #1 There’s a new king of immersive sims. It’s DishonoreD 2. By Phil Savage

T

he most dismissive thing I can say about Dishonored 2 is that it’s a lot like Dishonored—one of my favorite games of all time. At its worst, it offers a similar experience to its predecessor, which is to say, it offers tens of hours of extraordinary first-person stealth and action. Frequently, Dishonored 2 does more than that. While the moment-to-moment experience is broadly the same, the whole thing is elevated by both small, crucial details and big set-piece missions. Put simply: it’s brilliant. bullet. Emily and Corvo have magical Set 15 years after the events of the murder powers, granted by the first game, Dishonored 2 follows either Empress Emily Kaldwin or her mysterious Outsider—think Star Trek’s Q if he’d grown up listening to father, Corvo Attano. Emily is My Chemical Romance. Emily and deposed, on the anniversary of her Corvo have different sets of abilities, mother’s assassination, after a coup but you won’t be able to fully upgrade by the Duke of Serkonos. You, as all of them. Dishonored 2, like all great either Emily or Corvo—a choice immersive sims, is made at the start of the about choice and game—must escape Dunwall and travel to like all great consequence. Where do you go? What do the southern city of immersive do? Which Karnaca, the home of sims, it’s about you eldritch horror do you the Duke’s cabal of choice and inflict on that poor, conspirators. I’m deliberately skipping consequence unsuspecting guard? You can trace over a lot of plot, but Dishonored 2’s lineage the upshot is what back to Looking Glass and Ion Storm, you’d expect: a hit list of traitors to and the design philosophies of games murder or disable, this time with the such as Thief and Deus Ex. It’s not goal of taking back the throne. just that this is a first-person game As in Dishonored, your targets are that lets you choose between people of means. They’re protected, sneaking or combat, between and getting to them requires either a lethality or pacifism. The legacy of lot of sneaking, a lot of stabbing, or a these early-2000s classics is of worlds lot of stopping time, possessing the that follow consistent rules, allowing guard who just tried to shoot you, you to plan your actions safe in the and walking him in front of his own

h e a D s o f s tat e Will you play Empress or Protector? Corvo Can summon wind Can summon rats Teleportation Good stubble Can stop time, attach a spring razor mine to a guard’s back, then teleport-kick him into his buddies, eviscerating them

e m i ly Can turn into a shadow monster Can create clones Parkour tentacle Good dress sense Can link guards, then use Far Reach to grab and pull one into a rewired Wall of Light, incinerating them all

neeD to Know What Is It? A Thief-like immersive sim about magical assassins. EXPECt tO PaY $60 DEVElOPER Arkane Studios PublIshER Bethesda Softworks REVIEWED On GTX 1070, i5-6600K, 16GB RAM MultIPlaYER None lInk www.dishonored.com

knowledge that things will either work as they should, or go hilariously wrong for reasons that, in hindsight, make sense. I’m surprised, for example, when a guard is immolated after I shoot him with a sleep dart. But it happens for a reason. In Dishonored 2, certain bottles of alcohol burst into flame when smashed—a trick useful for burning down the nests of Karnaca’s parasitic bloodflies. This is a universal rule that exists outside of the player’s direct involvement—a rule that can trigger when, for instance, a recently tranquilized guard drops their drinking glass onto a bottle. It’s not about realism—this is a game in which one of the main characters has a parkour tentacle— but it works, and feels immersive, because everything has its own defining laws within the fiction. The biggest joy of Dishonored 2 is in discovering these systems, and manipulating them to your own ends. That wouldn’t work if you couldn’t trust in its simulation of the world.

missing in action

Having played through the game once, and after replaying a couple of sections to try alternate solutions, I trust Dishonored 2’s simulation. It knows what its players will try, and always seems to have an answer. The first time I played the opening mission, I killed my target. Later, a guard announced to his men that their leader was dead. The second time through, I again killed my target, but hid his body in a secret room, locking the door behind me. This time, the guard announced that their leader was missing. With no way to access the room containing his corpse, his fate remained a mystery. It’s a tiny thing—a single voice line—but it builds that trust. It would make sense for the game to treat dead or alive as a binary state, but Dishonored 2 knows that these details are important. It respects your ingenuity, acknowledging when you’ve done something clever. This is February 2017

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REVIEW

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m o r a l i t y P l ay How your tools help define your style ste alth

lethal

non-lethal

Dishonored 2’s changes, they’re taken to the extreme during a later designed to give more options to mission, A Crack In The Slab. I’ll be non-lethal players. Howling bolts aggravatingly vague to avoid spoilers, but an act of petty revenge resulted in blind and deafen enemies, while stinging bolts cause them to flee in a change so far outside my agonising pain. More than ever, expectations that I can’t help but Dishonored 2 realizes that stealth and marvel. This isn’t an objective, nor non-lethal options aren’t one and the even something hinted at by the same, and takes steps to provide tools game’s achievements, but it’s that cater to both methods. something possible—arguably even You can kill silently, sneak by obvious—within that mission’s undetected, burst into a room and conceit, and the payoff is impressive render everyone unconscious, or for something so few people will see. murder everything in a cacophony of Abilities, too, have their rules grenades, guns and rat swarms. This within the world. I played as Emily, is reflected in direct combat, too. whose power set feels tailored for Swordplay is no longer a fight to the sitting and thinking through the death. Parry an attack, and you have possibilities of your approach. Her the option to disable your opponent best power, Domino, lets you link with a chokehold. It won’t work if multiple characters together. What happens to one then happens to them you’re surrounded, but there are all. Choke out one, and the others fall other options for that and, once again, they aren’t all lethal. asleep. Stab one, and the others drop I enjoy stealth, but play stealth dead. Emily also has a power called games in the most infuriating way— Mesmerise, which, when fully quickloading the moment I’m upgraded, can hypnotize up to three spotted. Here, though, it turns out I people, letting you pass by unseen. like playing non-lethally. I’m fine The limitation of Mesmerise is with being spotted, as that often a room will long as everybody is contain more than three people, and the many changes incapacitated with head still others will be alerted are designed to their attached and their by the gibberish of give more miscellaneous viscera their hypnotized options to non- intact. In one mission I friends. But if Mesmerise is an effect lethal players was spotted more than 20 times, something I applied to a person, would have balked at then can’t it be in the original Dishonored. Here, it transmitted via Domino? Sure was a number that reflected some enough, it can. Thanks to this, I’m panicked action sequence, a liberal able to set up great chains of hypnotized guards—strolling through use of sleep darts, and a cool shadow walk power that lets you render a busier rooms without a care. target unconscious with a quick tendril to the head. see emily play If Emily has the more Another power, Doppelganger, manipulative powerset, Corvo is your enables Emily to create a clone of herself that distracts guards. It, too, is man for getting into a fight. Possession is a great, broad stealth a physical humanoid entity, and so it, ability with applications outside of too, can be linked with Domino. combat, but Windblast is a boon for That’s bad news for any linked crowd control, and Devouring guards that catch up to and shoot the Swarm is a literal, lethal swarm of clone. I love this stuff. While each devouring rats. While Corvo’s base power has its own, basic use, the powers are the same as those implications of the systems create so available in the original game, each many possibilities when they’re used now has multiple upgrade options. in combination. Blink—the short-range teleport that In addition to powers, Emily and is the bread-and-butter of your Corvo have a multitude of weapons traversal options—can be upgraded and tools. Many will be familiar to for a longer distance, but also players of Dishonored, from the pistol to knock down enemies if and crossbow, to the spring razor Corvo blinks into them. Far mines that shred any enemy Reach, Emily’s parkour tentacle, unfortunate enough to get near. The functions almost identically, except crossbow gets a couple of additional that its upgrade lets you pull enemies bolt types, and like many of

as sault sPring razor

Violent murder-shrapnel. Not stealthy.

stun mine

Incapacitate enemies with electricity.

sleeP Dart

Shoot your enemies into nap time.

howling Bolt

Causes blindness, deafness and shouting.

stinging Bolt

Inflicts agony and memory loss. Jesus, Corvo.

inCenDiary Bolt

Immolates your foe, you sick monster.

towards you, killing or knocking them unconscious in mid-air. What powers you chose to upgrade should be defined by your emerging playstyle. If you want to take out multiple enemies at once, go for Doppelganger’s final upgrade— two clones of Emily who’ll fight alongside her. If you want the breathing space to escape a bad situation, Corvo’s Bend Time can, with its final upgrade, pause the action entirely. Each mission has an objective, and usually a prescribed solution to let you complete it non-lethally, but the route to that point is a systemic sandbox of possibilities. More importantly, those interactions feel good. Swordfighting is basic, but can be enlivened with some creative motion—sprinting, sliding and jumping to maximize a sort of frenetic survivability. Stealth is considered and satisfying, and imbued with the thrill of unpredictability—the guards feel less robotic, thanks to the natural fluidity of their pathing.


REVIEW Dishonored 2 Domino can make short work of up to four NPCs.

You know it’s a good immersive sim when you can peek in rooms.

Dishonored is a series about sad men on boats.

The Clockwork Mansion is a standout level.

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REVIEW Dishonored 2 It wouldn’t be a conspiracy without red string.

The whale population is dwindling. This is why. Mesmerize is a weird looking power. Hypnotic, almost.

Corvo is looking about 40% more dad these days.

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Then there’s climbing, which, as in Dishonored, is a delight. It’s a How to waste three hours in one mission pleasure to leap from balcony to balcony, either using Blink or Far 5 5 20 10 20 40 15 35 20 10 Reach, or putting your trust in the mantling system. Dishonored 2’s environments feel huge, and part of 5 minutes: Finding the Black Market 40 minutes: More houses that is how vertical each location can 5 minutes: Shopping at the Black Market 15 minutes: Methodically clearing bloodflies from a house be. Not every building can be 20 minutes: Figuring out how to rob the Black Market 35 minutes: Finding and killing the target explored, but there are enough 10 minutes: I wonder what’s in that house? 20 minutes: Tracking down runes and bonecharms balconies and rooftops to create 20 minutes: Ooh, a sidequest! 10 minutes: Yet more houses winding routes overhead. This is just one of the ways Dishonored 2 distinguishes itself from the recent Even on a higher level, the writing introspection? The protagonists often Deus Ex: Mankind Divided. That think in broad, crude strokes, at odds game did stealth well, but many of its feels more nuanced and subtle than in the original game. Things were with the subtleties of the people primary methods of traversal felt less rarely black or white in Dishonored, around them. polished, and the levels, while large but here the motives often feel more This is one of only a few, minor and open, didn’t have the same sense desperate—there’s a sense that the complaints that I have. (Another of scale found here. inequalities of this world have forced being that the new lean system is a Where Dunwall was a caricature people into a corner. This also applies bit awkward, requiring that you hold of Victorian London, Karnaca is to your targets. They’ve done bad down the Alt-key for fine control, and southern Europe. It’s bright and things for bad reasons, but the route even then often not working as sunny, with attractive buildings smoothly as I’d like.) Fortunately, my sprawling across hills overlooking the of their choices is often something more sympathetically tragic. other major complaint has since been glistening water. And yet, while a While Karnaca has an aesthetic fixed. The launch version of stark contrast to the gray, drab theme, each level offers something Dishonored 2 was a mess, with Dunwall, it’s no less dark or grimy. new—either visually, performance problems resulting in Landing at the docks, thematically, or, in the low framerates and control issues— your first sight is a long best cases, systemically. even on a GTX 970. The patch, channel of blood, scratch the The two standout released a week after launch, seems winding down from the surface and missions, The to have done the trick. Dishonored 2 fisheries and out to the you’ll find Clockwork Mansion is still demanding—you’ll need a ocean. Quarantined squalor and and A Crack In The powerful PC to get the most out of buildings are covered Slab, are fascinating— it—but it is at least now playable for in sheets, warning suffering the former taking those not comfortably above its people of the deadly stealth exploration and recommended hardware bloodfly infestations requirements. This is still not within. Even the brickwork is stained pathfinding to an ingenious extreme; the latter committing the cardinal sin acceptable. Even in a world of Steam and grubby. The beauty is a facade. of restricting your abilities, but more refunds, it shouldn’t be too much to Scratch the surface and you’ll find than making up for it with a strong ask for a game to work on release. squalor and suffering. central hook applied masterfully in I’m happy it’s fixed, because That’s a premise reflected in the both presentation and execution. Dishonored 2 is a game I want to writing, too—one of Dishonored 2’s Both were shown off in pre-release celebrate. It’s easily as good as its strongest elements. The world is full predecessor, and frequently better. As of notes and diaries, often referring to videos, but I won’t reveal their central mechanics on the off-chance much as I’ve delved into the specifics characters who appear over multiple of each individual system, what missions. There are individual stories that you avoided such spoilers. makes Dishonored 2 so exceptional is of love, heartbreak, triumph and how they’re all connected. The failure, and larger, more detailed left unsaid writing sheds light on the world, explorations of choices and their Dishonored 2 is also a story about its which sheds light on the systems, consequence. There’s a lot to read, if protagonists, who here are more than which sheds light on the you want to engage with the deeper just vessels for the player. In environments and characters. For stories of this world. And if you don’t, Dishonored, Corvo was ultimately a everything that works in isolation, there’s a lot to loot. I mentioned cypher whose personality was the real trick is that Dishonored 2 Dishonored 2’s Thief lineage, but the expressed through action. That feels unified—a powerful piece of direct comparison is that much of my comes across here, too, but Emily is world building where everything time was spent poking into people’s also a character with a proper story happens for a reason. drawers and cupboards looking for arc. Although that said, some of the things to sell. A black market is internal dialog isn’t as revealing as I’d available on each level where you can have liked. Often, it’s short VERDICt spend this coin, but for me illicit statements—sometimes limited to A rich, detailed world, finance wasn’t the attraction. It’s just just saying the name of the tense stealth and frenetic incredibly satisfying to systematically conspirator whose portrait I’m action. Dishonored 2 is up there with the best work through a building, tracking inspecting. Surely the actions of these immersive sims. down its valuables. characters warrant a bit more

time out

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Dark SiDe Bolstered by incredible writing, TyrAnny’s flaws keep it from becoming a classic. By Steven Messner

T

he story of Tyranny is of delightfully mythic proportions. Within ten minutes, I ushered forth a volcano in a library full of forbidden texts, condemning a civilization’s history and knowledge to the flames. Like that volcano, the power fantasy central to my character’s story is earth-shattering. The trope of hero rising against adversity to claim their destiny is common in RPGs, but Tyranny flips that concept on its head: I’m no hero.

nEEd To Know What is it? A callback to classic RPGs with a lust for being evil. EXPECt tO PaY $45

of personalities hell-bent on sowing When Obsidian Entertainment DEvElOPEr Obsidian chaos. These generals are like released Pillars of Eternity in 2015, Entertainment bickering, demigod siblings, and their it showed that its talents were best rivalry is the main source of tension used on original stories. That’s still PublishEr Paradox Interactive across Tyranny’s 30-hour campaign. true for Tyranny, but a host of flaws, Everyone else occupies shades of such as repetitive combat and rEviEWED On moral grey that often frustratingly limited Windows 10, i5 3570k, 16GB RAM, GTX 970 made me both like and choices during pivotal We talked despise them. Obsidian moments, keep it from MultiPlaYEr has an incredible talent reaching full potential. None about his for writing nuanced Like that volcano, link inability to characters and I felt Tyranny’s premise is www.tyrannygame.com have sex or genuinely connected as destructive as it is to every one of empowering. One masturbate my companions. kingdom stands alone Barik, a noble against supreme Disfavored soldier trapped inside a overlord Kyros and her empire, but suit of slowly rusting armor, is one of it’s not just her armies they have to the more tragic characters. Unable to fear. Magical contracts known as remove any piece of his steel skin, Edicts ravage the kingdom, raising he’s forced to shit and piss on cities and poisoning prairies. The himself. At one point, we even had a instruments of that destruction are the Fatebinders, government agents who act as judge, jury and executioner while proclaiming Kyros’ Edicts and condemning entire Get to know Tyranny’s civilizations to ruin. They’re as three main Archons by their dating profiles ruthless as they are intelligent, so it’s only natural that you play as one. There’s no clichéd good versus evil struggle at the heart of Tyranny, but there is a dichotomy of order versus chaos—each represented by Kyros’ two armies that I, as a ThE VoicEs of Gr AVEn AshE Tunon Fatebinder, must mediate between. nEr AT Archon of wAr Archon of The elite Disfavored value discipline Archon of JusTicE “Ignore my stern and brotherhood, while the barbaric sEcrETs “I’m your average disposition, I’m really hordes of the Scarlet Chorus thrive “I’m a whole guy. Who wears a big softie who just collection of minds different masks wants to be called on chaos and infighting. Leading I’ve stolen and depending on mood. ‘Dada’. I travel a lot each army is a powerful Archon who incorporated into my I work long hours: for war—I mean personifies the qualities of each force. being. Hope you like people won’t work—and you Graven Ashe, Archon of War and mood swings.” shouldn’t mind kids. I sentence themselves commander of the Disfavored, is one Likes: Impaling to death.” have an army of ’em.” people on spikes, Likes: Banging Likes: Giving part uncompromising asshole and torture, deep gavels, polishing orders, oiling my one part loving father to each of his conversations masks, proclaiming beard, cruelly soldiers. Conversely, The Voices of with myself. loyalty to Kyros. executing POWs. Nerat is a monstrous amalgamation

E-Archonomy

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sobering conversation about his inability to have sex or masturbate, a glimpse into Barik’s living hell. Sadly though, Tyranny had little interest in resolving the problems of any of my companions. Beyond the context they add to the world and my decisions, they grow and change little. I find it so disappointing because it only takes a few minutes conversing with each one to realize how much potential Tyranny completely ignores. If companions like Barik were afforded loyalty missions or more involved side stories, they could easily rival the genre’s most memorable.

Separate worldviewS

As an agent of an empire that’s unquestionably brutal, Tyranny has no room for arbitrary moral systems seen in other RPGs like Mass Effect. Instead, a complex reputation system where every action decides how specific factions and characters think of me. What one faction sees as cruel, another sees as authoritative. Each faction and companion has two independent metrics to gauge their opinion of me, one positive and one negative. One of my companions, Verse, was unquestionably loyal to me because of my penchant for chaos, but she also feared me because of my cruelty. Tragically, as much as I sympathized with Barik, our separate worldviews led him to fear and hate me outright. It’s a nuanced system that wonderfully complements Tyranny’s moral relativism and allows for complicated relationships beyond mere good and evil. Part of what makes this system so fantastic is the intricate way it ties into the skill system. While Tyranny mostly adheres to the combat system of Pillars of Eternity, character progression resembles Skyrim more than Dungeons & Dragons. Instead of selecting a class, I choose which skills and weapons I want to use, but I’m free to switch it up whenever, and my character grows organically depending on what weapons and


rEviEW Tyranny Mystical glowing crystals? Check. Random traps? Check. Yup, it’s an RPG all right.

Some Archon’s are big, some are small, and some are purple laser-shooting giants. Tunon is your boss, and like any boss, you want to avoid meeting him one on one at all costs.

The hair straighteners had been a success beyond all expectation.

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rEviEW Tyranny The ‘Beam me up Scotty’ trick works a treat for awkward situations.

Towering spires act as a headquarters where you can look down on all the mayhem you’ve caused.

The Scarlet Chorus have a fondness for sending you out on suicide missions.

Energy-saving lightbulbs are getting increasingly quirky.

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spells I prioritize. It’s a great system because it allows me to experiment A moral person’s descent into malevolence with and change combat style without having to start a new game. wicKEdnEss But it’s the reputation I have with “Everyone against me killing this baby every character and faction that adds please raise your “You have two flavour to my Fatebinder. Every hand. Guards? options: bow to me companion and faction reputation “It’s for the “How about we Kill them.” as your overlord or greater good ... It’s meter unlocks new abilities in don’t make the kitten gets it.” for the greater prisoner’s bash combat. By reaching certain levels of good ...” each other’s heads loyalty or fear with each companion in with rocks?” in my group, I unlock special “What if I just cut off a little bit of his skin though?” team-up abilities that let us execute TimE (hours) devastating attacks. 0 5 10 15 20 25 30 Another system allowed me to create my own spells using special insignias discovered while exploring. That momentum continues to for boring combat. It’s a testament to Each spell has a base, determining its build, pointing to a very exciting core element like fire, but expressions Obsidian’s vivid writing that I was conclusion that had me desperate to invested in what was happening from change the pattern of the spell, like see it unfold. And then, just on the the beginning until the final credits, shooting a fireball or unleashing cusp of that climax, when all of those despite glaring flaws. flames across an area of effect. sacrifices and awful decisions are As good as the story can be at Further properties can also be coming to a head, Tyranny squanders times, though, it also has a nasty habit defined by tertiary accents, like it on a cliffhanger. I head into a menu of forcing me to make big decisions increasing range or damage. Having screen, make a single, inconsequential without understanding the so much control over spellcasting decision. And that’s it, the story ends. implications—and then denying me a adds a great deal of depth, and I chance to change my mind. Though I loved updating my spells as my chose to side with the character became more anticlimax Scarlet Chorus in the powerful. Along with That abrupt end is conflicting and prologue, I grew to the reputation and skill frustrating. On one hand, I’m excited it sets the despise their methods system, it’s a way that by the prospect of a sequel. On the stage for a final but never had a chance Tyranny demonstrates other, the ending feels so abrupt and battle, then to switch sides. At one that it isn’t simply unsatisfying—relieving none of the slams the point I sent an Villains of Eternity. pent up tension. It sets the stage for a important character to Sadly, while the skill final battle, then slams the door shut door shut meet with a certain system has all the right on the story, slips a half-hearted Archon. Unbeknownst ingredients, they’re summary of what happens next under to me at the time, this resulted in wasted on repetitive combat that it and the credits roll. their sudden and brutal execution. It rarely offers much of a challenge. It’s hard not to let an ending like became clear that this Archon would Fans who adore Pillars of Eternity that color my impressions of Tyranny. repeat his warm welcome with other for its demanding combat will be At the same time, my second notable characters I encountered, but disappointed as Tyranny pulls a playthrough has reminded me what a I was never given an option other Dragon Age II and simplifies things memorable journey it was before than to send each to their death. with middling results. Party size is everything deflated in service of That’s frustrating because, as a limited to just four characters and setting the stage for a sequel. Tyranny Fatebinder, I’m supposed to be friendly fire is nonexistent—greatly has fantastic ideas and its independent and above the Archons, reducing the need for proper worldbuilding is unparalleled, but not beneath them. It’s not always an positioning and strategy in combat. botches the execution, preventing it issue, but the pivotal moments when AI is also poor. On normal difficulty, from all coming together to form a it crops up strip away the agency I enemy parties will gladly let you axe modern classic. When the story isn’t have in the story. their feeble mages without protest pushing you to make specific Despite this, Tyranny still has and my own companions were liable decisions or bombarding you with great moments that coalesce into to make stupid decisions if I wasn’t repetitive combat, it feels like it could a well-told tale of rebellion and there to catch them. have rivalled the likes of Baldur’s betrayal, building a great deal of Because the story is grounded in Gate II or Planescape: Torment. It’s momentum heading into its war, most of the opponents I fought still worth playing, but Tyranny falls electrifying final act. Just when the were humans who fell into the same far short of the excellent standard set story couldn’t get any more tense, a basic archetypes. There are some by Pillars of Eternity. revelation pulls the rug out from subtleties in their differing abilities everything I thought I knew. I won’t depending on what faction they vErDiCt spoil anything, but Tyranny’s power belong to. But by the final hours I Repetitive combat fantasy is so well-realized in the latter was exhausted with fighting what and an abrupt ending half of the story that it changed my felt like the same handful of enemies spoil what would be entire perspective in the most again and again. Fortunately the a remarkable feat satisfying way. worldbuilding more than makes up of worldbuilding.

Join ThE dArK sidE

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TITAN YOUR SEATBELT TiTanfall 2 wall-runs up and over the competition. By Chris Thursten

T

itanfall 2’s excellence comes as a surprise, and I say that as somebody who loved the original despite its flaws. In that first attempt, Respawn created a set of traversal, gunplay and mech combat systems served well by their multiplayer framework. If it had been released in the late 1990s, we’d be talking about its wall-running, titan-hopping, knee-sliding combat in the same hushed terms reserved for Tribes’ skiing, or Quake’s rocket jumping.

need To Know What is it? A fast-paced FPS featuring parkour, sci-fi gadgets, and massive robot battlesuits.

section introduces a set of ideas, Instead, Titanfall was released in escalates them quickly, and then 2014. That meant it was burdened by moves on from them just as fast. As a community-sundering season passes result there’s a lot packed into the 6-7 and grinding unlock systems, bad hours it will take you to finish the practices that drove players away— campaign, with each section finding and that have been fortunately its own way to surprise you. abandoned for this sequel. You’ll engage in a running firefight Titanfall 2 is a very different game, through a massive factory that is but it has led me along a similar line throwing prefab colony of thought. If this were buildings together a game from the late 1990s or early 2000s, Resorting to around you as you go. You’ll perform a we’d likely look back at boring old landing the mission ‘Effect and running on the beachhead alongside a phalanx of Cause’ as one of the ground can feel allied titans. You’ll greats of the genre, a engage in mech duels one-off statement of like failure against a cast of imagination and mercenary titan pilots execution like pulled straight from an 1980s action BioShock’s Fort Frolic, Thief 3’s movie. And in Effect and Cause Cradle, or—and I can’t believe I’m you’ll... well, I won’t spoil it. about to make this comparison— If there’s anything holding Half‑Life 2’s We Don’t Go To Titanfall 2 back, it’s that not all its Ravenholm. It’s that good. I know— chapters are created equal. It has I’m surprised too. That one act really is a spectacular some good ideas, some great ideas, and one brilliant idea. And because of jewel in the game’s crown, and it’s the devs’ (laudable) willingness to remarkable because it’s a selfdrop an idea when they’ve used it up, contained experience. Titanfall 2 you might find yourself wishing some takes notes from the way Valve of these high concepts stuck around structured the Half‑Life series: each

EXPECt tO PaY $40 DEvElOPEr Respawn Entertainment PublishEr EA rEviEWED On Intel Core i7-6700K, Nvidia GTX 980, 16GB RAM MultiPlaYEr Online link www.titanfall.com

longer than others. Even during its less-inspired moments, however, the worst it gets is ‘very good shooter with very big robots’.

geared up

Titanfall 2 is built on rock-solid foundations. There are loads of weapons to try, from SMG staples to powerful shotgun pistols to gravity grenades and remote satchel charges. These feel and sound phenomenal— Respawn’s legacy as Infinity Ward, the people who invented Call of Duty, can be sensed in the simple kinetic pleasure of putting a target in your red-dot sight and pulling the trigger. This is coupled with the series’ brilliant traversal system of double jumps, wall-runs, slides, and powerful melee strikes. Shooting is a form of punctuation in Titanfall—it’s through movement that you really express yourself, to the point that resorting to boring old running on the ground can feel like failure. You’ve also got a short-duration cloaking device, gated by a cooldown, that lets you reposition in dangerous situations without needing to stop and hide. In a sense, Titanfall 2 uses cloaking and your freedom of movement to stand in for the bullet-sponge healthbar usually granted to first-person shooter protagonists. On the hardest difficulty setting you can’t actually take very much fire before you die: it’s fundamentally a game about not

H i , R o B o T Meet Titanfall’s class of 2016

ion

An unassuming generalist with a powerful chest-mounted laser cannon. Whatever you do, don’t call it “Ian”.

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ScoRcH

Firey area-denial from a heavy titan with a decent spread of defensive powers. Terrifying at close range.

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noRTHSTaR

A jetpack-equipped sniper that can tie enemies down with snares while it bravely runs away.

Ronin

A teenager-approved shotgun titan with a massive electric sword. Misunderstood by its peers.

Tone

Powerful explosive rounds and a huge deployable shield make this a popular choice for Last Titan Standing.

legion

A gentlemanly powerhouse. It’s not fast, but its chaingun can be calibrated for short and long range.


rEviEW Titanfall 2 Titans evoke a fantastic sense of power.

The bum-slide: mankind’s deadliest combat technique.

There’s more going on in this level than meets the eye.

Titan-on-titan combat is a game by itself.

The local fauna isn’t all too fond of you.

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rEviEW Titanfall 2

There’s a little bit of heart in Titanfall 2. When it wants to be CoD, it’s very good CoD.

These lizard-bat-things return from Titanfall 1.

It feels great to pull off a titan execution in multiplayer.

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This is BT. I wish he was my best friend.


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Titanfall’s systems are perfect for taking any fire at all. You are the CTF, a mode now out of favor among three-way lovechild of BJ developers. I’m glad Respawn chose Blazkowicz, the Predator, and Faith to move against the current. I’ve from Mirror’s Edge. Try not to think called in titans to disrupt enemy about that too much. defenders ahead of a flag-run and The story is above-average given chase to a fleeing capper with triple-A action fare, punching above grappling hook and jetpack. I’ve its weight in terms of spectacle and always preferred this type of managing to fit in a few decent jokes teamplay to pure deathmatch or the amid the battle-talk. The central map-spanning grind of Battlefield. dynamic between protagonist Jack In Titanfall, every player matters Cooper and the titan he is and every system encourages unexpectedly bonded with, BT, is teamwork. The old concept of perfectly enjoyable—The Iron Giant ‘rodeo’—where a player can mantle a with killstreaks. It might not stick with you long after the credits roll, titan to cripple it—has been but the strength of the campaign as a reworked. Now, leaping on a titan whole is enough to make me want to causes you to rip out their battery, spend more time in this world, to disrupting their shield and exposing find out what other unexpected them to further damage (on a second ingredients Respawn can introduce leap, you’ll drop a grenade down the to the formula of man plus robot plus battery hole). It goes deeper than guns plus parkour. that, however: batteries are kept If Titanfall 2’s singleplayer by the pilot that took them, and surprises with quality, its multiplayer can be plugged into allied titans to surprises with the amount that has repair them. changed. All the same ideas return, I love this kind of design because from freerunning pilots to titan it adds depth to competitive play calldowns to NPC while reliably creating minions and limitedmemorable moments. use power spikes, but It’d be such a During one close game each has been I yelled at a friend to shame if rethought. It is as if eject from his Titanfall failed not Respawn laid out doomed titan because I to retain its Titanfall on a table, had a battery—I could took it to pieces, and audience again save him! Grappling up figured out how to the side of a building make a new game with and wall-running onto the same essential parts. his hull as he withdrew from the line It’s extremely fast-paced and of fire, I felt like a hero. I have also highly lethal, with grappling hooks, disembarked from my titan, chased speed boosts and phase-shift abilities down and killed the player who took raising the skill ceiling of movement. my battery, and plugged it back in An old-school degree of finesse is again—thank you very much. It felt possible here, and when you watch like getting revenge on a mugger. from the perspective of a good There’s an unlock system, but it’s player—usually via the kill cam after well-conceived and very generous. You’re always being showered with they’ve killed you—you’ll realize just new stuff, and it’s as lizard-brainhow much skill it’s possible to tickling as you’d expect. You can express by carefully chaining slides, access level-restricted unlocks early jumps and wall-runs. Think Tribes. with an upgrade currency, and you’re even given a stock of it the first time rules of engagement you log in. This is very welcome, There are familiar point-capture, deathmatch and titan warfare modes, allowing you to pick your favorite though many feature tweaks that take titans straight away. There are also cosmetic items of a little getting used to. One example every sort, from logos to animations is Bounty Hunt, a combination of to gun skins to titan skins. Yet deathmatch, marked target hunting Titanfall 2 has no microtransactions and point-capture that sees teams and no season pass. There are many race to collect bounties and deposit hooks for the former to be added them in periodically available banks. later, but they’ve guaranteed that all It’s a little overcomplicated, but future maps and modes will be impressive in that it crams almost all free—this is a big deal, because the of Titanfall’s competitive structures into a single mode. community-dividing impact of the

MecH a diffeRence Three more unusual multiplayer modes

1 BounTy HunT

A mad mix of other modes. Rack up kills for cash and get to the bank before it closes. It’s satisfying to take down a valuable target, and even more so to safely deposit the cash in a savings account.

2 lS aT aS nT dTiinT ga n

Round-based, titan-only team deathmatch with no respawns. Strategic, and proof that Titanfall 2 works as a pure mech combat game, parkour be damned.

3 coliSeuM

Gamble merits (in-game upgrade currency) on a best-of-three rocket duel in a basic arena against one other player. It’s a cameo appearance by old-school, Quake-style deathmatch.

first game’s season pass accelerated the loss of its player population. Respawn has done everything it can to avoid that fate this time, from forgoing exorbitant extra fees to packing in a best-in-class singleplayer campaign. I would not be surprised if we look back on Titanfall 2 as one of the best shooters of its time. I’m concerned, however, that we’ll also remember it as an underground favorite rather than the hit it deserves to be. It’d be such a shame if Titanfall failed to retain its audience again, simply because it came out between Battlefield and Call of Duty. There’s a danger of that, however, and it affects the value proposition of Titanfall 2’s excellent multiplayer in the months to come. But it doesn’t change a thing about the singleplayer. This is a game that takes some of the most familiar vocabulary in this hobby—run, jump, shoot, spaceship, robot, alien dog—and finds ways to surprise you with each of them. When it comes down to it, that’s what Titanfall 2 deserves to be remembered for. vErDiCt A brilliant singleplayer campaign married to inventive, skill-intensive multiplayer that harks back to FPS classics. February 2017

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rEviEW

Serial Killer Six episodes later, was Hitman: tHe Complete First season worth it? By Phil Savage

L

ike many, I was surprised when Hitman was announced as episodic. Surprised, but not worried. Story has never been the main focus of Hitman. That changed for Absolution and I—like many series fans—didn’t much care for it. In releasing each mission individually, IO seemed to be signaling this new Hitman was again a standalone series of sandbox murder playgrounds. Everything good about Blood Money, but bigger and with more options. Disguise yourself as a waiter, and Looking back, that’s pretty much you’ll have access to more of the level what we got. Hitman, like Blood than a member of the public. Money before it, does have a story, Disguise yourself as a security guard, but it’s a tale told in the margins—in and your access expands further still. post-mission cutscenes, overheard Disguises have been one of the dialogue and, later on, specific series’ defining features since its mission objectives that nonetheless inception, but Hitman follow the regular offers perhaps the most template. That’s good, because the template You can only elegant implementation date. Instead of works. There is a be discovered to Blood Money’s opaque target, or two, or four, by specific and seemingly arbitrary each with their own NPCs of the suspicion meter, here routes and security. you can only be Your job, as bald killer same type discovered by specific clone 47, is to NPCs of the same type. assassinate them. In certain cases the system requires You can, in many cases, just shoot some suspension of disbelief—it’s not your target and run away, hoping to always clear why some guards can reach the exit before the security recognize their colleagues when so team surrounds you. Doing so would many others cannot. However, the be valid, but messy. 47 is a pro, and transparency is certainly welcome, that means getting in and out with ensuring you can circumnavigate the minimum of fuss. Shootouts can these characters in an effort to be lethal—47 is far from invincible— remain undetected. but Hitman’s most satisfying But it’s not just a case of using challenge is taking out targets disguises to get to a target. You must without being recognized. This is also figure out how you’re going to where disguises come in. 47 can take kill them. Again: you have a silenced clothes from unconscious (or dead) pistol, and it will do the job. NPCs, wearing them to blend in.

F i n a l d e s t i n at i o n

47’s busy itinerary

6

3

4 2 72

February 2017

What is it? Sandbox stealth about a clone who is good at killing. EXPECt tO PaY $60 DEvElOPEr IO Interactive PublishEr Square Enix rEviEWED On Windows 10, 16GB RAM, i5-6600K, GeForce GTX 1070 MultiPlaYEr None link www.hitman.com

Alternatively, you can take various tools into each mission, from guns and explosives, to lockpicks and a variety of poisons. Often, though, the most fiendish means of murder can be found within the level itself. 47 can rewire electric cables, loosen chandeliers, or tamper with gas heaters. And beyond the more generic options, each mission has its own tailored murder methods— called ‘Opportunities’.

opportunities knock

Opportunities allow you to manipulate your targets from their set routines, often fatally so. Similar in function to Blood Money’s accidents, they’re a powerful tool to either draw a target away from their security, or to lead them straight to their own demise. In Hitman, not only are there more per level, but they’re more formalized—letting you discover and track specific Opportunities based on overheard conversations or information found throughout the level. While Opportunities are invariably the most entertaining ends, and most directly buy into the fantasy of Hitman’s premise, they can also be overbearing. By default, Opportunites lead you, step by step, exactly where you need to go. If dropping a stuffed moose on some jerk requires a cameraman disguise, you’ll be told where to track one down. Arguably it means Hitman is more welcoming to

episode 1 paris, FranCe

episode 4 BangKoK, tHailand

episode 2 s a pie n z a , i ta ly

episode 5 Colorado, Usa

A smart progression of Blood Money’s ideas. 75%

1 5

need to Know

More good Hitman. 78%

Huge, open and beautiful. 85%

A welcome departure from previous episodes. 75%

episode 3 marraKesH, moroCCo

episode 6 HoKK aido, Japan

A murdering paradise. 81%

A confident and experimental end. 85%


rEviEW Hitman: The Complete First Season When all else fails, just shoot people.

Easy, 47, all he did was suggest the house red.

Fiber wire isn’t strictly necessary, but it is iconic.

Is this really the time for name calling?

The climbing system isn’t exactly Assassin’s Creed.

February 2017

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rEviEW Hitman: The Complete First Season A nice spot for a quaint murder vacation.

Typical delivery driver, mishandling packages.

47 had always struggled with the concept of hugging.

Me, after reviewing Hitman seven times.

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Also you can be a ninja, I guess.


rEviEW

newcomers. To my mind, though, such detailed direction undersells the satisfaction of the core experience. Fortunately, every element of the UI can be tweaked. Opportunities can be set to minimal, giving you only the broadest of objectives and leaving you to figure out the finer details. Or the objectives can be disabled entirely, challenging you to complete Opportunities more organically, using NPC dialogue and contextual hints. The result is the same—a jerk, dead by moose—but the feeling of accomplishment is far greater. My recommendation is to disable as many UI elements as you feel comfortable with before you first attempt each mission. Each Hitman mission is designed to be replayed, but you only get one chance at experiencing it for the first time. Turning off unnecessary hints forces you to stumble through these massive, intricate spaces, picking up items, searching for clues and seizing upon opportunities (note the lower-case ‘o’). I’m hesitant to say this is Hitman as it’s meant to be played—part of the appeal is how well the challenge scales. Nonetheless, the detail within each environment is such that Hitman is improved by the need for exploration.

the joy of six

IO has succeeded in making levels bigger than any previous Hitman. They’re dense, too, packed full of items and possibilities. Thematically, few of its environments are as strong as those of Blood Money—there’s nothing that feels quite as iconic as the suburban witness protection scheme, or the New Orleans Mardi Gras. Nevertheless, each of the six levels offers something slightly different. Paris takes place in an enormous mansion during a fashion show—layering access between public, staff, and the secret auction being held on the top floor. Sapienza is a vibrant and rustic town. Marrakesh is a contrast between the public unrest of the streets and the calm, minimalist interior of the Swedish consulate. The early missions are all different takes on a similar theme—usually there’s a big house involved. Later, though, IO starts to tweak and experiment with the formula. Colorado takes place on a farm full of mercenaries, and the entire area is marked as hostile. Hokkaido is set in a high-tech hospital, meaning 47 is

d e a d ly d e s i g n s

Coin

Throw it to distract guards, or have them think that you’re a bit of a simpleton.

The tools of the trade

letHal poison Vial

Drop it in someone’s drink. If they drink it, they die. Easy.

emetiC syringe

Inject someone and they’ll be overcome by a need to heave.

proximity explosiVe dUCK

Exploit man’s desire to probe rubber ducks.

remote aUdio distraCtion

An overengineered alternative to the coin. Typical Silicon Valley.

bills itself as a ‘World of unable to smuggle in items. These Assassination’, but the voices of that small shifts to the established formula can have a big effect—at least world are the same, no matter where you are. I didn’t find it too distracting, on your first run through. but then I’m more invested in Each level is designed to be Hitman as a systemic challenge. If replayed, either repeating a mission you’re looking for an immersive to find new methods, or taking on experience, the repetition of voices one of the Escalations—special will definitely damage that. Similarly, missions featuring alternate targets music repeats too. If, like me, you that evolve with new complications were a fan of the fantastic Jesper Kyd each time you complete them. As soundtracks of earlier such, every games, the score for environment is big and this Hitman is a intricate enough to it’s a well disappointment. support multiple made and Online functionality approaches, be it silent, entertaining is also awkwardly fiendish, or crazed successor to implemented, with axe-murderer. Marrakesh and Blood Money unlocks and challenge progress requiring an Bangkok are arguably internet connection. the weakest in this You can play offline, but you can’t aspect, but even they have plenty to carry an offline mission online or do. In the best spaces—Sapienza and vice-versa. You also can’t use your Hokkaido, specifically—I’ve happily unlocked items or alternate starting spent hours playing and replaying, locations while offline. None of the each time finding fun new tricks. online systems—the communityAs in Blood Money, the joy of created Contracts mode, nor the Hitman is in manipulating these one-time only Elusive Targets—are self-contained puzzle sandboxes. worth the downsides of this system. Strip away the theme and fantasy, Hitman never justifies its restrictions. and you’re left with a diorama of At least now you’re no longer kicked moving parts—a seemingly perfect directly back to the menu should system of loops, each intersecting to your connection drop. create a complex scene. It’s left to Issues aside, the actual design of you to decide how you want to break Hitman—the targets, environments it—whether it’s by surgically and challenges—is strong throughout removing key actors, or by violently its six episodes. Hitman isn’t perfect, smashing it all up with guns, bombs but it’s a well made and entertaining and a stuffed moose. This was the successor to Blood Money—a far cry formula the series had been slowly from the mistakes of Absolution, and perfecting, up until Absolution dialed a return to form for the series. it back in favor of smaller levels that fit a more prescribed narrative format. This new Hitman is bigger, vErDiCt denser and has more options. Confident design and a There are problems, though, some willingness to experiment of them caused by the episodic produce some of the structure. The biggest is the reuse of best missions of 47’s the same few voice actors. Hitman long career.

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rEviEW

The Special One Football Manager 2017 opts for evolution over revolution. By Paul Walker-Emig

W

hy did Leicester City draw attention from across the globe during their triumphant 2015/16 Premier League season? Why do Roma fans love Francesco Totti so dearly? It’s because, whether it’s the timeless tale of the underdog, or the hometown boy living the dream, soccer thrives on storytelling. Football Manager’s ability to capture that aspect of the beautiful game is what makes it such a success.

These stories are given their Though often described (not entirely power by virtue of the fact that your without merit) as a glorified decisions matter. Paying attention to spreadsheet, Football Manager’s fluctuations in form and changing deceptively barren bedrock of stats your team selection, or making a has proven to be fertile ground for tactical tweak to exploit a weakness the imagination to plant its seed, you’ve identified in an opponent, are bringing the game to life through the kinds of details rewarded with the tales we tell ourselves and our success, and it’s incredibly satisfying fellow managers about our successes to have the time you and failures. Indeed, spend drilling down you can find entire forums dedicated to it’s satisfying into stats to inform those decisions pay off. just such a purpose. to have the That your decisions That remains the case time spent matter in Football in Football Manager drilling into Manager isn’t new. 2017. The game continues to create the stats pay off What is new in Football Manager 2017 is the compulsion to share way that you are the kinds of stories that presented with the information you experienced soccer managers will be need to make those decisions, and familiar with. The inspired tactical how much easier it is to implement tweak that turned around a two goal them. Whereas in previous entries, deficit and delivered an extra-time an email in your virtual inbox winner. The rough diamond that you might send you spiraling off on a picked from obscurity and turned labyrinthine trek through menus and into a star. That non-league nonsub-menus, drop down boxes and entity that you transformed into sliders, you are now regularly a force to be reckoned with.

Fortune teller How simulated Brexit scenarios affect the game

need to Know What is it? An incredibly detailed soccer management sim that will consume your life. EXPECt tO PaY $50 DEvElOPEr Sports Interactive PublishEr Sega rEviEWED On (PC and laptop) i3-2120, AMD Radeon R9 270x, 8GB, Windows 10 MultiPlaYEr Yes link www.football manager.com

1 Hard brexit

You’ll struggle with young European talent thanks to the kind of work permit restrictions you already deal with for South American players.

2 SoFt brexit

Freedom of movement will be retained, so you can continue to poach young talent from abroad.

3 devolution

If Scotland devolves and you are managing a Scottish team, you still have permit-free access to European talent when building up your squad.

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February 2017

presented with clear and concise reports that can be acted on without leaving your inbox. Each report is subject specific —training, scouting, and so on—and is divided by sensible subheadings that make the information easily interpretable at a glance. Furthermore, each bit of advice from your backroom staff comes attached with the reason it’s being proposed, such as to scout a particular central midfielder because it’s a weakness in your squad, and, where practical, a tick box to click to action the advice. Lest you wonder why I’m getting so excited about a new report style, let me assure you that it makes a big difference to the way you play the game. Things you couldn’t be bothered to do, or would just forget about, now get done by virtue of the fact you don’t have to go out of your way to do them. Take the example of a player whose form has picked up: you now get an email pointing out they’ve been playing well and suggesting it might be worth praising the player. It’s something that would otherwise be easy to overlook, but as anyone who has tried to turn around the fortunes of a team low on confidence will know, the small morale boost the player will get from this is the kind of detail that can make all the difference. The improvements in the way the game presents information to you extends to match reports. Before games, you’ll get a pre-match report in your inbox with a handy graphic that displays your opposition’s formation in their last game, details on how and when they tend to score and concede goals, and other such info that you can use to inform your strategy. Post-game, you’ll get another report with a heat map that shows you what positions your players tended to take up, data on who made the most mistakes, a graphic to highlight your key passing combinations, and so on. While some of this information was already available in Football Manager 2016,


rEviEW Football Manager 2017 That moment when key scouting information pays dividends.

Give me those sweet stats‌

It’s not FIFA, but the match engine is respectably detailed.

Well, this has started badly.

February 2017

77


rEviEW Football Manager 2017 There’s no overhaul when it comes to tactical options.

Hector Bellerin: probably the best young full back in the game.

The stands tell the story of the glorious soccer my team plays.

That summer signing has paid off.

Sweet virtual success. Far easier than real achievement.

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February 2017


rEviEW

you wouldn’t necessarily know it unless you actively sought it out. Even then, the fact you had to, made it a nuisance. Now all that information is just there. It’s easy to interpret and it’s easy to action. In a game that’s all about decisionmaking, it makes all the difference. However, this might be a sticking point for some players: the best thing about Football Manager 2017 isn’t strictly new. It’s rather that the game is far better at presenting stuff that was already there. That streamlining and refinement does make the game easier to play, and by extension, more fun, particularly for newcomers or those who haven’t played for a few years. If you are a hardcore fan, however, who already knew where to find all those data points and statistics, whether you’ll see this year’s entry as a significant step forward is questionable. I’d wager that you’ll appreciate the interface improvements, but you might ask yourself whether that’s enough to justify forking out for a new entry.

bJ blazbilic

Football Manager’s new face-scanning tech in action Step 2

Hit generate and marvel at your beautiful creation. Some tweaks will be necessary, however.

Step 1

Select a photo of yourself, or one of Wolfenstein’s BJ Blazkowicz, and highlight the key facial features.

with other staff roles. This means you are left with little choice but to shrug your shoulders, pick someone at random, and let them get on with it. It’s also disappointing to see that nothing of note has been done to the press conference and player conversation systems, the weakest elements of the series for some time. Their inflexible and repetitive nature means you’ll quickly fall into the habit of selecting the same stock replies buffoonery There are some new The best thing you’ve been using for (sometimes to features, of course. But about Football years answer the same they lack substance. Manager 2017 question twice in one The new social media isn’t strictly interview) and will feed might deal a blow continue to feel what to your ego the first new to it you say often doesn’t time a fan takes you to matter. Given how task for a signing you frequently you find yourself are starting to have niggling doubts agonizing over the tiniest of about. Every time you do something, decisions, it is revealing that you pay your feed will be populated by some who think you are a genius and others little mind to any of the conversations that take place in the game. who think you’re a colossal buffoon. One other potential negative This probably quite accurately is that, unlike last year, Football replicates what it is like to be a real soccer manager, but the split nature of Manager Touch—the stripped-down, simplified version of the main your fanbase means you soon start to game—is no longer included in the ignore their comments. The social price (unless you pre-ordered, that media feed’s inclusion is necessary to is). However, perhaps the two reflect the way soccer is covered now, versions have two audiences, one but inconsequential when it comes to that wants the full experience and how you play the game. one that’s turned off by the main The same can be said of the new game’s complexity. staff roles of data analyst and sports The fantasy soccer inspired scientist, very much in vogue in the Fantasy Draft mode—where you and real sport. Like physios and coaches, your friend/s take turns drafting they are roles you need to fill, but players under the restrictions of a once you have, there’s no need to pre-agreed budget before competing think about them again. This may in a round robin, league, or knockout have been different if there was good competition—returns and now has reason to improve upon the staff singleplayer support. Multiplayer is you have as your club grows, but still where it’s at with this mode, but bizarrely, these new roles don’t have it’s a nice addition nonetheless. relevant stats highlighted when you Clearly, there are things I could are hiring them to tell you how good point to that Football Manager 2017 they are at their job, as is the case

Step 3

Pick yourself a lovely shirt and tie, perhaps a handlebar moustache, and you’re ready to go boss that technical area.

could improve on. But it’s still a fantastic game. The perennial strengths of the Football Manager series are all there. That ridiculously detailed database (so well researched that it’s had an influence on real player transfers) will still have you forming unnaturally strong bonds with “players” that are in reality nothing more than a collection of numbers. It will still have you shaking your fist in ecstatic celebration during the highs. And it will still leave you worrying about how to drag your team out the relegation zone on your morning commute during the lows. In other words, the game still tells great player-led stories. The greatest strength of Football Manager 2017 is that it removes the barriers between you and those stories. There is less time wasted clicking through menus and less occasion for you to feel like a loss is a result of something you forgot to do, rather than something you can accept as your own mistake. By improving how information is presented to you and making it easier to act upon, the game ensures that it’s the decisions you make that are important, not whether or not you know how to find the right menu to make them, or indeed whether you knew it was possible to make a particular choice in the first place. That’s precisely how it should be, and means that developer Sports Interactive has done a better job of addressing the sometimes daunting complexity of the series than it has done for some years. vErDiCt Not revolutionary. But a very well refined version of Football Manager that empowers the player with information. February 2017

85 79


rEviEW Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare If I just stay with this gorgeous vista, the war never has to begin.

Flying a Jackal is the best part of the game, but even it gets old. Zombies is fun, but there’s only one scenario right now.

STARRY BLIGHT A stifling campaign and poor multiplayer in Call of duty: INfINIte warfare. By Tyler Wilde

I

don’t think Call of Duty campaigns are supposed to be fun. If I’m reckless at all—like, say, having fun with my jetpack—my vision smears with strawberry jam, blurry and pulsing. My screen shakes, white text yells “get to cover” at me and I’m forced to the ground behind hunks of concrete and metal. And then I toss a grenade, which bounces off a squadmate’s calf. Friendly fire will not be tolerated, it says. Very little will be tolerated. Move weirdly so you’re hard to hit There are plenty of cool moments and aim true: only a second separates in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. you from a kill and eating dirt. But when I’m in control during the The new Frontline mode is my annual shooter’s campaign I feel favorite, but not many people are weak and ineffective. Many of the enemies can absorb a flurry of bullets playing it. As I write, I can’t get into a match. Team (even headshots often deathmatch is more just pop their helmets Even with the populated, but anytime off ) and inflict damage I’ve checked, Black Ops so quickly I have to stay push into has at least half as back, run from grenade science fiction, III many concurrent indicators, pop out of CoD hasn’t players as Infinite cover and shoot a little bit, then hide again. changed much Warfare. Compared to Overwatch, CS: GO, It’s not fun. It’s war: Payday 2, and Rainbow chaotic, fearful, deadly. Six Siege, Infinite Warfare is not a Even with the push deeper into well populated multiplayer at launch. science fiction, CoD hasn’t changed It also took me about five minutes much, except in the diminishing size to gather a public Zombies match— of its multiplayer population. CoD’s staple co-op horde mode— Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer remains the opposite of the campaign together. There’s one scenario to play at the moment, Spaceland, and it’s a in many ways: a zipping cyclone of satisfying Left 4 Dead-ish experience, bullets and bodies. Keep circling, campy and well-maintained. But it’s checking the minimap, aiming at the only one. corners, crouching and jumping. 80

February 2017

Need to KNow What is it? A sci-fi shooter spectacle in singleplayer, with twitchy multiplayer and co-op zombie shooting. EXPECt tO PaY $60 DEvElOPEr Infinity Ward PublishEr Activision rEviEWED On Windows 10, Intel Core i5-3570, 8GB RAM, Nvidia GTX Titan MultiPlaYEr Up to 18 players competitive, 4-player co-op in Zombies mode link www.callofduty.com/ infinitewarfare

Even if the campaign isn’t much fun and the multiplayer follows the ‘more is better’ approach of the past nine years, Infinite Warfare is a hell of a spectacle. It has some of the coolest scenes I’ve ever seen in a videogame. Skydiving to Europa. Careening over a crater in a moon buggy, with big blue Earth hanging in the sky, explosions all around. I never tired of watching entire enemy squads get sucked into space when we blasted their windows.

bombastic grind

But those bombastic action scenes pair oddly with Infinite Warfare’s stifling play. Soldiers can both leap through space with ripped suits and be killed by an exploding car they walked too close to. When the big set-pieces and bad story are stripped out it’s just a grinding cover war. I don’t have a good outlook for Infinite Warfare’s longevity on PC and there isn’t enough for me to recommend spending $60 on it. vErDiCt A beautiful action movie that punishes improvisation and has a disappointingly under -populated multiplayer.

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rEviEW Planet Coaster I did not design this masterpiece, sadly.

Poor doomed crash test dummies.

Welcome to Pirates of the Non Specific Geographic Area.

Coasting in neutral PlaNet Coaster is a decent follow-up, but it could have been more. By Jody Macgregor

C

areer mode hands you a half-built park and the job of saving it from calamity, be it unhappy customers or an alien monolith. Even at its weirdest, it feels like playing with someone else’s toys. In freeform sandbox mode, almost everything can be customized, down to signs with your own text in a variety of fonts. If you can spend hours happily designing a toilet this will make you happy. But challenge mode is where it’s at. guests? Pay for ads. The sedate The need to budget provides feeling I get from slipping into this structure, and challenges offer management zone is within spitting rewards for making a coaster a distance of boredom, and getting to certain length or achieving a grips with the staff roster pushes me particular rating. As my park grows, over the line, but within the zone it’s gaining burger stalls and janitors, undeniably pleasant. people complain about It’s the complete the queues being the sedate opposite of the rush of boring. So I go all out on theming, including feeling i get is actually being on a In an animatronic dragon within spitting rollercoaster. RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 that eats guests and distance of that was provided by piles dragonpoop first-person mode. In behind it. There’s also boredom Planet Coaster the rides the option to buy a are quieter, and instead treasure chest for of howling wind I mostly hear other $10,000, lazily guaranteeing instant passengers babbling away like Sims. happiness for customers near it. At first there’s always a little hump It takes the edge off, leaving me sitting there like Mr Bean yawning as to get over before the profits start everyone screams. rolling in, but once I clear that it’s Planet Coaster feels so similar to just a matter of speeding the timer up RCT 3 it’s impossible not to compare. whenever I’m low on cash and then Guests have better AI here, traveling throwing my earnings at the latest in family groups, though during their problem. Rides breaking down? Hire rush to get on rides they clip through another mechanic. Need more 82

February 2017

Need to KNow What is it? One of several theme park management sims keen on reviving the venerable genre. EXPECt tO PaY $45 DEvElOPEr Frontier Developments PublishEr In-house rEviEWED On Windows 10, GeForce GTX 960, Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM MultiPlaYEr None link www.planet coaster.com

each other creating monsters of jumbled faces and limbs. There are fewer rides, but you can now copy blueprints from the Steam Workshop. Thanks to RollerCoaster Tycoon World lowering expectations, Planet Coaster will be hailed as the official sequel that game should have been. But while it is a solid continuation of what came before, it’s hard not to wonder what a more ambitious version could have done. For instance, imagine competing against rival parks, or a cooperative multiplayer mode in which you separate out who looks after what. The research system suggests a mode about playing through the history of theme parks, starting with a scenic railway in 1912 and evolving through the 20th century. Instead, Planet Coaster is a warm bath of a thing, relaxing and constant. That’s OK, and I do think it’s a good game, but there’s not much to stop me wanting to load an old save in RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 instead. vErDiCt It’s better than RollerCoaster Tycoon World, but doesn’t do much to innovate on the existing formula.

75


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extra life CONTINUED ADVENTURES IN GAMING

‘Gerry, meet Tommy’.

“Suddenly someone starts singing. I can only presume the pigeon escaped” An evening of shooting pigeons and flatulence in Battlefield 1 ell, I’ve rebooted my router, reinstalled Origin and tried joining my pals a dozen times. My first half hour with Battlefield 1 is spent listening to its stirring music, messing about in loading screens and drinking coffee. I’m looking forward to joining the game, and it’s a big moment, given that I’ve been in the same clan with these guys for years and ploughed thousands of hours into the Battlefield games. I spawn, and I’m killed instantly. The camera pans out over the battlefield. I look at the scoreboard to see if I’ve landed on the same team as the chaps on Discord. “What, where are all the clan tags?” I ask them. It turns out that at release, Battlefield 1 has no way for players to show a tag in front of their name, no platoon system or even custom clan servers. Did EA snub clans on account of how we play

W

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February 2017

JOHN STRIKE tHiS MONtH Measured the cumulative length of two sausage dogs.

alSO PlaYed Battlefield 4

so much but pay so little? Given that I’ve got to know these guys through the clan, some of who even came to my wedding, I’m a bit sad. But who cares about clans, right? “Strike you pigeon rapist,” one of them shouts on Discord. Before I can think of a counter-insult, I realize he’s talking about the game mode we’re playing—we have to capture or shoot a pigeon. “Am I going to get court-martialed by Stephen Fry for this?” I reply. There is silence as nobody gets the Blackadder gag at all.

War Pigeons is a bizarre new game mode, and it’s rather fun. Both teams have to scrabble around the map trying to grab an unlucky pigeon, then protect whoever’s carrying it until they can release the bird with its message. We’re playing a map called Ballroom Blitz, set in grounds and corridors of a beautiful French manor house, littered with old crates and war machinery.

FOWL PLAY The guns pop and snap as we all charge toward the enemy player carrying the pigeon. Suddenly the room fills with dramatic plumes of green gas, and the masks go on.

“Hang On, ISn’T THIS THIng JUST gOIng TO FLY InTO THE CEILIng?” I aSK. nOBODY KnOWS


N O w P l aY i N g The games we love righT now Somehow, this feels like my fault.

Gas will either disorientate you, or kill you. Or both.

The level of detail in BF1’s maps is magnificent.

“Both cars are the worst possible car” Managing expectations in MOtOrSPOrt MaNager PHIl SavagE tHiS MONtH

“God damn it, who did a fart?” someone shrieks. This time the Discord channel erupts with laughter. I sigh. For the next few moments my headphones are full choking and spluttering, and I can’t tell if it’s the mustard gas in-game or one of the guys coughing up a lung into his microphone. Suddenly someone starts singing; “Fly on the wings of love, fly baby fly-ey”, and I can only presume it means the pigeon got away. It’s two birds apiece, so the next one wins the match. “Right guys stop messing about, let’s win it!” I order the team. Not that I even know where I am on the map or what gun to use. As the new pigeon spawns we group together and attack. Bullets whiz past as I grab the bird and run. It releases more quickly when prone, so I find myself lying behind some crates adjacent to the ballroom. “Hang on, isn’t this thing just going to fly into the ceiling?” I ask, just moments before it’s ready to go. Nobody knows. I flee out into the courtyard just in case, taking some hits, and then the bird’s up and away. The game’s over, but I can’t help but puzzle over what the hell just happened. I wonder what 2017’s playable seagull DLC might be like, and if it will involve stealing sausage sandwiches from the hands of unsuspecting Germans.

Proved unsuitable for management.

alSO PlaYed Dishonored 2, Quadrilateral Cowboy

I skip forward to race day. We’re at Black Sea in Russia. Tang, my main driver, is unhappy because his car isn’t better than that of Chu, his teammate. I don’t have the option to tell him that both cars are the worst possible car. If I did, I’m not sure it would help.

chu’s On FiFth ’m not a fan of motorsport, nor of managing things. Based on the experience implied by its title, Motorsport Manager is not the game for me. Then again, I don’t care for gardening or zombies much, and I played almost 100 hours of Plants vs. Zombies. I’m not about to let what things are called determine whether or not I’ll like them. My motorsport manager won’t share my lack of enthusiasm for racing. I name him Henry Motorsport, pick the Ex-Driver background, and give him a gray beard to convey knowledge and experience. Henry is managing Dragon Race Team China, my hope being that having a connection to something I understand—fantasy lizards—will act as a motivation of sorts. I tell our owner that I can achieve a seventh place finish for the season. Unfortunately, my two main drivers are predicted for a 13th and 14th place finish. It’s fine. I shall inspire them through the power of management, or my name’s not Henry Management. Wait, my name’s not Henry Management. Shit.

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Despite Chu being the secondary driver, he quickly rises to 5th place while Tang languishes in 13th. By lap six, I realize it’s because he’s using the ‘Overtake’ strategy, which burns fuel at a ridiculous rate. By lap eight, both drivers need to pit—the unintentionally aggressive start having shredded their tires. I try to use management to keep our team down to two pit stops per driver. It doesn’t work. Even on the more modest race strategies, these guys are chewing through their tires. On lap 24, they come in for their third stop. Full of fuel and on a fresh set of tires, I set them to maximum aggression—confident that they can hold out until the end of the race now. Chu limps past the checkered flag in 15th place, with a broken gearbox and destroyed tires. Tang does slightly better, finishing in 11th. The next day, I’m told Chu has a sore neck and the flu—both telltale signs of bad management, I fear. If I make a warrior in an RPG, he is better than me at swordfighing. But Henry Motorsport is not a better manager than me. As it turns out, I’m not a very good manager. February 2017

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N O w P l aY i N g The games we love righT now Basically, it’s a procedural Chris Foss simulator.

“Well done, smarter reader. I’ve missed you”

Godspeed you, experimental indie devs.

Rediscovering the lost worlds of NO MaN’S SkY am an old man. I have travelled across a great distance to bring you wisdom. I have lived in places you will never go. I will try to tell you about them. I will try to make you understand so well it feels more like remembering. The place I’ve come from is the past. For gaming, the past isn’t a different country. It’s a different world. More so: worlds. The vast majority of those worlds are dead now. They are forgotten, until they’re not. A smarter reader will be suspecting I’m saying No Man’s Sky reminds me of those worlds. Well done, smarter reader. I’ve missed you. I’m Kieron Gillen. I used to be, if you’ll excuse the term, a games critic. I used to tell the truth. I now tell lies, which is a more profitable affair. Sadly, lies are jealous, so I don’t have time for much of what I loved in games (in short: big RPGs, pretentious design, terrain). But I dabble. I wanted to have an opinion on No Man’s Sky. My initial response was disappointment. Where’s the motorcycle? How can you do stunts? This is not the Joe Danger sequel I was expecting. I joke, but less than you might think. I played for a few hours before returning to the lying business. Instead, I’ve mainly watched my wife play No Man’s Sky. She’s been doing so for the

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KIERON gIllEN tHiS MONtH Returned to PCG for the first time since 2003.

alSO PlaYed Firewatch, MGS4

last two months. I’m not surprised. She’s always enjoyed ambient gaming. Our courtship was soundtracked by Endless Ocean. I suspected walking across endless new vistas was going to charm her. It did. She knew nothing before starting. She believes Google would corrupt her experience. She learns as she plays. She is open to change, and so changes. Her first world was a paradise. She didn’t know to use the map, so lost its location. She became Odysseus, sailing the oceans and trying to chart a way home. She found herself trapped in a duel of discovering things with a stranger she’ll never meet, eventually throwing herself down a black hole to escape. She eventually submitted to the mining and trading and buying and mining and trading and buying (cont.)

THIS IS nOT THE JOE DangEr SEqUEL I WaS ExpECTIng. I JOKE, BUT LESS THan YOU mIgHT THInK

She went through a period of ennui over the ecological devastation she wrecked. She’s finally transformed into a combination of Attenborough and Chomsky, chronicling strange new worlds and strange new words. It has given her peace and escape. Her delight is a delight.

hOnOrAbLe mentiOns I deleted most of the works it brought to mind for the sake of flow, but here they are: Amiga landscape generator Vista. Mike Singleton (RIP)’s Midwinter. Pokemon Snap. Captain Blood. All the ambitious 1980s British games that weren’t Elite. Also, Elite, obv, but actually what Elite was rather than how it’s been beatified. As in, the product of a small group of smart developers who tried to create their own impossible microreality and invited us to visit. Games made on the belief that achieving all your goals wasn’t a strength, but a weakness. Perfection implied you were being desperately unambitious. There’s so much here. As such, realizing that so much of the conversation centers on what’s not bemuses me. How to change that? How can we encourage each other to arrive at each new world in our gaming lives and love or hate it for what it is, not what it is not? At last we reach to the ancient wisdom I have come so far to bring you. Don’t read previews.


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“Swooshing and swishing like Dumbledore, but with a better beard” Conducting a symphony of eyeballs in BlarP! ’m in the virtual realm, in a room barely bigger than the boundaries I set for my Vive. To one side is a glowing orb with a number etched into it; on the other is a floating eyeball. I’ve a glowing rod in each hand, but I’ll only need one. The goal is to get the eyeball to touch the numbered ball, squeezing the trigger on the Vive’s wand to draw the eye to the rod in my hand, but letting it drift on to hit the, er, score orb (henceforth known as the ‘scorb’). If it hits me it’s game over. I won’t have BLARPED! I squeeze the trigger and the eyeball moves towards me. I let go and dodge out of its way, so the ball continues on, hitting the target. The room expands, the eyeball sprouts a companion, the number on the ball reads “2”, and I— technically—have BLARPED! But it’s crude BLARPING! At best. Hardly worthy of the term. With multiple irises to control, and a slightly more distant target to hit, better control is needed than the ballfighting above. If the viewspheres (I am running out of words for ‘eye’) are far apart it’s almost impossible to aim them in that way. You only need to get one to touch the scorb, but it’s tough to corral all the balls at once. I could so easily drag one

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Purest BLARP! is happening right here.

CRaIg PEaRSON tHiS MONtH Wrote all this just to get to that pun at the end.

alSO PlaYed Rust (for a living), Overwatch

into me as well, or bash my face off a real-world wall trying to contort my way out of their paths. I consider that a painful, sweary, security-deposit sapping loss, and also consider this a public apology to my landlord.

bLArP! The secret is subtlety. I didn’t think BLARP! had any, as it’s a game with a name that’s more of a noise than an actual word, all in capitals, and it has an exclamation mark. Did any of you imagine that it would be anything other than direct? But BLARP! accepts gentle squeezes of the trigger as well as the full-on pulls I’ve been using. It’s

I BEnD anD SpIn anD SWOOp anD TangLE In THE VIVE’S WIrE. I am THE EYE OF THE STOrm... OF EYES

incredibly precise, and with some careful swishing of my arms combined with between 37% to 45% pressure, I am in control of the oculus’s drift. I’ve discarded the second controller, which generates a shield that I could use to stop the eyes from hitting me. I don’t need it. Each win adds distance to the goal, and the scorb is now so far away that I can’t even tell what my score is. I doesn’t matter. After several rounds, I’m lashing the orbs around me, swooshing and swishing like Dumbledore, but with a better beard and less guilt. Clockwise, counter-clockwise, over and under, it’s turned into a technical Tai Chi as I bend and spin and swoop and tangle in the Vive’s trailing wire. I am the eye of the storm... of eyes. This huge gathering of eyeballs would make a lesser man paranoid, but I stand at the centre of a now vast room, surrounded by 30 odd blobs, and welcome each challenge of conducting them into the distant scorb. I know what I need to do, and it’s no longer about angles or dodging. It’s about instinct, and gentle guidance. BLARP! is a £2 game that’s probably the best example of the expensive hobby of VR. Something new, and something I’ve returned to a lot, because I am now a master, and these are my pupils.

What the hell is that one on the left looking at?

Garish? Yes. Astonishingly ugly? Also yes.

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N O w P l aY i N g The games we love righT now Those curving red lines represent the trajectory of your nuclear missiles.

“One of the most stunningly depressing games on PC” It’s the end of the world as we know it in defCON EFCON is what the US calls its Defence Readiness Condition, a series of numbered alert states, from one to five, that determine how close the country is to a nuclear attack. The lower the number, the more likely it is that the continent will be blanketed in radioactive fire. And the same applies to the game, which uses the same alert states to split its matches into five distinct stages. At DEFCON 5 there are no hostile actions on the map. Each player has a limited amount of time to place missile silos, radar dishes, airbases, and naval fleets around their territory to prepare for war. At DEFCON 4 your radar begins to detect enemy units, giving you a chance to strategize further. Then at DEFCON 3 the war begins. Naval and air battles break out across the map, and they steadily intensify as you transition into DEFCON 2. I love how, as you move

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a N d y K E l ly tHiS MONtH Destroyed the planet, eradicated the human race.

alSO PlaYed Dishonored 2, Deus Ex

between DEFCON levels, the map gets busier and more chaotic. It’s calm at first, then suddenly swarming with fighter jets and battleships.

hitting hOme Then, inevitably, it’s time to trigger DEFCON 1, which is the gloomy end to every game of DEFCON. The use of nuclear missiles is approved and suddenly the map erupts with white flashes signifying successful impacts. If you hit a population centre, the number of people killed flashes up on screen: LONDON HIT. 8.5 MILLION DEAD. But

there’s no dramatic music or sound effects. Just the hum of computers in the war room, murmured voices, and a woman gently weeping as it dawns on her how seriously screwed the planet is. I don’t know who at Introversion came up with that idea, but it’s one of the most subtly upsetting things I’ve ever encountered in a game. There’s something hauntingly atmospheric about the game’s cold, emotionless depiction of humanity destroying itself. You imagine solemnlooking generals holed up in a bunker deep underground, watching the madness unfold on their monitors, calmly ordering another ICBM launch. I

SIT BaCK anD WaTCH THE EnD OF CIVILIzaTIOn WHILE THrOWIng pOpCOrn InTO YOUr mOUTH


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You never know why everyone’s fighting. And it doesn’t really matter.

Rich played terribly, to be honest.

When messages like this begin to appear, the end is definitely nigh.

“FIFA provides a comforting rhythm” Playing fifa 17 with former dep ed Rich McCormick gRaHam SmITH tHiS MONtH

don’t know if this was ever the developer’s intention, but for me DEFCON is the most powerful anti-war game ever made. Free of human drama or justification, you see nuclear war for what it is: wanton, idiotic self-extinction. Watching the slow arcing trails of missiles creeping across the map is utterly chilling. And when they hit, the flash of white and matter-of-fact death toll is somehow more disturbing than if you saw the targeted city being obliterated in an elaborate, expensively produced 3D cutscene. And even if you ‘win’ the match, it’s not much of a victory. You’re left with a shattered, irradiated world with millions dead and smoking craters where your cities used to be. Even winning is depressing in DEFCON, which is the darkly ironic full stop at the end of every one of its 15-minute micro-wars. Everyone loses. It isn’t a particularly deep or interesting strategy game. I mostly play it just to watch. There’s something fascinating about the way armageddon slowly unfolds on its stylish vector map. And you don’t even have to play to see this. A demo option on the main menu lets you sit back and watch the end of civilization while throwing popcorn into your mouth. Introversion makes some of the most interesting games on PC, and while DEFCON isn’t its best, I’ve never played anything quite like it.

Beat Rich McCormick at FIFA 17 without him knowing.

alSO PlaYed A sad loop of home movies from his glory days.

hate magic Zlatan Ibrahimovic!” I yell at Rich as the Swedish striker collects the ball. His real-life strength and powerful shots are exactly the kind of soccer skills which, transmuted into FIFA, seem to imbalance its simulation. He’s unstoppable. Yet to my surprise and delight, Zlatan chugs slowly into the box and blasts the ball high into the crowd behind the goal. The final whistle blows. “I guess you do like to lose,” I say to Rich, as I’ve just beaten him with the French team Toulouse, which is pronounced like “to lose”, maybe. If this year’s performances are any indication, Zlatan isn’t the player he once was in the game or out. I wonder what it’s like to watch the world’s estimation of you decrease year after year, represented by raw numbers. It’s not unlikely that the real magic Ibra has noticed, given the number of stories of soccer players both playing FIFA and complaining about their stats. FIFA 17 even includes a nod to this in a new mode, The Journey, in which you control a single player as they transition from youth to first team. In the between-

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match cutscenes, protagonist Alex Hunter plays an unnamed soccer game—it’s visibly FIFA—in his apartment with a friend, another soccer player. They joke and jostle on the couch. As the EA Sports motto goes, “If it’s in the game...” Now FIFA is in itself. The Journey is the biggest change to FIFA in years, as otherwise each iteration mostly tweaks balance and alters player stats. Given the stagnation in the surrounding structure, the ageing of former stars is one of the most noticeable changes in FIFA when I play it now: from Eto’o to Soldado, all the old magic men are greatly diminished by the ravages of time.

thAt’s rich Rich hasn’t responded to my “to lose” joke, because he’s not here. The chair next to me is empty and I’m playing the game alone. In reality, Rich and I haven’t played FIFA together in years. Since both of us left PC Gamer, he lives in Japan and I live in the British Channel Islands. I have an eight-month-old kid. I have no friends who are interested in games here. The release of a new FIFA game still provides a comforting rhythm to each year, and I love my life, but like Ibrahimovic, my glorious playing days are behind me. So here’s my advice: if you have friends nearby with which to play games on a regular basis, cherish these days. Sometime soon everyone might be gone and you’ll be just another chugging 30-something with tired legs. February 2017

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top 10 doWnloAds free games stuff from tHe web by tom sykes

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The system requirements are a little steep.

gameBoyJam FREEWARE It’s not easy being green-tinted B Jam 2016 inspired the creation of 400 games that could theoretically exist on the GameBoy, thanks to their limited palettes and 160x144 screen resolutions. Here are some of my favorites.

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tinytownSaga

Explore a town and take part in a few minigames in this proto-life sim, as a scrumptious day-night cycle shifts around you. There’s not much here, but what is included is lovely.

Halo5:Forge

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www.bit.ly/GBGames1

FREEWARE The newest Halo hits PC, sort of or reasons he’ll share only with Cortana, Master Chief has snubbed the PC since the release of his second game, and while that policy doesn’t show signs of changing in the near future, we can at least play part of Halo 5 thanks to this free release. Some might say it contains the best parts, in fact—a custom multiplayer mode, and a fulsome map editor—leaving out a story campaign that many have deemed inessential anyway.

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You’ll need Windows 10 and 40GB of hard drive space, but once done you can hop into that comprehensive level editor and create maps that will be playable on both PC and Xbox One. More importantly, you can play a whole host of impressively varied

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environments made by the community, who will likely be overjoyed to finally be able to shift walls about with the aid of a mouse and keyboard. Those tools will come in handy when it comes to actually playing on the maps as well, something that’s currently a little difficult thanks to Forge’s connections to the Xbox One. At the time of writing, there’s no custom game browser available, which means you’ll have to use the Xbox app and invite your friends to get a game going—however, a server browser is coming sometime down the line. Once it’s in there, Forge will be one of the most generous multiplayer shooters around, thanks to its flexible level editor, and the endless assortment of maps at your disposal.

you’reinSpace...

...And Everyone Wants You Dead, to give the game its full title, is a first-person fling-’em-up where you have to chuck boxes and bombs at enemies. It’s cutesy, fast-paced and tough. www.bit.ly/GBGames2

SoulStice

A co-op puzzler that gives you control over two characters, one with a handy double-jump, the other boasting the power to shift boxes. To clear each stage, you’ll have to work together. www.bit.ly/GBGames3

DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/HaloForge


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FourSite

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The four quadrants are linked by a single corridor.

MAp The Foursite saga, at long last leven years is a long time to nurse an idea for a Doom 2 map, but after being reinspired by a YouTube review of “terrible wads”, modder Ben Mansell set about bringing that map to the world. Three hundred dev hours later, foursite was born. Four maps in one, foursite relies on only one enhancement from the modern era: the ability to make bigger maps. Even then, encompassing four distinct areas, it pushes the level format to its limits.

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DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/Foursite

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yiiK:epiSodeprime

dEMo Party like it’s 1999... Oh, wait, it is his is an odd game. It’s basically Earthbound, only in place of an adventurous child you play a flannelwearing bearded dude, sporting a thick pair of hipster glasses. It cultivates its own bizarre alternate universe where haunted traffic cones hide in spooky caves, and cats can be tactically flung to reach out-of-the-way switches. It feels

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like a mash-up of ’90s geek culture in a very Scott Pilgrim kind of way. This demo, in which you’re investigating the disappearance of a friend, offers a taste of the upcoming RPG, with a bit of town exploration, and a unique dungeon that won’t be present in the main release. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/YIIKDemo

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AlEx EgglEsTon An atypical hero name for an atypical hero. Alex is a bespectacled ginger hipster with a vinyl fetish.

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WorlD’s EnD The game’s set in 1999, seemingly in autumn, against the backdrop of Y2K. Expect the world to be in peril.

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AbsEnT frIEnDs Party members (not pictured) include a keytarwielding musical prodigy, a hula hooper, and a conshie.

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paramediumeX FREEWARE This house... is clean reated for the Halloween Jam, this puts you in the role of a cross between a psychic and a pest exterminator. In this short, fun visual novel, you’re sent to the site of a haunting and asked to exorcise the resident spectre, something you achieve by shooting it repeatedly in the head. Yep, this is an adventure game with arcade-style shooting gallery sections, and while they’re incredibly easy, they do add a welcome element of interaction, particularly as there aren’t too many dialog choices to make. This is more of a short story than an epic, with an enjoyably daft-twist ending, likeable characters and well-written dialog, and a world that deserves to be fleshed out one day.

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DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/Paramedium

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Brutaldoom64

Doom 64 is set after the second game.

Mod The second great Doom game of 2016 he Nintendo 64 port of Doom was surprisingly different to the one id created a few years previously, thanks to its increased horror focus and far more atmospheric environments. But now a new, expanded version has cropped up on ModDB. brutal Doom creator SGtMarkIV is behind the release, so you might be expecting a range of over-the-

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top finishers and a screen that will be permanently smeared with jam, but while enemies still explode into piles of body parts, and when you’re done, walls will be dripping with the red stuff, this is a more serious game than brutal Doom, focusing on weapon feedback, sounds and animation—and with even better lighting and visual effects. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/Doom64

The thing about Amnesia is, it’s dark.

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tHe diSappearance oFeileenKeStler FREEWARE Come on Eileen, show yourself onnor Sherlock’s spooky forest horror game Marginalia is being readied for a 2017 re-release, and along with fellow developer Cameron Kunzelman, he’s has made this prologue chapter that drops you in the wilderness by a flaming house. It’s only a few minutes long but it offers an excellent introduction to this mysterious, moody world. There’s a well-acted voiceover from Eileen herself, and some excellent Blendo Games-style editing, in this taster for a game that should probably be on your radar.

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FivemagicS

Mod An Amnesia experience you won’t soon forget s good as its design and atmosphere were, as a horror game Frictional’s Soma couldn’t hold a candle to the team’s previous title, Amnesia: The Dark Descent. You’re lost in a spooky castle full of wandering monsters and invisible beasts, with only a few hiding places to keep you safe, and only an oil lantern to keep you sane. It’s still one of the most terrifying horror games around, and

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here’s a bit more of it, in the form of a massive new fan campaign that adds four chapters, 30 environments and two new enemy types. The five magics are alchemy, electricity, wizardry, sorcery and thaumaturgy, and playing as a happy-go-lucky occultist named Vernon Cooper, you’ll attempt to master all five, primarily by hiding in a cupboard until the nasty monsters go away. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/FiveMagics


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quest of three

Titanic fan-made mods from the Steam Workshop

1patHS

This huge mod replaces the default masteries with several sets of skill trees, allowing players to better specialize. www.bit.ly/TitanQuest1

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2SiX-pl ay erdiFFicult y

Mods A cool collection of Workshop mods ovely action RPG titan Quest received an unexpected ‘Anniversary’ update recently, one that improved performance, enhanced the multiplayer, made several quality-of-life tweaks, and added a bulging bag of new stuff to the Greek mythology-inspired loot-’nmurder game. anniversary edition also includes support for the Steam Workshop, and there are already a fair few skins, difficulty settings, and system overhauls available.

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Enjoy the increased monster count and higher-level enemies normally found in a six-player online game.

Before you get down and dirty mucking about with the game engine, why not swap your human hero for a member of the undead? Undead Heroes will let you do just that, replacing the default avatar with a moldering pile of bones. Meanwhile, The Gorgonizer will transform you into a slithering snake-person, Angry Pigs will make your appearance considerably more porcine, and Tiger Man will, well, you probably guessed that one already. Each has their own animations, and distinctive beastly grunts. For more mods, cast your eyes right.

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www.bit.ly/TitanQuest2

3itemFilter

There is a lot of loot in Titan Quest, so here’s a mod that cuts a lot of that clutter out. Choose which items drop, and which don’t. It’s as simple as that. www.bit.ly/TitanQuest3

weBecomewHatweBeHold WEBGAME The news of the world his is a game about the media, and how our consumption of news can influence our behavior in the real world. As a camera-person hovering in front of a varied group of people, your job is to make news by snapping images of conflict, or of unusual fashions—encounters that, to begin with, are fairly rare. You see a person with a nice hat, take a picture,

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and before you know it half the citizens are wearing similar headpieces, after seeing your story on TV. The cute flash-game-style art helps to deliver the message in a non-preachy way, but it also lowers your guard for the darker turn the game takes later on, when the news incites acts of violence between social groups. DOWNLOAD AT www.bit.ly/WeBecome

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u P D at e WhaT’s neW In The BIggesT games

World of Warships World of Warships is the best game I still can’t afford. By Ian Birnbaum hen World of Warships took to the seas last year, it was a remarkable achievement. Wargaming, the studio behind World of Tanks and World of Warplanes, had done it again, making a battleship combat game beautiful and fun, despite the achingly slow naval pace and a backdrop of endless ocean.

has changed. Fleets still come together across open water, vying for control of capture zones, and the way Wargaming has translated the complex engineering of the world’s mightiest war machines into a simple control system is impressive. In Warships, controls set throttle and turn speed, then free players up to worry about other things. With all this wide-open water, steering is a pretty low priority.

Unfortunately, World of Warships was an achievement in a different way as well. More than Tanks and Warplanes, Warships featured a staggering amount of purchasable and unlockable content wrapped inside an aggressive, grind-head freemium eco-system. Seeing everything that the game had to offer, every ship from every country, would cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours. Check in after more than a year of development, and World of Warships has got better looking, more fun, and is full of little usability improvements for the player. On the downside, the game’s price schemes have got steeper. But in many ways, very little

sails manager

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I find controlling my ships from the overhead camera angle helps me get a feel for the layout and flow of a match. The most delicate work in Warships, and the bulk of the game, takes place staring down gunners’ sights. When it comes to lobbing shells, there are two distinct games of skill playing out at once. The first is positioning: a broadside points all guns at the enemy at once. Going broadside also makes you a fat target. Both captains play this game, trying to bring all of their guns around without making themselves a target. The second game is aiming. Engaging at distance with only a narrow slice of enemy ship to aim at—that’s where Warships becomes a white-knuckle affair. I get a rush every time I arc a perfect shot into an enemy amidships, and there are few things more satisfying than firing a full broadside volley into some punk.

need to knoW DeVelOPer

release September 17, 2015

Wargaming

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the rising cost curve of Warships, by tier each new tier in warships is more powerful, usually more historically important or famous, and much, much more expensive. judging by when the price starts to jump, wargaming is happy to offer the first four or five tiers to players for free. if you want to captain the uss Midway (tier ten) or the infamous bismarck (tier eight), you should know up front: you weren’t meant to see those ships for free.

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World of Warships launched with two full navies: the United States and Japan. I always knew that Wargaming would keep adding content, but I was unprepared for the quantity now available. America and Japan have been joined by Soviet, German, and British warships. Last year, I calculated that reaching the top-tier aircraft carrier, the USS Midway, would cost $177 and thousands of games. This year, to unlock the highest-tier German battleship, the Großer Kurfürst, costs around $187. Worse, there are now between two and four lines of ships across five nations’ navies. This isn’t a game where you can possibly hope to see everything and play with every ship—unless you’re ready to grind and/or pay for content Wargaming

it sure sucks the fun out what should be a joyous celebration of blowing stuff up values at around $2,500. I don’t think they expect anyone to actually pay that amount of money, but as context for the kinds of prices and selection they’re offering, it’s amazingly steep. And frankly, that’s a huge bummer. To earn sales and keep players from seeing the entire game for free, Wargaming has had to beef up the game’s grind. In my early games with low-level ships, I averaged about 106 XP per game. At higher levels I earned more XP, but researching the ships I need to unlock the Großer Kurfürst would take me a few thousand games, easily. When faced with a grind of thousands of games, Wargaming is happy to offer players money for upgrades, loot crates, and 24-hour XP-boosts. It’s an approach that makes business sense, but it sure sucks the fun out what should be a joyous celebration of blowing stuff up with really big cannons.


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Arcing shots at faraway targets: like geometry, but fun!

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Rounds start with blue seas and a flying flag. Savor it.

Torpedoes narrowly miss, but gloating is poor form.

If all else fails, don’t be afraid to swim.

New harbours are cosmetic and don’t… Oh, cherry blossoms! Close-up battles turn into brutal slugfests.

From the rust to the scurvy, every ship is a work of art.

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r e I N s ta l l Old gAmes, new perspectives

There are countless ways to infiltrate Liberty Island.

deus ex Revisiting Ion Storm’s cyberpunk RPG. By Andy Kelly n the earliest Deus Ex design document, written three years before the game was released in 2000, Ion Storm established the philosophy of its ambitious cyberpunk RPG. “The key to role-playing is giving players the freedom to act as they see fit,” it reads. “And a deep world simulation that allows them to solve problems in a variety of ways is the best way to do this.”

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And that’s the core of what makes Deus Ex a PC classic. The sheer breadth of its systems and the complexity of its level design is unmatched, even today. A lot of things were cut from that document—including a level set on a space station—but Warren Spector 96

February 2017

and his team’s original vision of a deep, rewarding RPG set in a rich, simulated world remained intact throughout development. When Deus Ex was being developed, The X-Files was deep into its fourth season. And Chris Carter’s cult show is an obvious influence on the game, with its government conspiracies, shadowy secret organizations, men in black, and bug-eyed aliens. The design document confirms this, describing the story as “leavened by its dark, mysterious, conspiratorial tone” and any tinfoil hat conspiracy theory you can think of, from Area 51 to the Bilderberg Group, factors into the story in some way. It’s a world where paranoia about ancient secret societies pulling the strings of government is entirely justified.

In the ‘high concept’ section of the design document, Ion Storm asks: “Is it better to live free in a world of chaos or live safely in an ordered world of someone else’s design?” And that’s one of the major themes in the sprawling, labyrinthine story. You play as JC Denton, a government agent enhanced with augmentations that grant him superhuman powers. When the game begins he’s employed by a branch of the United Nations created in response to the growing threat of international terrorism. But after learning that his bosses have ties to a sinister Illuminati plot, he joins his brother Paul in the resistance against them. “Deus Ex plugs into two popular fantasies,” reads the document. “The millennial madness that’s gripping the world, exemplified by The X-Files and a general fascination with conspiracy theories. And the desire to play with high-tech espionage toys.”

need to know releaseD

DeVelOPer

2000

Ion Storm

PUBlIsHer

lINK

Eidos Interactive

www.deusex.com


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These creepy agents explode when killed.

You can kill Leo Gold, but your bosses won’t appreciate it.

NPCs will reveal secrets and alternate paths.

ARound tHe woRLd

Key locations in Deus Ex

1 new YoRk CitY

Plagued by a mystery virus called the Grey Death and deadly street drug Zyme, this future New York is a bleak, dangerous place.

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2 PARis

The French capital is the base of Silhouette, a terrorist group with ties to the Illuminati, and is patrolled by Majestic 12 troops.

3 VF oA Rn Cd ee nbbAesReg A i R

This base is the HQ of X-51, an MJ12 splinter group who disagreed with their shadowy plans for the world.

4 1 3

4 Hong kong

Villain Bob Page’s sinister VersaLife corporation is based here, as well as several warring factions of Triad gangsters.

And it’s these toys, as well as Denton’s augmentations, that make every playthrough of Deus Ex a wildly different experience. The first level, Liberty Island, showcases everything that’s great about the game’s open-ended design and how it rewards creative thinking. It’s smaller than other levels, and I’m still finding new ways to infiltrate it. The statue not only provides a useful navigation

2

5 AReA 51

The infamous ‘top secret’ USAF base in Nevada is secretly home to a mass surveillance system that’s covertly spying on the world.

point, but her missing head, blown off by terrorists, is an evocative piece of world-building. A clue that maybe everything isn’t totally cool in this dystopian vision of the future. Terrorists have taken over the island, and you have to deal with them. But how you go about this is truly up to you. There are dozens of entry points into the statue, some more dangerous than others. If you

want to waltz in through the front door, you can. But you’ll have to find a key, hack a series of cameras, and deal with a security bot. Or you can stack crates to climb up to the statue and avoid the security systems altogether, but will have to deal with a group of terrorists in an open area without much cover. You learn these things through experimentation, and that’s part of what makes Deus Ex so compelling. You’re presented with these big, complex puzzles and the game leaves you to figure out how to solve them by yourself. And when you do, it’s hugely satisfying.

WALK AND TALK

But it’s not all espionage and infiltration. Outside of missions you’re free to explore, talk to NPCs, complete sidequests, and learn more about the state of the world through documents and news reports. Deus Ex is an enormous game, featuring three massive cities—New York, Hong Kong and Paris—and other locations including Area 51. You simply couldn’t make a game this big today with the visual fidelity expected of modern games. In New York you witness the devastating February 2017

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r e I N s ta l l Old gAmes, new perspectives “Are we the baddies?”

It’s all gone a bit X-Files.

His vision is augmented.

effects of the mysterious Grey Death virus, while in Hong Kong you team up with Tracer Tong and the Triads to investigate an Illuminati presence there. There are so many secrets hidden in these city hubs—and overwrought philosophical debates to be had with talkative NPCs—that a thorough playthrough of the game could easily take 50 hours. But while the levels are huge, they’re not big for the sake of it. This was another thing Ion Storm outlined in its design document as being important. “So many games simulate huge worlds and brag about it,” it reads. “Witness Daggerfall with its hundreds of generic towns, its shallow conversations, and its randomly generated quests. We feel there’s more to be gained by limiting the size of our simulation so we can increase the density of interaction.” And this density of interaction is another of Deus Ex’s many strengths. Its levels are filled with things to prod, poke, switch on, and mess with—from incidental details like flushing toilets to intricate security systems that can be manipulated to help you sneak through the level. “This gives the illusion that this is a 98

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real, vital place,” reads the design document. “It makes the levels feel like they have a life of their own, independent of player action.” And it has a sense of humor too, often as a result of this freedom and interactivity. If you stumble into the ladies’ bathroom in UNATCO’s Liberty Island HQ—which most players will as they hunt for secrets and hidden items—your boss Joseph Manderley (who recently appeared in Mankind Divided) will give you a stern talking to about it. Ion Storm knew players like to explore every nook and cranny of a level, and they made a joke in response to it. It’s a small detail, but one of countless tiny reactive moments that reinforce the idea you’re having an impact on this world, not just existing in it. And who could forget mechanically-augmented agent Gunther Hermann ranting about getting the wrong soda from a vending machine, convinced the maintenance man has a vendetta against him. The story deals with some heavy stuff—mass surveillance, corruption, conspiracies, viral epidemics—but it offsets it nicely with some dry humor.

new woRLd oRdeR

the Deus Ex series so far, from best to worst

1 d eu s e x

It’s showing its age, badly in places, but the original’s sprawling levels, deep systems, and conspiracyladen plot are hard to beat.

2 H u m A n R e Vo Lu t i o n

A worthy sequel with beautiful art direction, intricate level design, and two uniquely atmospheric, detailed future-cities to explore.

3 m A n k in d di V id e d

Definitely a great Deus Ex game, but the weak, aimless story and single city hub mean Human Revolution just has the edge over it.

4 in V isibL e wA R

A confused, misguided attempt to streamline the Deus Ex experience for consoles. But, perhaps, not quite as bad as history remembers.

5 t H e FA L L

A horrendous PC port of an average mobile game. Invisible War gets a lot of hate, but this is the true nadir of the series so far.


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Gunther, defeated by a vending machine.

the illuminati sends a squad of men in black to kill your brother A great example of the game’s reactivity can be found in the Hell’s Kitchen level. Denton’s brother Paul, who ends up being hunted by the Illuminati, is holed up in a grimy hotel. It’s called the ‘Ton by the locals, referring to the fact it was once a Hilton, but the ‘HIL’ on the sign has faded away. After completing a few missions in New York, Paul’s safehouse is compromised and the Illuminati sends a squad of ‘men in black’ agents to kill him. These guys are armed with heavy weapons and can take a ridiculous amount of damage. Paul tells you to run and escape through the bathroom window, which most players will do when faced with these seemingly impossible odds. If you escape, Paul dies and never appears in the game again. But if you stay and fight, and somehow manage to kill the men in black and the UNATCO troops who’ve invaded the hotel, Paul

will appear in Hong Kong. It’s unlikely that players at this stage in the game, especially on their first run, will have the skill or augmentations to win this fight, but the fact you can is precisely why Deus Ex is such a special game. It has a response, even if it’s just a line of dialogue, for almost everything you do.

ALL moD coNs

One part of Deus Ex that’s really showing its age though, is the visuals. It’s a hideous game, with blocky environments, blurry textures and ugly character models. But luckily there are mods that will sort most of these problems out, including the incredible Revision. This overhaul is free on Steam for anyone who owns the GOTY edition, and as well as fixing bugs and remixing several maps, it makes it look slightly nicer to modern eyes. But it does change quite a few fundamental things, so if you want to play the game as Ion Storm intended it’s probably best to stick to the original version. Then there’s Shifter, a mod that adds further depth to an already deep game and exists to, in its creator’s words, “remove the suck” from the

base game. It introduces a skill point system that rewards you for feats the vanilla game would ignore, like taking out a room full of men in black. It makes enemies smarter and tougher. And it gives weapons alternate fire modes, including launching napalm bombs with the flamethrower. Again, installing this will seriously alter the game, so think carefully before trying it—especially if it’s your first playthrough. Some people don’t like Shifter or Revision at all, but that’s exactly what PC gaming, and Deus Ex, are all about: choice. The game is still totally playable without any mods, of course. But you might have to dig through some forums to find out how to get it running at modern resolutions. The Game of the Year edition (whatever that means) is often on sale for a tiny amount of money on Steam, so if you’ve never played it before, there’s really no excuse. There’s a long-running internet joke that whenever Deus Ex is mentioned on a forum, someone will reinstall it. And it’s something you should consider. Because 16 years later, even if the visuals don’t hold up, the game definitely still does. February 2017

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WHY I LOVE WhaT makEs gamEs spEcial

A sense of regret in Life is strAnge Anatomizing the melancholy of Dontnod’s episodic drama. By Tony Ellis

RIGHT: Chloe’s old family home is a minefield of memories for Max.

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EXTra LIFE nOW PLaYInG

fter I finished I wanted to hear the soundtrack again, so I hit YouTube. There, among the comments demanding Max and Chloe should be together forever, or saying no game had even given them such feels before, AlchemicalGames had posted “It makes me sad in a really weird way. A little nostalgic, but also a sense of wanting my life to be more like it is for max.” Another commenter responded: “I thought I was the only one that felt this way.”

A

More replies followed. “You feel like you’ve been missing something you never realized until now.” “For me it’s Max’s friendship with Chloe. It’s a type of friendship I’ve never had in teendom.” “Something in life just feels missing, and this game has it.” The last time I looked, that thread was over 40 responses long. The sensation those Youtubers are experiencing is not actually that mysterious. The Germans, those masters of melancholy, even have a word for it: sehnsucht—a sort of painful nostalgia for something unknown in your life. What impresses me is that Life is Strange attempts to make people feel this way at all. Games tend to steer clear of the human condition. Even story-driven games rarely dare to make us feel sad as players: NPCs get sad, then usually we make them feel better by solving a quest. Life is Strange is that little bit more grown up in its approach. It’s an episodic detective adventure, and a high-school teen drama, but this is also very much a game about regret. Pre-teen Max and Chloe were best friends forever. They shared a

need to know rELEasED

PUBLIsHEr

January 2015

Square Enix

DEVELOPEr

LInk

Dontnod Entertainment

www.lifeisstrange.com

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close, happy childhood. When modern-day Max explores Chloe’s house in Episode 1, it’s a memory palace of reminders for her. Almost everything you click on reminds her of the good old days. An old chest of drawers: “we spent all day painting it blue.” A couch: “we used to pretend it was a pirate ship.” In the garden, a faded mural on hardboard shows two girls running off forever into a colored-in world of adventure. “That took me and Chloe all day to draw.” The memories are happy, but Max isn’t. Max moved away and didn’t keep in touch. Chloe’s dad died, and now she’s angry and bitter. Their carefree childhood world is gone forever. Max sits on the swing Chloe’s dad made for them, and remembers how Chloe was always there for her, while Julia Stone mournfully sings “You’re somewhere, I’m somewhere... You’re nowhere, I’m nowhere.” That lost, crayon-colored Eden is the backdrop to everything that follows. Not keeping in touch with Chloe was the one selfish act of Max’s life. From here on, her determination to make it up to Chloe, to fix things, is what drives the whole story to its devastating conclusion.

wishful thinking

A gently wistful mood suffuses everything. Almost every character tells Max they wish they could go back and change their past. The soundtrack consists almost entirely of acoustic, indie, downbeat songs about missing someone or wishing things were different. Is it spring in lovely Arcadia Bay? Or summer? No. It is autumn. The time of year when the world starts dying. ‘Arcadia’ itself is a word synonymous with lost paradise. So, just as well Max has got a superpower to go back and fix the mistakes of the past, right? Well, no, as it turns out. She can’t retrieve that lost childhood, Chloe and Max are teenagers now. She can’t prevent Chloe’s dad from dying, except at a hideous cost to Chloe. In

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regrets, they’ve hAd A few Not only max wants to turn back time

Joyce

dAvid

homeLess LAdy

weird fishermAn guy

“If only I could go back.” Chloe’s dad died in a car crash, driving to pick Joyce up from a shopping trip.

“Oh, if I could go back and be your age again.” She’s old and homeless. Enough said.

“We all make decisions we regret.” Fought for his country overseas. Borderline PTSD.

“Too late to switch careers now, I guess.” Mourns the lost prosperity of the town’s fishing industry.

the end she can only choose between sacrificing an entire town, or the one person she doesn’t want to let down ever again. Either way she’s looking at a lifetime of remorse. If we feel nostalgia for the loss of Max’s little world, it’s simply because the devs have done such a brilliant job bringing it to life, whether we’re taking an illicit dip with Chloe in the school pool, sharing a final sleepover with her in the heartbreaking alternate timeline, or just watching the scenery glide past while a Josez Gonzales track plays. None of us ever really had such a deep relationship, or lived somewhere as scenic, but we’ve all known something like it, so Dontnod’s more intense version feels at once familiar and painful to lose. We can’t hold on to the happy times any more than Max can, and this is the brilliant secret at the heart of Life is Strange: that what at first seems to be a superpower to fix regret is in fact only a way of experiencing it more intensely.

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EXTRA LIFE NOW PLAYING

andy k e l ly

In an increasingly divided, troubled, and uncertain world, PC games are always there for you. And I take comfort in that.

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return to a classic

go behind the scenes

join the mob

deus ex: revision

the magic circle

maFia ii

www.dx-revision.com

www.magiccirclegame.com

www.mafia2game.com

No, this isn’t a spin-off about a young Adam Jensen studying for his exams (a missed opportunity). It’s an impressive overhaul of the original Deus Ex, as mentioned in my Reinstall this month. It adds high-res textures, expanded levels, bug fixes, and loads more. The perfect excuse for another replay.

Developed by a small team of former BioShock and Dishonored developers, The Magic Circle is the most self-aware game on PC. You’re trapped in a half-finished game abandoned by its creators, who bicker about the direction it should have gone in as you edit the code of enemies to help you escape.

The best thing about the bewilderingly average Mafia III is that it inspired me to return to the second game. The city of Empire Bay, both its snowy ’40s and sunny ’50s incarnations, is an evocative setting for a well-told crime yarn. It’s a decent shooter, but it’s the story and variety that keep you playing.

get revenge

Full throttle www.doublefine.com/games

In terms of puzzle design this is one of Tim Schafer’s weaker adventures. But its tale of a biker on a quest for vengeance is one of his best, and funniest, stories. The dusty backwater setting is incredibly stylish and Ben is one of adventure gaming’s greatest heroes. I can’t wait for Double Fine’s remaster.

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

talk to an ai

event[0] www.event0game.com

This experimental sci-fi game is too short, and more should’ve been done with the story, but it’s one of the most unusual, atmospheric games I’ve played in ages. Trapped on a starship with a broken AI, you ‘talk’ to it with your keyboard. But its unpredictable personality means you never know its true intentions.

shoot monsters

hack the planet

go swimming

Quake

else heart.break()

abzÛ

www.idsoftware.com

www.elseheartbreak.com

www.abzugame.com

Yeah, Quake II is probably the better game, but there’s something about the original’s grimdark Lovecraftian setting that I’ve always loved. It’s all bleak castles, evil death-knights and weird monsters. And the super nailgun is one of the most satisfyingly brutal weapons in an FPS. I’d love a remake of this.

I’ve recommended this to a lot of people and most hit a brick wall. But it’s worth powering through the bewildering first hour or so to get to the heart of it, because it’s a weird, wonderful game. It’s a curious mix of simulating the life of a guy who’s just moved to a new town and hacking. Look, just give it a go. It’s great.

This is a game about swimming around some of the most beautiful underwater environments that’ll ever grace your screen, and not much else. But that’s the beauty of it. It’s a wonderfully simple, evocative experience, with appropriately fluid swimming controls and an achingly gorgeous orchestral score.

february 2017


UPGRADE

group test By Ed Chester

GAminG mice Pure pointer perfection awaits, with our pick of the best gaming mice

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HARDWARe Group Test

Q&A Optical or laser? It was supposed to be the case that laser sensors replaced optical ones but many gamers still prefer the latter. Laser is better for tracking on a greater variety of surfaces while optical is more accurate on soft mouse mats. Wired or wireless? Despite what some will tell you, there is

Y

still a difference between wired and wireless mice, in terms of response. However, if you’re not a twitch FPS gamer, you can get away with using a wireless mouse, and there are now hybrid options too. How high DPI? As high as you like, but it won’t mean much. DPI is a pretty useless measure on its own, but most modern mice have very good sensors regardless. Any top-brand model will be fine.

ou’d be forgiven for thinking that there’s surely no more room to make gaming mice any better. For years now we’ve had fantastic mice that track accurately, keep up with the fastest of movements, have comfortable shapes and a multitude of buttons. But, things have indeed moved on. Old favorites are still around but they’ve been

What grip style? There are three main grip types, and mice tend to be made to suit only some of them. Palm grip mice tend to be larger, to provide support for the whole hand, while claw and fingertip mice tend to be smaller to allow more room to move. How heavy? This one’s purely down to personal preference and grip style, but in terms of raw performance, the lighter the better.

Dictionary Dots per inch (DPI)—The measure of how sensitive a mouse is. A higher DPI allows for faster movement and generally higher accuracy. Acceleration—How quickly the mouse can move before the sensor fails to track it properly.

tweaked and refined, plus there are a few new names in the market. RGB lighting, even higher DPI sensors, weight systems, replaceable body panels, sniper buttons and more are all up for grabs. Plus there are MOBA mice that have loads of extra buttons, though we’re not looking at any of those here. For this test we’ll be looking at seven standard wired and wireless gaming mice that start from a mere $50 and rise to $140. February 2017

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HARDWARe Group Test 1

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LoGitecH G403 PRoDiGy

RAzeR DeAtHADDeR eLite

www.logitech.com $70

www.razerzone.com $70

Logitech pitches this mouse as a simple, barebones alternative to its flagship G502. But it’s actually a much better mouse overall. For a start, the shape is superb, which not only looks great but makes it the most comfortable mouse.

The Deathadder has been one of the most popular mice of the last decade and this latest version shows it’s still got it. It looks fantastic, with its matt-black plastic top, thick rubber sides, elegant curved shape and backlit logo and scroll wheel.

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It works for all grip styles, too, while thick rubber areas on the sides offer a really secure hold. This is also a very light mouse, weighing just 94g according to our scales. If you prefer a mouse with more heft, you can add the included 10g weight. You also get RGB backlighting for the Logitech logo on the rear and a strip of light that emanates from the scroll wheel. The two lights can be set independently to any color and brightness, and you can add a breathing effect too. Button selection is basic with just left, right, forward, back, scroll-wheel-click and a single DPI switch behind the scroll wheel. The latter is great for keeping your mousing simple but effective in the heat of battle. You can set more than two DPI levels but I found it best to just cycle between two. This is the simplest mouse on test, but it’s also great. It’s comfortable, affordable and the 16,000 DPI optical sensor is fantastic. It’s basically as good as the more popular Deathadder Elite, reviewed next.

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It feels great too, though its relatively high and wide back end makes it slightly more suited to palm-grip users than fingertip-grippers. The positioning of the buttons is also mostly excellent, all except the DPI-switching buttons that sit behind the scroll wheel—with a palm-grip they’re impossible to press accurately. I like the rough-textured, rubber scroll wheel and its light click action, though. Tracking is as superb as you’d expect of pretty much any gaming mouse these days, and the use of a 16,000 DPI optical sensor makes it ideal for fabric mouse mats. Razer’s Synapse software is also among the most comprehensive on offer, allowing you to save all your Razer device settings to the cloud. On the flipside, it’s a pain that you have to log in to it just to change a few settings. For fans of weight systems, extra buttons and other add-ons, the Deathadder Elite isn’t for you, but as a simple, no-frills mouse, it’s great. Between this and the G403, you’re spoilt for great gaming mice.

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SteeLSeRieS RivAL 700 www.steelseries.com $72

LoGitecH G900 cHAoS SPectRum www.logitech.com $140

This SteelSeries mouse packs in a heck of a lot for its relatively modest asking price. For $72 you’re getting a modular design with replaceable sensor and palm grip, an OLED display and a haptic feedback engine.

The G900 Chaos Spectrum is Logitech’s take on the same wired/wireless hybrid mouse as the Razer Mamba, allowing you to plug in to play games and go wireless for work and casual computing. But the two couldn’t be more different in execution.

Starting with that modularity, you can swap out the gray back cover for alternatives with a variety of colors and finishes. The entire sensor assembly can also be removed, so you can go for laser rather than optical. Plus the cable comes off, giving you the option of a braided or rubber-wrapped lead, both of which are included. For such a modular mouse the design isn’t too bitty either, but at 135g it’s not light. It’s also comfortable, and the button placement is good. Like the G403, the DPI switching is single-button rather than two, which is how I like it when the buttons are behind the scroll wheel. The OLED display is on the side and can be used to display novelties like animated gifs, or it can show game info and be used to adjust the mouse’s settings—a particularly useful feature. Meanwhile the haptic feedback can be used to indicate things like in-game cooldowns. Combined with excellent overall performance, this makes for a hugely versatile and capable mouse for a great price.

The Mamba is sleek and stylish and comes with a neat charging dock/wireless transmitter. The G900 is a bizarre looking thing and it uses a clunky system for charging and switching between modes. The transmitter is a conventional USB module but Logitech provides an adapter that allows it to plug into the end of the micro USB cable, which also plugs into the mouse. So, you remove the transmitter to plug the mouse in for charging or wired use. The mouse is intriguing too. It’s ambidextrous and has back/forward buttons on both sides, but it provides the option to remove the buttons from either side, so you don’t accidentally press them. This one small tweak transforms the usability of this mouse, making it one of the most comfortable and adaptable on test. The odd side-by-side DPI switches and optionally freewheeling scroll wheel also work well. There are a lot of crazy ideas here, but overall they come together surprisingly effectively.

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5

RoccAt Kone XtD

RAzeR mAmbA cHRomA

www.roccat.org $69

www.razerzone.com $120

The Roccat Kone XTD is one of the simplest and cheapest mice on test but it has all the performance you need where it counts. Cutting right to the chase, the Kone XTD has just a few features that put it above the most basic gaming options.

The idea of the Razer Mamba has always appealed. A mouse that could provide the convenience of wireless and the performance of wired all in one is the ideal package, and this Chroma edition is no different.

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The first is a weights system. By default it weighs 118g, which is a little higher than the 100g of several competitors, and you can add up to 20g more. You also get a couple of RGB lighting strips that run down the length of the mouse. Combined with the soft-touch black back and sides they make for a very sleek looking mouse, though the large silver Roccat logo on the back clutters things a little. The only other extra is a small button that sits above the scroll wheel. By default it opens the Windows Start Menu, which seems like a very odd choice, but you can assign it to do whatever you like. Similarly, what would normally be the back button is by default a macro button—strange indeed. Otherwise, what you’ve got here is a typical high-end laser mouse. Technically its sensor isn’t quite up there with the latest optical ones but in our tests it performed superbly. Combined with a design that’s good for both palm and fingertip grippers and easy-to-use software, it’s a solid option for the money.

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6

Like the Deathadder Elite, this is a great looking mouse. All black and curvy, it’s simple and understated. Likewise, the wireless adapter is a plain but sturdy unit that is effortless to dock the mouse into for charging. Both the dock and the mouse are illuminated and a neat touch is that when the mouse is docked its lights indicate battery life. On the mouse’s underside are two hex screws that, with the help of the included tool, can be used to adjust the resistance of the left and right buttons. A niche feature, but it works. As for other buttons, there’s the same selection as the Deathadder Elite, so it has the same good and bad points. The ergonomics are also similar, though the rear of this mouse is narrower, so there’s more room for fingertip-grip users. There’s also a tilting scroll wheel. As for performance, the mouse is quite heavy but otherwise works well, both in wired and wireless modes. It’s not a bargain but delivers the goods, so you won’t be disappointed if you splash the cash.

75%


HARDWARe Group Test

stACKeD up DPI (dots per inch)

PRICE ($)

WEIgHT (grams)

1

Logitech G403 Prodigy 70 12,000 90

Razer Deathadder Elite

2

6

70 16,000

7

105

3

SteelSeries Rival 700 72 16,000 135

4

Logitech G900 Chaos Spectrum 140 12,000 107

5

Roccat Kone XTD 69 8,200 118

6

Razer Mamba Chroma

coRSAiR m65 PRo

120 16,000 133

Corsair M65 Pro RGB

7

www.corsair.com $50 On paper the Corsair M65 Pro should be a winner. For just $50 you’re getting a mouse with an aluminium build, RGB lighting, a clever weights system and a top of the line 12,000 DPI optical sensor. But the ergonomics are an acquired taste.

118

Optical / Laser

Weights system

Wired/ Wireless

Sniper button

Buttons

1

Optical

yes

Wired

No

6

2

Optical

No

Wired

No

7

3

Optical

yes

Wired

yes

7

4

Optical

No

Wired/Wireless

No

11

5

esseNtIALs

Laser

yes

Wired

No

8

6

70%

12,000

Optical

No

Wired/Wireless

No

9

7

7

It’s quite bulky, with high, straight sides, yet it’s also quite short and stubby. This means it initially feels like it should suit palm grip users, but there’s not enough bulk at the back for your palm to rest on. Meanwhile, for fingertip users the straight, non-rubberized sides mean it isn’t the easiest to grip, and if you like to also use your ring finger on the side, you’re out of luck. It also doesn’t help that it’s 118g before you’ve even added any extra weights. All of which is a shame as just about everything else about it is great. The design has an appealing aggressiveness to it, while the buttons are mostly excellent, all except the back and forward buttons, which are too small. The weights system is clever too. It uses three bolts and matching ring weights positioned in three corners of the mouse. By varying how much weight is in each position you can balance the mouse in accordance with your grip. Ultimately, though, unless you know you like its ergonomics, there are other mice we’d recommend you try first.

50

Optical

yes

Wired

yes

8

February 2017

109


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.

110

February 2017


HARDWARE

Motherboard

Z170-A Pro

ProCeSSor

Buyer’s Guide

Core i3-6100

GraPhICS Card MeMory

Kingston $35 DDR4 packs higher speeds, better energy efficiency, and larger capacities. 8GB is still king for most games however.

EVGA 500W 80PLUS Certified ATX12V/EPS12V

SSd

EVGA $45 A reliable PSU with enough juice to run your CPU and a reasonably power-hungry GPU.

Torch LE 120GB SSD

500GB 7200RPM HDD

Patriot $35 This SSD is insanely cheap, and the perfect size to house your Windows system and most-used programs.

CaSe dISPLay

Seagate $49 500GB of additional storage for all your games and other programs. Spend a tiny bit more and you double its capacity.

Carbide 200R

VS247HR 60Hz 1080p

ControLLer

T O TA L $1,020

AMD $280 AMD’s new budget card has incredible performance for the price, just pipping the GTX 970 in our benchmarking tests.

hdd

PoWer SuPPLy

HyperX Fury Black 8GB @2133

MouSe

Enjoy 1080p gaming without breaking the bank

Intel $116 Grants access to that brilliant Z170 chipset, is super energy efficient, and delivers meaty performance even in AAA titles.

RX 480

Keyboard

BUDGET BUILD

MSI $114 Our budget build’s gone through an upgrade thanks to this new Z170 chipset. Plenty of expandability to upgrade in the future.

Corsair $70 The 200R gets the job done with toolless trays and plenty of space. ATX-sized, so you can upgrade that microATX board later.

Asus $137 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 $80 A no-frills mechanical keyboard with a standard layout and Cherry switches. We recommend Browns or Reds for gaming.

Rival 100 Steelseries $32 Steelseries’ Rival lineup is ideal for those looking to get a quality gaming mouse at a respectable price.

Xbox 360 Wired Controller

Microsoft $27 The king of controllers, and cheap at the price. When you’re button-mashing, this USB device won’t let you down.

February 2017

111


HARDWARE

GraPhICS Card MeMory

112

February 2017

Intel $220 Intel’s new Skylake processor is nearly as fast as an i7 for gaming. Comes with some important memory/storage speed boosts.

Kraken X31

Nvidia $565 The new king of midrange, this card is perfect for high refresh rate 1440p gaming, and gives you a monitor upgrade path.

NZXT $70 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.

Savage Black 16GB @2400 MHz CAS 12

Kingston $81 Thanks to insanely low timings, these two 8GB sticks of DDR4 are more than enough.

RMx 650W

850 EVO 250GB

Caviar Blue 1TB 7200RPM

Samsung $98 Samsung retains its top spot on the SSD pile with the fantastically priced, very speedy 850 EVO. Still the best price/performance.

Western Digital $50 SSDs are great, but they’re still far from cheap. This 1TB HDD will hold as many games as you can handle.

S340

NZXT $75 The stylish S340 has some nice touches, such as removable dust filters and space for huge liquid cooling radiators.

dISPLay

CaSe

SSd

Corsair $100 Nothing like having a quality power supply. Get a decent cable kit for this one and you can easily spice up your rig.

hdd

PoWer SuPPLy

T O TA L $1,722

i5-6600K

Q2778VQE

Keyboard

Our recommended build for playing the latest games

Asus $160 The latest revision of our favorite gaming motherboard, with an M.2 PCIe x4 slot, Intel network port, USB 3.1 and SLI support.

GTX 1070 FE

K70 Vengeance

MouSe

MID-RANGE BUILD

Z170 Pro Gaming

CooLer

ProCeSSor

Motherboard

Buyer’s Guide

AOC $250 This entry-level 1440p monitor is perfect for those looking to upgrade from 1080p. It’s cheap and still looks sleek.

Corsair $110 A great, full-size mechanical keyboard with an ergonomic wrist rest. We recommend Cherry Brown or Red switches for gaming.

Deathadder 2013

Razer $58 There’s not a huge range of price differences on the best mice, so stick with the best for your mid-range build too.


HARDWARE

T O TA L $3,346

Intel $339 Intel’s new top-of-the-line Skylake processor. Its new chipset includes important memory/ storage speed boosts.

GTX 1080 Founder’s Edition 8GB

CooLer

EVGA $819 Nvidia’s GTX 1080 is the new king of the hill. Although a little pricey, this device is perfect for 4K gaming.

Savage Black 16GB @2400 MHz Cas12

Corsair $120 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

Kingston $81 Thanks to insanely low timings, these two 8GB sticks of DDR4 are more than enough.

HX750i 80 Plus Platinum

Noctis 450

PG279Q ROG Swift G-Sync

MouSe

T O TA L £2,862

Core i7-6700K

Hydro H110i GT 280mm

Keyboard

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

Asus $240 Fantastic overclocking and stability, with a great UEFI BIOS from Asus. M.2, USB 3.1 and on-board power, reset, CMOS, etc, buttons.

dISPLay

ADVANCED BUILD

ROG Maximus VIII Hero

MeMory

GraPhICS Card

ProCeSSor

Motherboard

Buyer’s Guide

Corsair $151 Modular, custom cable kits, and a platinum efficiency rating. What’s not to love about this Corsair PSU? Nothing, that’s what.

Samsung $181 PCIe SSDs surpass the limitations of SATA, delivering speeds four times faster than traditional 2.5” variants.

Samsung $307 Say goodbye to those slow old hard drives with this almost affordable 1TB SSD, perfect for all your games and media.

NZXT $130 Thanks to its innovative interior layout and daring design, this case is a pleasure to work in and a beauty to behold.

Asus $800 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 $120 An elegant set of keys from mechanical keyboard fan favorite Ducky. Renowned for their impeccable feel and build quality.

Deathadder 2013

Razer $58 Even if you’ve got money to burn, the Deathadder really is the best mouse you can buy right now.

February 2017

113


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PC Gamer USA - February 2017