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The mission was a disaster. I'd accidentally killed everyone on the space station and bludgeoned my own head in. But, you know, I'm feeling pretty pleased with myself. I'd explored a great deal of the planet, brought back some sweet alien booty, and hadn't died of radiation sickness. If it weren't for the fact I killed everyone, my score for the mission would've been in the hundreds of thousands!
I feel that's something to be proud of.
Scavenger SV-4 is a kind of first-person roguelike (roguelike-like?) about exploring an alien planet, and it's unlike any game I've played before. Every run begins with me alone in a small research ship in orbit above a new planet, facing the terminal screen above my bunk. One of its many cool features is that, like Doom 3, you directly interact with screens. The view smoothly zooms in so I can press the button that shows my log and read about how I came here. The story's always different, but in this one an old friend got in touch from out of the blue with coordinates for a distant planet. Go there, the friend told me, there's riches beyond my dreams. Evidently, I did.
The ship's bridge is next to the bunk. Since the ship is in zero-G, I move by flying, clicking on a panel to open the doors, and drift over to the bridge's single seat, which sits before a terminal that controls my probe. The actual probe is in a room behind me, and I can send it down to the surface to map it and find alien artifacts to bring back and research. When I hit the 'Launch' button, its grainy video feed shows the interior of my ship as the probe rotates to align with the airlock and thrusts out.
I watch my ship recede as the probe automatically navigates into planetfall. Getting up to look out of the window, I see it as a speck in the distance.
The video feed snows up, the probe's mics picking up the roar of entry, and then the noise fades. The view shows the probe is descending over a landscape of mountains. If I click the 'Turret' button I can look around. The planet's natural interference has caused the feed to go monochrome and it's much grainier than when the probe was on the ship, but I can make out weird structures in the distance. And, with a thunk, it hits the ground.
The probe has a number of components which I can assign to the terminal's six screens. I have the video feed on the main one, while the power controller shows that the weak generator is providing just enough energy to have my map, compass, microphone and video running while also slowly charging its battery when it's stationary. But as soon as I start trundling around with WASD, the battery starts to drain. That's OK, I have an auxiliary generator.
I drive the probe towards one of the odd structures. Without all the interference the planet would probably look laughably crude, but, barely able to make out distant shapes and knowing that if my probe falls into a ravine it'll be destroyed, I'm feeling tense. Sometimes the structures are alive and my probe has no weapon. But this one, a bizarre crooked thing that towers over my probe, seems inert, and as the probe nears it the screen indicates there's an object. Maneuvering closer, a 'Pick up' button appears and manipulator arms deploy to stow an alien artifact in one of the probe's three free slots.
Steering carefully around the structure, I head to the next, and then another, hearing only the buzz of my manipulator arms, the hum of motors, and static. With all slots full, it's time to recall the probe, and it immediately launches into the air, heading automatically up to the ship. As it rises, I spy a massive structure in the distance. I'll go there next.
I watch my ship appear on the probe's video feed, and then watch it out the window. It's a relief to have it back. The probe bay doors open and I head to its terminal to unload the artifacts, sending them to the research station. At the research terminal I start the computer analyzing them. One is 'encased remains', the computer theorizing they're ceremonial. I can install the others in my probe to give it new capabilities. One is an arc projector weapon which uses loads of energy, but I fit it anyway. Now I have only two slots to stow artifacts, so I uninstall the compass and microphone to make more space.
The second drop takes the probe back to where we left off. I switch the arc projector on, but the video feed keeps blacking out because my probe isn't generating enough energy. Uh oh. I switch the arc projector off and head to the massive structure, seeing a collection of what look like trees to one side. Trees! But as I draw closer, black lightning—silent because I've removed the microphone—starts hitting the ground around the probe. Reverse! Several components are damaged and the map display starts breaking up with static.
I head the other way to find less dangerous places to grab artifacts and jet the probe back to the ship, and while it's en route I remember about the whole radiation thing. The ship is unshielded and I'll die, tumor-riddled, if it gets too high, so I go to the medical station to heal up a portion of it. You can't stop the irradiation, but you can slow it.
I start to establish a rhythm of work. While the probe is traveling between planet and ship I visit medical and manage the ship's storage. I research artifacts and read logs. I find a more efficient gun and a better battery. I explore the planet widely, encounter aliens and defeat them. I'm always careful. Ship systems crash, I reboot them. I anxiously monitor the life support system. And before long I realize that my storage is full. It's time to go home, once the computer completes my final piece of research.
Then I see it. The engineering bay is full of floating chains. With hooks on the end. Lots of them. I back out, seal the doors. What the...? By now I'm pretty irradiated. I check the research. I want to go. I gingerly return to engineering and the chains are gone. I go back to medical to heal. And as I float through the storage room, I see bloodstains leading out to the main airlock. Oh, man.
I seal the doors. Back to research. Nearly done. I walk into the bridge and there's a laugh. I spin around. I know I'm alone. Forget the research. I go to the bridge terminal, disconnect from the probe and hit the button that sends me home.
BRACE FOR THRUST, the readout says, and then I see a figure in my EVA suit outside the ship. It's banging on the windows and it headbutts the glass and both the window and the EVA helmet's visor cracks and the figure drifts motionlessly backwards as the nose of my ship rises and we accelerate away.
Heading home was my last action. The epilogue text tells me that my ship was found drifting with me dead inside it. It's a shame that one of the artifacts I found then caused all the inhabitants of the space station to kill themselves. But it wasn't my fault. We do what we must because we can. There's no sense crying over every mistake, am I right? And this was just one scenario that can play out in Scavenger SV-4. I can always start another run.
Scavenger SV-4 is available now on Steam.
The Humble Store has kicked off weekend sales on Bethesda and Codemasters games, and to attract your interest (and hopefully your attention) it's giving away the Codies racing sim F1 2015 for the next two days.
You might say that F1 2015 is "weird," and in fact we did say that in our review. We called it "the best representation of F1 racing to date," but hit it with a middling 61/100 score because of a "lack of content, unstable multiplayer suite, and unchanged foundations." It's been patched and updated a number of times since then, which has presumably improved the experience, and also it's free. Hard to go wrong at that price.
If racing is your thing, here are some other Codies deals you might find interesting:
The Bethesda sale is a little less sim-specialized, but the cuts don't go quite so deep either. Still, there are some good deals to be had:
The Codemasters and Bethesda sales are live now and will run until March 26. The F1 2015 freebie, on the other hand, goes away at 10 am PT/1 pm ET on March 24.
The next expansion to Bethesda's CCG The Elder Scrolls: Legends will be called Houses of Morrowind, and as the title suggests it will feature the sights, sounds, and strangeness of the ancestral homeland of the Dunmer. Ahead of its release at the end of the month, we've got a couple of new cards to reveal for you, one of which really emphasizes the "strangeness" of the game world it's based on.
First, though, let's have a look at the relatively conventional Ebonheart Oracle. She's a 3/5 legendary Willpower card played for 5 mana with the Drain keyword, meaning that every time she does damage, she heals your hero. Normally the amount healed is equal to the damage dealt, but Ebonheart Oracle doubles the amount of health gained. That's a big boost in decks looking to go long, or stave off aggressive pushes from fast decks.
And here's the weirdo: The Ascended Sleeper, one of my favorite denizens of Morrowind (because it's so damn weird), a 3/6 card for 6 mana who's unusual not just because of the face (although it's hard to overlook) but because this is one of the new three-attribute cards that the expansion will add to the game. The Ascended Sleeper is one of the new tri-color cards, with the attributes of Strength, Intelligence, and Agility, reflecting its relatively high status among Dagoth Ur's minions.
Cost reduction effects in card games are always potent (hello, Emperor Thaurissan), so this is definitely one to watch, despite the fact you need to meet a restriction—having a creature with 5 power on board—in order to proc the bonus each turn. I also like that it only reduces the cost of creatures, not actions, so it's less likely to be used from insane combos. Although I suppose there is potential for Wispmother shenanigans.
The Houses of Morrowind expansion will include 149 new cards in all. It The set will also see the arrival of three-attribute cards, though decks wishing to use them will need to meet the requirement of running at least 75 cards, increasing the instability of their draw. The expansion is set to roll out on March 29. Check out the sweet full card art below.
Oxygen Not Included is a sci-fi management sim about clones building an underground base inside in asteroid, currently in Early Access. Since it's from Klei, the makers of Don't Starve, you know it involves very bad things happening to those clones, or Duplicants as they call them, but the latest update seems to add something nice for those poor Dupes: pets.
The Ranching Upgrade Mark 1 is the first of two planned updates, with the second to follow in six weeks time. Though Klei can't say exactly what they're saving for Mark 2, "...we can say that it will increase the depth of critter loops and utility, and will further build on the mechanical foundations laid in this half of the upgrade. (And maybe there'll be a new species...)"
As for what's in the Mark 1 update, there's quite a lot to it. Here's Klei again to explain: "Critter ranching allows you to interact with critters in a variety of new ways and integrate them into the daily routine of your colony. Duplicants, particularly those employed as Ranchers, can care for Hatches, Shine Bugs, and Pufts to increase their happiness, farm additional resources from them, and even breed new critters for your herd."
There's also a new encyclopedia of critters, new varieties of geyser, and various performance tweaks and bug fixes. Full notes can be found here.
Final Fantasy's hardest bosses are usually hiding somewhere, waiting to wipe out your party immediately. For Final Fantasy 15's PC release, the developers added a big spider robot called Omega, which is buried in a part of the Insomnia city map near the close of the game. It's described as a weapon forged to fell the gods—and when I ran past it on my way to another objective, it wiped out a party member's health in one hit.
I haven't beaten Omega, and I'm not sure I ever will. Final Fantasy 15's combat doesn't demand enough strategy to make for interesting boss fights, only long ones—exemplified by the slog that is the battle with mountain-turned-angry-turtle, Adamantoise—but in some ways the effect of knowing it's there is the best thing about Omega. That part of the city is no longer safe. It's ready to kill me.
This has always been the case with the 'Weapons' and superbosses from Final Fantasy games of the past: they're usually giant horror creatures, representing the game's ultimate challenge. It's not the idea of a long boss fight that's exciting to me—it's how they're presented.
Final Fantasy 10 was the first entry I played, back in 2002—I've since played them all. I'd gotten pretty good at the game's complex progression system and learned how to take down every boss quickly. It's not a hard game, as long as you don't skip random battles and keep your characters developing—but then I returned to Besaid Island, one of the game's opening areas, and met my first Final Fantasy superboss. You can see the scene play out above: the sky changes colour, a bald man screams 'infidel!' and a dark version of one of your summoned allies arrives to demolish your party. It's actually a bit spooky. Or at least, it seemed that way when I was 14.
That almost horror movie-like reveal technique is used in a few other Final Fantasy games, too. One of the most memorable for me is Ultima Weapon in Final Fantasy 8. You fly to an area known as the 'Deep Sea Facility', mysteriously placed in the middle of the ocean as a secret dungeon for the player to find. Once you reach the bottom of the facility, things get more bizarre: an alarm goes off, the rocks resonate and this thing suddenly attacks. The build up to the boss and the eerie sense of place is what makes it a great boss fight—not the fight itself, which is pretty easy if you've got Squall levelled up appropriately. Check out Bizkit047's video below to see what I mean (note: Squall has been renamed 'Kevin').
Go, Kevin, go! This is why I'm a big fan of Final Fantasy's superbosses. They're endgame content, not tied into the main story, so they offer value to keep playing after you've seen the credits—but the developers clearly think hard about the way such enemies are introduced, and what kind of atmosphere their presence creates. Omega is just the latest in a long line, and I love the way it's explained as a god killer, created by man. I can't be bothered to fight the thing, sure, but it's a cool explanation for why it exists.
Final Fantasy 7 has arguably the spookiest superboss of all: Emerald Weapon. Even though the game's dated visuals mean the creature doesn't have the same impact that it used to, this thing swims around the world's dark oceans, and can only be encountered in the submarine you obtain deep into the game. Sometimes it'll just hover right in front of you, and its location will be revealed by little bursts of air coming out of its sides, emerging from the dark. Like most Final Fantasy superbosses, it'll pretty much kill you in moments unless you've mastered the game's combat and progression systems.
Final Fantasy has many obvious traditions: chocobos, cactuars and a guy called Cid all spring to mind. But this is probably my favourite. I love the idea that mastery is hard fought in Final Fantasy, and that there's always the chance there's something else out there in the world, waiting to murder your party.
Tachanka is Rainbow Six Siege's least popular operator and its most popular operator. As a defender, he's mostly useless. You'll only see him selected if you're playing with someone inexperienced, or someone who's intentionally trolling the other team. Data released by Ubisoft confirms this—Tachanka has the lowest pick rate throughout the lifespan of Siege, and often the lowest win rate among defenders. By far.
But as a meme, he's beloved: members of the Siege community refer to him as "Our Lord," among other godly designations. Tachanka is the heavy, loud, unsubtle, steel-helmeted Russian in a game that's often about speed, stealth, and trickery. He's natural comedic relief in an otherwise tense, serious FPS, and Tachanka appears plenty in Siege's memes and comics, like those drawn by prolific community artist SAU-Siege.
If you're Ubisoft, what do you do with a character like Tachanka in a competitive shooter? Game director Leroy Athanassoff addressed that question in the Q&A portion of a panel at the Game Developers Conference yesterday in San Francisco.
"The design issue is, this game was made in a context where, when we were working on it, we didn't know how Siege was going to be played. The core ability of Tachanka is deploying a turret, trading his whole movement ability to firepower. It's not something that works in Rainbow Six Siege. Because of the destruction, because of the entire game, not being able to move is not something that works."
The core issue, Athanassoff believes, is that the logic of reworking Tachanka is at odds with the affection the community has for him, and that his identity as a meme has value. "The thing is that, if it was not 'Lord Tachanka,' we would have revamped the operator and maybe totally changed it, like maybe removed the turret and create something else. But at some point it kind of… he become, I would say, kind of a god for a lot of people," Athanassoff joked. "So we have this situation of if we really want to address it, we need to change it in a way that it won't be Tachanka anymore. It's kind of a difficult decision to make ... As the Lord is above us, I would say he's in a nice place right now."
While Ubisoft may not have plans to further buff or alter Tachanka, perhaps as an acknowledgement of that community love, we saw the Spetsnaz soldier as one of the handful of voiced characters in the recent cinematics for Siege's PvE Outbreak event, the closest thing to a story Siege has had in its more than two years since release. You can also find him in vinyl in the Ubisoft Store.
During a GDC panel about how the team at Giant Sparrow used 13 different game prototypes to provide the foundation for What Remains of Edith Finch's story (our favorite of 2017), Creative Director Ian Dallas revealed what their next game will be about.
The final slide of the presentation features two birds, a wacky cube toad, and a school of fish. And below the Planet Earth collage was the message. See it for yourself below.
Dallas didn't elaborate much on the subject, essentially repeating what was on the slide, but he did say they're looking for talented animators to help out. You can apply at Giant Sparrow's website, which is also housing a few more details on the new project.
"Our next game is still very early in development, but we know it's going to focus on animation as a means of conveying mood, revealing character, and providing for player expression."
Exciting stuff, given how effective Edith Finch was at conveying its dour, overwhelming themes. If the vignettes where you bounce between playing as a cat, shark, owl, and giant tentacle are good reference for a starting point, then a project that explores and expands on what it means to move as an animal is an especially exciting prospect in Giant Sparrow's hands. The project description continues:
"We're drawing inspiration from works like Ico, Windosill, Spirited Away, The Life of Birds, and the spirit of Winsor McCay and early Disney films like Bambi and Fantasia that used (for the time) cutting edge technology to build something that didn't feel technical at all, but instead felt personal and enchanting. That's our hope anyway."
We're still years out from playing it, for sure, but we'll wait as long as necessary for videogame's Bambi.
Jalopy is a lovely road trip simulator that wheels players around the territories of the former Eastern Bloc. It's been in Early Access since April 2016, and has now set March 28, this Wednesday, for full release.
When I first discovered former Formula 1 developer Greg Pryjmachuk was partly responsible for Jalopy, I was intrigued. Driving an East German Trabbie-aping Laika 601 Deluxe is a far cry from high-velocity F1 cars, and while I loved my time with it I'm not sure I properly understood it.
Miodrag Kovachevic's 2017 Now Playing, on the other hand, is a wonderful example of someone who does. As explained in the article's intro, Miodrag grew up in '90s Yugoslavia, an Eastern European country that no longer exists. They speak about their family's Yugo—"a metal box with wheels that was the embodiment of cheap communist cars"—which, despite lasting 27 years, appears to mirror the game's Laika 601 Deluxe.
Miodrag's insights inspired me to return to Jalopy, which I then found more enjoyable than before. You should absolutely read the piece in its entirety, but I've pulled out a couple of paragraphs below:
As I drive through procedural ’90s Germany, I don’t recognise any of the environments, but I still feel a sense of nostalgia. My car is slow and the roads are barren, without a single billboard in sight. The radio plays songs that sound like Eastern Europe in the ’90s, (or Western Europe in the ’60s, depending on your perspective). A few infant ’90s tracks tentatively edge themselves in, not yet knowing whether they’re electro or industrial...
When I finally reach Yugoslavia, the game shows off the coastal area—something I’ve never seen before. But the roads still feel familiar. They bend in weird and dangerous ways, while stone hills loom over them. It’s nowhere in Yugoslavia; it’s everywhere in Yugoslavia. I gaze at the sea and reflect upon my journey. Have I changed like my Laika has? Different on the inside, with only the shell still the same? The car breaks down again and I’m reminded that no, it’s still the piece of garbage it has always been.
I hope you weren't too terribly excited for those Tomb Raider remasters that were announced earlier this month, because they've been canceled. The teaser videos are gone and Realtech VR, the company that was purportedly handling the remasters, said in a cryptic tweet that it is now focused on new AR and VR projects.
The only follow-up it has provided was in response to a request to release just the HD textures, in which it said simply, "We can't respond sorry." But Square Enix told GamesIndustry that it was responsible for the kill order, because the remasters hadn't actually been given the green light in the first place.
"While we always welcome passion and excitement for the Tomb Raider franchise, the remasters in question were initiated and advertised without seeking approval. As such, they were never officially sanctioned," it said in a statement. "Ensuring fans receive high quality gaming experiences is at the heart of our mission as a company, which requires all projects to go through proper channels."
A Realtech VR rep said in an email that it couldn't discuss the specifics of the matter for legal reasons, but added that the studio "had a great experience with Square Enix" while developing the mobile versions of the first two Tomb Raider games.
"But our recent research, studies and reviews on Tomb Raider 3 were unwelcome, although those rights are protected with Fair dealing in Canadian copyright law," the rep said. "Right now, we don't have any business with Square Enix anymore."
What’s this? Oh it’s Anti Flame listening to Travis while he beats the crap out of Slay the Spire in five minutes and six seconds. Hitting 15(!) relics en route helps but you have to credit the speed of the decision-making, and speed of the clicking. In a great Slay the Spire run the RNG has to fall your way, but it’s still easy to mess up, especially if you’re trying to go really fast.
Here is what is going on in this video.
The whale: If you beat a boss in Slay the Spire at the start of your next run a whale turns up and offers you some powerups. Anti Flame picks “Enemies in your next three combats have 1HP” which is obviously great for quickly getting through the first tier of the tower.
Flex: Flex costs nothing and gives you a strength buff that increases the power of your attack cards. Anti Flame upgrades this at the one minute mark to get a nice +4 strength buff which combos with Whirlwind.
Whirlwind: This deals 5 damage X times to all enemies, where X is the amount of energy left in your pool. Just before Anti Flame buys this at 1:20 he picks up the Lantern, which gives you one energy extra at the start of combat. That means with the right opening hand you can deal 20 damage to everything, even more if you’ve flexed up. A couple of nodes along the route Anti Flame upgrades Whirlwind to deal 8 damage X times. You can see where this is going.
Thunderclap: This deals damage to everything on screen, but importantly it also applies vulnerability to everything, which means Whirlwind does even more damage.
Energy potion: Fighting the first boss Anti Flame uses an energy potion when he draws Whirlwind. Seven energy means Whirlwind attacks seven times. The big slime is vulnerable from an earlier thunderclap, so the attack does 84 damage and kills the boss outright.
Offering: Okay this is getting silly now. Offering hurts you but gives you two energy and draws three cards. It's perfect for getting Whirlwind and Flex to draw consistently. A few seconds later in the boss chest Anti Flame gets a free upgrade to Offering which makes it draw five cards.
Let's check in on where the combo is at. At 2:07 Anti Flame gets a five energy start thanks to relics, then plays Flex+ to boost damage, Offering+ to draw the rest of the combo, Thunderclap+ to damage and apply vulnerability to everything, then Whirlwind to wreck everything on screen.
"FUCK!" Anti Flame goes left instead of right at 3:05 missing out on two ? nodes. These can give you upgrades and relics, and are faster to click through than a fight. If Anti Flame had gone right here the run could have come in under five minutes.
However, one of the fights drops a second Whirlwind. Swings and roundabouts.
Pen nib tip: This relic causes every tenth attack card to do double damage, which is why Whirlwind does ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY-EIGHT damage to a boss at 3:41.
Alanis Morissette: The soundtrack changes at the four minute mark and the damage output leaps considerably. Coincidence? I think not.
Overkill: Fighting a boss on the third tier Anti Flame uses double offering and double flex to stack insane damage. One Whirlwind does 456 damage. The run is a formality at this point.
Endgame: The final boss falls to Flex, Offering, Thunderclap, Offering, Offering, Flex, Thunderclap, and an 11-energy Whirlwind that does 176 damage killing both enemies outright.
Good job. Slay the Spire is currently in Early Access but it's already great. Check out our beginner's guide if you're just getting started. You never know, you might be the one to crack five minutes.