invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This entry was originally published on April 1st, 2014—with the recent reveal of the new Battlefront, we've updated Sam's return to the massively popular Star Wars: Battlefront II, which lives oneven after the end of GameSpy.
There's been some serious money left on the table with Star Wars: Battlefront III's ongoing non-existence in the last ten years. Lucasarts' changes in management, Free Radical's collapse and EA's purchase of Pandemic probably didn't help matters, even if
is at least in production now. What it means is that 2005's Battlefront II is still somehow the best way of having large-scale Star Wars multiplayer battles on land (not so much in space), but despite that merit it's been outstripped by most modern class-based multiplayer shooters.
Arriving just over a year after the original Battlefront, Battlefront II added new classes to the original's straightforward soldier-heavy-sniper focus, notably the overpowered fire-spewing menace that is the Bothan Spy (I don't recall Mon Mothma mentioning invisibility cloaks and flamethrowers when remarking that many of them died to bring the Rebels information, but as I'll get into, it's far from the daftest off-brand offence in Battlefront II).
They also toned down the jetpack-powered Dark Trooper from the first game, too, but where balance issues were hammered out in some areas, other equally problematic ones found their way in. The introduction of playable Jedis and other hero characters as killstreak rewards represented the next natural creative step for the series, but Pandemic made a mess of their implementation. There's not a single Star Wars fan alive today who wouldn't find the sight of Yoda doing a quadruple jump and accompanying flying animation to be quite funny.
Battlefront II's larger ground maps are the design highlight of the game, even if some of them, like Hoth and Endor, were just overhauled from the first installment. I still think this is the best interactive Hoth, complete with towering AT-ATs, gun turrets, Snowspeeders and the snow-strewn tunnels of Echo Base, even if some movie-based levels—the Death Star interior is particularly cheap in its lack of fan service and detail—look pretty flimsy given the potential of the source material. There's little consistency in the quality of the multiplayer maps, which you wouldn't get away with today, unless you were selling them as DLC to fans later on.
Battles are too chaotic to encourage strategy or teamwork, which makes it feel very dated next to PlanetSide 2 or Battlefield 4 where there's a logic to working in groups. The systems of Battlefront II are easy to abuse, with people camping on spawn points, and Boba Fett waiting for me with a flamethrower when I respawned in Mos Eisley this afternoon. There's no structure: you grab a vehicle or just charge with a rifle, trying to capture as many spawn points as you can in the midst of the chaos. Snipers and support classes have a strategy in Battlefront II. Everyone else invariably turns up with a laser or a rocket launcher and dives around.
Space battles are slightly more refined to control, but even more throwaway. As we noted in our review at the time, X-Wing this ain't, as players spin round in circles trying to lock each other in their sights amidst a fleet of larger vessels. All the maps are pretty much the same. They are, however, still the best looking bits of Battlefront II, as illustrated by my X-Wing foolishly going to battle with an Imperial Fleet up top, plus it's still fun to land an A-Wing in a Star Destroyer hangar and blow their systems up from the inside, even though that
never happened in the films ever
And it is still Star Wars, though what it does with Star Wars is so silly and what I would assume to be off-brand that it should theoretically make the licensing team at Lucasarts hurl. Then again, we live in an age where
alongside a no doubt wiki's worth of merchandising nonsense. There's a Mos Eisley Assault mode in Battlefront II that is a hero character-only melee, where Jedis, Sith, smugglers and bounty hunters cross timelines to all fight in this construct of identical buildings. It's amusing, seeing Darth Vader force choke Yoda to death, or killing Emperor Palpatine with a laser pistol as Han Solo while two Chewbaccas contend with a Darth Maul and a Jango Fett.
Characters jump to Spider-Man heights, force powers toss budget-looking models of silver screen icons around and every single death is greeted with an identical bowing animation. I'm not a stickler for Star Wars canon or anything like that, but I'm sure someone got angry about it in 2005. It's what would happen if Dark Horse commissioned me to draw a Star Wars comic at the age of 10: fan service channeled through unrelenting waves of awful. I must admit, I hate Assault in Mos Eisley, but it seems to be a mode with enduring popularity among the game's online audience.
One mode no-one seems to be interested in (and for good reason) is Hunt, which I admit I've only ever played offline. In this, the species of the chosen map fight the invading forces. Today, for example, I watched twenty Wampa ice creatures plod through Echo Base on their way to take out a Rebel outpost, which is made ten times worse by the human-like animations on the Wampas. They actually look like job-for-hire extras wearing costumes, especially when you activate the sprint animation. It's amazing how Pandemic extrapolated this ludicrous scenario out of those six films, but I almost admire the audacity of an idea that's this entertaining to watch. When, exactly, did Wampas start attacking Rebel turrets on Hoth?
But then, this slightly obscure stuff sort of makes sense as part of the language of a rough shooter like Battlefront II. It never felt that credible, and always seemed angled towards a console audience than either a Battlefield or X-Wing Vs TIE Fighter PC fanbase. I thought that in 2005, as well, having played many stronger Star Wars games on PC, trying to figure out why this had broader appeal than the likes of X-Wing Alliance, Jedi Knight or Rebel Assault II (joking on that last one).
I think it's because this kind of multiplayer shooter still scratches an itch that no other Star Wars game does. I recognise Battlefront II hasn't aged well, but there are some evenings where only killing 100 stormtroopers in a hijacked AT-ST or devastating Kashyyyk's wookie population will do, and the catharsis of being able to re-enact set pieces from the movie within a relatively big sandbox is undeniably engaging.
I'm just glad another team is getting a chance to do a better job of depicting this important tenet of Star Wars conflict. In truth, I think the new Battlefront may benefit from falling somewhere between this and Battlefield 4 in complexity—to some extent I think being throwaway and immediately gratifying is now part of what fans will be expecting from any further entries in the series. It's meant to be accessible, but it also wouldn't hurt for the third one to be better than Battlefront II in every single way.
There's still a small but active community playing the game. Every time I've logged on in the past three weeks there's been at least three servers populated enough for a decent match [Note: This was written before GameSpy shut down, but Battlefront 2 is still playable online through other services], and since it only costs $10/ 7 on Steam, it's worth revisiting if only to see how utterly bizarre Pandemic's interpretation of Star Wars lore was. You've got a barely-there Mos Eisley cantina with the appropriate music and a sprawling Endor where all sounds are drowned out by a cacophony of ewok squeaks justifying the species' extinction. That studio clearly loved Star Wars, even if flying Yoda wouldn't make it into my pitch for the perfect interactive take on that universe.
Don't Starve Together, the multiplayer expansion of Klei's sandbox survival game Don't Starve, now includes the vast majority of content added by the Reign of Giants DLC that was released for the original game last year. The new content, minus a few bits and pieces, will be added via the update released today, and it's entirely free.
The update adds two new playable characters, Wigfrid, a stage actress who excels in battle and only eats meat, and Webber, a young boy who lives inside the carcass of a spider who tried to eat him. There are also two new seasons, Spring and Summer, two new biomes, and of course the giants. The update makes some mechanical changes to the game too, in addition to the new content.
Adapting the Reign of Giants material for Don't Starve Together necessitated a few changes: Fire now spreads more slowly, the Ice Flingomatic has an emergency mode instead of being completely turned off, Giants are "generally more present in the world," and Thermal Stone colors are now based on their temperature relative to the ambient temperature of the world—a vital change, I'm sure.
The one bit of less-than-good news is that existing saves should work with the update, but accessing the new content will require a new game. Which will come as a blow if you're several hundred days deep and presiding over your own private army of pig men. Full details are available on Steam.
The good news is that the Rockstar Social Club, the hub for Grand Theft Auto 5's multiplayer mayhem, has not been hacked. The bad news is that another unnamed site apparently has, and you should probably change your password as a result.
Word of trouble originated on Reddit, where a number of posters reported that their accounts had been taken over by unauthorized users. Numerous complaints were also logged with the Rockstar Support Twitter account, and the whole thing had a whiff of a "larger hack going on," as the original poster put it. We also received a tip from a reader who claimed his account had been compromised, despite being only a month old and using a password unique to his Social Club account.
However, in a statement sent to Kotaku Australia, Rockstar said the Social Club has not been compromised, but did acknowledge that "attempts have been made to access user accounts using email and password combinations from an unaffiliated, compromised website or database elsewhere on the internet." It's now in the process of reverting lost accounts to their original owners, and recommended that users do not share email and password combinations across multiple sites.
It's a wise policy—and even though the site hasn't been hacked, I changed my password anyway. Probably wouldn't hurt for you to do the same. If you're experiencing issues, Rockstar's technical support number in North America is 866-922-8694.
Show us your rig
Each week on Show Us Your Rig, we feature PC gaming's best and brightest as they show us the systems they use to work and play.
Adam Riches is an artist at Chucklefish, the studio best known for Starbound, and I pretty much want his desk. He's got a nice, large space with lots of a light and some absolutely fantastic figurines. I am seriously considering flying to the Chucklefish offices to 'interview' him just so I can make off with that 3D printed Guybrush Threepwood voodoo doll. Lacking that, Riches was kind enough to take some time and tell us about the bobbles around his desk, what he's playing right now, and why he's excited for the next Deus Ex.
What's in your PC?
- Case: Cooler Master Silencio 550
- CPU: Intel Core i7-4770 Processor @ 3.40GHz
- Memory: 8GB DDR3
- Motherboard: Asus B85M-G
- GPU: Nvidia Geforce GTX 760
- Primary HD: Kingston SSDNow v300 series 120GB SSD
- Storage HD: Seagate Barracuda 1TB SATA 6Gb/s
- 2x Dell S2340L 23" Monitors
- Wacom Intuos Pro
- 5 desk fan from Morrison s
What's the most interesting/unique part of your setup?
Probably the figurines that have accumulated on my desk. I ordered some 3D printed Monkey Island and Day Of The Tentacle figures specifically because I love the classic Lucasarts adventure games (and they aren't really something you can buy merchandise for) but everything else has just mysteriously appeared in one way or another. A couple times now I ve come into work in the morning and found a new figure placed on my desk.
I also received a unique, hand stitched framed picture of the main characters from our next game, Wayward Tide. We did secret Santa last year, and everyone got really creative and made each other handcrafted gifts.
What's always within arm's reach on your desk?
Our office gets really warm in the summer, so right now I've got a tiny desk fan at hand, which provides a small but welcoming breeze.
I'm also regularly checking up on my desk plant. Everyone in the office has their own plant, and we've got a bet to see who's the best at keeping theirs alive. One of us (naming no names) has a particularly sad looking bonsai tree, that I m amazed is still alive!
What are you playing right now?
I'm still making my way through Shadow of Mordor, the nemesis system is really refreshing but I've hit a point where I've got to finish story missions to continue and they aren't as compelling unfortunately. I'm also slowly working my way through the last part of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. I'm a bit of a completionist when it comes to those games so I m urged to read every email, crawl through every vent, hack every terminal etc. It makes getting through the hub sections of the game a little overwhelming!
What's your favourite game and why?
I have a few favourites! One of them is Little Big Adventure 2, by the now defunct Adeline Software. It starts like a typical adventure game, with you tasked with performing a simple fetch quest, but the sheer scale of the game is ridiculous. By the middle of the game you're caught up in a conspiracy, fighting aliens on a totally different planet. It's completely bizarre but the story manages to constantly hold your attention, and it managed to effectively tackle real-time combat within the adventure game genre.
For similar reasons my other favourite is the original Deus Ex by Ion Storm. I came into it pretty late, but loved the way you could approach situations in different ways and how certain actions would have notable consequences within the story. I'm more than a little excited for the new one that just got announced.
Fractal Design has announced a new addition to the company's Define family of PC cases. The Define S maintains the Define family's signature sound-dampening, but with a far more open internal layout than its predecessors.
The Define S loses the standard hard drive cage in favor of a more open and customizable internal chamber. Three hard drive trays are located vertically behind the front partition of the motherboard tray, able to accommodate a 3.5" or 2.5" drive apiece. There's also space for an additional two SSDs in trays behind the motherboard.
The case has an air cooling-friendly layout: it supports positioning the CPU heatsink in-line with airflow, or can support water cooling via radiators up to 420mm in the top and 360mm in the front. Size-wise, the Define S is slightly smaller than the R5, but can still accommodate a standard-sized ATX motherboard or micro ATX or mini ITX.
The Define S will be available in June 2015 for $80 MSRP for the standard model, or with a large window side panel for $90.
Not yet had your fill of shooting gruesome enemies in their bulbous fleshy weak spots? If so, there's a new DLC add-on for The Evil Within. Called The Consequence, it's the second part of Julie Kidman's story—first seen in the previous DLC, The Assignment. Judging by the name, her actions over the course of The Evil Within may well have some consequences. Just a guess.
For more, let's turn to this here launch trailer.
The Consequence is the second of three planned DLC packs for The Evil Within. The third, titled The Executioner, will focus on Mr. Safe Head, the Keeper.
"For the last few years, it s been all about taking last year s mouse, trying to hype it with marketing, and shoving it down the throat of the 14-year-old, says Carl Silbersky, unimpressed by the state of the PC peripherals market in 2015. He s the new CEO of Mionix, a gaming-hardware company based in southern Sweden, fresh off the back of selling his previous company to Apple. We developed some amazing technology there, he says, but what do I see when I come to gaming peripherals? Not much at all. Multicoloured LEDs are not innovation.
Silbersky wants to start building products for gamers that make them better at what they do, and the company s first attempt is the NAOS QG. At a glance, it looks like a regular gaming mouse, but peer a little closer and you ll spot small metallic sensors poking out of the sides. These collect data on heart rate and galvanic skin response (or sweat , as most of us call it) to try and work out how stressed you are while playing.
You get an insight into your reactions, says Silbersky. You can understand how you react in certain ways, and if you re playing in a team you can see how your teammates react. Getting that data live can draw attention to your stress levels, and afterwards you can pore over the data in more detail to see how it changed over the course of the game. We re taking a first stab at interlinking the biodata of a person with what s happening on their screen, Silbersky says.
We re taking a first stab at interlinking the biodata of a person with what s happening on their screen.
The idea came out of one of the hackathons that Mionix runs every now and then in its offices in Malm . An engineer added some extra sensors to a mouse that was lying around, then played a few rounds of Starcraft II. The data that came out impressed Silbersky, and he asked the engineer to refine it a little more into a proper prototype. In December 2014, the company launched a Kickstarter campaign, asking for $100,000 to make the NAOS QG a reality. December is the worst month to do a Kickstarter, Silbersky says. We knew that. But the funding was successful nonetheless, and now production is in full swing, with the first deliveries to backers due in August.
In the meantime, Mionix needs to work out how to present the data to people. Right now, you can overlay it on about 700 games with the help of an app called Overwolf, and also include it on your Twitch stream. But we think there s so much more you can do with this data, says Silbersky, so the company will also let programmers access the data to build their own apps. We don t know where it s going, but we have some ideas and we ll continue hammering those out.
Mionix isn t the only company getting excited about the possibilities of biometrics. Valve has long had an interest in the technology: Gabe Newell told PC Gamer back in 2010 that the company was excited about using it as an input method: through combining [biometric] information, we can get a more accurate indication of player state. If you re in a competitive situation and you see someone s heart rate go up, it s more rewarding than we d have thought.
MEET THE SENSORS
1. Accelerometer The QG s accelerometer measures g-forces inside the mouse, so it can learn how fast it s being fl ung around the mat. Gamers could use that data to relax their movements, preventing wrist sprains.
2. Galvanic Skin Response These sensors measure the electrical resistance of your skin, which varies depending on how sweaty you are. The more stressed you are, the more you tend to sweat.
3. Heart Rate Your heart rate is another signifi er of stress. This optical sensor looks at variations in blood fl ow in your hand to work out how fast your heart is beating.
The last iteration of the Steam controller didn t appear to include biometric sensors—Valve says it discovered that hands constantly moving around aren t a great source of biofeedback. Instead, the company seems to be more interested in your earlobes—the hinted-at VR headset will gather data from them in real time and use it to adjust your experience. At the time of going to press, Valve is about to reveal more about its VR hardware and controller at GDC—that ll show much biometrics matter to the company.
Elsewhere, biometric videogames are proving useful when it comes to medical rehabilitation. Dr Martin Rydmark, a professor of medical informatics at the Sahlgrenska Academy Institute of Biomedicine, told me that these types of device can give the feeling of control and reality to people with brain damage and neurological diseases. He s been working with virtual reality, motion tracking and haptics devices for 15 years, studying how they can be used in the rehabilitation of stroke victims and assessing the motor function of patients with Parkinson s disease. But he cautions that a sense of reality is important for patients, and that they don t want to become cyborgs. Biometric tools must be used in a natural way and not give the sense of being handicap tools, he says.
Aside from medicine, the most immediate application for biometrics in gaming is probably e-sports. Professional athletes have long used data to optimise their performance, and there s no reason why pro gamers shouldn t do the same thing. Performance under stress is a key skill for many pro players, and Mionix has been working with teams to inform the development of the NAOS QG. If I were a coach on a team, I d be fascinated to drill down into understanding how the team can collaborate better, says Silbersky.
In fact, some teams are already experimenting with eye-tracking devices and even biometric shirts to work out how to further players abilities. Amine Issa, a researcher at the Mayo Clinic Human Integrative and Environmental Physiology Lab, and a former pro-gamer himself, has worked with League of Legends players to assess both physical and mental performance. He used eye-tracking to ascertain where players were focusing their attention, and shirts with sensors to measure heart and breathing rates. We established two things: bad habits are easy to form, and thinking deeply during the game is bad, he reported. The two are probably related and lead to a host of common problems: tunnel vision, slow decision-making and bad decision-making.
Silbersky, for his part, is hopeful that quantified gaming devices appeal to regular gamers as much as they do pros. If I were taking games seriously, I d definitely like to understand my insights, he says. We re not just using these mice when we game, we also use them when we re working, eight hours a day. I m fascinated by it! I see huge opportunities.
It seems as if blurring the line between 2D and 3D is a hobby for indie games, whether it's Fez's face-of-a-cube plane-switching or just some light parallaxing across a 2.5D backdrop. Intersection is—appropriately enough—plopping itself right in the middle of the divide. It's a 3D platformer set in the intersection of two 2D worlds.
Confused? The trailer assumes you will be, but fortunately soon gets around to showing the game in motion.
Essentially, you move both intersecting planes, positioning platforms and jump pads underneath you to climb towards the end. It's an interesting idea, and I'm intrigued by how far its creator can push and expand throughout the game.
There doesn't seem to be a release date just yet, but you can find more information over at Intersection's TigForum DevLog.
NEED TO KNOW
What is it Sick but slick sequel to the 2011 reboot Influenced by Street Fighter 4, Gray's Anatomy (the book, not the show) Reviewed on Intel Core i5-2500k, 16GB RAM, GTX 970 Alternatively Injustice: Gods Among Us, 80% DRM Steam Price 34.99 / $59.99 Release Out now Developer NetherRealm Studios, High Voltage Software Publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Link Official site Multiplayer 1-2
What do you want from a Mortal Kombat game? Chances are you ll start with something about violence—guts, shattered bones, gonads destroyed like stepped-on grapes. Lower on your list you might mention balanced fighting. A story—something about elder gods and damnation—is probably a final afterthought, like cistern blocks on a shopping list.
Mortal Kombat X delivers all these. It has horrendous, hilarious fatalities which draw gasps then revolted laughter; the most enjoyable, immediate fighting of any Mortal Kombat game; and, quite surprisingly, an actual story.
Admittedly, it s more gore than Gore Vidal: QTEs of cartoon fistfights and X-rays of exploding testicles illustrate a world where blind swordsmen and fallen Hollywood idols lead military incursions. However, unlike any previous game in the series, it adds marrow to Mortal Kombat s narrative skeleton. Taking place over 25 years, it fleshes out the histories of notable characters by introducing us to their children (all of whom inherit the fisticuffs gene). It s batshit, obviously, but so lovingly executed that I was swept along regardless.
The story would be irrelevant if the fighting was rubbish. Mortal Kombat has always felt brutish compared to the elegant flow of Street Fighter 4. It's about heavy-fisted, filthy pub-fu, with a focus not just on defeating your opponent, but destroying them utterly. This is the most elegant incarnation yet. The returning super meter—borrowed from Street Fighter—adds complexity, allowing you to interrupt an opponent s combo by using up two bars of the meter and create openings for a counterattack. X-ray moves function like traumatic ultra combos, diverting a fight with damaging and humiliating specials. I quickly found myself experimenting with Ex variations of familiar moves, tagging them onto the end of combos for increased damage. Fighting is the only thing this game takes seriously: startup frames are even shown in the menus, making Mortal Kombat X accessible, but still rich with tactical options.
It s batshit, obviously, but so lovingly executed that I was swept along regardless.
Each fighter has three variations, similar to Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance but without the option to switch during play. Let s use Scorpion as an example, because fire ninjas. Inferno tricks him out with demonic minions, useful for zoning and gnawing ankles; Hellfire is an offensive build utilising fireballs and flame attacks; and Ninjutsu is his classic move set with added swords. Core specials are the same throughout—it would be monstrous to rob you of that iconic spear—but the stances add a strategic thrust to every encounter: think roshambo, except the loser gets their ribcage made into a glockenspiel.
Be prepared for minor changes to your favourite characters, though. After five minutes spent trying to summon hellfire, worried I was messing up the combo, I discovered it wasn t in the build I d chosen. This might frustrate some, but it made me experiment with every variation.
It looks as lovely as a game featuring sliced tongues and smashed brains can. The x-ray moves are a highlight, full of detailed splintering spines and skulls which crack like own-brand Easter eggs. Backgrounds are great, too. Like Injustice, they incorporate contextual attacks, but Mortal Kombat is better because it lets me throw old ladies at my enemies. However, there are notable PC-specific problems. Screen tear is apparent even on high-end machines even with vsync seemingly activated. In fact, unlike Mortal Kombat 9 (or whatever it wasn t called), there s no option to disable vsync in the menus—you ll have dig into appdata or tinker with your graphics card. While it runs at a buttery 60fps during fights, cutscenes and x-ray moves drop to 30fps. More worryingly, I had trouble making it playable on a machine which met minimum specs; only when I switched to a meatier PC could I enjoy the game to its fullest. They re notable problems with an otherwise excellent game, and it makes the PC version feel under-optimised.
Online, it's even shakier. At least a third of my ranked matches choked and died, usually at the point things became interesting. Much like the offline game, it's more frustrating because the ideas are so promising. There are stacks of competitive options, from standard player matches to winner-stays-on king of the hill. Matches also inform an ongoing faction war: you pledge your allegiance to a familiar Mortal Kombat organisation, such as the Lin Kuei or Black Dragon, and your wins count towards a weekly faction ranking. However, it's difficult to remain engaged in a pretend ninja feud when every third match creaks like a shopping trolley dragged from a bog. Each frame in a fighting game matters, and Mortal Kombat's online simply isn't sturdy enough to remain competitive.
Tech issues aside, MKX is crammed with extra stuff. Challenge towers function like arcade mode, setting you against a number of increasingly difficult opponents. There are some pleasingly daft variations: Test Your Luck throws in a new modifier every round, anything from tilting stages to exploding enemies. Even the Krypt, which houses all the unlockable goodies, is treated with lively reverence. Rather than presenting you with numbing menus, it s Legend of Grimrock with grave robbing: a first person adventure through classic Mortal Kombat locations. It takes time to unlock it all, but I m fine with that: it s part of the series heritage, going back to Deadly Alliance. DLC and pre-order characters are trickier. They re present in every fighting game, but it s miserable to see Goro smiling at you from the character select screen, like a smug, premium-priced prick.
In terms of content, you re getting your money s worth: this is the most complete Mortal Kombat game ever, predictably brilliant at schlock and surprisingly adept at story. Unfortunately, a limping port lessens the experience for anyone without a godlike machine.