PC Gamer
need to know

What is it? 2D action puzzle-platformerPrice: $15/ 11Release date: Out nowPublisher/Developer: Lumenox GamesMultiplayer: NoLink: Steam store page

Aaru's Awakening is a 2D action puzzle-platformer made by Lumenox Games. It features beautiful, hand-drawn environments and animation, and a wonderful, soothing soundtrack. So why did I hold up two middle fingers at it for several long, angry seconds? We'll get to that in a minute.

I'll spare you the lore: let's just say Aaru is a yellow monster you guide through four gorgeous yet dangerous realms filled with spiked walls, falling platforms, toxic pits, enemy monsters, and tons of other traps and hazards, including several boss fights that often contain many of these deadly elements at the same time. Besides running and jumping, Aaru can perform a charge, a flying headbutt useful for bashing through crumbling stone walls and getting a few extra feet out of a jump that's fallen short.

Aaru can also teleport by firing an orb and appearing at any point in the orb's trajectory. Sometimes you bank the orb off walls or floors, or through narrow vents in the rocks, or to bypass hazards that would otherwise harm or kill you, like a game of teleportation billiards. It's also Aaru's only offensive weapon. Fire an orb at an enemy, and as it passes through him, blink yourself to it. Telefragged, sucker.

It's nice that Aaru has an actual weapon, because he's quite frail otherwise. Most traps will immediately end your life, though some hazards, like scorching sunbeams, take a second or two to kill you. When you die, you're shown a death screen displaying a skull and are transported to your last checkpoint to try again. We're getting close to the middle fingers, now.

Visually, Aaru's Awakening is a real treat. The hand-drawn environments and animations are strange and beautiful, and even the level selection screen is something you just want to stare at for a while. Looking at the game is like flipping through the pages of an weird indie comic book or watching an experimental animated film. Bosses look bizarre and amazing and basically represent their own multi-stage levels, even containing their own internal checkpoints.

The problem is, there are problems. The controls are easily the weakest aspect of the game. Teleporting works well, but charging can be problematic. Aaru runs back and forth with the A and D keys, but charges toward the position of your cursor instead of in the direction he's moving, which feels counterintuitive. While trying to scootch him carefully to the edge of a ledge he may instead lurch forward a full step and plummet off. Even after hours of play I never felt like I was in perfect control of Aaru. 

The artwork, while wonderfully creative and unusual, often doesn't do a good job differentiating traps and not-traps, nor makes it obvious what is part of the background and what presents a physical obstacle. The death screen pops up so immediately after you perish that you're often prevented from getting a good look at whatever it was that killed you.

When these problems all appear at the same time, things spill over into out-and-out frustration. Sometimes you have to fire an orb offscreen and teleport to it, and when you blink in, you're immediately killed by a hazard you can't really see. The sudden death screen doesn't allow you to plan your next move. Trying to charge or jump your way out of the situation often doesn't work well because of the control problems. And, sometimes the checkpoints require you to replay several earlier traps just to return to that one frustrating spot, where you get the briefest of glimpses at the situation before having to try again. A dozen or so consecutive failures like this, and that's when the twin middle fingers come out, and come out hard.

I don't want to pick on Aaru's Awakening for requiring split-second timing, trial-and-error learning, or memorization of levels: that's all been a staple of platformers from the beginning. The game is clearly meant to be a brutal challenge, and it really is, often quite satisfyingly so. It's when all the issues mentioned above show up at the same time that the challenge swings over into something unfairly punishing and frustrating, and it happens a bit too often in Aaru's Awakening.

PC Gamer
FACE OFF

Chris Livingston, staff writer

Chris Livingston thinks that VR isn t ever going to be an affordable mass-market product, and Valve should spend its money elsewhere.

 Wes Fenlon, hardware editor

Wes Fenlon is wrong about everything. For instance, he was wrong in thinking he could trust Chris to write this blurb for him.

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Wes and Chris argue about Valve s recent announcement that it ll be showing off VR hardware at this year s GDC.

Chris Livingston: YES. As far as we know, Valve may not even have an aptitude for hardware.

After a beta testing a handful of Steam Machines and controllers, Valve pushed release dates back a full year and didn t even attend CES in 2014, not a great sign that its hardware projects are bearing fruit. Meanwhile, Valve is long overdue with another much-anticipated project the internet can t stop talking about: Ricochet 2. I know everyone else is getting into VR, but Valve should give it a pass.

Wes Fenlon: NO. The simple fact is, Valve has been experimenting with VR for years.

Michael Abrash, now at Oculus VR, was pondering and writing about virtual reality while doing research with Valve as early as 2012. And according to people who tried Valve s prototype VR hardware in 2014, it was far more advanced than anything Oculus had created up until that point (Crescent Bay is apparently much closer). The big difference was practicality: Oculus has been focused on working towards a consumer product, while Valve was content to work on prototype stuff that would cost thousands of dollars. Clearly Valve has now changed its mind. And I think that means Valve has a VR solution that s good enough, and now affordable enough, to be a real competitor to the Oculus Rift. And if it s that good, I think gamers will want to use it.

Chris: I have no doubt VR is cool to use. I m not even saying I don t personally want one. But as a consumer product, it s strictly going to be for enthusiasts with deep pockets. A recent hardware survey conducted around my desk concluded there are four PCs sitting here, and all of them, including the one I m using, are outdated. Now all these companies think a set of VR goggles that become obsolete a few months after buying them is going to become a common household product? Not gonna happen, and all the money being sunk into VR is not going to be recouped. Valve has the money to spare, I m sure, but should spend it elsewhere, maybe on some other crazy project, like making a video game.

Wes: I don t like having to say this, but I think it s the truth: Valve is no longer a company that makes games. And I don t mean it ll be like that forever, that we ll never see Half-Life 3 or another Valve game. But it s been four years since Portal 2. Most of what Valve does now is built around growing Steam and making money. SteamOS was a direct reaction to the Windows 8 App Store. Dota 2 is their current big game project, and it s a cash cow. We all know Valve is famous for its no bosses work environment, and I think what we re seeing with Steam Machines, the controller, and now SteamVR is a result of that environment. The Valve employees passionate about Dota 2 are working on Dota 2. And the Valve employees passionate about hardware are working on VR. There could be a big group of designers working on the next Half-Life and Left 4 Dead 3, or their employee makeup could be heavily skewed towards hardware experts right now. If that s the case, isn t it better for them to be working on VR than writing dialogue for funny robots?

Chris: That s not the argument I m making. I ve seen that argument before, on forums: why is Valve making more hats for TF2 instead of working on Steam functionality? It s two different departments: the hat-makers and the Steam-fixers. I m not saying Valve should spend its VR talent elsewhere, I m saying Valve should spend its VR money elsewhere. Admittedly, this is tantamount to suggesting Valve fire their entire VR staff, which is incredibly mean of me, but if Valve is a company about making money, as you say, it should wise up to the fact that VR isn t the way to do it. Facebook ain t gonna see their $2 billion again because most people aren t going to want to strap a computer to their faces. Remember Google Glass? Me neither. People want computers on their desks, in their pockets, in their cars and starships, and maybe on their wrists. Not on their faces!

Wes: Maybe I m just an optimist when it comes to VR, then. I suppose a lot of people are: we want to believe that it s the Next Big Thing. But I think there s a really big difference between something like Google Glass and something like a VR headset for gaming. For one thing, Google Glass had a real social stigma problem—it was designed to be used in public, but it looked goofy, and a lot of us don t particularly want our photos taken in a public bathroom. Valve s VR headset may look goofy, too, but VR is really meant to be used in the privacy of your office or bedroom, wherever you keep your PC. Most of us laughed at the Nintendo Wii, too, until we played Wii Sports, and then everyone and his grandmother bought one. I think it ll take just one killer app to sell the immersive power of VR, and all of a sudden, we will want computers on our faces.

Chris: Happy to hear you and your grandmother are still enjoying your Wii. As for the rest of the world, we played with it a couple times and then quickly got over the novelty of it, because that s what it was: a novelty. VR is no different. Just like a controller you have to wave in the air, a VR headset just isn t a practical device for everyday gaming. What else do you do while playing a game? Reach for your coffee? Grab a snack off a plate? Plug in a set of headphones? Turn your head to see what your dog is chewing on? Glance at someone speaking to you? Look at your phone? Fire off a quick text? Jot down a note? Good luck doing any of that when you can t see anything but the game you re playing. Fanciful devices are cool to think about, but ultimately we want convenient devices. A camera built into a phone is convenient. An opaque computer screen strapped to your cheekbones ain t. Hell, half the reason Steam is so popular is because Valve made it so convenient.

Wes: Okay, you got me on the Wii s motion controls. And the Kinect was the same—it sold incredibly well at first, and then everyone hated it. But I don t think it ever had a killer app, either. Your point about convenience actually brings up what I m most curious to find out about SteamVR: is it just hardware, or is there a special version of the Steam software designed for VR, too?

I think you and I look at VR in two different ways. You talk about it like a replacement for your monitor, an inconvenient way to play games while trying to do other everyday things. Looking at it that way, using Steam in VR would definitely be a headache. Who wants to try to type in a credit card number with a headset strapped to their face? But I see VR hardware as an avenue to totally different types of games, or new ways to experience the genres we already love. Maybe that s a hard sell. Gamers are excited about the Oculus Rift, but almost everyone has faith in Valve. Maybe their involvement in VR is the very thing that will legitimize it, and give it the legs to survive that initial do we want this? period until developers learn how to make incredible VR experiences.

Chris: That s a good point. I have an admittedly narrow concept of VR, and I do tend to think of it as a replacement for the way I play games instead of as an additional way to play them. And you re right, its success may just hinge on someone making the perfect game for it. I also admit that Valve probably knows more about the best way to run Valve than I do, considering they have a billion dollars and I only have a few hundred million. I just remain generally skeptical of VR ever entering the mainstream, and that it ll ever be as affordable as some think, even with Valve involved.

I think this argument can only be settled over a round of Wii Tennis. Winner plays grandma.

Wes: I challenge you to a Cosmic Smash contest instead. Once someone ports it to VR, anyway, where it was clearly meant to be.

Chris: Weirdly, that video not only sold me on VR but on Wii controllers. Let s do this.

PC Gamer

This week's roundup takes you to the second weirdest train station in the universe (the first weirdest is the one where I saw a dog in a pram), to the nineties under the sea, back to your youth as a checkout operator at your crappy local supermarket, to the stars, and to the stars again, but this time with baddies. Enjoy!

Forever by Pol Clarissou

When you're young and it's your first job and getting out of bed is exquisite torture, working in a supermarket is one of the worst things in the world. Pol Clarissou's Forever takes me back to those not-halcyon days, to scanning items and smiling at old ladies and feeling rubbish when some idiot takes their bad day out on you. It's a game about scanning things with barcodes on, of taking cash and trying to do things with it, but most of all it's a game about glorious physics. You might work dutifully at first, but when you realise nobody cares (much like in a real supermarket) you'll fling food and cash and for some reason tires around with giddy abandon.

SEAQUEST1992 by Elli Woods

SEAQUEST1992 wants to look like an N64 game, and it does feel like the sort of lost Japanese oddity you'd have encountered in game magazines way back in the day. You know, the games with the beautifully weird names and screenshots and gimmicks, which had zero chance of making it to the west. It looks lovely (though more like a Saturn game, I reckon), it sounds fantastic thanks to the music of chmod, and it plays a bit frustratingly because you're mainly asked to avoid fiddly spiky coral and pick up floating yellow triangles. Creator Elli Woods has nailed the aesthetic of the obscure, forgotten oddity, however, and I can't wait to see what game emerges next.

Off-Peak by Cosmo D

Off-Peak—and I've just understood the title—takes you to a bizarre train station full of lovely visual art, stalls, cafes, and tucked away little secret dens and shrines. You're there to piece together a ripped-up train ticket for a benched old man, a goal that cleverly compels you to examine every inch of this relatively small, out there location. People talk, as they often don't at actual train stations, saying funny, political, expositiony or nonsense things. Music plays, a heady jazz soundtrack that, as soundtracks often do, fills in the cracks of a lightly sketched world. I was reminded of Pathologic, BioShock Infinite, immersive sims. You can steal the above guy's pizza, and stuff your pockets with vinyl. What more could you possibly want?

Planet of the Poison Past by Sophie Houlden

Conceived for Antholojam—theme: 'Golden era of sci-fi'—Planet of the Poison Past is a story-based adventure set in the future of a previous age. By which I mean it's 2003, as imagined by '50s pulp science fiction writers. This, of course, is a wonderful fake time period for a game to be exploring, and I just love the colourful setting of PPP. It looks like a a pulp sci-fi cover, the story is pretty interesting, and even though the music kept disappearing on me, it sounded suitably spacey when it was there. You're a rookie interstellar scientist gud wiv computers, which of course are the size of warehouses in 2003. (Via Warp Door)

Death Ray Manta by Rob Fearon

Rob Fearon makes shooty, arcadey, Mintery games called things like War Twat and Squid Harder, and he's just made his entire oeuvre available for free (minus the game he's currently working on, natch). This is not a time-limited offer: he's decided that he's made quite enough money off these games thankyouverymuch, and he'd like to give something back to the gaming world. His newly free games include Death Ray Manta, which can be topically abbreviated to DRM. (There's no DRM. That's the joke.) DRM, like his other games, is a game about shooting colourful space things with colourful space lasers, as explosions and lights and funny text and arrghhh what's going on happen all around you and now I'm dead. The scoring system is beautifully simple: one point for beating a stage, another point for grabbing the 'space tiffin' along the way. (Via RPS)

PC Gamer
CRITICAL PATHS

Every week, Richard Cobbett writes about the world of story and writing in games.

Everyone loves a good villain. Actors adore playing them, to twirl a moustache and dine on scenery. Movies like Day of the Jackal are intriguing looks into their worlds, that can build sympathy for the raw effort even if the goal is morally wrong. There's few character archetypes as immediately compelling as the Magnificent Bastard, who sees the invisible strings of the world and makes it dance to his tune.

Except in games. Very, very few games have offered anything close to that, and those that have got closest either hide behind a shield of chaos (Saints Row, Postal 2, though believe me, those games are NOT on the same level) or play it off as tragedy (Spec Ops: The Line, Traffic Department 2192). Rarely do they dare to take anything but the Grand Theft Auto or Dungeon Keeper or Varicella (there's your obscure shout-out of the week) approach, where the main character is evil fighting against a bigger evil. Dungeon Keeper had the map and nominal heroes, but really the focus was on fighting other Dungeon Keepers. A later game with a similar vibe, Overlord, had you as an up and coming demonic presence fighting the forces of good, yes, but the forces of good who had long since been corrupted anyway, before revealing that the actual villain of the game was your predecessor who had been using you as nothing but a pawn.

When they do, it's usually a question of backstory. The protagonist of, say, Amnesia or Planescape Torment, gets to discover all manner of horrific things they did, but since the player isn't actually complicit in it, they don't feel 'real'. Evil can be done by accident, as Spec Ops: The Line repeatedly proves with its lead character Walker's slide from would-be saviour to destroyer of Dubai, but villainy has to be active. It's much the same as heroism not conventionally being seen as doing good deeds in exchange for something, at least in the modern era. (Go back to, say, Greek myths and it's actually nothing else - much of the Iliad for instance rests on Achilles' entirely justified backing out of the fight until he gets what's his, with his later 'crime' not being sulking in his tent, but not accepting the proper compensation when finally offered.)

With strategy, you're far enough back to rarely think of victims as 'people'. Squish 'em with tanks!

Now, there are definite cases of villains being villains, even if they're up against bigger ones. Evil Genius for instance is a Bond villain simulator, Legacy of Kain is predicated on the original game's hero becoming a monster, Command and Conquer has never shied away from terrorist factions and very few of Star Wars: The Old Republic's Sith characters are intergalactic teddy-bears. You can definitely find examples. They're oddly rare though, given how initially tempting playing the villain always sounds. Who doesn't want that control? Who wouldn't want the nations of the world bowing before their might and power and hoping for a little crumb of mercy?

But even in the games that try, it rarely turns out as good as it sounds. For several reasons. The first is that for most people, the idea of being bad relies on being distant. It's one thing to torture a Sim or bulldoze a house in SimCity, but the more invested you are in characters, the harder it usually is to hurt them. Crushing spirits, inflicting needless pain, even something as mild as making children cry as you steal their lollipops doesn't feel good because it's not supposed to feel good. That's not villainy, it's dickery. And it can ruin games. I've no moral objection to Grand Theft Auto, but San Andreas routinely made me very uncomfortable, and not in a good way - the mission where you have to drown a music producer because he offended a friend you don't even like almost had me put down the controller. A later one where you bury a guy alive in concrete because his employees whistled at your sister was the end of my time with it. I later finished it on PC, but could never get past how bad it made me feel, despite having loved Vice City and its whimsical missions like selling drugs from an ice-cream truck. Only 'fun crime' is a fun time. 

(This often seems to strike developers in mid-flow. Quest for Infamy for instance, which is a really well made take on the Quest for Glory games, was intended as a parody where you were a villain or at least in that ball-park. In practice, you do almost nothing that a hero wouldn't except for snarking at people, and occasionally making comments about things you could do, but then... ah, don't.)

My god, avert your eyes from his wickedness!

Evil vs. Evil can at least run with this. You're not punching down in the same way, and there's the element of self-righteousness that tends to be core to actual villains. Very few in history have simply done what they did for the lulz, as it were; what makes them scary is that they thought they were right. This may not be the road to hell paved with good intentions, but neither is it one to just merrily skip down. In these situations, the powerful wage their war and simply don't care about the collateral damage as anything other than point-scoring. Or alternatively, play like Dr. Doom. Your own people are precious not because of the sanctity of life or anything like that, but because they're yours, and nobody fucks with your shit.

More pragmatically though, villainy is a hard path to offer. The standard story structure tends to be that villains act, heroes react. One provides a reason to save the world, the other handles it. Comic books especially have demonstrated that when this is flipped, bad things tend to happen - the greatest heroes quite easily slipping into fascism and abuse of their powers. The catch is that instigating actions is a much harder thing to script, and a less freeform thing to actually play. Heroes can be clever, but they tend in games at least to follow a roughly straight line through the problem, taking each encounter as it comes. Villains meanwhile need plans on top of plans, feints, bluffs, resources and a long term strategy that's far more complicated than 'go beat up the guy with the biggest shoulder pads.'

In games, this means that even when we get a 'villain' option, it's usually firmly in the 'dick' category. It's opportunistic cruelty, it's being mean to people, it's doing the stuff that would make you unpopular in the real world, and so doesn't exactly help in a fantasy one. The occasional burst of it can still be fun, like head butting the reporter in Mass Effect, or abusing your faked position to pass as a Sith in the first Knights of the Old Republic, but few narrative driven games allow for the ability to plan ahead enough to be anything other than that. Strategy games have a big advantage here of course, with Crusader Kings especially offering lots of options to play however you choose. Even then though, your imagination has to fill in many of the details and cover for when the game doesn't entirely get where you're going with things.

What's frustrating is that many developers, especially in RPG, still feel compelled to write villain paths that either make no sense or contribute very little indeed. Often, they're just crazy. The original Bioshock for instance opted to make killing a couple of the Little Sisters into your instant ticket to the bad ending, and while killing little girls for prizes obviously sounds bad, there are plenty of arguments to be made for it. That you're sparing them their horrible lives. That the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (RIP, Leonard Nimoy). That they're simply zombies, no more people than the less cute splicers that are equally victims of Rapture but nobody gives a shit about. Any sense it makes is then further destroyed by the fact that there's no chance to atone once you find out the truth, which is particularly rich given that your "You are horrible" speech comes from a former concentration camp doctor trying to do exactly that.

Like much of Bioshock, Bioshock 2 handled this much better...

But, multiple paths sounds good on boxes, so many have tried to offer them. And I think we all know what that's actually translated to. "Good" is the karmically pure path, where you do good deeds nominally for the sake of doing them but really because you get more spiritual bonuses like XP or better 'nice' magic powers. "Bad" is having the temerity to ask for payment. "Evil" is being so twisted and dark that you actually expect to be paid something vaguely approaching a reasonable amount for having risked your life and probably burned through a ton of supplies in the process. You awful brute.

The result is that most players take the 'good' path by default, both because it's the heroic thing to do, and because it's almost always the most profitable overall. It's not like anyone's going to balance a game's economy so that you're screwed if you don't demand your cash, and it's a rare RPG where money doesn't become utterly irrelevant by around the half-way point. This in turn means that developers have to focus on this, and the 'evil' path gets very little love. There are very rarely many unique quests for players on that side of the line, with the main narrative branch point typically coming right at the end to save time. It ends up being less a choice as the vestigial idea of a choice. Really, unless a game is actually serious about it, like Planescape Torment, it's usually to its detriment to even offer something so out of character.

Planescape Torment allowed for some of the craziest opportunistic evil in the business, all horrible.

Despite all this though, it would be good to see some more games that do this well, if only to have a better baseline than we do now. Nobody so much as raises an eyebrow at going to see a movie that glorifies gangsters or con artists or cat-burglars, even if most of them don't get away scot-free, and there's no reason why games should have that very visible frisson of tension and controversy for taking a walk on the wild side, be it something like Payday, or even - playing devil's advocate here - even a Hatred.

It's unlikely though that being evil is going to become more compelling in the near future. It may not eat away at your virtual soul, it may be a fun way to blow off steam now and again, but it's never going to have quite the internal warmth of helping people, making characters you care about happy, and making the world a better place. On a screen or off, empathy is always going to be more satisfying than sociopathy, especially  when sprinkled with a few ways of reminding the world that being nice isn't the same as being weak. It is a lesson many villains learn to their cost.

PC Gamer

Wasteland 2 isn't the prettiest game in the world, although it is one of the brownest, it taking place in the irradiated desert an' all. Of course, fancy images aren't the reason you play a game like this—but it can't hurt, as long as it doesn't put a strain on your PC. inXile have just announced that a visual upgrade is coming to Wasteland 2, thanks to them moving the game engine over from Unity 4.5 to Unity 5. Unity 5, you might be aware, features something called "physically based shading", which...look I'm no shading expert, alright? Here's a big explanation from Unity. 'Nicer graphics', basically.

That isn't the only thing coming to Wasteland 2—modders should soon be getting some new tools too.

"In pursuit of this goal," project lead Chris Keenan writes in that Kickstarter update, "one task we re working on right now is migrating the Wasteland 2 codebase from the Unity 4.5 engine to Unity 5, which will enable some new possibilities for us. A major benefit of moving to Unity 5 is that 5 will include many of the tools from Unity 4.x Pro. We relied on many of these tools during our development (like creating and building navigation meshes), and they will be available to modders without having to pay thousands of dollars for a Pro Unity license. There is no doubt that this migration will allow us to release better tools for modding to our community in the future."

"As well as visual improvements, we have quite a few quirky tricks up our sleeves. The character system is getting perked up and will include some new elements to modify gameplay. Of course, more details will be released in the future so stay tuned!"

Ta, Blue's News.

PC Gamer

People were rightly a bit upset that Resident Evil: Revelations 2's first episode didn't feature local co-op on PC, despite the game description stating that it did, and despite Capcom never mentioning that it didn't. The good news is that Capcom is offering refunds if you're annoyed by its omission on PC—the other good news is that a modder has already whipped up a replacement.

Resident Evil Modder FluffyQuack already has a working (mostly) co-op mod, a mere few days after the first episode has come out. It's not quite done yet—it only supports gamepads, and you can't use it in Raid mode— but you can see a glimpse at it in action above, and download it here, as part of FluffyQuack's extensive Fluffy Manager 5000 tool.

Meanwhile, Capcom are "currently looking into the matter and potential solutions and we hope to have new information to share very soon, so please stay tuned". They're already offering refunds—could an official local co-op mode be on its way via a patch, or via next week's Episode 2?

PC Gamer

It's still very early days for Crowfall, the MMO we previewed earlier this week, but even at this stage it's attracting an awful lot of attention: Less than three days after it began, the Crowfall Kickstarter has blown past its $800,000 funding goal.

Developer ArtCraft Entertainment describes Crowfall as a "massively multiplayer online throne war simulator," and unlike other MMOs, this one will feature discrete battles, with distinct beginnings and endings, that take place across multiple worlds. Development is being headed by two veterans of the MMO business, Gordon Walton, formerly the executive producer of Ultima Online, The Sims Online, Star Wars: Galaxies, and Star Wars: The Old Republic, and J. Todd Coleman, creative director on Shadowbane, Wizard 101, and Pirate 101.

"We are floored and humbled by the response from our community," Walton said. "We hoped that the vision behind Crowfall would help it find an audience, but we didn t expect to exceed our target so quickly."

In fact, Crowfall didn't even offer any stretch goals until yesterday, when ArtCraft tossed out a couple in an update: First, to hire a dedicated FX artist, and second, to implement mounts and caravans. Interestingly, neither stretch goal has a dollar amount attached, but how quickly the money is rolling in—and with 27 days left to go in the Kickstarter—I'd say it's a good bet they'll be achieved.

The Crowfall Kickstarter runs until March 26.

PC Gamer

Night Dive Studios filed for a trademark on No One Lives Forever last year, which was cause for celebration not only because NOLF was such a great game but also because Night Dive seemed like the ideal outfit to bring it to modern platforms: They're the guys who were finally able to resurrect System Shock 2, after all. But studio founder Stephen Kick has told Kotaku that after months of trying to nail down the rights to the game and make something happen, it's all come to naught.

The first and foremost challenge facing Night Dive was figuring out who actually owned the rights to the game. It was developed by Monolith and published by Fox Interactive, but in the decade-and-a-half since it came out, Monolith was acquired by Warner Bros. Interactive, while Fox Interactive was purchased by Vivendi, which then entered into a merger with Activision. Warner appeared to be the primary rights holder but told Night Dive that Activision "has some ownership" as well, as a result of that merger.; Activision, however, said it couldn't confirm its standing because the records predated digital storage and it wasn't entirely sure where the paperwork was. 20th Century Fox, which Night Dive also contacted, was in the same boat.

There wasn't much enthusiasm for the idea of re-releasing NOLF from anyone, according to the report, but the wheels didn't come off entirely until December 2014, when Night Dive received a letter from an attorney representing Warner that threatened legal action if it went ahead with a new version of the game. That led to further back-and-forth regarding licensing, but in February the final word came down that Warner wasn't interested in either publishing an updated NOLF itself, or partnering with Night Dive to make it happen. Because of that, Night Dive said it will now let its trademark on the title lapse.

It's a tremendously disappointing outcome. No One Lives Forever was a brilliant game (the sequel was pretty good, too) and it's an absolute shame that corporate indifference has left it trapped in limbo. I still hold out hope that it will be released again someday, but obviously it's not going to be anytime soon.

PC Gamer

THE HIGHS

Phil Savage: GTA 5 delayed again Yeah, why not? GTA 5 was delayed again this week—slipping a further three weeks to April 14. I'm fine with this. First, there's the whole better game thing. If it means smoother performance and less bugs, a three week wait is probably worth it. More than that, though, I'm kind of enjoying the quiet spell we're currently in. I've begun a new campaign in Crusader Kings 2, plodded through a couple of levels of Warlords of Draenor, and even started to learn Dota 2. For reasons that may not be entirely reasonable or accurate, GTA 5 feels to me like the opening of 2015's big PC release cycle. It's the start of the process that will end with me drowning in a seemingly endless stream of new stuff; unable to sample it all because it just won't stop. That'll be fun, don't get me wrong. But I don't mind putting it off for a few more weeks.

Tom Marks: Back from Funkotron I love Toejam and Earl. I am so excited for more Toejam and Earl. I am terrified that $400,000 on Kickstarter for a sequel to a 24 year-old cult classic game is asking a lot, but man even that can t bring down my mood when success means more Toejam and Earl. Oh lord, please let there be there be more Toejam and Earl.

My excitement aside, watching creator Greg Brown s Kickstarter pitch video was a wonderful and rare insight into how publishers influence games and the good crowdfunding can do. Humanature Studios is reaching out to fans so that they beholden to no one but the people who will play the game, and they are doing it at a time when couch co-op PC games are on the rise. Although I, like a good number of others, am unsure about the new art direction they ve gone with, I am in full support of them finally making the funky game they want to make. I ll be happy as long as I can rocket skate around listening to this: 

Chris Thursten: It s not about the money, but, y know, money I m pleased that ESL are increasing their investment in Dota 2 this year, chiefly because it guarantees respectable prize pools without over-reliance on the community. This JoinDota article (which I also linked to in this week s Three Lane Highway) illustrates some of the dangers of the current system, particularly the undue influence of cosmetic sets on tournament revenues and, ultimately, the amount of money that goes to players. Greater investment from showrunners doesn t solve that problem, but it is a salve.

ESL do have a bit of work to do, however, Nobody wants to see ESL One New York 2014 s technical problems resurface, and Frankfurt 2014 struggled to keep things on-schedule. As their events move to ever higher-profile venues, I d like to see a redoubled focus on the small details that can mean everything when a tournament is actually underway.x

Evan Lahti: Blade Beach Adventurers Sword Coast Legends not only has the same number of syllables as Zoot Suit Riot, a quality we value in all games (because now you have that song in your head, but with different words, heh), it also looks like a splendid successor to the Forgotten Realms games of yore: Baldur s, Neverwinter Nights, Icewind Dale, et al.

We have plenty of excellent, old-school RPGs to pick from—recent and upcoming—Pillars of Eternity, Divinity, Torment, Legend of Grimrock II. But Sword Coast Legends represents that malleable, self-authored style of RPG that past and present D&D players long for. It s exciting to see that it ll have a campaign editor—in an era where user-created stuff is integrated so seamlessly through systems like Steam Workshop, and with the general resurgence of tabletop games, it s the perfect time for Sword Coast to spring up.

Chris Livingston: Mod Squad As someone who tries out a handful of mods every week for our weekly mod column, it's always a headache installing mods when they're not officially supported. And that's just for me: I can only imagine the hoops actual modders need to leap through to get their mods working when they're not officially sanctioned. So, it's always heartening when mod support is included in a game from the get-go.

We learned this week that Cities: Skylines plans to include mod support, which immediately gives it a step up over SimCity. They've released a video announcing their support for modders and there's more specific information on the wiki. Cities: Skylines isn't out until March 10, but this is good news both for modders and those who enjoy them.

Samuel Roberts: Canada loves Sam Roberts, apparently This is only tangentially related to games, to be honest (at best), but It would be remiss not to mention the most interesting thing that happened to me this week: I went on national radio in Canada because I m called Sam Roberts. It s only funny because it s so far from being actual news that I still have no idea why it even happened. It must ve been the slowest day of news ever for that to be a story. Then people wouldn t stop talking about the colour of a dress across the whole of the internet (they still won t, to be honest) and that was somehow even more pointless.

Anyway, on a more game-specific front, I briefly revisited Remedy s brilliant Max Payne 2 this week and I m going through it again. I enjoyed Max Payne 3 a lot, but it wasn t really the sequel to this game, nor did it touch on the compelling and melodramatic romance at the centre of the second entry. I plan on writing something a little longer at some point about The Fall of Max Payne. Big games with a tone that s as specific as Max Payne 2 s are rare now; it features a whole level set in the collapsing set of a theme park based on an in-universe TV show. It s that kind of wildly inventive direction that I love about Remedy games, and playing with this refined iteration of bullet time recalls an era in which third-person shooters weren t entirely dependent on moving between bits of cover.

THE LOWS

Samuel Roberts: Another GTA V delayI was really looking forward to playing GTA V four weeks from now, having completed the console version about 15 months ago—another delay happened this week, meaning we ll now be playing in April instead. I m fine with it, but this is a pretty quiet time for big releases and I was prepared to sink hundreds of hours into stealing jets from Fort Zancudo, which is pretty much all I did from about October 2013-January 2014. On the plus side, Rockstar released a bunch of amazing screens in time for the weekend. The detail is insane compared to the original console versions, of course, and just makes me more excited about the finished result when it finally gets here. 

Chris Livingston: I suck at buildingI made a Besiege video a couple weeks ago, and was quite pleased with some of my creations, like a triple catapult and a spiky hopping table with spinning blades. Naturally, the moment I posted it the real builders of the internet swarmed in and made some amazing, terrifying, fantastic creations, putting my crummy, dinky murder engines to shame.

I've been playing Medieval Engineers this week, and after looking at some videos I'm once again discovering just how terrible I am at building things. This happened in Minecraft, too. This happened in Space Engineers. This happened in pretty much every building game, ever. I toil away for hours, thinking I've constructed something great, only to look up from my work and see that the entire world is doing it better.

I don't begrudge anyone their talent. I just wish I had some of it! I wish I could clamp onto their necks, lamprey-like, and extract some of their skills into my own fumbling fingers and lackluster imagination. I like building games, but there are few things as discouraging as being continually reminded you stink at something you enjoy.

Tom Marks: Mo MOBAs, mo problemsI cannot for the life of me understand why any publisher would want to make a free-to-play MOBA right now. By my eyes, it s an oversaturated genre that is overwhelmingly dominated by only the top games. But that didn t stop Bandai Namco from announcing a new groundbreaking and revolutionary MOBA this week, Supernova. I had a chance to play it, and while the sci-fi theme was refreshing and some of the mechanics were unique to the genre, Supernova hasn t yet given me a reason to play it over any of the obvious choices. My fear is that it will come out with little fanfare, will gather a small but loyal fanbase, and then be forgotten.

The problem is Supernova doesn t do anything different enough. It felt like League of Legends in space, but with a much more complicated leveling up system. Primal Game Studio s idea to bring RTS elements back to the MOBA is a great one, but it felt half-hearted when I actually got my hands on it. Primal said that their early prototypes allowed you to control your minions and didn t have hero characters at all, but was still the traditional three-lane MOBA, and that sounds like a game I d like to try. That would actually be a unique approach to the genre, but the concept was changed and we now have more of the same. I could enjoy more of the same, but I m not going to fall in love with it.

Evan Lahti: LLAPWe were deeply saddened to learn of Leonard Nimoy s death. Nimoy only has a handful of videogame credits, but even in those modest contributions he managed to make an impact on one of the best PC games of all time, as the narrator of Civilization IV. His wizened cadence perfectly suited Civ s spirit of historical exploration and thoughtful play. We re lucky to have a beloved person such as Nimoy immortalized in a great game.

Phil Savage: Ugh, fine, I give inFine internet, you win. I've gone 30-years without, but I guess I'll watch a Star Wars film. It's going to be unavoidable, isn't it? There's a new film coming out, there are new games planned, and the team have spent the last couple of days joking about their imagined pitch for Jizz Band, because jizz is literally the name of a music genre in Star Wars. I don't really care about the story, and I've always preferred my sci-fi a little more serious, but if there's jizz jokes flying around, I don't want to miss out. Also, some of the games sound genuinely great, so it should at least be tolerable.

Chris Thursten: Devolutionary designI want to like Evolve as much as Evan does, but I just… don t. I was excited to get started with it, and I should love it: I m a fan of Left 4 Dead, I grew up playing asymmetrical Half-Life 1 mods like The Hidden and Vampire Slayer. I even ran an Aliens vs. Predator 2 skinning site. I resonate pretty strongly with the type of experience that Evolve promises. And yet.

Part of the problem is structural. I find sprawling unlock trees wearying, and the fact that it s so difficult to simply buy a version of the game that comes with everything compounds my reluctance to invest time in it. With a competitive game, I want to experiment. I want to try different options, find one that suits me, and take it as far as I can. Evolve punishes that. Earlier, while playing as the monster, I fancied a round as the Goliath—but I need more Kraken points to unlock Wraith, so I played Kraken. Unlock systems are garbage, anti-competitive, and fundamentally off-putting to me. Just let me play the game, developers, please.

The second issue is design, and that s arguably more serious. Playing Evolve (as both factions) often feels like chasing your tail, and that s because the game seems to be trapped chasing its tail. It wants to be a game about atmospheric, immersive monster-hunting, but it also wants to be a competitive game with fifteen-minute rounds. It takes a bunch of interesting ideas—tracking the player-monster by looking for environmental signs like broken trees, birds rising—and sands the edges off them to the point where they amount to a flashing indicator saying GO HERE . Likewise, there seems to be no elegant way to balance its complex web of monster movement, player movement and various monster-snaring powers, so they just added a big dome that forces everybody to fight for a bit. Disappointingly graceless.

I keep playing it, however, and that s largely because I want to understand it better. I want to get to the point where it feels like there s a strategy other than chase the waypoint and try not to die . It s such an interesting idea that I m desperate for it to succeed, but it really falls short of my expectations.

PC Gamer

The other day I was experimenting with post-processing injection, and I was shocked to discover that no one told me the recently-released SweetFX 2.0 beta shader pack has an ASCII shader. Holy hell! It's the coolest, least practical post-processing effect ever.

You can get the SweetFX 2.0 beta shaders bundled with ReShade. If you've never played with shader injection (which you should because it's a lot of fun), here's the quick guide to playing in ASCII:

  • Download ReShade + SweetFX 2.0 here and extract it into a new folder.
  • In the SweetFX folder, open SweetFX_settings.txt and change the value of #define USE_ASCII to 1.
  • Run ReShade Setup.exe and navigate to the .exe of the game you want to ASCIIify (i.e. C:\Program Files (x86)\Steam\steamapps\common\Broforce\Broforce_beta.exe). This will not alter the executable or other game files and you can reverse it later.
  • If it works (it won't for every game), ReShade will auto-detect the game's Direct3D or OpenGL version. Now just run it! Scroll Lock will turn post-processing on and off. Note: Not recommended for multiplayer games, as it may be mistaken for cheating software.

Below are screens from some of Wes and my experiments. Some games work better than others—the best look comes from high-contrast games (there are only so many shades between black and white that can be represented with ASCII characters), especially those with lots of hard, straight lines.

If you want to share your own in the comments, hit Print Screen to save a screenshot to the game's directory and then upload it to an image sharing site like Imgur.

Wreckfest (Next Car Game)
BioShock Infinite
Resident Evil 4
The Wolf Among Us
Dark Souls II
Hotline Miami
Mass Effect 
Gone Home
Broforce

I'm sure you don't actually want to play anything with ASCII enabled, so here's how to remove ReShade entirely from a game. Head to the game executable's directory and delete Sweet.fx, the SweetFX folder, and whichever of the following DLLs it copied in: OpenGL32.dll, dxgi.dll, d3d9.dll, or d3d8.dll. Alternatively, you can just turn off ASCII in the SweetFX settings, try some other post-processing effects, and use ReShade again to replace the previous installation.

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