PC Gamer

It s one thing to pull a still from a movie that accurately represents how the final cut will look and feel, but videogames are another matter. Trailers and screenshots are put out well before the game is complete, which means they re inevitably going to need visual band-aids here and there, and communicating everything the game is trying to achieve systems, story, style in a single frame is difficult. Enter the bullshot.To make their games look as good as can be, some publishers pose characters and snap screenshots with a free camera, sometimes even downsampling from high resolutions to reduce aliasing, or using Photoshop to make them pop just a little more. While these marketing screens convey key information and look nice, they can be misleading . We ve gathered a few of the worst offenders in recent years in part because they re funny, but also because it s a practice that should be called out. We d much rather see what a game actually looks like to play, especially when these screenshots appear on a store page. Leave it to us to take the unrealistic screenshots after release, because we love doing it.

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Even our favorite games aren t excused from bullshot shame. The Witcher 3 is a damn good-looking game, but to get shots resembling this quality we had to take them at 3840x2160 which we doubt many players can do at a playable framerate using a mod to enable a free camera and console commands. Also, who the hell is that horse because it sure isn t Roach. Impostor resolution, impostor horse get out of my computer.

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This screen wouldn t be a huge offender if not for the clearly posed gang of pirates. Each has their own stance. I like pointing guy on the far left. What s he trying to do? Buddy, you re at the rear of the pirate pack and all your dudes already know where the assassin you somehow just spotted is. But maybe he s just a stickler for photo balance, a guy who can t help but obey the rule of threes. That s some good AI.

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Racing games tend to be the biggest bullshot culprits. Take Split Second for instance. It s a great looking game most racing games nowadays are but this shot looks like someone just discovered Instagram filters. I love a good filter, but this one turns up the warm colors and vignettes with reckless abandon. Look both ways before you cross the street because it s blurred to hell.

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Gearbox tends to eliminate aliasing by taking the shots at a super high resolution, but to really make their images pop, contrast is turned way up. It makes the comic book stylings much more apparent, especially because detailed textures are used throughout the entire image, no matter how far objects are in the distance. With everything in such clear focus, it makes the image look flat.

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I m not sure what kind of holy light exists just offscreen in every other bullshot, but it s not working well to bring out this central locust s best features. It makes even less sense when you notice that the blinding light is coming from the hole in the ground at the bottom right. Besides the awkward blur and focus muddying half the picture, I can t figure out what s going through that locust s head. Is Marcus holding it up with a light grip on the shoulder? Impressive. Is that shock or rage or is that just how their jaws always are? These are the questions Gears of War 4 needs to answer.

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This one s a toughie. This shot from No Man s Sky isn t touched up, but it uses assets that aren t representative of what the final game produces. In my experience, the creatures look like remixes of a handful of variables and characteristics after 10 or so hours in, and vegetation can t grow that tall without the use of mods. It s not entirely surprising that No Man s Sky is under investigation by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK, even if players are still enjoying it for what it is.

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The biggest giveaway here (not that you need one) is what I ve dubbed the Holy Mammoth. Before the rise of modern religion, there was the One True Mammoth, from which all bloom lighting emitted. It seems to have blessed the screen with an abundance of golden light, impossibly smooth edges, and perfectly posed figures.

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It s rare to find a racing game screenshot that wasn t taken at some forbidden, transcendent resolution, so I have to hand it to The Crew with this one. That said, this shot is posed beyond reprieve. Four cars, perfectly aligned to frame up nicely and balance out the shot with a lovely airplane cherry up top.

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I won t be too harsh with Crysis since it s still the go-to for good-looking PC games in some respects, but the soldier getting lasered is impossible to ignore. It looks like he s waving hello to the tentacled aliens above, though I suppose his pose is meant to imply he s flying backwards due to the force of the white hot laser blasting a hole in his chest. Either way, Crysis isn t capable of such a believable ragdoll animation, but I suppose a twitching bundle of human appendages doesn t look so good in still life.

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I think future soldiers will be smarter than this. I figured future war would entail guns that can fire from far away and not meeting in the middle of a short corridor for shootouts. Instead, we have two soldiers firing into a stoic mechanical man and another presumably about to kick their head in. My favorite detail? That explosion in the background lost in the shallow focus. While the Black Ops 3 might look this good, it s rarely this nonsensically positioned.

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Here we have another checklist shot trying to show off as many systems and features as possible while still looking pretty. We ve got destructible walls, a shielded player, a shotgun firing, a grenade, some barbed wire in the bottom right, and some pretty detailed textures. Problem is, the final game doesn't look nearly as nice, and while the destruction is fairly granular, it s not to the level of detail expressed in this screen. Look at all those tiny individual perforations. If only.

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I played this scene just over a week ago and it looked great, but not like this. The scene glows an icy blue and the blacks are super deep. Someone turned up the contrast. Also, who s kicking up all that damn dust? It doesn t look natural, like it s being used to balance out the color and weight of the shot.

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There s so much going on in this shot it feels like one of those hidden object pages from Highlights magazine. Let s see, we ve got a three-wheeled buggy thing, a dude with an easily readable expression shooting out the vehicle s side, we can see two bullets in the act of ricocheting off the soldier, a truck in the far right, a building on fire above, some gorgeous snowy mountains in the background, a remote detonator in the player character s hand and it s all in perfect focus. No jagged edges, some nice airbrush effects on the wheels to imply motion. This is an ascendant bullshot. This is art.

PC Gamer

Only the greatest warriors wear a nipple hat.

Did you wear the Colovian Fur Helm? If you played Morrowind you probably did. The Colovian Fur Helm is a piece of armor you can easily get at the start of the game it literally falls out of the sky for you, being worn by a wizard whose spell doesn't work as intended and you'll probably keep it for a while. At the start of Morrowind decent helmets are hard to come by, especially if you're cheap. The downside is that the Colovian Fur Helm looks like a big hairy nipple. No matter how badass the rest of your armor is, topping it off with a hat that makes you look like one of the Coneheads will ruin your ensemble.

I thought about that hat recently when I was watching Hearthstone designer Ben Brode answer criticisms about the recently added Purify spell, which players have called a bad card. Actually they've called it worse things than that, but let's stick with bad. Some players actually like winning with bad cards, Brode explained, before going on to discuss its potential for use in a non-competitive fun deck . Long past the point where it was a liability, I wore that silly Colovian Fur Helm because I'd started thinking it was funny defeating ghosts and monsters while wearing a conical nipplehat. It was bad, but that's what made it perfect for me.

Plenty of games have items in them that prove unpopular with players. Maybe they're equipment in an RPG, cards in a digital card game, guns in a first-person shooter, or power-ups in an arcade game. They could be ugly. Their stats could be terrible. Most players may shun them, but they still serve a purpose.

Guns & ammo 

James Lopez, producer on the Borderlands series, provides me with the excellent names of several guns from Borderlands 2 that players considered bad: Flakker, Bane, Fibber, and Crit. They all had their moments to shine, however, as there was an ebb and flow to the popularity of guns in the games some were popular right off the bat but some were 'undiscovered' for a while until the community found things that made them special , he says.

The Flakker for instance is a shotgun that shoots multiple explosive projectiles. They detonate at medium range, making it almost worthless against distant or nearby enemies. Plus, it fires very slowly. While the Flakker seems underwhelming for a weapon of 'legendary' rarity, it does have its uses. The sniper character Zer0 can combine it effectively with his Rising Sh0t ability, which lets him earn bonus damage for a short duration after every successful attack. The amount of bonus damage increases every time you hurt an enemy, so a single good shot with the Flakker can max out that bonus, after which you switch to a better gun to make use of it.

The Bane on the other hand is a submachine gun that drops your movement to a crawl and constantly shouts at you. When you shoot it screeches like Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber making the most annoying sound in the world, and it announces every reload by bellowing Reloading! Even taking it out it will make it announce Swapping weapons! Dropping the in-game volume to zero won't prevent it from ruining your eardrums, either. And yet there are people on YouTube using The Bane to defeat Borderlands 2's endgame raid boss Terramorphous the Invincible.

Borderlands is an unusual case in that most of its guns aren't unique like the Flakker and Bane, but procedurally generated. They combine effects in randomized ways so you might end up with a sniper rifle that reloads almost instantly or a pistol that shoots burning bullets. It creates variety and depth, Lopez explains, as well as the possibility of the user getting a one of a kind gun that nobody else will have. You might pick up two Maliwan fire SMGs of the same level but they re not going to be the same. And it might turn out that one is more your play style than the other, and the one you don t like might be perfect for someone else in your party.

When you do find a unique gun in a Borderlands game, something with a name like Good Touch or Teapot, you know it's special. That inspires players to figure out why a seemingly bad gun exists instead of chucking it aside like the disposable randomized weapons Borderlands games are full of. As Lopez puts it, Giving them names creates a theme about the gun, a connection to how you got it, and can also inspire the community to learn more about it through forums, videos, wikis, etc.

Should more guns have voice acting? Probably not.

The drone & the skullcap 

At the other end of the spectrum from Borderlands and its millions of guns is Assault Android Cactus, a twin-stick shooter in which each of its playable android characters only has two weapons. Some are regular fare like a flamethrower or a beam laser, but the android named Aubergine wields something different: an indestructible drone called Helo that causes damage in a circle and controls like a fishing rod. Hold down fire and the drone moves further away from her; release and it's reeled back in.

Aubergine is the most divisive character in the game, says developer Tim Dawson, some people dig her, but a lot of players couldn't get their head around controlling her Helo drone while moving. She was meant to be an out-there character and push the envelope in terms of twin-stick shooter mechanics, but because she takes so much more work to get good at, plenty of people never did.

The drone has advantages, like being able to cause damage to enemies while you hide behind a wall, but it's tricky to get used to compared to more straightforward tools like the shotgun or the drill. Not many players bother getting to grips with Aubergine and her drone.

Aubergine's drone weapon sets her apart from most twin-stick shooter characters.

Even so, I'm glad she's in the game, Dawson says, she came about from realising our weapon designs were stagnating mid-development and sitting down to brainstorm something off the map. She's not only a good character for players who stick with her, but her existence in the game challenged us to make later weapons like the Railgun and Giga Drill more distinctive.

Assault Android Cactus also has power-ups that appear regularly throughout each level. Each power-up initially appears as a red Firepower boost (adding hovering guns to your arsenal), but if it's not picked up immediately will transform into a yellow Accelerate boost (adding movement speed as well as slurping pick-ups toward you), and finally a blue Shutdown (sending enemies to sleep). The fact that players can choose which of the three power-ups to collect by timing it right inspired a vigorous debate on the game's forum over which was best.

Accelerate came off worst of the three by a fair margin. Despite boosting speed, decreasing damage taken and pulling battery and weapon orbs in, some players began actively avoiding Accelerate, says Dawson, seeing it as a wasted opportunity to grab one of the other two power-ups, both of which had more overt offensive potential.

Cards with negative and positive effects are chosen less, but fit certain playstyles.

In the choose-your-own-adventure card game Hand of Fate, each of the player's items is represented by a card that becomes that piece of equipment and appears on your avatar when combat begins. They fall down on you like rain, if rain was made of helmets and axes. Though Hand of Fate is a very different game, just like Assault Android Cactus and its Accelerate power-up, players prefer equipment that has overt offensive potential .

According to its creative director Morgan Jaffit, Something we notice a lot is that people generally prefer items with direct effects, rather than those that act on another system. A good example there is Skullcap of Prophecy, which reduces your cooldowns if you kill an enemy with a weapon ability. There's a lot going on there for a player to think about how often do they kill enemies, how often do they get to use weapon abilities, how does reducing cooldowns help them, etc.

The Skullcap of Prophecy can be part of a powerful combo when used with weapon abilities capable of finishing enemies off, reducing the cooldown on the ability that triggered the Skullcap in the first place in a repeatable loop. Most players don't bother with it, however, preferring to use gear that increases damage directly or doesn't require a decent weapon to synergize with.

Gear that has negatives as well as positives generally gets picked less than items that are a straight benefit. Morgan Jaffit

Likewise, gear that has negatives as well as positives generally gets picked less than items that are a straight benefit, says Jaffit. Forbidden Armor give you bonus damage resistance, but stops you being able to heal. People tended to just wear slower, less effective armour instead of dealing with the downside.

And that's up to you. Choosing not to use items that handicap you whether they provide some balancing advantage or exist simply to let you challenge yourself or fit a specific theme you're roleplaying is a choice that's yours to make. But even if you do make that choice, the bad items you avoid still serve a purpose. As Jaffit says, you always need contrast. No single item is 'good' in the abstract, you need other items to compare them to.

If every card in Hand of Fate or Hearthstone was perfectly balanced for use with every playstyle, there would be no thrill to finding ones that suit you. If the power-ups in Assault Android Cactus were the same you'd never race dramatically across the level to grab the one you like, and if every gun in Borderlands was useful at every range and in every situation you'd never switch between them and find the perfect moment to bombard some bad guys with a shotgun that shoots exploding swords.

Even beyond stats, items with no value can be imbued with purpose by passionate fans. In Dark Souls, one of the starting gifts, a pendant, does absolutely nothing. Why would anyone pick it over a key that unlocks doors throughout the game? Fans of Dark Souls labyrinthine lore speculated on how the pendant might fit into the mythos until director Hidetaki Miyazaki revealed that it was basically a prank. But by then it had served its purpose, making Dark Souls just a little bit more mysterious.

One man's trash...

That Colovian Fur Helm served a purpose too. When I finally sold it in favor of wearing something made of enchanted green glass, I felt like a proper hero for the first time, not that joker straight off the boat with the pointy head.

I would have missed the Colovian Fur Helm, but fortunately the shopkeeper I sold it to was so impressed he put it on immediately and continued wearing it for the rest of the game. Everybody's bad item is valuable to someone.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

If you've ever been curious about Borderlands but haven't gotten around to giving it a go due to the eternal cash flow struggle, now would be a good time to turn your attention to the Humble Bundle. The collection revealed today includes the original Borderlands, plus The Zombie Island of Dr. Ned, Mad Moxxi's Underground Riot, and The Secret Armory of General Knoxx, all for whatever price you want to pay.

Those who beat the average purchase price will also get Borderlands 2, along with the Psycho Pack add-on, the Mechromancer add-on, the Creature Slaughterdome add-on, and a coupon for 75 percent off Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel in the Humble Store. And for 15 bucks or more, you can tack on the Borderlands 2 season pass, which includes the Captain Scarlett and her Pirate s Booty, Mr. Torgue s Campaign of Carnage, Sir Hammerlock s Big Game Hunt, and Tiny Tina s Assault on Dragon Keep add-ons, the Headhunter 5: Son of Crawmerax add-on, the Ultimate Vault Hunter Upgrade Pack 2, and a coupon for 25 percent off off stuff in the 2K Store.

"But wait!" he cried, waving his Ginsu knives at the assembled onlookers with mad abandon. "There's more!" As in more games that will be added to the bundle on June 30, the mid-point of the sale. Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is the most obvious candidate, but it would be kind of strange to make it free in a bundle that also includes a coupon for the same game. Dare we hope for Tales From the Borderlands?

Money spent on the Humble Borderlands Bundle can be directed toward 2K Games, the Humble Bundlers, or the National Videogame Museum, at your discretion. The bundle is live now and runs until July 7.

PC Gamer

Borderlands creator Matthew Armstrong has left Gearbox, he confirmed on Twitter over the weekend. As both creator and writer of the first game in the series, Armstrong was also involved in Borderlands 2 and Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel in various capacities. 

News of Armstrong's departure follows the closure of 2K Australia last week, the studio responsible for last year's The Pre-Sequel. With work complete on both The Pre-Sequel and the recent Handsome Collection for consoles, Armstrong told Game Informer that he'd taken the opportunity to leave at a time when he was "non-vital".

"I could leave without damaging Borderland or Gearbox too much if I did it at this moment, so now was the time," he said. "I think Gearbox will do great in the future, and I think Borderlands will stay strong and awesome. I've been thinking about it for a while. I'm not quitting out of anger or getting fired. It's just time for new adventures. I'm an inventor. I'm ready to make something new. Not just new to me, but new to everyone."

We're likely to see a Borderlands 3 at some point but probably not for a while: Gearbox only started recruiting for it in January

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

That happy looking fellow above is Paul Hellquist, who you may know as the Borderlands 2 creative director. He's standing in front of the Robot Entertainment logo because he's left Gearbox to join the Orcs Must Die! studio as a lead designer, it was announced today. That means Hellquist won't be working on any forthcoming Borderlands games, but he will be working on Orcs Must Die! Unchained.

Hellquist has quite the resume: before his senior role on Borderlands 2 he spent nine years at Irrational Games, during which time he worked as lead designer on BioShock. Now he'll work on the MOBA-esque Orcs Must Die! Unchained, which our Emanuel Maiberg went hands-on with last year. Robot Entertainment CEO Patrick Hudson says the next phase of that game's beta will be detailed soon.

As for a potential Borderlands 3, as of February last year Gearbox hadn't started development. "We know we want it and we know it should exist, but we don't know what it is yet," Randy Pitchford said at the time. If it's Borderlands you want though, 2K Australia's Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel arrived late last year, as did Telltale's Tales From The Borderlands.  

PC Gamer

We like cheap PC components and accessories. But you know what we like even more? Expensive PC components and accessories that are on sale. We ve partnered with the bargainmeisters at TechBargains to bring you a weekly list of the best component, accessory, and software sales for PC gamers.

Some highlights this week: Ubisoft has a huge amount of games on sale starting at 40% off. You can get Bastion for only $3.75, and if you haven't played it yet then you probably should. Newegg has a 250GB Solid State Drive for only $112.99 and it comes with Borderlands 2 for free. And, in a similar deal to last week, XFX has another video card on sale that comes with your choice of three free games from a list that includes Alien: Isolation, Sniper Elite 3, and Tomb Raider.

Hardware:

— The Samsung 840 EVO 250GB SSD is over 40% off, only $112.99 on Newegg, and comes with Borderlands 2 for free.

— Similar to a deal last week, the XFX Double D R9-270X-CDFC Radeon R9 270X 2GB Video Card is $154.99 on Newegg after a $30 rebate, and comes with three free games. The choices include Alien: Isolation, Star Citizen, Sniper Elite 3, Thief, Tomb Raider, and many more.

— The Acer S241HLbmid 24 LCD Monitor is 30% off, $139.99 on Newegg.

— The Motorola SB6141 SURFboard DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem is $89.99 with free shipping on Newegg s ebay page.

 Get the HP Omen 15XT Touch Gaming Laptop for $1674.99 with free shipping coupon code PC599Q4

Games:

— Get Bastion for $3.75 over at Gamersgate.com.

— Steamworld Dig is 75% off, $2.49 on Steam, for the next 48 hours only.

— Ubisoft is having a weeklong sale on Gamersgate.com on a bunch of games, including Watch Dogs, Rayman Legends, and Trials Fusion.

— The Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm expansion is $16.97 at Gamestop.

— Majesty Gold is only $2 on GreenManGaming.com after a using the coupon code NOVEMB-ERGMGX-20XOFF

For more tech deals, visit techbargains.com.

A note on affiliates: some of our stories, like this one, include affiliate links to online stores. These online stores share a small amount of revenue with us if you buy something through one of these links, which help support our work evaluating components and games.

PC Gamer
borderlands 2 8


If for some reason you're interested in Borderlands 2 but have yet to play it, then here's good news: the game is free on Steam this weekend. Even better, if you enjoy the game there's a hefty 75 per cent discount on both Borderlands 2 and its Game of the Year edition during that period. Naturally, you'd be better off going for the latter as the DLC packs include a wealth of extra content.

The free weekend is timed perfectly to get indecisive punters aboard the Borderlands train ahead of the October release of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. Indeed, the game is now available for pre-purchase on Steam. You can play as Claptrap, which is great, because it means you can send the annoying robot to his death.

We had a hands-on session with the pre-sequel recently, describing it as "familiar, but fun". It releases October 14.
PC Gamer
borderlands 2


Every week, keen screen-grabber Ben Griffin brings you a sumptuous 4K resolution gallery to celebrate PC gaming's prettiest places.

Famously, Gearbox changed Borderlands' visuals at the eleventh hour, completely re-doing the character models and textures to turn it from an ugly caterpillar into a bazooka-firing butterfly dipped in a vat of leaky glowsticks. Gearbox further loosened their belt for the sequel. They continue the first game's cel-shaded mania but notch up the environmental variety, with arctic wastes, gleaming metropolises, bone-dry dust bowls, and green goo-filled mines. It makes for a game that delivers plenty of spectacle.



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