Dec 31, 2012
Face Off pits two gladiators against each other as they tackle gaming's most perplexing conundrums. This New Year's Eve edition is a chronological throw-down: which decade gave PC gaming the most? Podcast Producer Erik Belsaas says it was the '90s—the origin of modern PC gaming. Executive Editor Evan Lahti insists it was the '00s, with its speedy internet, better PCs, and shinier graphics engines.
Evan: The 1990s had the CD-ROM and the McRib sandwich. The ‘00s had Windows XP and two terrible Star Wars movies. I think the latter birthed better games: the Battlefield series, Crysis, Company of Heroes, BioShock, Dragon Age: Origins, Guild Wars, The Sims, Rome: Total War, Star Wars: KOTOR, and the best Civilization games happened then. What've you got, Erik?
Erik: Lucasarts, id, Ion Storm, Interplay, Blizzard: the iconic names that created franchises that we still discuss today. “RTS,” “FPS,” and “MMO” had no meaning before the pioneers of the '90s came along with some-thing other than sequels and rehashes: Baldur's Gate, Wolfenstein 3D, Duke Nukem 3D, MechWarrior, Unreal Tournament and every LucasArts adventure game from Sam & Max to Grim Fandango.
Evan: This is going to devolve into who can name-drop more game titles, isn't it?
Erik: Pretty much.
Evan: Cool. In that case, let’s put the best we've got on the page. What are the top three games from your decade? Mine: WoW, Counter-Strike, and Half-Life 2.
Erik: Just three? How about X-COM, Fallout, and The Secret of Monkey Island. Timeless classics that we still play today.
Evan: Is that the best that the decade that gave us the Spice Girls has got, grandpa? The innovations of the '00s will last far longer. Half-Life 2 wasn't just the basis for the way modern action games tell stories, it’s the technological foundation for the most ambitious mods we have today and the preferred canvas for machinima creators. World of Warcraft’s meteoric rise brought PC gaming into popular culture, ruined innumerable marriages, and earned its own South Park episode. Top that.
Erik:Your great games are all parts of established franchises that began in the '90s. For that matter, the original Counter-Strike mod came out in 1999, before Valve turned it into a retail product! Take away the names that began in the '90s, the '00s would've created very little of their own.
Evan: Megabyte for megabyte, I’d rather replay Half-Life 2 than its predecessor. Likewise for Diablo II, Warcraft III, Fallout 3 and other major franchises that began in the '90s but matured in the '00s. I really think that the tech of the '00s (better operating systems, fast internet, faster PCs) produced better gaming experiences. EVE Online couldn't exist in the '90s. Team Fortress 2's dozens of free content updates couldn't have streamed down our wimpy modems—the same goes for 25-man WoW raids or a heavily modded playthrough of Oblivion or Morrowind.
Erik: You've got a short memory. EverQuest allowed 72-man raids. And before Oblivion and Morrowind came Daggerfall, which was amazing and heavily modded. Doom, the father of modding, came out in '93.
Evan: I’ll play your game, Belsaas. Here's my ace: Deus Ex, our most favorite game ever, happened in 2000.
Erik: Deus Ex is a good game...but how about StarCraft? Has any other game absolutely defined its genre or rallied an entire nation behind it like a sport?
Evan: I was worried you’d play the Korea card. What can I counter that with? The 100-million-selling main-stream success of The Sims? The booming popularity of independent gaming? ...Peggle?
Erik: Peggle? Well I’ve got...you know...uh...Carmen Sandiego. Fine. Peggle wins.
Dec 31, 2012
I think the reason that Mass Effect 3 remained my favourite game of the year is also the reason it caught some flak: it was the end of a huge story that we were all seriously invested in. For me, that gave the whole 20-hour adventure an almost electric energy, the tingly feeling that everything had been leading up to this. For some, that meant the not entirely satisfying ending felt like a slap in the face.
I didn’t feel that way. I didn’t like the actual end scene much, but it was a few minutes of nonsense among twenty hours of the best Mass Effect has ever been. That was my ending: the full scale invasion of the Reapers, the desperate street battles, the tragic deaths of old friends, the final moments of camaraderie with the ones left alive. I’d already had most of the closure I needed before the... weird bit.
The history we all have with these characters, and the attachments we’ve formed with them, gave Mass Effect 3 an unfair advantage over everything else that came out this year. But it didn’t take that for granted. Despite the praise we’d all heaped on the previous two games, BioWare worked hard to do better.
For me, the most important part of that was the story. It’s BioWare’s strength, of course, but after Mass Effect 2’s unconvincing Cerberus angle I wasn’t sure they’d close it out decisively. I needn’t have worried. The climactic nature of the Reaper invasion gives Mass Effect 3’s story drive and urgency, and the premise of racing around the galaxy to drum up allies gave you a string of critical decisions to make. It felt like being in charge again.
The RPG elements finally clicked, too: it’s the first Mass Effect game where I wanted to continue with each class I tried. As well as being powerful and distinct, they were customisable in a much more significant way: it was up to you how heavily armed your class should be, and how rapidly their powers would recharge. Heavier weapons meant slower powers, and finding your preferred balance was the first time in the series that I got really excited about character builds.
Mass Effect 2 made combat satisfying, but it still dragged after the umpteenth arena scuffle with the same enemy classes and the same low walls. Mass Effect 3’s contribution was a massive overhaul in enemy design. Every faction is completely different to fight against, and you’re fighting a lot of them. Within each army, there are intricate relationships between the enemy types that you need to disrupt before they buff, heal, or armour-plate each other. Figuring out how to combine your squad’s powers to deal with that was a shifting challenge.
But maybe the most remarkable thing about Mass Effect 3 was that we were able to have any personal investment in it at all. This is a series that had been giving us hugely consequential decisions for 40 hours already: the state of the universe and most of its key players were radically different for each of us. From its first scenes to its massive conclusion, Mass Effect 3 could make no assumptions about which of your 13 companions might be alive or dead. Under the hood, it’s a nightmarishly complex web of dependencies and replacement story branches. And yet to us, the whole thing was seamlessly consistent. Everything I’d done was reflected in the ongoing situation, everyone I’d lost was gone – and the story adapted. It’s the most impressive trick I’ve ever seen a sequel pull, and it’s a big part of what made Mass Effect 3 so special.
Read More: Mass Effect 3 review.
Runners Up: XCOM: Enemy Unknown and Dishonored.
I knew the moment the tide had turned. It was 15 hours into my first XCOM: Enemy Unknown campaign, and I’d just outfitted my squad’s psychic soldier with psi armour. I’d only discovered Major Tom’s latent mindbending abilities a few missions before, but he’d already proved himself a devastating anti-alien defence in the field. Kitted out in this gear, he was near unstoppable.
Earlier in the game, I’d hung back. I’d waited it out, luring aliens into laser crossfire, overlapping vision cones and overwatch orders, patiently, eventually clearing out XCOM’s alien infestations. Now, I could sprint psychic Tom out into the open, call out those unknown enemies in droves, and melt their puny brains. I revelled in it. I started talking at the screen. “You think you can run, you horrible bug? I’ll make you eat your friends. I’ll make you stand in the open, rip your disgusting body open with hot plasma. I’ll make you die. I’ll make all of you die.” Then I’d start cackling.
I’d invented a fiction. My soldiers were my action figures, I’d made them run and hide and shoot and watch their friends die, and I imbued them with the heroism and pathos of those events. Graham Smith had been impetuous and aggressive. He died when he strayed too close to a burning – later exploding – car. Owen Hill, once carefree and cheerful, was calcified by his death. He became a dead-eye sniper, silent and stoic, and able to lance a Muton through the eyes with a snapshot from half a map away.
Marsh Davies was relentlessly helpful. My team medic never missed a mission, and reinvigorated everyone else when their resolve slipped or their blood drained out. He never once panicked. Richard Cobbett was insane: a close-range monster, he’d hurtle into combat, heavy alloy cannon acting as far-future shotgun and drawing enemies out for easy shooting. He somehow survived the entire campaign.
Until the turning point, I imagined my women and men daunted by the task of saving humanity. After, with the psychic in their midst, I imagined them standing in XCOM’s home base, grinning. They had it in the bag. They were too powerful, too well-equipped, knew too much about their enemy. Enemy known, now.
I’d led them all the way, but I didn’t feel like it was my victory. It was theirs as much as mine. These action figures were alive. XCOM: Enemy Unknown seduces players with attachment, making you know and care for your soldiers. When they die, a tiny part of me dies. Sometimes they live. I love it when they live.
Without that attachment, XCOM is merely a mechanically superb turn-based strategy game that I’d suggest everyone plays. With it, XCOM elevates itself even further, forging player memories that’ll live as long as you play and care about games.
Read More: XCOM review.
Runners Up: FTL, Sins of a Solar Empire.
Reader Parrish E. admitted to tooting his own horn by sending this tip to us, but we'll allow it, because his life-size construction of Claptrap—with a functioning headlamp, mind you—is straight up awesome, and the best part, it's a gift for a friend.
Parrish and his wife were introduced to Borderlands by a friend shortly before Borderlands 2 released in September. And then, of course, they played the sequel. "Our friend expressed an interest in building the super intricate paper craft model that came out a while ago," he says on the Gearbox forums. "She's pretty busy with school and work and the like, so I figured I'd build it in my spare time (currently unemployed, and job hunting only occupies so many hours in the day) as kind of a thank you for introducing us to the series.
"And then I realized I don't have anywhere near the patience for that many little pieces and gluing everything together, and even if I did manage to build it, it's pretty fragile," he said. "I know my way around a table saw, however, so I decided to build a large, almost full scale model. I could never really nail down his exact dimensions, so I went off the 4" figurine, and scaled that up to what pre-made wheel sizes were available to me."
Voila, you now have a full-size Claptrap. Brandishing what appears to be the figurine Parrish referenced. It took about a month to assemble, and he just uploaded the finished pictures yesterday. The rest of the forum thread shows Claptrap throughout the stages of his construction, with the requisite slow-claps and compliments from the Borderlands community.
I'm Building a Claptrap [Gearbox Forums]
Dec 28, 2012
"Like 2D Minecraft," you say, "But that kind of sounds like Terraria!" About that. At least one of the devs on Chucklefish, the studio behind Starbound, hails from Terraria. This would explain some of the overt gameplay/aesthetic similarities between the two games.
The premise here is that you're fleeing your destroyed homeworld in a shuttle, but you don't know where you're going. This is where the random-generation comes in, see. There is a ton of random-generation in this game, but more on that in a sec.
You can explore, build, craft, and play with your friends. In space. With a space station. From the game's website:
The space station in Starbound is sprawling and full of potential. Throughout your travels you'll find ways to upgrade and repair it, restoring it to its former glory. You'll need to find a crew, conduct research, catch rare creatures, and unlock its multitude of facilities. From a factory capable of producing mechs to labs where captured enemies can be studied and trained, the space station contains everything you need to explore the universe.
So you'll be going around visiting a buttload of different planets that have everything from the flora, the fauna, the difficulty level, the weather and just everything in-between be randomly generated. Even the guns in the game will be randomly generated.
Apparently there are 'literally millions' of combinations. Included are rocket launchers, pistols, assault rifles and so on which have a bunch of different stats and attributes (clip size, reload time, DMG, spread, etc) along with, as you might have guessed, rarity values.
And of course, there will be terraforming. Once you make a planet your homeworld, you can interact or examine just about everything.
Everything that makes a planet unique is at your command. Feel like changing the weather? Build a weather centre! Don't like the terrain? Terraform it! Every aspect of the planet is under your control. Once you're happy with it, start populating it with characters you've met in your travels and take care of them! They'll have needs and desires and won't hesitate to ask for your help if they require assistance.
Sounds super ambitious. Starbound is possibly releasing at the start of 2013, but there's no clear release date.
Via Matthew Hall
A little under two weeks ago, Irrational Games asked you to vote on a design for the alternate side of BioShock Infinite's reversible cover. Today, Irrational revealed the results, and this is the image that came out on top, with 38 percent of the vote.
It couldn't possibly be more different from the game's standard box art, though that's certainly not a bad thing.
Borderlands 2's dapper gentleman hunter Sir Hammerlock was always around to aid the struggle against Handsome Jack from his remote safehouse, but now he's getting more involved by inviting the Vault Hunters on an expedition they can't refuse. Or maybe they can. If they do, they'll be skipping Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, the next DLC for Gearbox's loot-tastic RPG. It releases on January 15 for an expected price of $10/£6 or free for Season Pass holders.
The hunt promises "Danger! Excitement! Mustaches!" and the new swamp-filled continent of Aegrus on which to show the creatures of Pandora what for. The DLC also includes five story missions and 12 side-missions filled with new enemies, Seraph items, and the driveable Fanboat er, boat. The story, as the trailer suggests, seems to involve a jungle tribe of feral, Jack-worshipping psychos and a Stalker raid boss. At this point, I'm inclined to believe a day doesn't pass on Pandora without someone shooting something really big. Or just shooting anything.
Dec 20, 2012
Valve kicked off its epic Steam Holiday Sale today, offering heavy discounts, flash sales, and catalog clearances lasting until January 5. And before we start drifting dangerously into wallet-pun territory, know you'll be able vote for a select game every 12 hours to go on sale.
Here's a sampling of the sales and flash deals (if you can call a 15-hour timespan a "flash") available for purchase right now:
60% off Natural Selection 2 ($10/£6)
50% off War of the Roses ($15/£9)
50% off Borderlands 2 ($30/£18.50)
The current nominees for the Community's Choice sale are Limbo, The Secret of Monkey Island, and Braid. The winner gets 75 percent taken off its price. And if, by some small chance, a specific game deal you're seeking isn't there, Valve can notify you when it shows up if you add the title to your wishlist. Wonderful.
Ready to get shopping? Deep breath, and go.
IGN today reported that Borderlands 2's level cap, currently at 50, will rise sometime in the first three months of next year.
It's not going to come with Sir Hammerlock's Big Game Hunt, announced and previewed today. 2K Games told IGN that Gearbox Software still is considering whether to do it as part of a DLC extension or as a separate download.
The studio did both in the original Borderlands in 2010, raising the cap from 50 to 61 with The Secret Armory of General Knoxx and then raising it to 69 with a free update.
Additionally, 2K is said to be thrilled with Borderlands 2's sales performance, and is envisioning a second "season" of DLC after this one concludes. Big Game Hunt will be the third of four promised extensions.