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In Now Playing PC Gamer writers talk about the game currently dominating their spare time. Today, Sam confronts Spec Ops' most controversial moment.

This article contains story spoilers for Spec Ops: The Line.

Spec Ops: The Line is clearly a smart game written by smart people. While as an adaptation of Heart of Darkness it s never as successfully weird or iconic as Apocalypse Now (despite making similar creative decisions), it s daring and ambitious in the way it portrays US military intervention in the midst of escalating chaos. I ve thought about the story a lot since I completed it recently. But what I interpret as its central conceit—that the player is the one making the decision to push forward and cause every conflict, and is thus the villain of the story—isn t really supported by the game itself. This is especially highlighted by the notorious white phosphorus scene halfway through, where protagonist Captain Walker and his two squadmates accidentally wipe out civilians with a real life weapon that burns flesh to the bone.

Spec Ops wants to make a BioShocklike message about human behaviour and choice, but in this key moment, there is no choice to be made. I m at the top of a building looking down into an enclosed bowl where an army of enemies is about to be ambushed by one of the worst weapons on this planet. I man the artillery, which triggers a bird s-eye targeting camera, and bring fire down upon scores of enemy troops. I figure out where the civilians are cowering, in a trench near the back of the field of conflict, and aim around them—but it doesn t matter. The radius of the white phosphorus impact automatically extends to scorch the group of innocents, and while this is a story beat that s technically interactive, it needs to happen no matter what. I tried not to hit them, but I was always going to.

The cutscene that follows shows the full extent of the carnage: charred corpses everywhere and the distressing image of a dead mother hugging her child, both burnt alive. If Call of Duty did this, there d be uproar. It s to the credit of Yager, the developer, that the context justifies the horror in this case.

But the fact remains that I didn t kill those civilians—Yager forced that outcome. While the aftermath still makes me uncomfortable, the fact that I was aiming around the civilians absolves me of guilt as a player—and I m not sure that was the intent. There s a strong narrative emphasis on the escalating madness in Dubai being of Walker s making, but lacking choice, I start to grow apart from that character.

The only choice I get to make comes in the aftermath, as I slowly tread through the blackened corpses and stick a bullet in anyone unfortunate enough to have survived. That s power put back into my hands as a player—I choose to kill those civilians to make up for Walker s poor choice with the white phosphorus. But again: that was his decision, not mine. It was Spec Ops most important narrative moment and they took it out of my hands. The impact is extraordinary, but had they genuinely hoodwinked me into killing civilians, it could ve lived with me forever.

And unlike BioShock, where the entire game is built to support a killer twist for the ages, in Spec Ops it becomes increasingly obvious that these are not my choices. Consequently, inspiring an equal reaction is impossible—Captain Walker is not me. I am grateful that Yager tried to do something so different with a military shooter, exploring an angle that makes every modern FPS seem gaudy to me in the way they present war, even with that clash between player and character in mind. I only hold this story to a higher standard than I usually would because I feel the developers have earned it.

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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.

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Ask PC Gamer is our weekly advice column. Have a burning question about the smoke coming out of your PC? Send your problems to letters@pcgamer.com.

I'm trying to find some games my retired dad might enjoy. He's not really a gamer... all he plays right now are games on his phone, and I guess he could play casual games on PC, but I wanted to show him there's more than simple puzzle stuff (he likes Threes) without overwhelming him. He has a pretty decent desktop I got him a couple years ago. Any recommendations? J.M.

Dear J.M.,

"Casual" has taken on a new meaning for me in the past few years. I used to think of Facebook games and the incessant notifications spawned from friends who think we might somehow connect over a mutual love of vegetables despite not talking for 10 years. Today, I think of any game that can be played in short sessions and doesn't demand a lot of familiarity with the genre or precision control.

That's a lot of great games, and 'casual' probably isn't the right word. Civilization V qualifies, for instance. You don't need to have played other turn based strategy games to get the concept it's like a board game, and the tooltips explain the rules and it's turn based, so there's no athletic mousery involved. And though it's hard to do, it can be played in short sessions. He can save and quit whenever.

Then again, I don't know your dad, and Civ might bore him to death. I'm just guessing (and only because this is true of my dad) that he isn't going to jump between a bunch of games. He'll probably want to get familiar with one or two and play them a lot, a la Threes. Turn-based strategy is a good call if that's the case. Total War: Shogun 2 and Unity of Command also come to mind, though the jump from Threes to the latter could be a bit much.

You may also consider going to GOG and finding some classics: Theme Hospital, SimCity 2000, Police Quest. Regarding that last one, if you think he might like story and adventure games, Zork: The Grand Inquisitor is one of my personal favorites. And there's always Telltale.

In the puzzle department, I can also recommend SpaceChem and World of Goo. And if none of that appeals, you can always install Peggle and move on. There's nothing wrong with Peggle. (Though I'm sure the commenters can supply some good answers and anecdotes of their own.)
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Borderlands


The Great Steamworks Migration continues. This time, it's Borderlands. The shoot-'n-loot FPS's co-op multiplayer has been unavailable since Gamespy's demise. Now it's back, thanks to the introduction of the Steamworks multiplayer infrastructure.

For owners of the physical-disc edition, you can activate a Steam copy using the "Granting Tool", found in Steam's Tools menu. You can see full instructions here.

Previously, a Borderlands patch removed SecuROM DRM from the game and its DLC.

There's been a recent trend of games switching to Steamworks, thanks both to Gamespy's death and Games for Windows Live's presumed shut-down. Recently Dawn of War 2 escaped from GfWL's clutches, securing its future for hopefully years to come. Of course, if Steam ever closes, we're all screwed.

Gearbox are currently working on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. For more on that game, check out Tom's recent hands-on report.
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
XCOM-soldiers-3


Written by Julian Murdoch

Most board/videogame crossovers are terrible, so it was with a healthy amount of skepticism that I sat down at GenCon 2014 in Indianapolis this weekend to play XCOM: The Board Game, a coop strategy game due later this year from Fantasy Flight Games.

Fantasy Flight has a small pocket industry making these crossover attempts: several runs at the World of Warcraft license, A Gears of War game, even a game based on the world of Doom. Most of the time, the theme of the videogame seems like a weird bolt-on to the cardboard version, both watering down what might be good gameplay mechanics and failing to create a meaningful connection to original game. XCOM: The Board Game avoids both of these traps, both delivering a new, fun coop experience and conjuring up the XCOM world in interesting ways.

It s worth noting that when XCOM: Enemy Unknown hit the PC in 2012, many reviews pointed out that core tactical gameplay was actually prototyped as a boardgame before being brought digital. XCOM: The Boardgame has nothing to do with that tactical miniatures (video)game we all lost countless hours too.



That s good news. Eric Lang, the designer of the upcoming digital/boardgame hybrid, put it this way: Why would we try to replicate that exact experience, he said, sitting across the plastic counters and cardboard chits that define the boardgame experience. It already exists. We all played it. So we pulled the camera way back and put you in charge.

The core conceit of XCOM: The Board Game is precisely that. In the video game version, most of the gameplay happens at the ground level, occasionally pulling out for a brief geoscape perspective. In the board game, you sit above the geoscape level, the big-boss of all. Each player assumes one or more key roles: Commander, Squad Leader, Chief Scientist, and Central Officer. Each role has its own tasks to accomplish, working together to defeat an incoming alien invasion: assigning ground troops, interceptors, and satellites to defend planet earth, researching technologies, salvaging wreckage, and completing critical missions to repel the invading sectoids, floaters, and the rest of the XCOM menagerie.

As a cooperative boardgame, it shares much in common from games like Z-Man Games Pandemic, which assigns each player at the table a critical role in achieving a common objective against the game itself.

The Commander sends interceptors to shoot down incoming UFOs and manages the budget, allocating cash to all of the other players. Everything in the game costs money, and money is always scarce. The commander will never be able to give everyone all the money they need.
The Chief Scientist researches new technologies that act as buffs for other members of the team using card game mechanics. Each other player has buffs that can provide enormous benefits, but she only has so many scientists to deploy, and more scientists cost more money.
The Squad Leader assigns specialist troops (assault, sniper, special ops) to both defend XCOM home base and achieve the missions required to actually win the game. But troops get killed in combat, and recruiting new ones or leveling them up costs money too.
The Central Officer manages satellites and communications infrastructure. But the enemy is always targeting satellites, and new ones are expensive.



Each turn, each member has critical tasks to accomplish, and as a team, there are limited resources available to tackle the ever-changing crises which spread panic to the continents of the world. Too much panic, and the game is lost. Successful resource allocation requires real team communication and collective decision making.

But it s the Central Officer that sets the game apart. Instead of a traditional fixed turn order (I go, you go, the game goes), the Central Officer uses an app (iOS, or browser-based) to tell each team member what to do, when, and to relay the new information that comes in from the computer controlled AI. She also manages the satellite network to make sure that the best possible information is coming into the team. And it all happens on a timer.

Here s how it worked in practice, in my demo game:

Commander, assign your interceptors. You have 15 seconds.

Africa s about to fall into panic. Europe s no better. I have six inbound UFOs, and six interceptors, but I m short on cash. If I move to defend, I ll have nothing to give my ground troops, who are repelling a base-invasion at XCOM HQ. And the Science Officer won t shut up about wanting to get more salvage.

Five seconds! screams my Central Officer.

I let Africa fall, assigning three interceptors to Europe.

Done! I cry. He presses a button on the iPad next to me. Squad Leader, Defend the Base! You have 13 seconds.



Time itself is the most critical resource. If the Commander (me, in our demo) takes too long, there are consequences. If anything goes wrong like losing satellites or letting a continent fall into chaos there are consequences. Sometimes the consequences are traditional boardgame consequences fail a few dice rolls when trying to defend XCOM base, and your soldiers die. Fail to research a new technology often enough and your scientists have to take a turn off and think about what they ve done.

But because the AI for the game is in the App, both time and information are part of those consequences too. After our failure in Africa, the next round had us assigning resources before we even knew where the UFOs were going to land. After running over time last turn, the Squad Leader, forced to decide between three missions to pursue, only gets 10 seconds to read the mission cards and decide, instead of 25 seconds.

And just like that, the game goes from strategic allocation and resource management to real time panic. The irony here is that this is unique in the XCOM universe. XCOM, after all, is a turn-based strategy game. A safe haven for people who don t like the stress of managing a build order in StarCraft 2 or getting a skillshot just right in League of Legends.



This is the genius of XCOM: The Board Game. It uses an app to change the very structure of the game (Do well, and you ll get critical information before you have to act. Do poorly, and you re flying blind), and it adds an element of real-time panic to what would otherwise be a fairly staid resource and strategy design.

This, it turns out, was the entire point: to stress you the heck out while you re trying to save the world. Making decisions with limited information and limited time is what brings out stress, explains Lang. Real time is the best way to do that. But using a sand-timer just doesn t cut it. An App feels really impersonal, it actually feels actually sinister. When the app pings you, that sound effect starts stressing you out.

By turn three of our demo, I d failed to allocate resources effectively with time being our most critical resource of all. And the earth was lost.



XCOM: The Board Game works as a boardgame for two reasons. The first, obviously, is it s connection to a beloved strategy videogaming franchise. The second is it s integration of a digital component. It will be easy for crufty grognards to immediately dismiss that as a gimmick designed to appeal to people who aren t real boardgamers a comment I heard more than once on the floor of GenCon.

But XCOM: The Board Game is doing something that happens all too rarely in board games it s actually innovating. I only got to play once the line for demos ran around the Fantasy Flight Games booth all weekend long but I will for sure be playing many, many times again, when it s out later this year for $60.
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.



Download the full-sized image here.



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The best living room PC games
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Borderlands


Of all the things affected by the GameSpy shutdown, Borderlands' now-hobbled multiplayer is perhaps the most egregious. Co-op is kind of the whole point there, so it's good to hear it will soon be making a return. A Steam update yesterday stripped all the nasty SecuROM DRM from the game and its expansions, as well as adding a "granting tool" capable of turning retail discs of Borderlands into Steam versions. Multiplayer isn't back yet, but you will find a "news ticker" on the main menu now, which will keep players' abreast of the effort to add Steamworks to the game.

Here's the full list of changes:

Removed SecuRom from the title and all DLC
Added a Granting Tool In the steam Tools section that turns a retail disc into a Steam version of Borderlands
News Ticker added to the main menu to give you updates on the Multiplayer restoration updates.
Imported SecuRom DLC keys into Steam, so if you bought DLC outside of Steam, activate it within Steam and get your matching content.


The patch notes confirm that "Steamworks multiplayer is coming in a future update", so until then I guess we're stuck playing the original Borderlands solo. Or playing Borderlands 2 with friends, which is a bit more likely.
...

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