PC Gamer

GOG's  Take On 2K sale sees 11 of the publisher's classics debut on the distribution platform. Running until April 5, the sale bundles games from the X-COM, Freedom Force and Railroad Tycoon series—and Sid Meier's Pirates—into groups as follows:

Railroad Tycoon Bundle: 5.97/$8.65 (-66%, 50% off individually)
  • Sid Meier's Railroads
  • Railroad Tycoon II
  • Railroad Tycoon III

X-COM Classic Bundle: 5.45/$7.45 (-75%, 50% off individually)

  • X-COM: UFO Defense
  • X-COM: Terror from the Deep
  • X-COM: Apocalypse
  • X-COM: Interceptor
  • X-COM: Enforcer

Freedom Force Pack: 2.78/$3.98 (-66%, 50% off individually)

  • Freedom Force
  • Freedom Force vs. The Third Reich

Sid Meier's Pirates!: 3.49/$4.99 (-50%)

"Ruthless strategic warfare? Check. Weirdo superheroes? You bet. Hilarious dancing sequences? Naturally," reads a post on  GOG.com. "And once again, the satisfaction of checking off a couple dozen thousand of your wishlist votes for some seriously good old games. So join us on the choo-choo train through battlefields riddled with alien corpses and swashbuckling superheroes—because we're taking on 2K!"

If that tickles your fancy, you've got until 2pm BST/6am PDT/9 AM EDT to grab the discounts before the Take On 2K sale expires. 

PC Gamer

Earlier in March, PC Gamer hosted the PC Gamer Weekender; a weekend of PC games from... PC Gamer. Look, the title was pretty self-explanatory.

During the event a number of gaming luminaries were around to host talks and generally delight us all with their insight — like, for example, a few folks from the Star Citizen team.

Also present was creator of X-Com, Chaos and all-round strategy mastermind, Julian Gollop, who took to the stage to chat about the past, present and future of X-Com/XCOM. It is, as they say, very interesting.

PC Gamer

Remember when buying a game didn't feel like a guarantee of seeing the ending? There are still hard games out there, Dark Souls flying the flag most recently, but increasingly, the challenge has dripped out or at least softened, often leading to sadly wasted opportunities. What would Skyrim be like, for instance, if its ice and snow wasn't simply cosmetic, but actually punished you for going mountain climbing in your underpants?

With a quick mod—Frostfall in this case—you're forced to dress up warm before facing the elements, and things become much more interesting. That's just one example, and over the next couple of pages you'll find plenty more. These aren't mods that just do something cheap like double your enemy's hit-points, they're full rebalances and total conversions. Face their challenge, and they'll reward you with both a whole new experience and the satisfaction of going above and beyond the call of duty.

Realism Overhaul

Game: Kerbal Space Program

LinkKerbal forums

Kerbal Space Program is not an easy game to begin with, and the addition of any extra manageable parameters adds only more complexity to the brilliant flying sim. The realism overhaul wasn t intended to create a punishing experience, it merely brings a few things in the game in-line with the real world. Solar panels are lighter, for example, but produce far less power. Cockpits and components that weigh the same as their real world counterparts, and engine propellants are more accurately simulated. The fact that all these changes make the game seem new and incredibly hard? Well, that s rocket science for you. It s also a great baseline for other mods, like the punishing Deadly Reentry mod.

Frostfall

Game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Link: Nexusmods

Frostfall stands out among survival mods for complementing the open-world game underneath and not just demanding you stare at a temperature gauge and eat a deer every few minutes. Skyrim s blizzards will kill you. Nighttime will kill you. The water will kill you faster than you can say, Rose, make room on the bloody raft! Big deal, right? All survival games do that. Frostfall alters how you understand the world, forcing you to find crossing points, plan your excursions and select gear based on more than its stab resistance. Simple quests become scenes from The Revenant. In the unlikely event Frostfall doesn t make a human-sized ice lolly out of you, you ll feel like a true Nord.

Infection Mode

Game: The Witcher 3

Link: Nexusmods

Zombie outbreaks are easy to handle if you catch them early, as you ll find out if you install Infection Mode for The Witcher 3. The mod summons a Devourer, who you can kill immediately if you choose. If the Devourer attacks a villager, they become a Devourer too. Anyone they attack will join the Devourer legion, even children. The results are quickly horrifying. Go for a walk for a short while and return to the region for an enormous fight, or let one loose in Novigrad and watch the nightmare spread.

I Am Legion

Game: Dying Light

Link: Nexusmods

Day is night and night is day for Dying Light s breed of zombies. In sunlight they plod around in small circles, not really paying attention. By night they suddenly become a lot more frisky. The circadian difficulty loop is a key part of the game, giving you the chance to scavenge during daylight hours and hold up at night in your favourite safehouse. I Am Legion disrupts all that. Zombies are more lively by day, and there are more of them, while a reduction in bandit numbers means choked access to vital resources like bullets and weapons. More than this, the mod transforms the tone of the game. Suddenly it feels like a true fight for survival.

Motion Tracker Remover 

Game: Alien: Isolation

Link: ModDB

The motion tracker is your best friend aboard the Sevastopol. Guns immediately draw the attention of the bullet-proof monster, so until you get a flamethrower, there s very little standing between you and brutal slaughter. The motion tracker is a little green beacon of light in a world of shadows and fangs, which only makes it crueller when this mod snatches that away from you. With a broken tracker you're forced to rely on your senses—headphones are recommended—if you want to make it to the next room alive. If you eventually get the hang of that, consider installing Unpredictable Alien at the same time, which tweaks the frequency at which the Alien chooses to roam in different areas.

Misery

Game: Stalker: Call of Pripyat

Link: ModDB

All those weapons scattered around? Gone. Anomalies? Now more dangerous. Magic mini-map? Forget it. Valuable quest rewards? Good luck. Things you do get: thirsty, and factions who send goons after you if you anger them. On the plus side Pripyat is much more active, with a complete sound overhaul, and new NPCs to meet—who all have to play by the rules too, with no more infinite ammo. If you can survive here, you've got a good chance when the actual apocalypse comes.

Project Nevada

Fallout: New Vegas

Link: Nexus Mods

Nevada is a good example of making things more difficult without being openly psychotic. Levelling is slower, players and NPCs get less health, and obvious features are now in, such as armour only being a factor in headshots if the target actually has head protection. It's also possible to toggle some extra-hardcore options, such as food no longer healing and taking care of hunger/thirst/ sleep on the move. There's a sack of new content, and an Extra Options mod is also available, offering even more control.

Brutal Doom

Game: Doom

Link: ModDB

Despite what modern 'old-school' shooters would have you think, Doom was a relatively sedate experience—fast running speed, yes, but lots of skulking in the dark and going slow. Not any more! Brutal Doom cranks everything up to 11, then yawns and goes right for 25.6. We're talking extra shrapnel, execution attacks, tougher and faster monsters, metal music, and blood, blood, blood as far as your exploding eyes can see. It's compatible with just about any level you can throw at it, turning even E1M1 into charnel house devastation. The enemies don't get it all their own way, as Doomguy now starts with an assault rifle rather than simply a pistol, and a whole arsenal of new guns has been added to the Doom collection—including the BFG's big brother.

Full Combat Rebalance 2

Game: The Witcher 2

Link: RedKit

This streamlines the combat and makes the action closer to how Geralt's adventure might have played out in the books. He's more responsive, can automatically parry incoming attacks, begins with his Witcher skills unlocked, and no longer has to spend most fights rolling around like a circus acrobat. But he's in a tougher world, with monsters now figuring out counterattacks much faster, enemies balanced based on equipment rather than levels, and experience only gained from quests, not combat. Be warned this is a 1.5GB file, not the megabyte Hotfix that's claimed.

Requiem

Game: Skyrim

Link: Nexus

Elder Scrolls games get ever more streamlined, and further from the classic RPG experience. Requiem drags Skyrim back, kicking and screaming. The world is no longer levelled for your convenience. Bandits deliver one-hit kills from the start. The undead mock arrows, quietly pointing out their lack of internal organs with a quick bonk to your head. Gods hold back their favour from those who displease them. Most importantly, stamina is now practically a curse. Heavy armour and no training can drain it even if you're standing still, and running out in battle is Very Bad News. Combine this with Frostfall, and Skyrim finally becomes the cold, unforgiving place it claims to be.

Radious

Total War: Shogun 2

Link: TWCenter

Not only is this one of the most comprehensive mods any Total War game has ever seen, its modular nature makes it easy to pick and choose the changes that work best for the experience you want. Together, the campaign AI is reworked, as are the skills and experience systems, diplomacy and technology trees. There are over 100 new units. Campaigns are also longer, providing more time to play with all this, with easier access to the good stuff early on in the name of variety. There's even a sound module that adds oomph to rifles. Add everything, or only the bits you want. It's as much of a tactical decision as anything else on the road to conquering Japan.

Game of Thrones

Game: Crusader Kings II

Link: ModDB

Real history doesn't have enough bite for you? Recast the whole thing with Starks, Lannisters, Freys and the rest and it will. This doesn't simply swap a few names around, but works with the engine to recreate specific scenarios in the war for the Iron Throne. Individual characters' traits are pushed into the foreground, especially when duels break out. Wildlings care little about who your daddy was. It's best to know a fair amount about the world before jumping in, and the scenarios themselves contain spoilers, but you're absolutely not restricted to just following the story laid down in the books.

Realistic Weapons

Game: Grand Theft Auto IV

Link: GTAGarage

Guess what this one does. A bowling league for Roman? Cars that drive themselves? A character who appears to tell Niko You have $30,000 in your pocket, you don't need to goon for assholes after Act 2? No, of course not. These guns put a little reality back into the cartoon that is GTA. The missions weren't written with that in mind, obviously, but there's nothing stopping you from giving it a shot. Worst case: murdering random civilians on the street is much quicker, easier and more satisfying. At least until the cops show up to spoil the fun. Range, accuracy, damage, ammo and fire rate are all covered, though be warned that you shouldn't expect perfect accuracy from your upgraded hardware. This is GTA after all. Realism is not baked into its combat engine.

The Long War

Game: XCOM: Enemy Unknown

Link: NexusMods

You're looking at eight soldier classes, many more missions, invaders as focused on upgrades as your own science team, and a much longer path to victory. Research is slow, not least to make early weapon upgrades more useful, while the aliens are constantly getting more powerful. Their ships are better, their terror missions are more regular, and more of them show up for battle. In exchange, you get to field more Interceptors, the council is easier to appease, and the ETs don't cheat as much.

Ziggy's Mod

Game: Far Cry 3

Link: NexusMods

Ziggy makes Rook Island a more natural place, removing mission requirements for skills, cutting some of the easier ways to earn XP, increasing spawn rates to make the island busier, and throwing away the magic mini-map in favour of a compass. The second island is also unlocked from the start. Smaller changes include randomised ammo from dropped weapons, being able to climb hills that you should realistically be able to, and wingsuit abilities made available earlier to get more out of them.

Terrafirmacraft

Game: Minecraft

Link: Terrafirmacraft

Minecraft has a Survival mode, but it's not desperately challenging. Terrafirmacraft takes it seriously, with hunger and thirst that must be dealt with at all times, and key elements added such as the need to construct support beams while mining to prevent cave-ins, and a seasonal cycle that determines whether or not trees will produce fruit. Many more features are to be added, but there's enough here already to make survival about much more than throwing together a Creeper-proof fort.

Synergies Mod

Game: Torchlight II

Link: Synergies Mod

This adds a new act to the game, over a hundred monsters, new rare bosses, a new class—the Necromancer—more and tougher monsters and the gear to take them on. There are also endgame raids to add challenge once the world is saved yet again, and more on the way—including two new classes (Paladin and Warlock). It's the top-ranked Torchlight II mod on Steam Workshop, and easily the most popular. Be aware that it's still in development, and has a few rough edges.

Civilization Nights

Game: Civilization V

Link: Steam Workshop

While Brave New World has officially given Civ V a big shake up, for many players Nights remains its most popular add-on. It's a comprehensive upgrade, adding new buildings, wonders, technologies and units, with a heavy focus on policies and making the AI better. The single biggest change is how it calculates happiness, citizens adding cheer simply by existing, but the slow march of war and other miseries detracting from the good times. Annexed a city? Don't expect too many ticker-tape parades. Yet keeping happiness up is crucial, as it's also the core of a strong military. This rebalancing completely changes how you play, while the other additions offer plenty of scope for new tactics and even more carefully designed civilisations.

Ultimate Difficulty Mod

Game: Dishonored

Link: TTLG Forums

This makes Dishonored's enemies more attentive, faster and able to hear a pin drop from the other side of the map. When you get into a fight, it quickly becomes an all-out street war. The biggest change is to Dishonored's second most abusable ability: the Lean (Blink of course being #1). Corvo can no longer sit behind scenery, lean out into an enemy's face and be politely ignored. He's now much more likely to be spotted—especially in ghost runs, where his advantages are now limited to the Outsider's gifts rather than the Overseers' continued lack of a local Specsavers.

Hardcore

Game: Deus Ex

Link: ModDB

New augmentations! Altered AI! Randomised inventories! Also a few time-savers: instead of separate keys and multitools for instance, a special keyring has both, while upgrades are used automatically if necessary. Difficulty also changes the balance considerably, from the standard game to 'Realistic' mode where you only get nine inventory slots, to 'Unrealistic', which makes JC Denton the cyborg killing machine he's meant to be, but at the cost of facing opponents who warrant it. In this mode he gets double-jumping powers, and automatically gobbles health items when he gets badly wounded. Good luck though, I still got nowhere.

PC Gamer

The latest Humble Bundle is a veritable cornucopia of Firaxis fun, with XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Sid Meier's Pirates!, the Ace Patrol Bundle, and Sid Meier's Civilization III Complete all packed together for whatever price you want to pay. But wait—there's more!

If you beat the average purchase price, which at the moment is a little under 7 bucks, you'll also pick up Sid Meier's Civilization IV: The Complete Edition, Sid Meier's Civilization V, Sid Meier's Starships, the XCOM Elite Soldier Pack, the XCOM Slingshot Pack, the XCOM: Enemy Within expansion, a ten percent discount off a Humble Monthly subscription, and more games that will be revealed later—next Tuesday, I'd wager.

Still not enough? We're not done yet! For $15 or more, you can pile on Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth, the Civ: BE (I'm tired of typing "Sid Meier") Exoplanets Map Pack, and a coupon for 33 percent off the Civ: BE Rising Tide DLC.

Infomercial-esque hyperbole aside, that's a really good deal at any level, and especially at the beat the average price. And as always, your money can be aimed in any portion you like at 2K Games, the Humble Bundlers, and charity, in this case Action Against Hunger, a humanitarian organization that works to save the lives of malnourished children while providing communities with access to safe water and sustainable solutions to hunger.

The Humble Firaxis Bundle is live now and runs until February 2.

PC Gamer

We recently described XCOM 2 as "more of the same, just bigger and better," but that's not to say nothing substantial has changed. In fact, quite a bit about how you play, promote characters, and upgrade your base requires a fundamentally different strategy than before. So much so that special guest Maxwell McGee of the GamesRadar+ parish decided to break down the big differences between XCOM: Enemy Unknown and its upcoming sequel. Watch the video above to see the biggest changes between the two games.

You can also watch our in-depth look at the character customization here, and the see the 10 most important things we discovered after spending time with the full game here.

PC Gamer
PC Gamer

The makers of popular XCOM mod The Long War (you can read Chris' take on that here) have formed a development studio. It's named, pretty cannily, Long War Studios, and its first game is a strategy title where you have to defend Earth during an alien invasion.

It's not called YCOM, ZCOM, or even XCO.UK; Long War's game is titled Terra Invicta, and it'll be more of a "grand strategy" than Firaxis' smaller-scale operation. Here is everything we know about it so far (there are no images yet), before Terra Invicta heads to Kickstarter sometime in the future:

"Terra Invicta is a grand strategy game in which the player leads the defense of Earth during an alien invasion.

"An alien force has arrived in the far reaches of Solar System and begun probing Earth's defenses and building an invasion fleet. The player must assemble a council of scientists, politicians, military leaders and operatives who can unite Earth's squabbling nations with the ultimate goal of taking the fight to the aliens in the high ground of outer space."

It sounds like a more strategic, less fighty XCOM, and if it's even slightly like Europa Universalis but with space aliens, I think we would all be happy with that, right? (Thanks, NeoGAF.)

PC Gamer

When a Redditor by the name of Crruzi decided that he wanted to take his newly-acquired Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) skills out for a spin, he did what any of us would do: He created EXLCOM, a follow-up to XCOM: Enemy Unknown that runs in Microsoft Excel.

Yes, that's Excel as in the famous spreadsheet software created by Microsoft, and no, it's not at all actually something most people would do. But Crruzi is a big fan of XCOM, and this struck him as a natural way to indulge that fandom while simultaneously increasing his familiarity with VBA.

"Two months ago I couldn't write a single line of code either—just keep at it," he encouraged another Redditor who's in the midst of learning VBA. "I feel like excel is a great (but also often times infuriating) environment to learn to create simple programs in, because you can use it quite easily for a wide range of real-world issues, and it is often more powerful than one might expect."

EXLCOM is set between the events of Enemy Within and the upcoming XCOM 2, which you might say is a bit narratively iffy (if you want to be that way about it) since Firaxis has previously explained that the two games don't share the same timeline. However you want to describe it, EXLCOM is neither a remake of the previous game nor a representation of the upcoming one—or, more accurately, will be neither, since at this point only the tactical portion of the game is actually operational.

Recreating the combat element of XCOM in a spreadsheet would be enough of an accomplishment to keep me satisfied for a month, but Crruzi is continuing to work on the project in order to incorporate the strategic layer as well. (For now, character stats and weapons are randomly assigned.) It's obviously not as pretty as the more recent XCOMs, or even the originals, but according to PCGamesN, "it functions pretty much identically" to the Firaxis games. 

And it runs in a spreadsheet! That alone is worth the price of admission, which by the way is free: Crruzi warned that "it will definitely not be a polished experience" right now, but if you don't mind dealing with some bugs and balance issues, you can snag a copy of EXLCOM to try for yourself here.

PC Gamer

This article was originally published on October 23, 2015.

The best moments in XCOM: Enemy Unknown happen on the ground, at the squad level. It s where you hope all your base building, troop training, and bizarre government research will pay off. With soldiers hunkered down behind a broken piece of debris or scanning for alien activity from a rooftop, you have to hope the team you ve assembled is made of the right stuff. Or they ll soon be the dead stuff.

But being prepared in XCOM will only get you halfway. As Evan noted in his 2012 review, the turn-based strategy game has a way of vaporizing your best-laid plans and best-trained soldiers. And this core appeal—the constantly-evolving tension between planning and execution—is what has always drawn me back.

With XCOM 2 having just arrived, I m focusing this edition of If you like… on the serious and satirical side of close-quarter, squad-based combat and the government agencies that try to help win the war from a different kind of battlefield. Among the two films and an underappreciated TV series you ll find there s a lot of XCOM s underdog spirit to go around. I m also including, unusually

Three Kings, directed by David O. Russell 

A rare movie that deals with the first Gulf War, Three Kings is memorable for its gritty, in-the-sand depiction of a relatively short conflict that most people remember from cable television. While the film deals with the very last days of the 1991 war, it weaves its strange story through the lives of multiple stakeholders—ordinary soldiers, Iraqi civilians, and ambitious news media personalities.

Three Kings is on one level a humorous heist movie about a group of American military men who want to take a little something back for themselves. But it also makes an argument for the way the unpredictable nature of war can change those who see it up close. As well-trained (or not so well-trained) as the movie s soldiers are, the randomness of the conflict they re caught in can t help but change them. It s up to them to decide who ll they will be if they make it home.

Area 51: The Graphic History of America's Most Secret Military Installation

Area 51

Written by Dwight Zimmerman, illustrated by Greg Scott

From the development of the SR-71 Blackbird to killer satellites shooting tungsten bolts from outer space, this story of the notorious Area 51 research base is filled with fascinating insights. While it s long, Cold War narrative saw it often associated with alien visitors and conspiracy theorists, Zimmerman and Scott s presentation makes a strong case for Area 51 as the unsung hero of late 20th-century defense research. Just because no one wanted to acknowledge its existence doesn t mean its labs weren t turning out some brilliant, game-changing designs.

The spectre at play in this graphic-novel treatment of Cold War history is, of course, the Soviet Union and the USA s post-Cold War enemies. The book doesn t attempt to take an authentic political stance on these events, which is refreshing. Instead it offers a clear look into the development of the technologies that scientists, and the politicians who funded them, felt might turn the tide of war in favor of the United States. It s a history told from a particular point of view, but one that s both informative and entertaining in its style and attitude. In its own way Area 51 tells the story of an XCOM many of us lived through but didn t even know it. 

Manhattan

Now two episodes into its second season, Manhattan s take on the development of the world s first atomic weapons at Los Alamos is a compelling watch. Although it s clear throughout that we re not watching a purely historical look at the top-secret Manhattan Project, the show s commitment to recreating the claustrophobic atmosphere of the period is well-executed and thrilling. Like the bases you dig into the ground in XCOM, we see how scientists, soldiers, and bureaucrats converge to try and win a war using untested technology against a seemingly unbeatable enemy.

The show s first season deals mostly with the struggles of physicist Frank Winter as he tries to perfect his bomb design with an understaffed and undervalued team considered second-rate on the classified Los Alamos base. A rival scientist leads the much larger and better-funded team developing what the US military hopes will be an atomic bomb it can drop on Germany to end the war. The tension between these scientists, and the way politics often interferes with scientific reality, creates a fascinating story arc demonstrating the effect of total war on the homefront.

Restrepo, directed by Tim Hetherington and Sebastian Junger

Directed by the late, great photojournalist Tim Hetherington and Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger, Restrepo documents a year in the life of 2nd Platoon, Battle Company during its deployment in the Korengal Valley of northeast Afghanistan. While there are moments of levity and humor to be found in the soldiers daily lives, the documentary film s release in 2010 was notable for its transparent look at the successes and failure of the American mission in Afghanistan.

Hetherington and Junger embedded themselves in the military unit for 15 months as they filmed and gathered footage that is often breathtaking and sometimes disturbing in its honesty. If war is hell, then we also have to say it s also a place where ordinary people—civilian and military grunt alike—still find ways to live and survive. This film is worthy testament to that reality. 

Patrick currently works as web editor for Hinterland Studios, which is making The Long Dark. For more installments of If you like... , check out the other games he's covered in this series below: 

PC Gamer

XCOM 2 is now available for pre-purchase, if it's something you're planning to throw your money at up-front. To mark the big moment (and also the real reason we're here), 2K Games has made XCOM: Enemy Unknown free for the weekend on Steam—and the weekend, at least on the 2K bizarro calendar, has already begun.

Pre-purchases of XCOM 2 will include the Resistance Warrior Pack, which enables customization of your resistance fighters with new outfits, headgear, and war paint. It will also unlock a "survivor of the old war" as a recruitable character, "instantly," according to the Steam description, implying that you'll be able to unlock him or her through other, more laborious means (or maybe just pay for it) as well.

As for the "original" XCOM: Enemy Unknown ("original" in quotes because, as you'll recall, Enemy Unknown is a remake of the brilliant 1994 release X-COM: UFO Defense), it will remain free until 10 am Pacific on September 13, and will be on sale for 75 percent off its regular $30 price during that period as well. Progress earned during the free weekend will carry over if it's purchased—although if you're anything like me, three days of play will be just enough time to figure out what an absolute mess you've made of things, and that starting over is the only option left.

...

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