A great power fantasy can be a wonderful thing, and in this respect, Strider should have been one of the best. This resurrection of the 1989 arcade game follows a ninja so fast and skilled that he s able to cut down a squad of enemies without ever slowing to a walk, and at full speed with a swinging sword, Strider's raw energy is a joy to control.
Huge, chaotic melees show off this free-form beat poetry of violence at its best, but there s too much in Strider that clamps down, taking leverage away from players. The result is a game that is too frustrating to deliver a truly great power trip.
Let s get the story out of the way: it s as incomprehensible as it is unimportant. Strider is a ninja sent to assassinate the overlord of the Soviet-era city-state Kazakh. That s it. Now forget that nonsense and start chopping dudes in half.
Strider abandons pretension to plot with glee, and it s better for it. This game is about action and speed, and it s when those elements come together that Strider shines. Strider s main mode of movement is the dead-out sprint. While running, Strider swings his sword out in an arc. Spam the attack button fast enough and he ll build a wall of death and slam it straight through his enemies. It s not a ninja-like or cunning assassination strategy, but it is a novel mechanic in an action platformer. Jumps and wall climbing are key to launching Strider up and behind targets and dodging their shots. Combining speed with vertical movement made the best fights a creative display of swordfighting chaos.
Strider hitches a ride on a plasma eagle when he needs to. Why? Because reasons.
As Strider explores Kazakh and ventures into its various zones and neighborhoods, he unlocks new weapons and ways to move around. The ability to double-jump, slide, and power attack from above add much-needed variety to combat, chaining into each other to jump, spin, and attack from all angles with a great level of creativity. Speed is his safety, and the best new abilities harness that speed and send it in new directions. New moves also allow access to once-locked doors, high ledges, and low tunnels that lead to levels and secrets. Strider is a game that wants you to go back and explore.
The sins of the father
Then come the boss fights. The feeling of power that Strider works so hard to cultivate comes to a halt when a boss appears, and it s a jarring, unwelcome transition. Freedom of movement is thrown out as wide open city terraces lock down and Strider can no longer use his speed or vertical spaces. Instead, bosses feature long health bars and annoying, cheap-shot attacks. Button-spamming and profanity begins as Strider brings down bosses with ten thousand pathetic cuts.
Unlike the rest of the game, boss fights made me feel powerless. One boss, floating above on a jetpack, could only be hit by double jumping up to reach him. The feeling of being a child reaching up to slap an adult s knee made my repeated failure even more infuriating.
The female boss characters are formidable, but stay well within Sexy Ninja guidelines.
The checkpoint-based save system exacerbates the difficulty of these boss fights. Fail and you're forced to redo the last ten minutes of button-spamming. Worse, you ll have to listen to them taunt you again and again during unskippable cutscenes.
The frustration and cheap shots make a lot more sense in the context of an arcade game. In 1989, horrific difficulty curves guaranteed more quarters, and devotees to that design style may still enjoy it. But in the modern age, I cursed the game, the developers, my editors, and all nearby deities. Don t get me wrong, I find value in a hard-won victory. But defeating Strider's bosses never filled me with a sense of accomplishment. I instead vowed that I would never have to endure that again not exactly the kind of experience that encourages replay.
Hold on, I lost a contact lens. Hold on!
Also not encouraging is how disappointing the PC port is. Controls aren t remappable, so a gamepad is essential, and there are few graphics options. And even if I could tweak the settings, the graphics would leave me wanting.
Strider s art style is too full of lens flairs and neon to be bland, but backgrounds and bad guys get repetitive the game rarely deviates from anime cliches. Unfortunately, standard anime tropes extend to the game s female characters. Without exception, they are big-chested ninja fantasies with butt-hugging leotards and high heels. Strider has changed since 1989, so it s a shame that its gender representation attitudes haven t grown up as well.
One soldier? I don t even stop sprinting for one soldier.
Did Strider make me feel like a ninja badass? I ve got many complaints, but the answer is still yes. Once Strider unlocks his powers and lets loose on Kazakh, the speed and strength of the game's combat drew me back in, no matter how mad I was at the last boss battle. It s no wonder that the game s ethos and personality revolve around speed, Strider can t help itself: it s got to go fast. Any time it slowed down, I was free to reflect on its avoidable mistakes.
Jacking back into Shadowrun Returns for the new Dragonfall campaign, I thought I was ready for anything. In a post-magipocalypse future where trenchcoated, wizardly elves cast shield spells on hacker allies while orcs with machine guns shower them with lead, it pays to be prepared. Dragonfall managed to get the drop on me, though. I wasn t expecting one of the most memorable and complex RPG stories of the decade.
The new campaign for last year s crowdfunded, turn-based tactical RPG puts you at the head of a fresh team of Shadowrunners: elite free agents who shoot, hack, swindle, and detonate their way to payday on the fringes of society. I was, sadly, unable to import my pugilistic troll, Punchgar the Blooded, from the original Dead Man s Switch campaign. Instead, I took on the role of a pistol-wielding, fast-talking elf named Finn. My goal: to avenge a fallen comrade and unravel a plot involving a powerful dragon in the heart of Berlin, Germany s Flux State, where anarchy reigns, and street smarts will get you further than business etiquette.
I was hesitant to dump a lot of points into social skills, since most of the dialogue options in Dead Man s Switch did nothing but save you time in dialogue trees. Investing the points paid off, however, as Dragonfall grants non-combat skills massively more time in the spotlight. Everything from knowing how to talk like a gang banger to extensive knowledge in Biotech will come up, and will make your life much easier. Finn was a crack shot with a handgun, to be sure, but it was his uncanny ability to talk his way out of his own, dumb mistakes that made him come to life as a character.
Pointy ears, leather jacket, silver tongue: a recipe for a great runner.
Filling out the roster are some of the most interesting and unforgettable party members I ve ever had the pleasure of sharing my healing items with. I could tell you hardly anything about my allies from Dead Man s Switch, but I bonded with Dragonfall s cast on the same level I have my crews in Mass Effect and Planescape: Torment. Their backstories are layered and believable, as are the ways their relationships with you can develop.
The turn-based combat hasn t changed, which is a good thing. Encounters are still exciting and imaginative, with a few new additions like ley lines that boost a spellcaster s power, at the expense of usually being located outside of good cover. The possible party combinations are still extensive I used a mix of Finn the gunslinger, a cyborg with claw hands and a ridiculous number of actions per round, and a support shaman that summoned spirit familiars while handing out buffs. You will still run into some pretty severe difficulty spikes in the mid and late game, but as mentioned previously, there are also a lot more viable options for avoiding combat (which grant the same amount of progression points as if you d shot your way through).
Glitch in the matrix
Outside the line of fire, I smacked up against some prominent bugs and unpolished corners of the game world. Two side quests were rendered incompletable thanks to broken triggers. A few other times, I only thought I couldn t progress because my quest log and map markers didn t update, even though the next step in the mission had been activated. And then there was that one battle wherein one of my party members completely vanished for no discernible reason.
Colorful prose helps pick up some slack in Dragonfall s visually underwhelming engine.
The trigger for some of these issues actually seemed to be the ability to save anywhere in a level (a welcome feature that was absent in Dead Man s Switch). They tended to crop up when I reloaded a save created right before or after triggering a major plot point. I was glad the choice was available, but quickly grew apprehensive to use it for this very reason.
Thankfully, Dragonfall s story is superb enough to make up for it all and then some. The gray, moral choices I was forced to make stand side-by-side with the most gut-wrenching dilemmas in any Bioware game, and it s really the lack of finishing touches and production value that keeps Harebrained Schemes best work from being in that same league. The plot is also far less convoluted than the conspiracies-within-conspiracies-within-conspiracies techno thriller presented in Dead Man s Switch. Dragonfall has its share of twists, but I never found myself losing track of who the actual bad guy was, or who manipulated whom, and to what end.
Apparently Harebrained got the memo about the every game needs a dog now thing.
Pacing problems still crop up here and there. Like in Dead Man s Switch, Dragonfall has a tendency to kill the urgency of some of its big Let s do this! moments by sending you on an unrelated side quest to get a key to get inside where your actual objective lies. Looked at individually, none of these diversions lack reward or interesting story beats. They just could have been better if slotted somewhere else in the campaign. Overall, Dragonfall took me slightly longer to complete, but felt more fast-paced thanks to avoiding Dead Man s drawn-out third act problem.
Dragonfall also feels far less linear, with the bulk of the middle act allowing you to take contracts and complete them in any order you wish. I still wouldn t describe it as free-roaming, but the main hub your team resupplies at in Berlin gives you just enough room to wander that it feels like a real place. The mission locations are also more open, with more alternate paths and flanking opportunities.
Hacker party members still play their own cyberspace minigame, but it s not as mandatory.
I m going to remember Dragonfall for a long, long time. When the topic of great RPG stories comes up, I ll mention it in the same breath as Dragon Age or Knights of the Old Republic. Even if you didn t play, or didn t enjoy, Dead Man s Switch, Dragonfall is well worth your time and the extra $20 for the base game, should you not already own it. It may lack the flashiness and cinematic drama of a bigger budget production, but it lacks none of the heart.
Even a game about titanic, stompy robots with laser cannons and violent paint jobs isn't immune to the challenges of multiplayer matchmaking. Piranha's MechWarrior Online is loads of fun of the heavy metal variety, but balancing various weight classes and pre-formed groups against public players sometimes delivers some frustratingly lopsided rounds. Pilots should scratch the date of April 29 into the side of their cockpits, as that marks the new Launch Module's, well, launch. The module will overhaul MechWarrior's system for matching similarly skilled players together in evenly balanced teams. It's all explained with plenty of text and pretty charts in an official forum post.
As Piranha details in its post, the core of its vision is to smartly place players in a match with other players of equivalent Elo sorted by weight class. What the studio doesn't want to see (which can sometimes happen in MWO's current live version) is team setups skewed towards heavy bruisers, foregoing balanced equipment loadouts for sheer firepower. The solution: weight class restrictions.
Through the Launch Module, players using mechs of certain weight classes will match with players on an opposing team of the exact same classes. In other words, if you're using a Medium weight mech, you're guaranteed to see a Medium mech on the other team during a round.
The Module will also limit each weight class in a lance squad. Every weight type gets one slot in a lance. That'll get you lance compositions of one Light, one Medium, one Heavy, and one Assault. In a full team of 12, that's three lances with even blends of mobility and weaponry. Not even a puppy juggling eggs and spinning plates on a tightrope can achieve that level of balance.
Piranha also wants to combat multiple pre-made groups being matched against teams of solo players. The Launch Module will place one group of any size and one group only; it's a hard limit per side to help boost communication and strategizing. A much-needed change, I wager, to improve a mostly solo team's chances and tactics beyond balling up into a confused cluster and hoping for the best.
Lastly, the Launch Module will also include two new modes, Free Private and Premium Private Matches, with an extra set of options for custom-tailoring a battle. The Free Private Match is a straight-up invite-only affair where the creator brings in his or her buddies and jumps into a game straight away. Premium Private provides a few more customization options such as choosing round type, maps, or locking the view to 1st or 3rd person, a nice boon for competitive teams or for forming custom campaigns. Both modes importantly switch off the Module's matchmaking system, so the game won't yell at you if you want to do something crazy like a 12-on-12 Jenner beatdown. (If you do, please record it.)
Head over to MWO's official forums for more info on the Launch Module. If you'd like to see more giant robot pew-pew, be sure to follow our Twitch channel for occasional MWO broadcasts from Editor-in-Chief and resident mech-master Evan Lahti.
Sharing is caring, and there s no better way to show your friends and family you care than to let them have a taste of your abundant Steam library. Today, after six month in beta, Valve announced Steam Family Sharing is available to all Steam users.
Family Library Sharing allows you to share your Steam library with up to 10 computers at a given time, and for up to five accounts that may then use your game library on any of those computers.
Only one account can play games from the library at a time, and the primary account holder always has access over other users. If you start playing a game while one of the people you shared the library with is already playing, he or she will have a few minutes to either save and quit or purchase the game and continue playing. Also note that games that require an additional third-party key, account, or subscription in order to play can t be shared.
Valve also warns to be cautious about who you share your library with, and not to let someone you don't know into your account to authorize their computer. Your account may also be VAC banned if your library is used by others to conduct cheating or fraud, Valve says. Additionally, VAC-banned games cannot be shared. We recommend you only authorize familiar computers you know to be secure. And as always, never give your password to anyone.
As the lead content designer on Diablo III, Kevin Martens has learned a lot over the past two years. He s learned about disastrous online launches and failed real-money auction houses and what gamers really love about Diablo. He admits that the team made more than a few miscalculations leading up to the 2012 launch. Upcoming expansion Reaper of Souls, releasing on March 25, takes big steps to fix those miscalculations. I talked to Martens and senior level designer Larra Paolilli for their thoughts on the auction house, the internet connection requirement, and PvP, as well as the Loot 2.0 patch and Reaper of Souls new Adventure Mode.
PC Gamer: Diablo III obviously took kind of a beating out of the gate back at launch. How did you feel about that?
Martens: Well "bad" is the short answer. We felt terrible about the connection issue stuff. I know people that sent their families out of town on vacation so that they could sit down and play the game, and they couldn't connect. So that stuff was terrible and I think we've spent an incredible amount of time ensuring that kind of stuff doesn't happen again. We took that very seriously and certainly feel bad about that.
I think we did eight major patches on the game. We did many months of support, we added new content, we did big tuning passes. Like anything, best laid plans meeting 15 million people usually means that you're going to learn a few things... or a lot of things in this case. That's what I think I like about expansion development. It's kind of our second at-bat and we know a lot of things about what's actually fun about the game. And we don't have to fight against player instincts or make guesses. We can do what people do; we can see what people like to do, we can read on the forums, and we can interact with them at BlizzCon and other events, and we can make a game that closely matches what people want out of a Diablo game.
PC Gamer: Do you guys continue to stand by the decision to require an internet connection to play Diablo III? Is there any chance at all of that changing in the future?
Martens: Yes, we stand by it. Diablo III is a co-op game from the ground up, so having the social stuff be there at your fingertips whenever you want it is integral to the experience.
PC Gamer: Not too long ago, Blizzard announced that it was shutting down the auction house. Is it fair to characterize it as a failure at this point?
Martens: It did what it was intended to do in one way, which was to make trading a safe place to happen without trading scams and other ripoffs. However, it had a very bad unintended consequence of making trading the best way to get items in the game. The fact is that the most fun way for the vast majority of people is to kill monsters and take gears from their cold, dead claws. Trading became very easy. The auction house lowered the barrier of entry so much that it became the best way to get items, and ultimately players will do whatever is smartest. They will find the golden path and do what is most efficient.
You should play the game to get gear to kill the monsters. You shouldn't get gear to kill monsters because you will get bored too quickly. It stole people's reward curve is essentially what it did; it made it very easy for them to do it. So trading isn't a bad way to get items, but if it negates playing the game, then we've made a huge mistake. And we did, which is why we're shutting down the auction house.
PC Gamer: Sounds like the majority of your efforts since launch have been based around responding to fan feedback.
Martens: Yeah. And the auction house decision didn't come easy. It's not like the day we realized it was a mistake was when we could shut it down. A lot of things had to come together for us to get to that point. And honestly, what the console build did with their loot system... what we have now we call "Loot 2.0," what they did I would call "Loot 1.5." They had no auction house inherently, more because they couldn't than anything else.
So it's been a learning process for us as well. And finally as the loot stuff came together; as the enchanting system was dialed in; as our new legendaries were coming online, we realized that we could get rid of the auction house and get rid of that reward curve problem without causing new problems of people going back to trade scams or people feeling like they couldn't have any fun gear. Now we can give it away like candy, along with all of these ways that people can upgrade it, and all these crazy powers. And you can get it the way you're supposed to, which is by killing a monster and taking it from them.
PC Gamer: What else have you learned since the launch of Diablo III?
Martens: I think the randomness thing. We should have made everything random from the start. So the reason we didn't have random exterior zones was because we wanted the game to have more of that real RPG feel; that the world was real and had a sense of place. And like the loot problem, until Loot 2.0 was really dialing in, it was hard for us to figure out what to do with the auction house; it was the same with the randomness. Until the other aspects that made the game more RPG and more connected to the world were dialed in... you know, we've gotten better at storytelling since Diablo III; the world map that comes with Adventure Mode makes Sanctuary feel a lot more real just because you have a map of it, if nothing else, and that's a relatively simple solution to the problem. All of that made us comfortable with introducing randomized exterior zones as well.
Paolilli: Yeah, and that's actually one of my favorite things that we've done. With the map you have that sense of place, whereas before I think the environments looked great, but you didn't really have that sense of how everything is connected. And I think the map and the ability to go anywhere and do anything helps.
Martens: Dynamic Difficulty is another great example of that. We had our old-school linear difficulty that was inherited from the past, where you had to play through normal, nightmare, and so on. Dynamic Difficulty, which we made for Adventure Mode, allowed us to break that dichotomy for the game as well because otherwise we would have had to have a version of a monster for every possible level. So if you played Act II, we would have to have a Level 31, 32, 33... all the way up to 70 version of every monster for it to be fun. The overall Dynamic Difficulty system removed that burden and let us focus on a grander vision for our gameplay.
PC Gamer: On that note, it seems like Adventure Mode is kind of the main selling point of Reaper of Souls. Is that fair to say?
Martens: Yeah, I would say that's it. I would call Adventure Mode the primary feature of the expansion. That said, I think Act V is our best act, so we did take everything we learned there. And you do have to kill Malthael once with one character before Adventure Mode is unlocked. But knowing that you don't have to play story mode over and over again allows people to relax and just enjoy Act V for what it is; and they may or may not come back to it after that, but they don't have to. It doesn't feel as onerous to sit through those things.
PC Gamer: There have been some fans on the internet who have expressed concern that Reaper of Souls may be a bit pricey for the content that it delivers. What are you feelings on that?
Martens: I don't know about pricing as such, but I would say that the Adventure Mode changes the game pretty much completely. It's totally different. And it's not like a linear thing anymore. You don't just kill Malthael anymore and the game is done. And I think that was a little too much the case, unfortunately, in Diablo III. That's not the case anymore. When you kill Malthael, now you're finally starting Reaper of Souls. As good as Act V is, once you get into Adventure Mode and you see the promise of everything random that Diablo does; that makes replayability the point of the game. It's not linear anymore so you're experience is different everytime you come in.
PC Gamer: Are you happy with the state of PVP as it is right now?
Martens: Well, is okay, and it can be really fun if you've got two people of similar level. PVP is still something we talk about a lot. Jay Wilson wrote a long blog post a couple Decembers or Januarys ago explaining why what we tried didn't work out. And that stuff is still the case.
PC Gamer: What would you say to the players who felt turned off by Diablo III at launch and gave up?
Martens: It's crazy awesome now (laughs). You're going to get the keys to the Ferrari. I use the car metaphor deliberately. If you had a Corolla before and you're watching people swing by in their Lamborghini all the time; well, everyone gets a Lamborghini now. Everyone gets a shot at it now. Legendaries are dropping now from Level 10 onward, and we have put code in to ensure that everyone gets some legendaries, and a chance at the wacky powers as well.
So the promise of what Diablo can give you, everyone gets a taste of it. And there's still lots to earn for the people who put in the time; they're still going to get better things and more things. But everybody gets some of it. Our game director called that philosophy "endgame for everybody," and he didn't mean that you have to get to Level 70 to start earning Paragon Points to get the endgame. He wanted to take that stuff and move it earlier in the game so people wouldn't have to put in hundreds of hours. However, if you put in hundreds of hours, you still get more.
Paolilli: Yeah, we've done a lot of work to make sure that no matter how much time you put in, whether you're having a short play session or going for a lot longer that you're going to get rewarded for that amount of time. We want to give that sense of infinite possibility where the more time you put in the more you will get, but you don't have to play like an endgame player would in order to get rewarded.
Red Barrels announced that Whistleblower, a prequel piece of DLC for its first-person horror game Outlast, will come out in April.
Whistleblower will let you play as Waylon Park, a software engineer under contract with Murkoff and the man who emailed journalists around the world including Miles at the beginning of Outlast, Red Barrels said.
Poor Park spends a couple of weeks on Mount Massive, unable to speak to his wife and son because of the company s strict security protocols. He develops a mistrust for Murkoff and starts snooping around the asylum, finding horrific human experiments and other terrifying things you wish you could unsee.
The most interesting part of the announcement is that while Red Barrels said Whistleblower tells the story that leads into Outlast, it will also depict events from the full game and will show the final chapter in Mount Massive Asylum s story.
It took me three months to play through Outlast s three hours like a scaredy cat, but by the time I finished it I could imagine myself playing more. Outlast s final moments left plenty of loose ends that could lead into a sequel, so it d be interesting to see if Red Barrels ties those up, or if it closes Mount Massive Asylum s story in a way that could lead to a new game and location.
For more on Outlast, check out our review, and if that doesn't scare the pants off you completely, be sure to read our comprehensive list of the 90 best horror game on PC.
In the year 40,000, our universe is ravaged by war. Bloody battles between humans and xenos rage on endlessly, entire planets are annihilated regularly, and Space Marines, more machine than human, know only death and war. Games Workshop s Warhammer 40,000 has just about the most epic, metal-album-cover fiction that ever existed, and it s a great source material for video games. Warhammer 40,000: Storm of Vengeance s beta, up now on Steam for $10, looks more like Plants vs. Zombies than anything else, which isn't quite epic as we hoped. British developer Eutechnyx describes it as a lane strategy game set in a pivotal moment in Warhammer 40,000 s universe. It tells the story of the conflict on planet Piscina IV and features two notable characters: Grand Master Belial and Ork Warlord Ghazghkull Thraka. Players will either defend the planet as the Dark Angel Space Marines or joyfully annihilate it with the Ork Waaagh! One user review on Steam describes it perhaps more honestly as Kinda like Plants Vs Zombies, but with Space Marines and Orkz, which is kinda weird when you look at the rest of the games in the franchise. Indeed. The beta includes more than 50 missions per faction, skill trees and abilities for each faction, and simultaneous cross platform multiplayer between Steam, iOS, and Android.
Over on the Neogaf forums one of their members has dug up a couple of interesting sessions from the next Games Developer s Conference (GDC) taking place in a couple of weeks in sunny San Francisco. Both of which are talking about bringing Microsoft s DirectX API a lot closer to the metal. That means giving developers much more open access to the actual hardware that s available inside modern PCs, without hiding it behind layers and layers of performance-sapping software code.
If that sounds familiar it s because that s exactly what AMD have been trying to do - relatively successfully by what I ve seen in the StarSwarm demo and high-end Battlefield 4 benchmarks.
The first, DirectX: Direct3D Futures, Microsoft is set to discuss future improvements in Direct3D that will allow developers an unprecedented level of hardware control and reduced CPU rendering overhead across a broad ecosystem of hardware.
The second, DirectX: Evolving Microsoft s Graphics Platform, is talking directly about what developers have requested from them. You asked us to bring you even closer to the metal and to do so on an unparalleled assortment of hardware. You also asked us for better tools so that you can squeeze every last drop of performance out of your PC, tablet, phone and console. Come learn our plans to deliver.
This isn t something that s going to phase AMD, however, much as it might sound like Microsoft is simply jumping their train. When I spoke to AMD execs out at CES in January they were talking then about their hopes for Microsoft taking on board what AMD had learned from developers and creating new standards because of it.
AMD s Senior Product Marketing Manager, Adam Kozak, was sure there were places that Microsoft could take DirectX to bring it closer to the metal. There are some legacy things that potentially could be fixed, says Kozak. And I think that Microsoft are interested in changing it.
I also asked Neil Robison, a senior director at AMD, about what he hoped would come from their work with Mantle. Will this make Microsoft to make more changes and enhance DirectX? he replied. I don t know. I hope so. You could look at working together with Microsoft to make enhancements to DirectX. We believe in industry standards and this is something, as we introduce it, we d really like to see it become an industry standard.
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