Every week, Richard Cobbett rolls the dice to bring you an obscure slice of gaming history, from lost gems to weapons grade atrocities. This week, in sleepy London Town there's just no place for a street fighting man, no. Luckily, Detroit, New York and some other places have an opening...
Vigilante justice. It's a bit rough, isn't it? Tough guys stripping down to muscled chests to have their Final Fight on some Streets Of Rage in the middle of some Urban Chaos and all that. Wouldn't it be nice if gang violence was a little more... civil? Warriors, go back inside and tidy your bedrooms! Droogs, grab your milk. A Man is coming. A Street Fighting Man. He Fights Streets. And he'll be 'Aven-you.
Street Fighting Man (which has nothing to do with Street Fighter other than coming out a couple of years after it, in what I Am Sure Is A Complete Coincidence) is the mildest beat-em-up I've ever played. If it was a curry, it would be a bowl of water with a single grain of rice floating in it. As a superhero, its mutant power would be filling in income tax self-assessment forms at a slightly faster than normal rate. It's the beat-em-up written not merely by people who were quietly helping out in the school library while other kids fought in the playground, but who seemed to have their eyes shut while coding the... naughtiness. If the UK government in the 80s had done an educational film about inner-city gang violence called "Be Cool, Not A Fool, Stay In Skool", this would have made it look like The Sopranos.
In short, it's unintentionally hilarious in every way.
You play a guy called Nick, and this being a game from 1989 you'll be stunned to learn that he's on a quest to rescue his girlfriend from assorted nasty types. Street gangs, in this case. Being polite, this crime apparently starts with them getting in touch and asking if they'd like them to kidnap her in the increasingly mean streets of Denver, Atlanta, Detroit, LA or New York, meaning that Nick could probably have saved himself a lot of time and cock-punching by simply answering "No."
Apparently also wishing that he'd thought of this, the gangs - not wanting to do anything too evil, because what kind of person would do something like that - somewhat unenthusiastically abduct said girlfriend, the beautiful (it says here) Xianna. With her in their grasp, they immediately... uh... realise they have no idea what to do next, so when you finally find her, she's simply sitting on a random street with her hands and feet tied, shouting "Help!" in a way that suggests it might be for their benefit rather than hers. After all, they must have gone to a lot of trouble. It would be rude not to play along.
Before you get to rescue her though, you have to fight through between 2-5 of the deadliest gangs ever to blight the urban wasteland. Their names? They will chill you to your soul. The Sharks, the Home Boys, the Fat Boys, the Lip Stiks ("Gang warfare. It's a girl thing!") and the Scum Doggs. Shiver.
Starting out in safe, oddly neutral turf, the first thing you discover is that Nick - even with that moustache - is Cool. I mean it. Check the status bar. We can trust it. Why would it ever lie to us?
This actually turns out to be a health bar of sorts, switching to things like "Nick Is A Whimp" when it's low. Losing health works much as you'd expect. Get punched in the face? You lose health. Regaining it though is kinda odd, even for a genre where nobody bats an eyelid at smashing an oil-drum in the middle of the street to find a whole roast chicken, then shoving it down their craw mid-fight.
Essentially, you recover by beating people up. Makes sense. Except... Street Fighting Man doesn't distinguish between gang members and non-combatants, like the blonde women occasionally wandering around. Since they don't put up any fight at all, unless you're in the girl-gang part of town at least, your best tactic at the start of the game is to dash over and beat your fists into their faces and kick them in the stomachs until they fall to the ground unconscious, at which point the bonus health you gain completely non-ironically updates your status to "Nick is a Tough Guy".
Yeah. Real tough guy... Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.
Luckily, most of the people wandering the streets are out for your blood... or to be more accurate, out to knock you to the ground "wounded" until you decide to show yourself out of their territory. Nick's attacks are all hilariously terrible, from his punch to his flying kick, to the way he handles what's obviously meant to be a deadly length of chain like he's holding a dainty little necklace.
How ineffective is this guy at dispensing street justice? He's a vigilante who drops what he's doing at the sight of a cop with a baton. Not a full SWAT team. The American equivalent of a bobby on the beat is enough to beat him down, and will quite often head over and try and do exactly that.
But Nick is still a Tough Guy. His mommy told him so.
But what of his enemies? Well, to truly appreciate them, I think we need to pause for a moment to consider the type of enemies you fight in other vigilante type games. Most of them are on console, so I apologise for offending your eyes with them, but they serve as a point of comparison. Here are a few from games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage and similar, picked at random.
Quite a rogues gallery, I think you'll agree. Who does Nick fight? Nick fights... Marty.
Yep. There are other enemies as well, most (I'm sure you'll be shocked) assorted ethnic types, but the fact that a standard foe is a fat, balding, middle aged man called Marty really does sum up the... the scale of Nick's war on crime. And he's not a joke enemy either. No, Marty can totally take you out, especially if he's picked up some kind of weapon or attacks with a few of his clones.
At this point, it's hard not to feel bad for everyone involved here. Nick is a joke, his enemies are jokes, and when he finally finds his girlfriend on a map, all that happens is that one of the other gang members ambles up, knocks him out in one hit, and carefully carries her a couple of streets away for him to save again. Rinse and repeat until all the gangs have been defeated, sometimes going into buildings instead of treating Nick's title as a limiting factor, and he gets a kiss on the cheek. And after that... well, I suspect the two of them pretty much just stand around quietly for a bit, not sure what to do next.
"I know some guys in New York," Nick probably says after a while. "I'm sure if I called them, they could be over here to kidnap you again by the evening. We'd have to get in more pizza, but..."
"Yeah, why not?" Xianna would reply. "I didn't have any plans for the rest of the day. Could you ask them to tie me up a bit tighter this time? The ropes came off back there and I felt a bit silly screaming HELP! like Penelope Pitstop when I could have just walked off and got my nails done."
But you know... something's been bugging me about Nick. I can't help but feel I've seen this man... somewhere before, in another life. Tan jacket... white shirt... blue jeans... bad moustache...
Oh no. Nononononono, it can't be! The gods would never allow this!
HE'S MIKE DAWSON FROM DARKSEED 2!
I appreciate this won't mean much to non-adventure fans, though I'd point you to this excellent (if torturously long) Retsupurae to witness the horror in all its head-exploding glory. At one point you will hear the line "Oh no! Not the Hall of Death again! The only way out of here is death!"
Essentially, Mike Dawson was the main character of a horror game called Darkseed, which used copy and pastes of a lot of HR Giger's spooky, organic-porn artwork for reasonable effect. What made it weird was that Mike Dawson was played by... wait for it... Mike Dawson, the game's writer and producer, who apparently decided that if his game was going to have a star, it might as well be him. Still, it worked reasonably well. Darkseed has many problems, but it's a fondly remembered horror adventure.
And then came Darkseed 2. By this point, Mike Dawson the writer had left the company, but they still had ownership of Mike Dawson the character. The result was hilarious - not just an awful game, but two character assassinations for the price of one. With a new guy dressed up in his tan jacket, this new Mike Dawson became a bumbling, nerdy-voiced incompetent who lives with his mother, is suspected of murdering a woman called Rita, who he likes to think of as his girlfriend despite the unfortunate fact that he is pretty much literally the only man in his entire town she hasn't slept with, and somehow manages throughout to be less manly than Les bloody Manley. ONLY THE END OF THIS IS EDITED!
It gets worse. Mike Dawson is so pathetic that despite being able to try this game as many times as he wants to for free, he physically cannot beat it without finding a portal to an evil alien dimension and using its technology to cheat. Not only are there dead molluscs at the bottom of the sea who'd be better at saving the world, they'd probably have more chance at getting into Rita's pants afterwards.
And now he's the star of a beat-em-up? He must have had some hellish training...
Dan Hibiki, you now officially have someone to feel superior to. Anyway, if you want to see Mike with his more badass persona, here's a quick video of someone playing Street Fighting Man the way it was meant to be played - for about 15 minutes, until it unceremoniously crashes as a result of staggeringly poor programming/QA. Many games of this era were bugged, but simply forgetting a file whose absence would be seen by playing the final level just one single time? Impressive!
But still better than Pit-Fighter, which would have been improved by crashing at the title.
I want to tear out my eyeballs and shove them down this goblin’s grimy esophagus. It’s pretty much the only tactic I haven’t tried in my 34 attempts to beat this campaign foe and his magically reproductive army of green ghouls.
This mind-breaking sense of frustration is quickly becoming the trademark of the Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers series, but this entry at least hesitates its assault on your patience. Like its 2012 predecessor, DotP is an offshoot of Magic: The Gathering proper—the phenomenally popular card battling game that's been around for almost 20 years—where players gain access to pre-picked decks and unlock prescribed cards to add to them, before using them to attack singular foes. It's got less pure choice than meatspace Magic, but it's also slicker and quicker to finish a game.
The first of the four PVE campaigns is a simple lineup of 10 AI bosses, each wielding one of the ten new decks you can unlock by defeating them. In between these bigger fights are mildly clever Events: pre-scripted opponents that follow a theme. In one, I “stumbled into an owl nest” and my opponent played a weak 1/1 flying owl every single turn.
The campaign is simple fun, but I reached the final boss after six hours and only nine losses. The much-hyped dragon baddie crumbled like a wet paper bag in the easiest fight of my entire run—wholly unsatisfying.
But don’t feel bad for the AI: they took their revenge on me a hundred times over in the follow-up campaign. In it, their decks are stacked with crazy powerful cards that have a suspicious habit of showing up exactly when they’re needed.
After twenty rage-inducing losses to my Goblin nemesis, I was ready to punch my monitor. After thirty, I Alt-F4ed the game client. I’ve never rage-quit out of a singleplayer game before.
On the other hand, the one-turn scenario Challenges are rewarding and well-designed to offer multiple solutions that don’t immediately stick out at first glance. Most took me a few attempts and some heavy thinking, but I always felt super smart when I figured it out.
Simpler times The 10 pre-built decks you’re allowed to customize are all new and diverse enough to support a variety of playstyles, including milling, Sligh (unit swarm), and lifegain.
Slight UI inconveniences still plague the PC version, but a lot of small quality-of-life refinements improve the experience. The new End step made sure I always had an opportunity to play the cards I wanted—a big upgrade from previous editions—and being able to manually select which mana to tap and what order to attack blockers gave me the absolute control I crave.
The new Planeschase mode is a lot of fun, playing more like a light-hearted party game than a serious test of strategies in a four-player free-for-all. The constantly changing rules force you to change your strategy constantly—that’s fun for me, but may confound newer players.
Magic: The Gathering — Duels of the Planeswalkers is still the easiest route into the classic card game, and this year’s is the best yet for multiplayer. Easily frustrated players should remain wary of the franchise, but even without the excruciating Revenge campaign, 2013 is worth the measly $10 investment.
There's a war going on in EVE: Online, and we want to see it. We want you to see it too, so we're livestreaming at twitch.tv/pcgamer. Please understand that our virtual war correspondents may be destroyed. Instantly.
Escorted by Goonswarm Federation, we made it to 1DH-SX in Delve, so step one is complete. More coverage to come.
Dan "ViBE" Scherlong enjoyed a convincing victory at the USA Nationals StarCraft 2 tournament at the MLG's Anaheim Championship earlier this month. On his way to finishing first among American StarCraft players, securing a spot in the Battle.net World Championship, and winning $12,000, Scherlong beat talented American players like fellow Zergs Greg "Idra" Fields and Peter "daisuki" Yoo. In late August, he'll play in the Battle.net North American Championship.
Scherlong was something of a surprise winner at the USA Nationals, and the North American Championship will put him up against some of the very same players he beat on his way to winning the Nationals, along with the best players from Canada and Mexico. I had the chance to talk to him about his unexpected success in Anaheim, how this has affected his career, his views on the World Championship Series, and where he comes from.
The interview has been edited for clarity and length.
PCG: So when did you decide you were going to try and make it as a StarCraft 2 pro? Do you have a day job?
Dan "ViBE" Scherlong: I decided I wanted to try and go pro at StarCraft 2 before the game came out. I have been playing games for a very long time and I am a competitive person, but I never invested enough time into one game to play it professionally. I was close to doing that with WarCraft 3 but I got distracted by too many other games so, I just ended up being a pretty good ladder player. So I myself the goal: the next Blizzard RTS game that came out, I was going to try and go pro at it. And here I am today.
I did have a day job: I worked at a restaurant, P.F. Chang's, and I only quit when I realized that I could actually make a decent living by only playing the game.
What does your family think of what you do? Do they understand SC2?
Scherlong: My family is very supportive, but like any family they were skeptical at first. When StarCraft 2 first came out, I was investing a lot of time into the game and really cutting back my hours at work, which was starting to make my parents nervous. Because in their eyes I was now losing money. Now, my family is a gamer family so my older brother and father were fully aware of what I was doing. My mom, on the other hand, is a workaholic, despite our efforts to convert her. They were always supporting me but the quote I heard a lot was "You should just work a little more than you do right now. Just so you don't run out of money, but you can still play the game almost as much as you do right now." Which to be honest is very good advice, but when I got sponsored by sixjax.NrG and I started getting free travel to events, my family knew I was actually making something of this and were on board 100 percent.
In terms of understanding the game, I would say my brother does because he plays every few days on ladder, but my parents more or less would just look for, "What color is ViBE, and is that color smashing the other one?"
"I do believe I have been an underrated player for quite some time."
Because of the way the WCS groups players by nationality and region, do you feel any differently about these competitions? Will you feel at all like you are representing your country in your upcoming matches?
Scherlong I personally think this is a great spin on a tournament where it brings out national pride in players who represent their respective nations. I love the usual tournaments like MLG or IPL where you get some of the world’s best and it's just a free-for-all to the top, but for this game to stay appealing to viewers, I do think having a couple differently-structured tournaments is needed. Just like when GSL had Korea vs the world or team league formats where you have team pride. Those kinds of events are definitely fun to watch and participate in.
The feeling I had going into the initial WCS tournament was more or less just like any other tournament. I didn't necessarily feel like I was representing the USA. But from here on out, I will be mixed with other players who have qualified from their groups and are representing their own countries, and now I definitely have a feeling of pride, just like I would when I want to win matches for my team in a clan match.
For a lot of SC2 fans, the USA Nationals were their first chance to really watch you play. Do you feel like the WCS has let you take your game to the next level of pro competition? Will we see more of you at other pro events?
Scherlong: I really appreciate every opportunity I get to participate in a league or tournament where I can compete with some of the best StarCraft 2 has to offer, and I do hope that the more large scale exposure I get makes more tournament organizers think of me as possible competition. I do believe I have been an underrated player for quite some time, so this is a good step, showing people that I can compete. Hopefully I get more opportunities from future tournaments.
At the North American Finals, you'll be seeing a lot of the same players you beat, and some new ones. Are there any matchups you're hoping for?
Scherlong I'm looking forward to the NA Finals, as I am interested to see which country qualifies more players. Historically, if someone asked me what matchup I was hoping for and why, I would always say Zerg vs Terran because that was my best matchup by far due to practicing it the most and just really understanding it. Lately though, it's a different story because I really feel I have pulled my Zerg vs Protoss and Zerg vs Zerg matchups to be on par with my . I think I proved that by winning WCS USA playing against a single Terran opponent. I am currently feeling like a really strong, well-rounded player.
The Game Critics Awards are a big deal. They're the Metacriticization of E3: after the show, more than 30 publications vote on 20 categories of awards, their ballots swimming together like a school of trophy-shaped fish. (PC Gamer is a few of those fish, too.)
This year’s awards were announced on Tuesday. And among those 20 categories this year, zero PC-exclusive games won. That happened in 2011, too. I’m confused and livid about that. We’re in the middle of a PC gaming renaissance—as a body of critics, shouldn’t our awards reflect that?
The awards have a mixed, embarrassing history when it comes to the PC. Let’s revisit the last decade of Best PC Game winners:
Were we really that overwhelmed by Doom III and SWG? But yeah: Spore. How did we get it wrong—so Price Is Right Fail Horningly-wrong—thrice? Spore is exactly the sort of game that woos multiplatform gaming critics that aren’t looking closely—it’s an amusing toy, an easily-explained curiosity from The Faraway Eccentric Continent of PC Gaming. On a ballot, Spore was an incredibly safe bet for someone who didn't see everything the PC had to offer at the show—like Dawn of War II in '08, or F.E.A.R. in '05. That this fooled us three times is evidence that collectively, gaming media hasn’t examined seriously what happens on the PC at E3.
A PC-exclusive game hasn’t won Best Original Game since 2006 or Best of Show since 2005. Both winners were Spore. But hey, let’s not dwell on that bleak and multi-appendaged past. 2012 was a decent year for PC exclusives at E3. There were plenty to pick from, and absolutely none were officially recognized: Neverwinter, SimCity, The Elder Scrolls Online, Hawken, Otherland, End of Nations, Shootmania Storm, MechWarrior Online, Natural Selection 2, World of Warplanes, Arma 3, Company of Heroes 2. The stand-out omission from the awards list, though, is PlanetSide 2. It should’ve won Best Online Multiplayer. It should’ve won Best PC, and it could’ve won Commendation for Innovation.
PlanetSide 2 isn't some exotic animal. It’s sci-fi Battlefield, but better, bigger, more beautiful, and it never sleeps. It also wasn’t sequestered in some obscure corner of the show—it was the first thing you saw when you walked through the doors of West Hall. You couldn’t miss it. Anyone could prance up and play it without an appointment. IGN, Polygon, GameSpy, and Game Informer did give it significant nods. I wrote in our personal E3 picks post: “Occupying someone else’s base means something beyond an icon changing colors on your HUD—just by contending for an outpost, you’re earning a tiny trickle of resources. Own it, and that earned-over-time allowance extends to your whole empire (while being denied to the enemy). The magic of that mechanic is apparent even in an hour-long play session with a character I’ll never use again in a crowded, loud convention center. Whether you like it or not, you’re a part of something.”
Sure, The Last of Us—the game that won everything—looks nice. It’s genetically-engineered for critical attention: Uncharted and zombies and movielike and full of those meaningful moral choices we can't get enough of. It'll probably enjoy plenty of high review scores and plenty of eye-level shelf space at GameStop. My peers were wooed enough by it to award it Best of Show, Best Original Game, Best Console Game, Best Action/Adventure Game, and give it a Special Commendation For Sound.
Maybe everyone played PlanetSide 2 and just wasn’t moved by its unprecedented scale and ambition, staggering balance of tactical complexity and accessibility, or original engine technology that makes Unreal 3 look like calculator firmware. I think that’s the sort of next-generational newness we should be drawing attention to. I don’t own a tablet, so I hope that’s an indication for how underwhelmed I am by tie-in apps, but did you see PlanetSide's jaw-dropping tablet/browser/mobile-driven infrastructure that lets you see dynamic strategic maps and join voice chat without being in-game? Egad.
Call it what you want
What's most upsetting are the names of the awards themselves. They're undeniably skewed to reward the companies that put on press conferences and that spend thousands of dollars making the show an expensive spectacle: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. The PC doesn’t have a press conference, of course (although we've daydreamed plenty about what it'd be like). And like a very-talented cousin that Sony doesn't want overshadowing itself at its own talent show, PlanetSide 2 creators Sony Online Entertainment don’t get a second of stage time at Sony’s conference. Coincidentally, critics don’t have many categories that invite celebration of the PC.
Since 2010, game writers have picked a Best Motion Simulation Game, a relatively recent trend, but inexplicably we can’t nominate a Best MMO. 13 dungeon-raiding, gold-farming years after EverQuest, and MMO isn’t a comparable genre to racing, strategy, or “social/casual,” which each have their own award? In "Best Hardware/Peripheral" components compete with controllers and consoles in the same incongruous, Frankenstein-category.
The oddest and least platform-agnostic award is "Best Downloadable Game.” Commenting on this makes me feel like a student who takes the awkward duty of telling his teacher that his chalkboard math is wrong. “...Excuse me? Every game on PC is downloadable.” The award was added in 2009, so it was absolutely a response to the healthy niche that $5-20 games have carved for themselves on XBLA and PSN. But if the goal is to highlight smaller-budget games, why not, y’know, make a Best Indie Game award? The Game Critics Awards have never had such an accolade in their history.
Sure, indie games don’t have the largest footprint at E3 (a separate issue that I’d be delighted to yell about), but they do have IndieCade, a small hub of games hosted off the show floor. Especially with Kickstarter’s emergence, it’s a complete failure to reflect the industry we work, buy, and game in that there’s no official opportunity for critics to praise indie games.
I know we’re usually encouraged to shrug off mainstream game awards, like the ones that appear on television. But this isn’t one of them, actually. This is the closest gaming media comes to having a collective voice about something. It’s the one instance where we’re communicating as a single organization. It’s an opportunity to get it right. And on the PC, we totally aren’t. If we’re not prepared to have a set of awards that at least fundamentally reflect the kinds of experiences millions of people are involved in—MMOs and indie games among them—what are we doing?
Reports have reached PC Gamer's deep space monitoring stations in EVE that possibly the largest multiplayer war in gaming history is taking place over the Delve region. The initiators of the conflict, Reddit-based Test Alliance Please Ignore, produced the following video explaining the origins and nature of the conflict, now estimated to involve over 50,000 players.
The war began when members of the Test Alliance Please Ignore (known in-game as "testies") jumped into another alliance's system, looking for a fight. When no one came out to fight them, they started destroying their equipment and stealing items. That woke the defending alliances up, who are now appearing in full-force to defend their sector of space.
If you needed proof that this war is going to be epic, it already has its own ballad, recorded by a player and published online.
Honeybadgers, and the CFC (which includes the infamous Goonswarm Federation) quickly joined the Test Alliance Please Ignore's rampage, and the Delve Residents, as well as SOCO, Raiden, and Solar alliances, are rallying all the allies they can. Wars of this size in EVE can take weeks, so if you're planning a vacation to Delve or any surrounding system in the near future, fly softly and carry a big railgun.
Our in-game war correspondents have plotted a course, and will keep you up to date on the events as they unfold.
League of Legends developers Riot Games plan to release a new map designed to replicate ARAM (all-random, all-mid), a subgenre of normal games invented by players. The new map, named Proving Grounds, has been made available on LoL's public beta server for testing and will be released on the two main servers in an upcoming patch.
Riot planned to release the new map with the last patch on June 20, but have now delayed its launch, Riot designer Brackhar said on the official forums. Brackhar posted: "While we still plan to ship the assets for the Proving Grounds custom game mode with the next patch, we will not have it enabled on patch day. Very late in the cycle some concerns with platform stability arose, so we're going to delay turning it on for a few days to iron that out... It will still be playable on the PBE in the mean time."
Proving Grounds will not be a new game mode, but will be available for players to select in custom games. Players can choose champions as normal in either blind or draft pick, but can also use the all-random mode to recreate ARAM battles.
The new map is a modified version of the game's tutorial level, and forces both teams into a single lane. Riot have made various tweaks to its balance in response to feedback from players on the PBE server, such as reducing respawn times and giving players extra passive gold and experience gain, although they may make further changes before releasing it. Like Dominion, Proving Grounds games are likely to be fast-paced and take less time to play than on Summoners' Rift.
Codemasters have released some new 'work in progress' screenshots from F1 2012 via their facebook page, as spotted by VG247. Unsurprisingly, they're mostly pictures of cars, but this time they look even more like cars then they did last time! They're still worth a look though, because they're astonishingly pretty. You can almost hear the vroom sounds.
We thought Codemasters last F1 game was terrific, and you can find out why in our F1 2011 review.
Have I told you how brilliant Orcs Must Die! is recently? I probably have, I say it a lot. Did you know the developers, Robot Entertainment also made an IOS turn based battle game called Hero Academy? Well if you didn't, now you do, and you should also know that Eurogamer are reporting that it's coming to Steam.
The Steam version of the game will allow for cross platform play with the iOS version, letting you show those trendy Apple folk just who knows more about turn based combat. Oh, and if you own the game on both formats, they'll sync up too. Also, getting the PC version gives you a new squad of heroes based on adorable big headed versions of Team Fortress 2 characters. There's nothing about this announcement that isn't brilliant.
Hero Academy has been out on IOS for several months now, and has gotten a lot of praise so far. Even PC Gamer's own Chris Thursten has spent many a lunchtime furiously tapping away as his iPhone because of it. The game is simple, two teams face each other across a battle grid trying to destroy each others crystals. Each turn lets you re-arrange your troops, bring in new ones or use abilities, then you send it off. When the other player has figured out his move, the game proceeds. Like Frozen Synapse, you're free to have as many games as you want on the go at once, so you're never just sitting around waiting for your opponent to log in.
Hero Academy will arrive on PC on the 8th of August.