Mafia III

I'm so far removed from Hangar 13 and 2K's largely underwhelming Mafia 3 that I completely missed the launch of its second DLC, Stones Unturned, back in May. I did give its other add-on 'Faster, Baby!' a whirl back in March but failed to find its Sinclair Parish setting any more inspiring than the base game's wider New Bordeaux. 

You might've gotten on better with it, though, which means you might be interested in Mafia 3's latest and third slice of proper DLC: Sign of the Times. 

It's out now and features The Ensanglante—a drug-obsessed cult who worships blood and has it in for protagonist Lincoln after he inadvertently interrupts one of the group's seance rituals in Sammy's Bar. From there, Lincoln seemingly takes it upon himself to uncover what the cult's all about by investigating ritual sites, following clues and gathering evidence on its unscrupulous activities. 

Some of that features here:

Similar to the time-manipulating feature that popped up in Faster, Baby!, a new "slow-motion gunplay mechanic" appears in Sign of the Times that rewards accuracy and successful headshots. A new weapon comes in the mould of the Black Sacrament automatic rifle, while throwing knifes boost Lincoln's repertoire for a more stealth-leaning set pieces. 

As with before, playing this DLC outing also grants Lincoln new outfits - this time expect The Wandered and Tee Time rigouts respectively. 

Mafia 3: Sign of the Times is out now. Head over here to learn more about the above, and over here to read more about The Ensanglante.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

As you may or may not know, signing up for Amazon's paid-for subscription service Prime grants you access to its Twitch Prime counterpart free-of-charge. The latter in turn offers subscribers free monthly loot which last month saw PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds players treated to jeans, t-shirts and "stylish" ski masks.

If you collected said freebies and enjoyed them, that's great. If you collected them but didn't open them, however, you might be worth a few quid. 

As posted by NeoGaf user hollomat, a sizeable number of players who failed to pick up PUBG's Twitch Prime loot last month are now interested in buying via Steam's Community Market.  

"I noticed PUBG had some marketable items and was shocked when I saw the PUBG twitch loot was marketable and the the lowest price it was listed at was $30," explains hollomat. "I wanted to sell it immediately to get credit for Pyre and checked out the highest buying price which was $25. I listed it and it sold immediately netting me around $22 in steam credit."

At the time of writing, these numbers have jumped to $28.49 and $23.25 respectively.

At present, Twitch Prime is offering Overwatch and Warframe loot which means if you missed the PUBG offer it's for now gone. If you have Twitch Prime, have PUBG, have claimed the former's free loot and have activated it but haven't used it on yourself—then you're good to go. 

As hollomat points out, a combination of this criteria, demand, and an increasingly popular game appear to be driving the price up. Act fast if this applies to you.

Dota 2

Photo credit: TeamLiquid

The International 2017 is closing in. The group stages begin August 2nd, with the main event taking place from the 7th, and the dust has settled from late June’s qualifiers. 

Previously we looked at the Asian teams that will attend the event, from China’s top achievers in Newbee to the Philippines’ best hopes in Execration and TNC Pro. Now, we move to the other hemisphere to talk about the best of the west and what they may bring to the biggest event in Dota 2. 

First and foremost is Europe’s OG, the reigning champions of the Dota 2 scene at the moment having taken both of Valve’s Majors this season, plus two the season before. The team hasn’t shown its top shape prior to The International’s invite season, but that could change: after all, TI is a Valve event. A flexible hero pool, a well-versed captain, team chemistry and impeccable skill are the formula to a worthy Dota 2 team, and OG can check each box off without a second thought.

Returning from the Major is fellow direct invite Virtus.Pro, which earned second at the Kiev Major. They fell to OG in a 2-3 loss at the event, a rarity given that most LANs end in a four-game final, demonstrating that the team can put up a fight. Most famously this season they earned their invite immediately after their showing at The Summit, at which they played a unique hero for every match except the fifth and last finals game against Team Secret. With this momentum, they’ll be OG’s top match to look out for, but any match with VP versus a worthy team will be exciting to watch.

Photo credit: ESL

The third European direct invite is Team Liquid, which won Epicenter, one of the biggest events of the season. While not as consistent as China’s Newbee over the past year, the team has been able to show off their skill among the top teams in the world. They also proved that they’re far above any other stragglers in the pro scene, with persuasive first-place wins at StarLadder and this past weekend’s DreamLeague Atlantia. They can at least be a strong contender in Seattle if they keep their DreamLeague energy and bring it to the west coast. 

Speaking of contenders, Team Secret is a potential dark horse for the event. They shocked the scene when they won every single game in the Kiev Major’s pre-bracket stages, including the qualifiers. Unfortunately, teams eventually figured out their shallow strategy, but since then, they’ve had time to improve. In fact, they’ve been improving over the past year, as they rose from not qualifying for Valve’s Boston Major to winning their stacked, challenging region for The International. Fans that have been through the team’s thick and thin will likely see the team at its top shape in years. 

Last but not least from Europe is Hellraisers, formerly known as Planet Dog, which won after climbing through open qualifiers. Four out of five members were released recently from tier-two organization ProDota after internal conflict, and so this squad was assembled merely weeks before the qualifiers. Since their victory in the qualifiers, they were picked up by Hellraisers, which hasn’t seen a Dota 2 squad in years. The members aren’t new by any means, but instead, they’re a mix of players that have been grinding for years for this moment. 

Next door, the CIS qualifiers took place for the first ever International event, including an absolutely-full open qualifier from which rose Team Empire. While the banner is familiar to long-time Dota 2 fans, the roster is full of relatively-fresh faces from the tier-two scene. That doesn’t mean they’re any less worthy, as this iteration has been showing up for online tournaments and training hard—before and after winning their TI qualifier, of course. The team does have a lot to prove to both its Russian and international fans, but they absolutely have the chance to do so in Seattle.

Photo credit: Evil Geniuses

Returning to Seattle from America is Evil Geniuses, the champions of The International 5. Only two of the members from that winning squad are still active players, but that hasn’t stopped the team from remaining not only North America’s top team, but also a global powerhouse. They’ve shown up less frequently to events than other tier-one teams, but they took a first-place finish at the Manila Majors, and their second place at Epicenter is nothing to shake a finger at. Plus, they’ve had a strong showing at most Valve events, and they even came close at last year’s TI6, but they were no match for the outrageous hero pool of Digital Chaos. They can certainly hope that they become the first team to take a two-time TI win.  

Much to the excitement of their biggest fans, Cloud9, formerly Team NP, will be at The International as the top qualifying team from North America. While esports veterans will recognize the C9 brand, Dota 2 fans know the squad for their leader, Jacky “EternaLEnVy” Mao, and the team’s anime-styled shenanigans. Fan familiarity aside, they’re a staple of high-tier events: they took a solid third at the Manila Masters and four that second at The Summit, and the roster is an all-star showing of veterans. Their performance breaks away from NA’s dire reputation, and they can potentially be a dark horse if they prepare well.

Photo credit: Digital Chaos

Also hailing from North America is Digital Chaos, formerly Team Onyx. They took second for the qualifiers, but sadly, their team has few results to show for their hard work up to that point. Still, the team has a lot of potential, as they’ve recruited names from across the world, including two former MVP players and 10k player Abed. It’s merely a matter of whether the players can come together and use their breadth of experience and skill in an effective manner. 

Last but absolutely not least is newcomer team Infamous, the South American qualifier winner from Peru, formed by Valve Major alum Accel after his Frankfurt Major team Unknown.xiu disbanded. The SA region was thrust into the spotlight after SG Esports’s Kiev Major run, in which they took out Team Secret in their Achilles’s heel, showing that they could absolutely take on the world’s toughest team—if you keep them on an even playing field. Now, Infamous has a lot of pressure to follow up on that success, and it could certainly happen: after all, at the biggest event in esports, anything goes.

Kingdoms and Castles

The first threat appears when my kingdom is nothing but a small castle, a few farms, and a sprinkling of tiny peasant hovels. It's a red dragon, a big blocky one, soaring over the fields during a thunderstorm, periodically roaring and pausing to hover menacingly. I sit there watching and nervously wonder if it's going to torch my meager holdings and end my game before it's barely begun, but it doesn't—the beast eventually flaps away over the sea, letting me get back to chopping wood, building roads, and growing food. I also add something to my to-do list: build defenses.

Kingdoms and Castles, which was successfully Figstarted back in January, is a medieval city building sim. I know there are lots and lots of Minecraft-lookin' games out there, and there's a fine line between the ones that look warm and charming and those that make you roll your eyes and say "Ugh, another one?" As you can see, Kingdoms and Castles is the former: the art and animation are perfectly pleasing and watching your town grow and your residents live their tiny, blocky little lives is fun.

You begin by plopping a small castle down, aiming for a nice spot close to the resources you're going to need: lots of trees for lumber, a good amount of fertile land for farming, plus stone and iron deposits for mining. Your most important resource is your population: the itty bitty peasants that will be doing all the work for you.

This makes beginning the game a bit slow: you need citizens to chop lumber and work the farms, but without homes (built with lumber) and food (grown on farms) it's difficult to attract new peasants to join your community. Everything needs to be near a road, which also requires lumber, so the initial game can be a bit laborious: waiting for your tiny collection of peasants to slowly hack up enough logs so they can build their own homes, while you pretty much just sit around and wait, leaning on the fast-forward button.

Thankfully, once you've attracted a few more people to your castle town, things begin to move a bit more quickly and the sim becomes more enjoyable. You can build orchards (an improvement over farms), a logging mill (which will re-plant trees for future chopping), markets, quarries, bakeries, pubs, churches, buildings that let you stockpile food to last through the winter, and bigger cottages that can hold more peasants. Many of these buildings need to be staffed by several workers: constructing multiple mills won't do much to increase your lumber supply if you don't have enough bodies to operate them, and you can also temporarily close buildings to divert workers to where you need them most.

Meanwhile, you can grow your castle: add a treasury so you can begin to tax peasants, build defensive towers for archers and ballistas, and military buildings to train heroes and recruit soldiers. You can even build a moat, which I wasn't able to do since I built my town pretty much right up against my castle walls so I wouldn't have to use all my lumber for making long and winding roads.

This is all a perfectly enjoyable clickfest, plopping down buildings and watching them be constructed, seeing the villagers carry buckets of water from the well to douse a fire, and watching the seasons change as the years speed by. There's no real tutorial, but a trio of advisers in your keep will regularly alert you to the problems you're facing, like food shortages, unhappy peasants (or happy ones, which means it's a good time to raise taxes), and other events.

I haven't see the dragon again (there are apparently ogres as well) but I've been invaded twice by Vikings. I get enough warning to know they're coming: they sail slowly across the sea and then trudge through the forest to my (still) defenseless town. As they march down the roads they burn everything they pass: cottages, a tavern, even the road they're marching on. Meanwhile, I'm busy trying to build a barracks and recruit some soldiers, but I only manage to train a couple of heroes, who aren't terribly effective against the Vikings. At least the Vikings don't stay long: after a bit of destruction, they politely return to their ship and sail away.

The next time the Vikings attack, I'm a bit better prepared. My heroes again prove a bit useless, but I've got a manned ballista which fires away at the invader, and as you can (sort of) see above, the Viking (carrying a red banner) keels over before he can do too much damage and escape. I clearly need to keep building up my defenses, especially if that dragon every returns.

You can play Kingdoms and Castles without threats, if you'd prefer a completely peaceful experience, or with occasional threats (as I did), or with more frequent ones for a greater challenge. I'm finding the middle difficulty a nice fit, just enough to keep you on your toes without seeing your town razed every few minutes, and there are plenty of other problems to solve like food shortages and bouts of illness that can hew down your population. 

Kingdoms and Castles doesn't have appear to have a whole lot of depth, simulation-wise, but it's damn enjoyable, charming as heck, and priced at an extremely reasonable $10 on GoG and Steam.

Friday the 13th: The Game

There was a ripple of panic among Friday the 13th players today when it came to light that developer Illfonic is working on a new project, a "multiplayer first-person zombie shooter set in a post-apocalyptic world" called Dead Alliance. In a statement posted on Reddit, however, studio CEO Chuck Brungardt said that stories about the game being abandoned are "100 percent not true," and explained that Dead Alliance isn't actually a new game at all. 

"Most major and independent studios have multiple teams working on multiple projects at the same time. This is critical for the survival of the studio, especially with the ups and downs with the game industry," Brungardt wrote. "Dead Alliance was started way before Friday the 13th: The Game. It was a co-development by Psyop Games and IllFonic then titled Moving Hazard. Psyop Games released Moving Hazard to Steam Early Access well over a year ago and it gained interest from Maximum Games for a console port." 

The Moving Hazard/Dead Alliance team has always been separate from the Friday the 13th team, he said, and in fact the Friday the 13th team has grown from about 20 people internally to 30. "We also have opened a second office that sole purpose is to support development of Friday the 13th: The Game. In addition we are continuing to staff up more team members for continued support of the game," he wrote. "So we assure you, continued support for Friday the 13th: The Game has not been abandoned, in fact, it’s quite the opposite." 

We actually spoke with Moving Hazard lead writer Christian Cantamessa about the game at PAX South in January 2016, and it hit Early Access a few months later. It's gone now, of course, but Dead Alliance sounds reasonably similar to what Moving Hazard promised: It's a multiplayer FPS in which zombies can be turned against opposing players. It's available for pre-purchase now for $25/£20/€25 on Steam, and slated to launch (in full, not Early Access) on August 29. 

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

Can your PC run PUBG? That question is easy to answer, and the good news is PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds has surprisingly humble PC system requirements, at least for minimum performance. But what are the PUBG system requirements for playing at 60 fps? What kind of CPU and graphics card do you need to ensure the smooth performance you'll need to bag those chicken dinners? We can help you figure that out.

Below, you'll find the minimum PUBG system requirements as well as our own recommended system specs. If you really want to dial in your performance, check out our guide to the best PUBG settings for tips on optimizing your framerate. You can also watch our performance analysis to see benchmarks of Battlegrounds across all sorts of hardware.

PUBG minimum system requirements

Here's what you need to run PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on your PC, according to developer Bluehole:

OS: 64-bit Windows 7, Windows 8.1, Windows 10Processor: Intel Core i3-4340 / AMD FX-6300Memory: 6 GB RAMGraphics: Nvidia GeForce GTX 660 2GB / AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GBDirectX: Version 11Network: Broadband Internet connectionStorage: 30 GB available space

Let's dig into those specs a bit. The Intel Core i3-4340 is a dual-core CPU from 2013, running at 3.6GHz. That means Battlegrounds can run on a lower-end CPU without four cores, at least for bare minimum performance. But our detailed performance analysis showed us that PUBG can actually be quite CPU limited, so this really is a minimum requirement.

That graphics requirement is similarly basic: the GTX 660 was released in 2012, and is hardly a powerful graphics card for modern games. Even at minimum settings, you may struggle to run Battlegrounds at 30 fps.

Finally, PUBG's actual initial install size is around 7GB, so that 30GB available space requirement assures you still have some free space on your hard drive even after installing Battlegrounds.

PUBG recommended system requirements

Minimum settings are never the ideal way to play a game, and PUBG is no exception. Here's the kind of hardware we'd actually recommend playing Battlegrounds on.

OS: 64-bit Windows 10Processor: AMD Ryzen 5-1600 / Intel Core i5-7600KMemory: 8 GB RAMGraphics: Nvidia GTX 1060 6GB or better

(DirectX, Internet connection and storage requirements don't change)

While PUBG will run just fine on Windows 7, at this point it's an old OS no longer being updated. Windows 10 isn't perfect, but it offers better performance and fixes most of Windows 8's missteps.

More importantly, a CPU like AMD's Ryzen 5 or Intel's latest Core i5 will be key in hitting 60 fps in Battlegrounds. These are strong midrange bang-for-your-buck CPUs, and more importantly, they're fast. As we wrote in our performance analysis: "It's pretty clear that the most important thing with your CPU will be raw clockspeed, provided that you have at least four physical CPU cores… Meanwhile the 2-core/4-thread Core i3 part struggles, particularly on minimum fps. Of course, most of these CPU limitations are only visible with an ultra-fast graphics card."

A dual-core CPU having trouble with minimum framerates means that in its most demanding moments, you'll see more of a performance dip than you would with a quad-core CPU. But the key is having a high clockspeed, which you can get from most new CPUs, or overclocking one that's a few generations old.

Now for the graphics card. What will it take to run Battlegrounds at 60 fps or better at 1080p? According to our performance analysis, the 1060 6GB is powerful enough to run PUBG at an average 60 fps at 1080p Ultra settings, while dropping as low as 44 fps in its most intense moments. At 1080p medium, though, it averages 90 fps and should never drop below 60.

The previous-generation GTX 970 performs almost as well as a GTX 1060, but if you're shooting for 60 fps with a more entry level graphics card, expect to drop the settings down to low to achieve that framerate. Since PUBG is still in development, performance will probably continue to improve; currently, even a 1080 Ti can't run Battlegrounds at a perfectly consistent framerate at ultra settings, and nothing can hit 144 fps. That makes the 1060 6GB a great value for your dollar.

One thing we wouldn't recommend, at least not with the current drivers and performance, is buying an AMD card for PUBG. Not that any of the AMD RX cards are affordable right now (thanks to the cryptocurrency craze), but even the GTX 970 beats RX 480 8GB in our testing. If you have an AMD card already, note that minimum fps suffers on cards with less than 8GB VRAM, and even at medium quality most cards were unable to maintain a consistent 60 fps.

Future system requirements

PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds is still in Early Access, which means you should expect its performance and system requirements to shift as new updates arrive. We'll keep an eye on performance and update this post with any changes.

Regalia: Of Men and Monarchs

I finished Thief: The Dark Project on Expert difficulty, just in case you're already about to come at me with some of that “git gud” nonsense. I stole light back from a god and got all the loot along the way without killing a single human being. Doing that ate a huge chunk of my life when I had nothing better to do with it, and that's a valuable thing a challenging game can do. But I also think games should be for everyone, and that there's no shame in knocking down the difficulty so you can blitz through a story mode over the weekend to let off some steam. And that's why, though there are a lot of things I like about Regalia: Of Men And Monarchs, the fact its robust difficulty options let you make it even easier than Easy is one of the things I like best.

So what the hell is Regalia? It's an indie RPG released earlier this year by a small Polish team called Pixelated Milk, a game about inheriting a run-down little kingdom and piecing it back together. There are text-based interactive quests straight out of a choose-your-own-adventure book, an upgradeable town hub to manage, a bit of light crafting, and a cast of colorful anime-looking characters with vignettes and backstories to unlock. There's even a fishing minigame.

There's also turn-based combat. I like turn-based combat. Give me Pool of Radiance or The Temple of Elemental Evil over Baldur's Gate any day. But Regalia's combat is inspired by JRPGs, which means that even the tutorial rats have hundreds of hit points, there's level-scaling, the line-of-sight rules are fussy, and every attack is some special attack with an area of effect or status modifier or arcane interaction with other abilities to consider. That may sound exciting, but, well, it's a bit of a slog. To misquote The Incredibles, 'When every attack is special none of them are.'

Well, that's... that's a lot of fire.

By the time I was facing beetles who had thousands of hit points I kicked the difficulty down, and it was an immediate improvement. There are separate sliders for multiplying how much damage you deal and how much you soak, so if you think your fire witch should be able to incinerate a bandit with a single Inferno spell, you can make it so. (The sliders go in both directions, so masochists can make things harder if they like.) Enemy dodge abilities can be toggled off entirely while another toggle gives bonus Authority points, which power your ultimate attacks. If Regalia's difficulty settings had lips I would kiss them and they would be soft like little pillows.

If Regalia's difficulty settings had lips I would kiss them and they would be soft like little pillows.

On the lowest setting there's an auto-win button that lets you say, 'You know what? Let's assume my party, consisting of a suit of armor possessed by the ghost of a witch hunter, a wild woman with Wolverine claws, and a vampire hairdresser with ice magic, can just beat these scrubs and move on.' If I could legally marry this button I would consider it.

Not every battle in Regalia is boring, though. When I had to fight a group of zombies trapped in an eternal queue at a temple of the god of bureaucracy, that was fun. A battle in a field of spreading fire, a siege involving samurai dwarves, a final encounter with the jerk claiming I was a pretender to the throne, even the wheat field full of wolves who buffed each other by howling—those were all memorable. They involved interesting positioning, or unusual enemies. It's just that there were too many rats and skeletons and bandits between them, and skipping over those battles to get to the good stuff made the game better.

When it was announced Mass Effect 3 would have a Narrative mode in which combat was trivial, the usual suspects were furious. It turned out that game had great combat, but it still wasn’t the main draw for a lot of players. The conversations, the RPG leveling, and the hanging out in exotic places with cool people you might kiss is more than enough game for plenty of players who would otherwise be discouraged by all that cover-shooting and headshotting. Regalia is much the same, and more games should have the confidence to let you play them how you want.

Some people will love Regalia's combat, and that's fine. Some people will think it's the point of the entire game, and that to simplify or skip it is to ruin the experience. That I'll disagree with. I didn't do much crafting or fishing, but I did spend a lot of time engaging with another of Regalia's systems by talking to my subjects and companions.

Much of Regalia's charm is found outside combat.

Regalia is a bit like Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale or the Persona series, in that finding the right day of the week to spend time with people enhances your bond, unlocking conversations where you get to know them. The tone of these scenes is light-hearted, referential and self-aware. When I investigated my loyal bodyguard's dark secret I expected some BioWare-style plot twist and instead found out his hidden shame is that he collects Warhammer miniatures. It's delightful.

Here's another example. During a text adventure I met an army of the undead with a zombie general who mistook me for one of his captains; it turned out he thought he was still alive, and was fighting a war everyone else knew was long over. I tried to explain but he wouldn't have a bar of it without proof in writing. So I traveled to one of the bureaucracy god's temples, found a death certificate, and showed it to him. Presented with incontrovertible proof of his own demise, the general realized he was finally free of obligation and his war was over. With a final salute, he and his soldiers silently laid down to rest. I took his fancy hat and now wear it in his memory.

Regalia is full of odd but touching moments like this, jokes and quirky asides and silliness. If I hadn't been able to knock the difficulty down to 'just give me the story' level I'd probably never have found them.

D'aww.

So many games go back in the pile because of that one difficulty spike, the one ridiculous boss fight, the underwater level, the bit where the save points are too far apart, never to be finished. I'm sure there's stuff in them that's equally good—memorable characters and unexpected story beats, smart combat encounters that stand out from the rest—that I'll never see, because I couldn't just flick the switch over to casual. It's not just about making a game easier, but being able to fold a part of it away to get at the rest, to highlight what might otherwise stay obscured. In Regalia's case, obscurity would be a damn tragedy.

PLAYERUNKNOWN'S BATTLEGROUNDS

As teased by Brendan Greene earlier this month, PUBG's latest monthly update promises first-person servers, an FOV slider for first-person view and a new rifle. As a result of "complications with a [recent] client crash bug", these features won't be implemented till August 3 (which could mean next month sees two monthly updates), however in-game skins designed to "further customize your character" won't launch this side of Early Access. 

"We would like to provide more content as well as test the basic crate and key system we want to implement in the final version of the game," so reads a Steam Community update post. As such, on August 3, Thursday of next week, Bluehole will launch three new crates. 

The developer continues: "All three crates will contain items inspired by the Battle Royale movie, some of which you may have seen in our older artworks. The first and second crates, named the Wanderer Crate and the Survivor Crate, will be free to open. Each of these crates will include one set of the themed clothing, on top of other cosmetic items. The third crate named the Gamescom Invitational Crate will have the most diverse pool of themed clothing."

Speaking to that last point, a group of the "best Battlegrounds content creators" are set to be called up to run daily events at this year's Gamescom conference in Cologne. The Gamescom PUBG Invitational marks the game's first ever offline event of this kind that will see attendees compete in daily qualifiers.

As for how this relates to the aforementioned crate and key testing, Bluehole adds: "We have implemented a very basic key and crate system for this test. You can use your Battle Points (BP) to buy the crate on the Rewards page. While the Wanderer Crate and the Survivor Crate will be free to open, the Gamescom Invitational Crate can be opened with a key which you can buy for $2.50 each. 

"Proceeds from the sale of the keys to open the Gamescom Invitational Crate will be used: to provide funds needed to organize the event, to provide a prize pool for the invitational winners, to support a selection of charities."

Bluehole notes that once Gamescom wraps up on August 27, the Invitational Crate will no longer be available. 

The following teaser images are dubbed "movie inspired cosmetic items": 

Killing Floor 2

First we had the return of inflated heads, then we had the uber-challenging Suicide-levelled "Poundemonium" Outbreak. Last week, we were treated to the absurdly graphic yet inherently playful Up, Up and Decay and now we have Zed Time. Killing Floor 2 sure is keeping us on our toes by way of its Weekly Outbreak schedule.

"In Zed Time the game is always in Zed Time," explains developer Tripwire Interactive. Unsure of what Killing Floor 2's Zed Time is? Let me point you in the direction of Wes' GIF-tastic gunslinging animations article

Tripwire continues: "The Zed Time in this mode is a little faster than normal. When there are only 5 Zeds left or during Trader Time the game goes out of Zed Time. We've also cranked up the spawn rate to super super-fast and Zed Time skills are disabled. This mode is cranked up so high that it would be impossible to beat in real-time! Good Luck!!"

And now onto some moving pictures: 

This is one of several time-limited challenges running until August, as Tripwire creative director Bill Munk announced at the PC Gaming Show last month at E3. Here's the remaining two upcoming events:  

August 1—Beefcake - Bigger they are, harder you fall.

In this outbreak, Zeds increase their health, size, and reach when they hit players or are affected by certain Zed abilities.              

August 8Boom - Zeds under pressure; may explode.

Maybe it was something they ate? Bad gas? Whatever it was, Zeds explode when killed in this outbreak.      

PC Gamer

Visual novels and dating simulators are strange beasts, and the intersection of those genres with comedy often results in parody. Dream Daddy sounds exactly like that—like it’s going to riff off and satire both the simplification of relationships down to dialogue options and usage of queer relationships in the genre. It really isn’t, though: beneath the dad jokes and past a first glance, it’s a game about kindness and positivity.

You play your own, custom dad, who’s moving to a new area with his daughter, Amanda. After his partner died, he’s been raising Amanda as a single father, and the two have a very close relationship. The cul-de-sac they move to is, conveniently, filled with dads, most of which are single (the other is in the perpetual relationship state of ‘it’s complicated’). 

After introductions, you get to choose dads to go on dates with, which can range from trivia night with the local English teacher Hugo to fishing with handyman Brian. The third date is the kicker, though, as that decides which dad will be your Dream Daddy, ending the game. You can rush through, quickly choosing a favourite and rushing into bed together, or take your time, playing the field and going on dates with everyone before choosing your match.

For the most part those dates are wonderful. You might say the wrong things sometimes, or have to save a girl who waddled into the penguin enclosure at the aquarium, but it’s always a fun time. After each one, you’ll come back to Amanda and relay what happened, usually, followed by “I love you” and “I love you too, Pops.”

That’s what Dream Daddy is about—healthy, loving relationships where people are able to speak their mind about emotions, flaws, and love. Each dad is complicated and flawed in some way, and you don’t ‘fix’ them, but you help them in some way. The relationships you make end up improving the lives of everyone involved as these dads forge a support network.

Above all else, the dad you play wants to make sure Amanda is happy. How he goes about that is up to you—you can be stern, relaxed, a mix of the two, but the aim is always to do what’s best. That’s the same across all of the dads: even though some of them have unruly kids, the dads do their best for them. Some of the relationships end up messy—one dad is married and has some issues he’s bottling up, while another is looking for no-strings-attached hookups—but the focus is on healthy communication.

It sounds corny, but that’s the draw of Dream Daddy and it’s where it succeeds. Love one another, respect one another, and forge healthy relationships where friends aren’t afraid to ask for help, lend a hand, or just say “I love you.” That’s the core message, but here where the dad dating theme actually detracts, as it takes precedence over other issues. 

The game unfortunately skirts around the cultural climate of queer politics and only gives brief mentions to the struggles of single parents, the innately queer relationships here aren’t even discussed. All the dads here just are queer in some way—and that’s that. The core message of open love between family, friends, and partners is effective, but the game avoids its sex scenes and the minefield of finding other queer folk in a predominantly heterosexual society. 

These issues are conspicuous in their absence. Dream Daddy is a kind game with funny writing and uplifting themes, but neglects the greater issues it alludes to. Despite that, what is there is great—the characters are diverse, well designed, and smartly written. I was smiling for pretty much my entire time playing, and it always felt like a positive game. Dream Daddy will make you feel good even though it's ambivalent about the queer culture which it sits on. 

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