PC Gamer
Saints Row 4

Saints Row 4 debuted last week with all the subtlety one might expect from a game with dubstep guns and rocket-launching guitars, and it's eyeballing an August 20 release. That sets up a scant month-long gap between it and Grand Theft Auto 5's planned September launch, and Rockstar's titan has both years of success and a heavy fanbase to bring to bear. Speaking to Eurogamer, Volition Producer Jim Boone says the team isn't worried in the slightest and feels Saints Row is unique enough to stack up to its giant competitor.

"Obviously, when announced its date and it was so close to us, that was an interesting phenomenon," Boone says. "But the thing we feel good about in general is that we're such a different game to what they are. If we were stylistically similar to the first Saints Row, I'd be horrified right now. Saints Row: The Third came out the same time as Assassin's Creed, but the games are so different in terms of what they do."

Saints Row 4 certainly departs heavily from its original predecessor (remember when you were fighting gangs?), adopting a chaotic grab-bag of wacky antics such as superpowers, alien invasions, and pedestrian-firing cat cannons. Grand Theft Auto 5 is much more narrative-focused by comparison, weaving a more serious tale of crime and redemption connected across multiple main characters.

For Boone, open world games have come along far enough for both styles to co-exist peacefully. "The genre's matured enough where you can have all these different styles and still be an open world game and be different," he states. "So I look at GTA 5 and think there's this massive game coming out, but I don't think that with our superpowers and alien invasions, no one will compare us to them."
PC Gamer
DayZ video

The last update for creator Dean "Rocket" Hall's standalone DayZ dug a lengthy gameplay video out from underneath a pile of bean cans, motorcycle helmets, and a lot of zeds. There are enough goodies in the fledgling survival title for an alpha, but Rocket's holding it back for at least three more months to polish up client-server performance.

"We're going to review the situation in June," Hall tells Joystiq. "So there'll be no release between now and June. And we're quite hopeful that we'll go then. I know that people get really frustrated because they want to play, but I just think this is the best option."

DayZ's alpha keys will go out in waves, Rocket explains, and players will be allowed to jump into the standalone's loot-ripe lands after his team tinkers some more with the client-server tech to handle larger connection numbers.

"We want to release the keys in chunks of what we have servers available," he says. "The idea is to very quickly try to release something out there, because that allows us to start capacity testing. We've got one final thing we're waiting for with the release date, which is the completion of our client-server architecture. It's basically making the game into an MMO, and pretty much the moment that's done, we'll release."
PC Gamer

To the surprise of few, the last playable faction rounding out Total War: Rome 2's launch line-up is the Egyptians. Granted, these may not be precisely the Egyptians you're familiar with. During this period of history, the children of the Nameless Empire were ruled over by Hellenistic (Greek) successors of Egypt's not-long-departed conqueror, Alexander the Great.

"The intermingling of Greek and Egyptian fighting styles provides the Ptolemaic Pharaohs with a military that is both advanced and balanced, yet still honours the role of the champion commander," the faction page reads. "Making great use of spear and pike, their forces are further diversified with skilled swordsmen, scythed chariots, and more exotic units such as African war elephants. Egypt's position on the Mediterranean Sea also requires a substantial navy to protect its colonial and trade interests."

With all of the question marks filled, we have our starting lineup of Rome, Carthage, Macedon, the Iceni and Arverni Celts, Germanic Suebi, Parthian Persians, and Ptolemaic Egyptians. This leaves... actually, a good majority of the map is filled in by minor factions, which will create an interesting and different campaign feel, where each major power will have to get its own neighborhood in order before clashing with the others. I really like the sound of it, honestly.

We'll be getting some more face time with Rome II at GDC next week, so keep a scout posted on PC Gamer and watch for our signal.
PC Gamer
BioShock Infinite

Just how much did Columbia cost? The studio is predictably keeping quiet on the shooter's overall budget, but a New York Times article mentions some analyst estimates put it around $200 million. Creative Director Ken Levine responds to the figure on Twitter with a denial and a healthy swig of a sarcasm power potion.

200 million for Infinite? Did someone send some checks to the wrong address? #unnamedanalyst— Ken Levine (@IGLevine) March 22, 2013

Analyst: @iglevine 's American girl doll collection cost 200 million.— Ken Levine (@IGLevine) March 22, 2013

Elsewhere, GameSpot spoke with Levine on the slightly-twitching-horse subject of Infinite's box art. He compares the need to market the game to non-enthusiasts with the packaging of Oreo cookies.

"What is the package of an Oreo cookie? It is a representation of something that is trying to catch your eye and appeal to you," Levine says. "Does it taste like an Oreo cookie? No. Does it feel like an Oreo cookie? Can you eat it? No. Does it have any nutritional value? No."

He continues: "I understand why people are bothered by this, because for some reason BioShock in particular is something they put this particular value on. But I have a responsibility to the company I work for, to the people I employ, to give them the best shot of having their work recognized and rewarded. And you know what, if I'm going to get criticized because I chose a box cover, those people don't have the same responsibilities that I do."

Although Levine does have a responsibility to both show off Irrational's work as best as possible and impart a strong hunger for Oreos (gee, thanks for that), he's also shown flexibility. Back in December, he held a poll to choose an alternative cover on the reverse side of Booker DeWitt's pose of zeppelin-sized machismo.

BioShock Infinite will be here on March 26. Keep your eyes to the sky for our review next week.
PC Gamer

Alpha footage of Banished, a city builder from one-man developer Shining Rock Software, walked right by me as it went to YouTube a couple days ago. What was I looking at while it passed behind my back? Something that isn't Banished? That was dumb. Not that I haven't enjoyed it when it works, but after playing way too much SimCity, I really need to look at something different. Right now, I want to look at Banished, and then kiss it right in its small-scale, super-detailed city management face.

The trailer above is just pretty—Shining Rock built the engine from scratch—but the video below digs into Banished's mechanics. It's all about keeping a group of exiled travelers alive as you put them to work building a town, growing a population that can survive through the seasons. The official site explains:

"Surviving the winters will be among your greatest challenges. Your tailors can make clothing, your people can build houses and burn firewood. But necessities have a price—Cutting down forests reduces the deer population you can hunt. Although your foresters can plant new trees, the cures for many diseases can only be found in forests that have existed for decades. Farming for many seasons in one place will ruin the soil. Taking fish and game faster than they reproduce will lead to extinction, and your starvation. Wandering nomads can join your town to grow the population quickly, but allowing them in increases the chance of illnesses from far off lands!"

The townspeople will live, work, have kids, and die (sorry, it's tough to make real life sound appealing when pared down), and our job will be to collect resources, manage our population, design a town, and keep everyone healthy and fed. Sadly, the alpha isn't available for us to play just yet, but the developer plans for "some sort of demo build or beta program" before release later this year.

There are also no current plans for a Greenlight or Kickstarter campaign, though Shining Rock hasn't ruled out either, writing "I wanted the game to be fairly polished before showing it off to a large group of people, and I wanted something concrete to show before asking for any sort of crowd-sourcing. I’ve been thinking about these things and how/when/if they’ll be done. I’ll certainly post news should they happen."

The official site has more.
PC Gamer
Door Kickers

Door Kickers isn't about kicking down members of the popular 1960s rock band The Doors. No, the top-down project from indie studio KillHouse Games takes the movement and positional strategies of Frozen Synapse and Rainbow Six and combines them with the real-time adapt-or-die framework of Hotline Miami.

The game has you directing and controlling a team of SWAT members in several non-linear locales filled with hostages, tasty tangos, and indeed plenty of doors to kick down. As with other tactical games, it seems barging forward with your team won't end well, so you need to take advantage of vision sightlines, flashbangs, and flanking to stay alive. It's strictly single-player for now, but KillHouse might consider multiplayer later on as an impressive-looking alternative to Synapse's competitive strategery.

Here's a gameplay trailer of the alpha version, and the official website offers several ways for your wallet to add some extra dollars to KillHouse's development efforts, if you're so inclined.

PC Gamer

The Kickstarter for Torment: Tides of Numenera has been a resounding success thus far. A success that would not have been possible without its storied predecessor, Planescape: Torment. The 1999 RPG is widely heralded as one of the best-written games of all time. But is it still enjoyable to pick up for the first time, over 12 years later, without the benefit of nostalgia? We have the answer.

Get the game on GOG.

Check out this tweaks guide for the optimal experience.
PC Gamer
Resident Evil 6 Left 4 Dead 2

Resident Evil 6 is out on PC starting today, and as announced by Capcom last week, it will feature PC zombie-slayers Coach, Ellis, Nick, and Rochelle from Left 4 Dead 2 in the exclusive Mercenaries No Mercy mode. A new trailer shows them doing what they do best, but the crossover hop seems to have bestowed the foursome with a repertoire of hilariously dramatic melee moves. There's no reason why the barrel-chested Coach would choose to shoulder-check through a horde before roll-diving away to blast an RPG at point blank, but damn if it isn't stylish.

You can grab Resident Evil 6 on Steam for $40. The L4D2 cross-over content will be available free April 5th.
PC Gamer
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive cs_militia hostage

Valve has sent out a patch for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive that focuses on tweaking Hostage Rescue rules for stronger balance and to entice players away from the long-favored Bomb Defusal. Most notably, CTs have now adopted the tactical doctrine of draping hostages across their shoulders like a squishy scarf, and only a single rescue is needed to secure a win for the good guys.

You'll need to interact with a hostage for a lengthy four seconds to get him to hop on for a ride, and a new "rescue kit" shortens pickup time to a single second by presumably wowing hostages with attractively padded and comfortable-looking shoulder guards to rest on. Taking a note of influence from community-made maps such as cs_motel, hostage spawns are now randomized per match.

Valve is also continuing to stock GO's maps with updated versions of classic Counter-Strike levels, with cs_militia being the latest addition. It's structured similarly to cs_assault, where Ts benefit from an entrenched interior location to bunker in while CTs attempt rescue through multiple points of entry.

Defusing bombs got a small but significant change as well: turning too far away from a bomb while defusing it will cancel the process, a jump in risk and exposure for CTs trying for the win while Ts yet linger to guard the bomb. They could sure use one of those hostage-capes for extra protection.

Oh, and the rumored Support Pass for a community map rotation on official servers isn't happening. Valve even pokes fun at earlier reports of the pass with a new data string, "CSGO_Ticket_CommunitySeasonOneSpring2013_Leak," and its single-word description: "lol." Oh, Valve. Don't ever change.

See the rest of the patch notes over on Steam.
PC Gamer

Article by John Strike

Next week we'll catch our first proper glimpse of Battlefield 4, and if the picture on the press invite is anything to go by, DICE's latest in the supersized shooter series will stick with the near-modern-day setting. Also: it will have rain. Though I'm delighted by the presence of these delicately rendered drips, with over 700 Battlefield hours under my belt, and a clan to lead, I have a few more items on my wishlist.

Spawn protection
One of the most frustrating parts of Battlefield 3 is spawning and dying immediately in one of four equally infuriating ways. Firstly, you may spawn on a squad beacon that looks clear but has snipers watching it and deliberately not destroying it. Secondly you may spawn on a squad leader who’s about to step on a grenade. Thirdly you may spawn on a a flashing Conquest flag half-capped by an enemy that has every spawn place covered. Or you can find yourself at the mercy of a point-hungry medic under fire in some god forsaken corner of Operation Metro, being revived and instantly killed by a support soldier on overwatch. Regardless of how it happens, it feels like a frustrating waste of time.

DICE’s answer to this was to add a one-second ‘safety time’ in BF3 which allowed you to grasp your bearings and start firing. It's a great solution for the vulnerable spawnee, but it creates a knock-on imbalance for the spawnee's opponents, who aren't rewarded for their skill in quickly spotting an enemy. You can often empty a clip into a freshly spawned enemy, and then perish during the reload. By protecting newly-spawned players, DICE have penalised the abilities of their opponents. Admittedly, they've sweetened the pill: deaths from which you’re revived don't count towards the scoreboard, but this alleviates little of the annoyance.

There’s no easy fix here, but it's an issue DICE must address. While it could be resolved by a wholesale restructure of the spawn system, I feel like revives and squad-spawning are elements that set Battlefield apart from its rivals. It would be a shame to lose them entirely and revert back to static spawn points sheltered from the frontline. Planetside 2 allows you to decline revives from medics - that seems like a good solution to one part of the problem. Meanwhile, perhaps emphasising the risk of a certain spawn points would help alleviate the annoyance of being murdered instantly. Skull icons currently mark recent deaths on the minimap, but it could be made even more explicit: changing the colour of the spawn marker to a bright red if everyone who drops in there dies within moments. There are probably even more elegant solutions out there - let us know in the comments.

Smarter friendly fire indicators

A more specific problem is that of friendly fire or, rather, how the risk of friendly fire is flagged. Anyone who plays Battlefield 3 will have at some point been killed by an enemy who they've plainly seen but presumed is a friendly due to a blue/green tag above his head. What they're actually seeing is the ally marker of a team-mate some distance behind the hostile trooper. There’s no differentiation in the size or transparency of the tag to help you deduce this. I'd like to see friendly tags vanish if positioned directly behind an enemy.

More throwbacks to Battlefield 2
Whatever happened to the sweeping orchestral music at the start of games, or the support of a commander who could call in pin-point artillery? How could we forget what fun we had spotting a camping sniper for the commander as he dropped a jeep on his head in a brutal act of "cartillary". Whatever happened to those big 6-man squads and a class dynamic that never felt like it needed changing? Why did I seemingly sacrifice my netcode and framerate for destructible buildings? Why can I level up a character in a matter of hours?

Some of Battlefield 3 and BFBC2’s features have been fantastic and series has undoubtedly evolved in line with others, but I think much of the legacy of BF2 and perhaps even the identity of the Battlefield games has been lost along the way.

Deal with la...           ...g
If I had a pound for every time I shouted, "He just shot me round a fucking corner!" I’d be able to pay transport costs for everyone on the server to come and sit in my lounge and play on LAN.

Of course, the UK's abysmal network infrastructure is rather out of DICE's hands, but the game's design can account for it up to a point. And, as BF3’s Close Quarters’ DLC maps illustrated, the netcode was never built for fast, twitchy encounters.

More scoring sounds and player barks
BFBC2 and BF3 are among the most sonically accomplished games ever made - witness the sudden subdued volume and tinnitus ring that follows a close detonation, or the way sounds echo off the walls of a confined space. These are key to the sense of embodiment that roots you right there in the action.

But they could expand their score-related sound indicators. Currently, there's only one sound used to represent everything from "YES! My mine blew up a tank" to "Bollocks I’m dead". You even hear the exact same soft ping if you clock up a teamkill. Surely a set of sounds could exist attributed to Battlefield 3’s huge number of bonuses.

I also quite miss the use of non-English languages from Battlefield 2 and BFBC2. As an English-speaking player there was an exciting vulnerability in not being able to interpret enemy barks - although, if you played the game long enough, you began to unconsciously assimilate the phrases. If I ever get stuck in China or Russia, I will be able to confidently ask for a lift from passing jeeps, although I suspect "Grenade!" and "Enemy tank spotted!" may be rather more hazardous to use in everyday conversation.

Bigger, more malleable environments
Visually stunning and relentlessly tested maps are crucial if Battlefield 4 wants to be what we need it to be. Aside from perhaps Operation Metro, BF3 has been a leader in flowing and multi-layered map design, with minimal choke-points and plenty of neat little hidey-holes.

Playing the Armoured Kill maps in particular I was struck with how good the game looks on a larger scale, and feel that even more could be done for Battlefield 4 to make those environments more interactive. Alborz Mountains for example has heaving great rock formations above Conquest flags which I'm just itching to destroy. If you can flatten a two-storey building why not bring rocks and rubble crashing down around your foes?

Consider Alborz' steep inclines, laden with snow. It would have been fantastic if you could cause avalanches. What better way to ambush a convoy of attackers in a ravine than by blocking the road with snow? Imagine breaking up those sheets of ice in the lower valleys with tank fire, sending crossing troops into the sea on impromptu icebergs.

Vast, open environments and destructibility were the defining features of previous Battlefield games. In the singleplayer at least - DICE abandoned that in favour of aping Call of Duty's cinematic linearity. This was definitely a mistake. This is what the "next-gen" should be all about: wowing audiences with dynamic, interactive worlds, not funneling them through a slightly prettier duckshoot.

Consistency among patches
The running joke of game patches needing patches of their own has never seemed as true as in BF3. From its catastrophic server problems at launch to the frustrating wait between updates (thanks to them being tethered to patch approval processes on consoles), Battlefield 3’s patch history has been turbulent, but DICE’s support for the game has been strong.

However, as a player, there’s one aspect of this patching process that has been slightly frustrating: the radical changes to the strengths and weaknesses of the game’s arsenal. Game balance is obviously an ongoing process, but it seems that something's gone wrong in your QA or beta-testing process if, after launch, you end up shifting weapons and vehicles into completely different brackets of strength and agility. As a gamer the consistency of your instruments is important, and a more thorough closed beta or external game testing by trusted members of its community would make DICE’s Battlefield 4 a game to remember.

That's my wishlist - what's yours? Let us know what you want to see from Battlefield 4 in the comments and add me on BL @ Stryk_uk if you like hardcore mode and teamwork!