PC Gamer
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Well the snow has finally melted, and you can now walk down the street without fear of slipping on an ice-patch and skidding in front of the number 47 bus (my paranoid brain has really thought this through). However, it's still a bit cold, so rather than heading outside to replenish your tea supplies and absorb that horrid Vitamin D, why not close the curtains, nail the letterbox shut, and play some browser games with your trembling, sun-deprived fingers? Read on for Bieber, bull murder, a lot of space to walk around in, and the ritualistic sacrifice of your friends.

OUOAAAAH by Tim Garbos, Eske Nørholm, William Reynish, Jacob Junker Larsen Play it online here.

Warning: this game is not suitable for children over the age of 0.

Here's that Justin Bieber simulator you were looking for. OUOAAAAH was a Keynote Favourite at the recent Nordic Game Jam (theme: grotesque), and playing it makes me sick up in my mouth a little bit. Thankfully, you only control Justin's lips, contorting them in time to one of his songs, as tweenage girls scream in the background. Mesmerisingly horrible.

Press To Give Up by Anders Børup, Bram Michielsen, Henrike Lode, Jonas Maaløe, Jonatan Van Hove, Mads Johansen, Thomas Ryder Play it online here.

You can't beat a bit of bully.

Bullfighting is an evil sport, but it makes for a damned tense minigame. Despite the name, the Nordic Game Jam's Press To Give Up isn't some jokey one-button thing; X is the just the 'I've had enough' button, with the arrow keys and space bar being used to control your pixellated matador, as you attempt to stab an animal for the pleasure of a bloodthirsty audience. I didn't manage to succeed in that respect, but I did gore the matador a handful of times.

Sacrifice by Yoshio Ishii Play it online here.

Characters have differently sized health bars, essentially, but the premise is still pretty neat.

In this odd little puzzle game, you lead a merry group of adventurers... to their deaths. Placed in a series of fatal situations, you're forced to decide which member of your team will lay down their life to ensure the safety of the rest. I have a feeling it might make a bit more sense if you can read the Japanese, but I managed to muddle through a few stages, until I hit what seemed to be an unwinnable situation. Despite that, I really like the idea of Sacrifice, and I hope it's expanded on one day. (Spotted by IndieGames.)

good morning, commander by allen Play it online here.

Suit you, sir.

Sometimes it's enough simply to have a space to interact in, with buttons to push, instruments to knock over, and faucets to turn on and off. good morning, commander starts off like that, before taking you somewhere that's (ironically) chock-full of atmosphere. You're left to figure out what you're actually supposed to do yourself, but the slooooow movement speed and obscured controls don't help. (Here they are.) Stick with it, though, as when it gets going this is pretty much Moon: The Game. (Thanks to Free Indie Games.)
PC Gamer
SimCity 5 copy

A tale of two cities

I played SimCity for about five hours at Maxis’ offices last week, and I started by building Port Foozle, a landlocked gambling town with a very deceptive name. Following that, I built an actual port town in the same region, hoping it would feed Foozle with tourists. I didn't play long enough to realize all of my long-term plans, but I’m about to start over in this weekend’s closed beta, and I already know that all I want to do is keep playing until the sun rises and my eyelids turn to lead.

I like a lot about SimCity, and it's going to murder tons of my time, but (aw, bummer that there has to be a "but") I have some early criticisms. It's like I'm eating my favorite ice cream, but it's dripping on my hands and making them all sticky. I hate having sticky hands, but I keep eating, because the ice cream is so damn good. Especially the first bite, so I'll start with that.

The birth of Port Foozle

A city is initially defined by its roads, starting with an avenue connecting it to the freeway, which is necessary if you want any Sims to move in. Once I'd placed that, I built cross streets, and eventually smaller grids for my budding residential, commercial, and industrial districts.

The option to design curved and circular roads actually makes a huge difference in this early stage. Curves can conform to tricky terrain, and maximizing space usage early on is important for fast growth. Port Foozle's ridiculous circle street was just an aesthetic decision, and a pretty bad one. I did an awful job preparing it for a denser and more populous future.

Still, I spent a long time on this stage, because starting a new city is such a great feeling. It's a land canvas ready to be painted with a free-form, living machine. It's all possibilities and no restrictions—at least, it feels that way at first—and it did what SimCity is supposed to do: it made me forget about everything outside my field of view, like my limbs, which started going numb from my reprehensible posture. Hey cheek, how long have you been resting on my left hand? An hour? Oh.


Once I'd built a few roads, I zoned Foozle's residential, commercial, and industrial areas. Unlike previous SimCitys, zones border roads instead of filling areas, and density is defined by the size of the zoned road.

High density streets zoned for residential construction will result in apartment buildings, for example, and small streets will become suburbs. Eventually, the commercial properties on my main avenue will become much bigger, as long as there's room for them to grow. This gets tricky: if you pack in low-density roads early on, you may have to demolish them later to make room for bigger buildings.

I didn't plan for Port Foozle's future very well, but there’s always the next attempt, and the attempt after that. Starting a city is like rolling and re-rolling an RPG character to get just the right mix: it's almost as addictive as actually playing the game through.

Building infrastructure

Your Sims will build houses, shops, and factories on their own, but you need to provide things like police stations, hospitals, bus depots, water towers, sewage outlets, and power plants. Here's Foozle's City Hall, which I plopped in the lower-left side of my totally inefficient circle street. It's the first and most important civic structure, because upgrading it with department wings gives you access to new structures. As you can see, I did not know what I was doing when I added the wing on the left.

All of your ploppable buildings can be upgraded. I like the fidelity improvement—it doesn't make sense to drop hospitals all over my city to fix my healthcare problem when I could just make one bigger—but it turned into the most tedious part of the game for me. Some decisions are clear (extra windmill equals more power), but others are not so clear. My residents are upset about too many "germs" in the city, so, I guess I'll add more stuff to my clinic?

I just couldn't tell whether upgrading a building was better than building a new one elsewhere, or if bulldozing a house so my school could have extra classrooms was the right decision. I feel bad knocking over someone's house, but the simulation often requires it. What if they're in there? Eating TV dinners, watching reality shows (I hear The Sims 3: University Life is popular)... is that just progress? I guess I wouldn't make a great politician, and maybe I needed to spend more time digging into the stats to make informed decisions.

That minor confusion aside, these structures are the balancing act that keep you active. Growing cities constantly need more of everything, so you've got to find the funds and space to keep the power on, water running, sewage flowing (away from the water, ideally), and so on until you reach equilibrium. It's a tricky and engrossing tug of war. Too much sewage! Build an outlet. Too much pollution! Build a sewage processing plant. Not enough power! Build a coal plant. Too much pollution! Dammit.

Designing within limits

It didn't take long for Port Foozle to fill its borders. Pictured up there is as much space as any city can occupy in SimCity, and according to Creative Director Ocean Quigley, the restriction is a necessary trade-off to keep the game performing well. I think allowing those with beefier rigs to push them would be nice, but this is how it is right now, and the limit actually has some positive effects.

The early game in SimCity would be much less important if cities could expand beyond their initial tract, but because they’re limited, planning ahead is imperative. And most plans have at least a few flaws, forcing mid-game mayors to redesign districts to accommodate the increased demand for high density housing, shopping, and industry. It creates tough decisions, like whether or not to demolish your quaint, carefully plotted suburbs to make way for the future.

I still hate knocking over people's houses, but I like that there are trade-offs. I guess you just can't get anywhere without driving a bulldozer through town now and then. What I don't like is the creative restriction. Port Foozle could never be the city I wanted it to be. I wanted a dense, Las Vegas strip-style downtown which gave way to a sprawl of suburbs, but instead I had to zone high-density residential, commercial, and industrial blocks right next to each other to pack in more people, and every new casino required me to demolish more low-density roads.

Because the border never expands, population growth is entirely about density. A cute little service road leading out to my power plants would quickly impede progress, so that bit of personality has to go. Every inch of land must be developed and optimized for growth, unless your goal is a stable medium-sized city.

Region play

SimCity does have an answer to complaints about the city size limit. It's imperfect—I'd rather be able to build bigger cities—but it's a decent solution: I can approximate my urban planning ambitions with multiple cities in the same region. Because they can interact by buying and selling resources to each other, I can build symbiotic cities, each with its own job and personality. One might be dedicated to suburban sprawl, another to industry, another to tourism, and so on. I didn't have time to test this fully, but it's clearly the idea behind region play.

Above is my second city. My plan, which I didn't have time to see through, was to build a bustling commerce city with high-wealth residents who might want to drop by Port Foozle now and then to play some craps or go clubbing. As you can see, my plan was also to make lots and lots of curvy roads. I love those curvy roads.

The always-online problem

My biggest criticism is also going to be the most common: there are a lot of problems with SimCity's always-online requirement. What if I want to play on my laptop while I commute? What if your servers go down? These are valid questions, and so are the smaller ones, such as: what if I make a mistake and want to reload an earlier save?

I can’t. There’s no “undo” in SimCity. You can demolish mistakes, like the foolish placement of my City Hall wing, but you pay for it, because your city isn't just yours. It partially lives on EA’s servers, where it can interact with other player’s cities (if you choose to open your region), make purchases from the global marketplace, and stay up-to-date on the global leaderboards.

Is there anything to like about taking SimCity online? Sure. It means that, if I choose to let my friends build in my region, I'll be able to see and interact with their decisions every time I log in. It means we can work together and construct great works. It means I can amass wealth by playing the global market, and that fantasy stock market challenge sounds fun to me.

Having no offline single-player option at all, however, is bothersome. I just don't buy the idea that it would have been impossible to include a separate offline mode. No friends. No leaderboard. No global market. Just me and a few cities that can live in isolation.

Unfortunately, I don't foresee these concerns swaying Maxis or EA, and they'll continue to explain why the online requirement is technically and philosophically imperative. Oh well, I'll count it as a flaw, but I can deal with it. I have to, because I'm going to play a lot more SimCity. I haven't made it to skyscrapers and complex industries yet, so I can't comment on mid- or late-game cities, but the early game has all the same addictive properties of SimCity 2000, with even more complexity and decision making. I need to wash my hands afterward, but it's still some damn good ice cream.
PC Gamer
VoxelFarm Realtime

Miguel Cepero's Procedural World project was already an insanely impressive example of the collision between maths, nature and beauty; creating vast landscapes and detailed structures. Recently his work has taken a familiar, if equally spectacular turn, adding a Minecraft style WYSIWYG landscape editor and building system that lets him shape his random worlds. There is a video. Try not to gawp.

If that wasn't enough, the engine's building tool can go further and shape the blocks, adding curves and smoothing. As Cepero explains in this blog post, "you still lay boxes the same as in Minecraft, but then you can go back and alter them. I saw that a single operation was enough to produce both curved and straight angled surfaces. If you applied it gently you would get curves. If you applied it more, it would straighten out." There's another video showing this system at work.

The engine, codenamed VoxelFarm Realtime, is still firmly in the development stage. It's not yet known whether this is building towards a commercial release, but you can keep up with the project's progress over at the Procedural World blog.
PC Gamer
Chivalry thumb 2

Amazingly, if you're looking for a medieval multiplayer FPS (that's first person slasher), you have two choices available to you. Paradox's War of the Roses may have called in Scottish back-up, but Chivalry: Medieval Warfare is reinforcing with an open recruitment drive. This weekend you can play the game for free on Steam and, if you find decapitating knights to your liking, buy it for half its usual price. Naturally, there's a new trailer to show off the brutal combat.

The game's first content patch is due later in the month. It will add new 1v1 duel and capture the flag modes, new maps, a flail and polehammer, as well as a plethora of bug fixes. Also, blood decals will be painted to the ground when a player is hit. Chopping up your foes is messy business after all. The full patch round-up is available here.

Thanks, RPS.
PC Gamer
Origin Mac

EA are planning to bring Mac support to Origin, and are accepting testers to help trial their client. As an incentive, they're offering a free copy of Popcap's Bookworm to anyone who takes part. Applicants had better really like Bookworm, though, because the Origin store isn't due to go live on Mac until the client's official release.

Origin for Mac aims to bring all the features of the PC client - including cloud storage and auto-patching - to Apple's OS. Right now, as well as the Store being MIA, the Mac version is also missing Origin's nifty Twitch.tv streaming feature. Again, it's probably for the best. I'd imagine there are only so many Bookworm livestreams that I could stand to watch in a day.

EA assure that when it does properly launch, the Origin Mac catalogue will feature a selection of EA and third party games. According to their announcement, "We’re very excited about the upcoming launch of Origin for Mac and the opportunity to reach the millions of Mac-based gamers out there. We’re continuing to build Origin into a gaming service that truly lets you purchase and play anywhere, anytime."

The alpha trial is only available to a few thousand testers, but until that cap is hit, you can download the Mac client from here.

Thanks, The Verge (via Joystiq).
PC Gamer
The Walking Dead thumb

The Game Developers Choice Awards are the other side of a coin that also contains the IGFs. Sure, indies are allowed into this GDC organised awards show, but they have to promise to be on their best behaviour. And wash behind their ears.

The nominations for this year's award - chosen by a panel of game developers - have been announced, with The Walking Dead and Dishonored scoring plenty of nods. Not the most, though - that honour goes to Journey, which is apparently a PS3 game about collecting scarves. Or something.

Dishonored picked up four nominations, including Game of the Year, Best Game Design, Best Narrative and Best Visual Arts. The Walking Dead also received nominations for Game of the Year and Best Narrative, as well as a chance to nab Best Downloadable Game. Wait, aren't all games downloadable?

Other PC relevant nominations include Game of the Year nods for Mass Effect 3 and XCOM, a well deserved Best Audio mention for Hotline Miami, and a Best Technology listing for Planetside 2. FTL also did well, being nominated for the Innovation Award, along with a shot at Best Debut for its developer, Subset Games.

Here's the full list:

Game of the Year
Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Mass Effect 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games/2K Games)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)

Innovation Award

Mark of the Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
FTL: Faster Than Light (Subset Games)
The Unfinished Swan (Giant Sparrow/Sony Computer Entertainment)
ZombiU (Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft)

Best Audio

Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Hotline Miami (Dennaton Games/Devolver Digital)
Sound Shapes (Queasy Games/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Assassin's Creed III (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios)

Best Debut

Humble Hearts (Dust: An Elysian Tail)
Polytron Corporation (Fez)
Giant Sparrow (The Unfinished Swan)
Subset Games (FTL: Faster Than Light)
Fireproof Games (The Room )

Best Downloadable Game

The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Spelunky (Derek Yu/Andy Hull)
Trials: Evolution (RedLynx/Microsoft Studios)
Mark Of The Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)

Best Game Design

Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
Mark Of The Ninja (Klei Entertainment/Microsoft Studios)
Spelunky (Derek Yu/Andy Hull)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Firaxis Games/2K Games)

Best Handheld/Mobile Game

Gravity Rush (SCE Japan Studio/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Hero Academy (Robot Entertainment)
Sound Shapes (Queasy Games/Sony Computer Entertainment)
The Room (Fireproof Games)
Kid Icarus: Uprising (Sora/Nintendo)

Best Narrative

Spec Ops: The Line (Yager Entertainment/2K Games)
Mass Effect 3 (BioWare/Electronic Arts)
Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
The Walking Dead (Telltale Games)
Virtue's Last Reward (Chunsoft/Aksys Games)

Best Technology

Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
PlanetSide 2 (Sony Online Entertainment)
Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios)
Call of Duty: Black Ops II (Treyarch/Activision)
Assassin's Creed III (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)

Best Visual Arts

Borderlands 2 (Gearbox Software/2K Games)
Journey (Thatgamecompany/Sony Computer Entertainment)
Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft)
Dishonored (Arkane Studios/Bethesda Softworks)
Halo 4 (343 Industries/Microsoft Studios)

The winners will be announced at GDC on March 27. Can you think of anything that's been unfairly missed out?
PC Gamer
hotline miami review header

It may have won our Best Music of the Year honour, but Hotline Miami's excellent soundtrack wasn't previously commercially available. Sure, you could hear it in a browser, or even dig into the game's root folder to get at the .OGG files inside, but there was no single, purchasable MP3 album for fans of those frantic, trippy sounds to enjoy. Until now.

Steam has just released a soundtrack pack for the game that, when purchased, will add the MP3 files to Hotline Miami's directory. The pack is £6.99 - arguably expensive at the same price as the game, but worth it for tracks like Sun Araw's meandering Deep Cover, El Huervo's urgent, glitchy Turf, or the ultra-cool Paris by M.O.O.N.

If you're not sure why you should care about the soundtrack, or the game it's attached to, you can get Hotline Miami at half price this weekend. £3.49 is a great price for the improvisational violence ballet that results from Hotline's best levels.
PC Gamer

Hi-Rez summoned forth the open beta of its gods-vs-gods arena rumbler Smite today, throwing open the golden gates for all players to sign up for an account and download the client for free. A number of graphical updates and menu improvements have also been introduced, and character progress and unlocks won't be wiped leading into the official launch (a release date has not yet been announced).

Smite pits two teams of five mythological gods against each other in a three-lane map similar to the ones popularized by Dota and League of Legends. Like most MOBA games, teamwork and savvy ability management seal victories, and an over-the-shoulder camera angle balloons the action across your monitor with colorful effects and helpful directional arrows for area-wide spells.

Not missing a beat, Hi-Rez also announced a competitive season for Smite in the works with a $100,000 prize. Specific details on qualifications and the schedule are expected in the next few weeks. If you think a sack of money should remain the pursuit of mere mortals, then you might be up for Hi-Rez's offer of a special Ymir skin for players reaching level 30 to be awarded when the game releases in full. You'll need to bash in quite the amount of supernatural skull to reach that lofty number, so pray to your favorite Chinese/Egyptian/Greek/Coconut Monkey deity for luck.
PC Gamer

We're not dead! The silence of the US Podcast's unplanned hiatus will be broken next week, as T.J. explains in this informative emergency bulletin: PC Gamer Podcast Quick Update, January 24, 2013. Have a look at our YouTube channel to tide you over.

Until then, send your questions, comments, complaints, and observations to: 1-877-404-1337 ext. 724 or email an MP3 to pcgamerpodcast@gmail.com.

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PC Gamer
Dead Island Riptide

The first in-game footage of Dead Island: Riptide has burst forth from its sandy grave with nine minutes of the same enjoyable brain-slicing and power-kicking action from the previous open-world survival RPG. We also see a couple new elements Techland plans for the return to Banoi, including driveable boats and hub defense missions.

Hub defense is essentially Riptide's Horde mode where waves of mindless undead assault your fortified position. You'll scramble to set up turrets and rig makeshift fences between waves. It looks like a good fit for epic last-stand scenarios, but the failure condition of letting just a single survivor perish doesn't sound appealing at all. In fact, wouldn't the harshness of skirting death on a zombie-infested island only become stronger as you lose more allies?

Dead Island: Riptide hits shores on April 23. Though publisher Deep Silver defines it as a spin-off from the original Dead Island, it's more of a sequel in disguise, continuing the story from where it left off at the first game's conclusion. New characters, weapon types, and vehicles are all included in the...er, spin-quel.