Shacknews - Steve Watts

Sony's mascot mash-up makes its bones on watching familiar characters beat the polygons out of each other, and the crossover stages accent the experience. Included with the free DLC characters coming to PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale is a brand new stage.

The new "Fearless" stage mixes Heavenly Sword and the Wipeout series. You'll begin the stage on a column supported by ropes, offering a flat and calm playing field until it's interrupted by Wipeout racers. At that point the stage shifts to more vertical spaces, with heavy AP penalties for being in the way of a Wipeout racer as it passes through the arena.

The two playable characters play quite differently from the core roster. Kat, naturally, is suited to vertical movement with a Gravity Dash instead of the standard double-jump, which lets her move quickly through the air. Emmett is uniquely suited to change tactics mid-battle by calling down structures to change his weapon load-outs.

The "Fearless" stage will be packaged with the free character DLC early next year. Check out our review for more.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Do you own all of the indie games? If you've kept up with pay-what-you-want bundles, you'll surely almost be there. Another two launched today, potentially getting you 15 games closer to that glorious goal. Fine things on offer in today's latest include BIT.TRIP RUNNER, They Breathe, Leave Home, Eversion, and The Adventures of Shuggy.

Indie Royale is offering, above a minimum price, Greed Corp, Hamlet or the Last Game Without MMORPG Features, Shaders and Product Placement, BIT.TRIP RUNNER, Conquest of Elysium 3, Leave Home, and They Breathe, along with two of their soundtracks. Paying more than $8 nets you a chiptune album too, if you like that sort of thing. Most give Steam codes.

Over at Bundle In A Box, you can get Delve Deeper plus DLC for it, Eversion, Fibrillation, War of the Human Tanks, and Shadows of the Vatican Act:I for a dollar or more. Beat the average and you'll get The Adventures of Shuggy, zany FMV game Stay Dead, Flibble, and The 4th Wall. Some can be activated on Steam. Soundtracks for games will be progressively unlocked as more bundles are sold.

So there, more video games for small sums of money. Some I know to be good, some I've heard of, and some which, heck, they're new to me but probably worth a punt at that price.

Look, Indie Royale made a video for their bundle:

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

One of our favorite Vita games of the year is getting its first set of DLC today. Four add-ons for Sound Shapes will be available on the PlayStation Store later today, including one that will be completely free.

The "Curved Terrain Pack" is a free download, and it allows you to "bend, stretch, and shape curves" to add smooth surfaces to your user-created levels.

The other three packs cost $0.99 each and add five new instruments, Beat School levels, and Trophies:

  • Acoustic Sound Pack: Players can bring some clean analog tones to their game with five new acoustic instruments. Strum and pick a masterpiece with guitars, dance across the ivories on the piano, or thumb up the unique sounds of the kalimba.
  • Drum Kits Sound Pack: This pack is all about rhythm. Snares, hi-hats, toms and more will let you groove out everything from a cool jazz backdrop to a driving rock beat. There's even an electronic kit for some 80's hip-hop style jams.
  • 8-Bit Sound Pack: Compose in the key of chiptune with retro bleeps, bloops, coins and other sound effects from classic games as well as modern electronic synths, bass lines and loops.

Each pack is compatible across both PS3 and Vita.

In addition, additional "albums" created by "entertainment industry luminaries" will continue to launch in 2013. As in the core game, these albums will come from game developers, music composers, and other "notable fans" of the game. (Hopefully, we'll see something as sublime as Beck's album?) The game will expand next year with new vehicles as well, which should offer level creators brand new ways of playing their custom tunes.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

The first DLC for Assassin's Creed 3 will be made available today for Season Pass holders. "The Hidden Secrets" pack adds three missions, previously available as pre-order exclusives. The Lost Mayan Ruins, the Ghost of War, and a Dangerous Season. Combined, the three should offer an "additional hour of gameplay."

The DLC also adds two single-player costumes, including the Captain of the Aquila uniform, and a traditional Colonial Assassin outfit. Two multiplayer characters will also be added, including the Redcoat and Sharpshooter, previously available exclusively via energy drink.

Season Pass holders will be able to download the add-on today, but everyone else will have to wait until December 11th to purchase it standalone. (Wii U players will have to wait until Nintendo's eShop is updated with DLC support.) The DLC Season Pass is currently available for $29.99 (2400 Microsoft Points) and represents a 25% savings over buying the content packs individually. The single-player "Tyranny of King Washington" campaign and various multiplayer expansions are included as part of the DLC package.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Update - Ubisoft has confirmed the content is PS3-only

Far Cry 3 is out today on PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. If you want the game but haven't decided on which platform to go for, Sony is making a case for its console with an exclusive co-op downloadable content pack, due early next year.

In January, the "High Tides" pack will bring two new co-op chapters called Jailbreak and Redemption. Meghan Watt of Ubisoft Massive wrote on the PlayStation Blog that these two chapters pick up where the other six chapters left off, signifying the group's "final moments" as it attempts to escape the island. The announcement didn't detail a price or a more specific release date. Ubisoft confirmed to Shacknews that the content will be a PlayStation 3 exclusive only.

Be sure to check out Jeff's single-player review of the game, with the multiplayer portion coming later this week.

Shacknews - Steve Watts

Motorola's bid to ban Xbox 360 sales in the US due to a patent dispute has failed, after a judge ruled that the the patents in question were critical to industry standards. Federal Judge James Robart found that Motorola's patents must offer fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory licenses. Because of that, he ruled that a console ban could not be imposed.

The BBC (via Gamasutra) reports that the ruling came as a result of Motorola claims that Microsoft should be forced to pay up to $4 billion per year for its use of a video coding format. Microsoft, in response, has argued that it should only have to pay $1 million. Robart also indicated that whatever outstanding debts are owed to Motorola can be added to the bill at the end of the trial.

Motorola had previously won its patent dispute, and the threat of a ban was a sizable bargaining chip in the companies' negotiations over licensing fees. After an International Trade Commission judge recommended a ban, various tech companies backed Microsoft in the dispute. Microsoft subsequently rejected Motorola's settlement offer of a 2.25% royalty on every Xbox 360 sold.

The case now turns to licensing fees. Microsoft isn't arguing that a fee isn't owed, so all that remains is for an amount to be determined. Whatever the result, at least you'll still be able to find Xbox 360s in stores for the foreseeable future.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Let's set aside the tedious debate over whether or not games are art and skip to a practical question: how would you display a game as a piece of art? Simply leaving the game running for visitors to play won't mean anything to people who aren't game-literate, especially if it's something complex. EVE Online is facing that problem now, having been selected for the Museum of Modern Art's new permanent video game collection, and is turning to players for help.

Showing a game as complex as EVE in a museum filled with other important exhibits, through which 3.5 million people pass every year, comes with its challenges. How can we tell the full story of EVE, and explain its depth and complexity in 2-3 minutes? That is how long the average attendee spends at each exhibit," CCP ponders in a blog post.

Its solution is to capture and present a day in the space sandbox MMO, with all the squillion different things going on and its innumerable complexities. CCP's planning a 5-10 minute presentation with infographics, video it'll whip up, and video the players will capture.

"Our infographics will display market activity, NPC kills, player kills, jumps and all those metrics that explain how vibrant and alive our world is. The player captured gameplay videos will give it a human face. Whatever you are doing that night, whether it is running plexes, hauling ore, hunting with a small gang in losec, or fighting in a large fleet engagement, we ask that you record it, both video and sound and chatter, upload it and allow us to celebrate it in a montage of New Eden awesomeness."

Sunday, December 9 is the big day, so undock and be glorious. The world's watching.

MoMA's initial selection of 14 games also includes the likes of Pac-Man, Portal, Passage, The Sims, and Dwarf Fortress. That last one's another that'll require special presentation. The collection is due to open in March 2013.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

You'll have to start a brand new campaign to access any of the new content for XCOM: Enemy Unknown's "Slingshot" add-on. Considering how great the core game is, that's not really a bad thing. Unlike other DLC expansions, Slingshot is integrated into the campaign, with Council missions triggering at key moments in the story.

It's clear that XCOM's first add-on was designed to address some of the cosmetic complaints fans had about the original game. Although the threat is global, and the game takes you to places around the world, you never feel like you leave the good ol' US of A in the game. Whether you're in Mumbai, Johannesburg, or Shanghai, you always feel like you're in some generic middle American suburb.

Slingshot is set in China and the included maps make some effort to look as such. The add-on also introduces a new character, Zhang, a character that actually has a unique voice--addressing yet another minor shortcoming in the core game.

The three missions included in Slingshot are tied together by a loose "narrative." Like the rest of Enemy Unknown, there isn't much meat to this story. In the first mission, you must rescue Zhang for access to some unknown research. That eventually leads to a bomb threat, and eventually a climactic battle atop an alien cruiser. The sudden appearance of a distinct character doesn't disrupt the overall XCOM story, if only because Firaxis does so little with him.

The strongest of these three missions has you disarming a bomb in a train station. Unlike the bomb disarming mission of the core game, there's no way to extend the countdown. When you get dropped down, the situation is quite precarious, with very little time to complete your objective. The time limit forces you to give up the rather reliable strategy of using Overwatch, making for an interesting change of pace from the rest of the game.

Completing these missions unlocks a few bonuses for you to utilize through the rest of your campaign. Rescuing Zhang adds him to your squad, granting you early access to a lieutenant (and the associated bonuses in the Officer Training School). You'll also encounter certain enemies earlier in the game, such as a Cryssalid in the first mission. In addition to getting earlier access to certain autopsies, you'll also get early access to research the Blaster Launcher.

These are nice bonuses to get, and may adjust your approach to the overall campaign. However, beyond the three missions, there isn't anything that really adds to the game. Given how short these three missions are (about an hour and a half of content), a new weapon, enemy type, or ability would have gone a long way in making the add-on seem like a better value.

At $7, Slingshot is ultimately an expensive unambitious expansion to a terrific game. While I hope Firaxis' second DLC proves to be more fulfilling, I certainly don't mind an excuse to play through the XCOM campaign once more. For fans, simply getting "more XCOM" is a wonderful thing.

Field Reports provide our first-hand experience with the latest games and expansion packs. This report is based on the PC version of the game.

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

Hip, cool, and jolly nice free roguelike Red Rogue is now available for your dungeon-crawling delight. It's been making waves in certain indie circles for a while, if you've had your ear to the ground, but is only now finished in all its open-source glory. Go, play.

Creator Aaron Steed describes it as an "unofficial sequel" to the classic Rogue. "It wasn't originally, I just wanted to make my own role-playing-game and put all the sorts of things I like in there. Especially if everyone else hated them," he said. "Then the minion stopped being an optional companion and I started to think about the relationship between the heroine and her side-kick..."

It's really nice. You should play it. Then donate a little money, out the goodness of your heart.

You can download Red Rogue from the official site in Windows, Mac, Linux, and straight SWF flavours, or even go wild and compile the source yourself.

Shacknews - Andrew Yoon

Square Enix invited us to Crystal Dynamics to get hands on with the first two hours of their upcoming Tomb Raider reboot. As the game inches closer to its March release date, it's clear that things are finally coming together. It's also clear that many of the faults I found at E3 are simply not going to be addressed. This is the new Lara Croft, take it or leave it.

My gripes with the game continue to center around its presentation. While marketed as a gritty "survival horror" take on the series, it still feels incredibly silly. Sure, there's a lot of torture porn: Lara getting stabbed through the gut with a rusty iron nail, falling off a tree, or being sexually molested. But the game nary acknowledges the gravitas of her situation, having players running and jumping around the environment with no qualms.

The disconnect between "cinema Lara" and "gameplay Lara" is a common trap that many video games fall in. But what makes Tomb Raider so especially disappointing is that Crystal Dynamics fails to translate the gritty "survivalist" approach to Tomb Raider to gameplay. The hunting sequence seen at E3 is a one-shot only affair. Lara notes her hunger, kills a deer, and never speaks of food ever again. While I didn't expect the game to go all Snake Eater on us, it's odd how often the game simply ignores the various perils Lara finds herself in.

The story also leaves me wanting. There is something genuinely exciting about exploring the island Lara has become stranded on; there's clearly something afoot. However, the narrative's in media res presentation does little to ground the player in the supposedly "more human" Lara. Who is this brash young woman? And why should she care about rescuing any of her crew mates? Spending even a little bit of time establishing these details would have gone a long way in making Lara more relatable, and not just some girl that gets stabbed a lot. (The game later offers flashback sequences, which only proves how much the narrative would've benefited from a bit more grounding.)

Player agency (or the lack thereof) was another concern of mine. Thankfully, there's much more to the game than simply walking from one cutscene to another. However, the inflexible Dragon's Lair-style QTEs still feel like an out-of-place videogaming relic. Too often are the game's most dramatic encounters reduced to die-instantly button-mashing scenarios. Whereas Heavy Rain offered flexibility in its QTE system, missing a button prompt in Tomb Raider always results in Lara instantly dying in some horrific way. I guess it is survival horror, after all.

When the game actually lets you play, it's actually quite fun. While the mechanics will be largely familiar to anyone that's played Uncharted, Tomb Raider seems a bit more deliberately paced. Lara is less shooty and less jumpy than Drake, having to take advantage of stealth more often than her "Dude Raider" peer. The bow and arrow is quite handy not only for making silent kills, but for distracting enemies as well. You'll be able to shoot an arrow past a guard, moving his attention to afford a chance to sneak past him.

Tomb Raider's aggressive AI definitely forces you to take as stealthy of an approach as possible. Killing a guard in the view of another will trigger an alarm that sends a swarm of enemies towards Lara. Using a gun will usually be loud enough to trigger the same response. Sometimes it feels like the AI might be too smart, as they all seem equipped with an infinite supply of Molotov cocktails to render your cover useless. Being discovered usually means getting instantly flanked and dying moments later.

I had trouble earlier on in the game, but taking advantage of the leveling up system quickly turned the tides in my favor. Solving puzzles and killing dudes give Lara XP that can be spent on various upgrades. (Even the XP system emphasizes stealth, rewarding silent kills and headshots with additional XP.) You can upgrade Lara's survival skills, like being able to retrieve your arrows in the environment to help conserve ammo. You can upgrade Lara's combat skills, like unlocking a melee attack that makes one-on-one encounters with enemies far less deadly.

You can also collect materials in the environment to upgrade your weapons and tools. By increasing the power and speed of my bow and arrow, for example, I felt far more competent of a warrior as the game progressed.

It's through these upgrade trees that Crystal Dynamics plans on making good on their promise of making Lara a survivor that evolves into a warrior. And like in other Metroidvania games, Tomb Raider teases players with areas to rediscover once Lara upgrades her abilities--doors that need a stronger axe to unlock, or rocky cliffs that demand a new tool to traverse, for example.

While I'm still genuinely concerned by the complaints I've addressed here, there's something to be said about a game that feels like I've barely scratched the surface after more than two hours of gameplay. The point of Tomb Raider is to see Lara grow--and I'm interested to see if Crystal Dynamics can mature both the character and the gameplay in meaningful ways.

Tomb Raider will be available on March 5th.