PC Gamer
thq rip

Farewell then, THQ. Yesterday saw the publisher’s final assets sold off to a variety of buyers, and while many good people (and franchises) managed to find a new home, our thoughts and well-wishes are with those that didn’t. As we’re in a reflective mood, we thought it only appropriate to commemorate the loss of this fine company with a look back at ten of the best games it’s delighted us with over the years.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War (September 2004)

Tempting though it is to bang on about Relic Entertainment’s wonderful sci-fi RTS Homeworld, it wasn’t until 2004 that THQ took the Vancouver-based studio under its wing. Dawn of War represented the first fruits of that union, and it remains one of the most successful digital adaptations of the tabletop favourite, capturing the appeal of the series in a smart, refined package.

Full Spectrum Warrior (October 2004)

The most satisfying triumphs come from conquering the greatest adversity. Pandemic’s squad-based military shooter was an incredibly demanding game in its day, its punishing authenticity a result of its origins as a US Army-affiliated training simulation. Persistently tense and claustrophobic, it may not have been the dictionary definition of ‘fun’, but it was a sweaty-palmed experience we’ll never forget.

Titan Quest (June 2006)

Time for a lesson in ancient history - well, 2006 does seem a fair while ago these days. THQ managed to temporarily sate appetites for a new Diablo by releasing this gloriously entertaining action-RPG that proves you don’t need an awful lot more than an enormous world and hordes of colossal monsters to biff for a good time. Titan Quest may not have been anything particularly new, but there’s an art to making hacking and slashing as fun as this.

Company of Heroes (September 2006)

Just as the world and his dog was heartily sick of WWII settings, Relic’s blistering RTS managed to make us all care again. ‘Visceral’ may be horribly overused in games criticism, but rarely has the word been applied more accurately than to CoH’s shudderingly intense combat. Tough, gritty and oddly beautiful, it elevated its creator among the giants of the strategy genre.

Supreme Commander (February 2007)

Chris Taylor and Gas Powered Games might be in the headlines for very different reasons at the moment, but back in 2007 this talented studio was making waves with a truly brilliant RTS. Supreme Commander was grand-scale warfare at its most exhaustive and exhausting – with some of the best AI in the business putting up a heck of a fight, every hard-earned victory was worthy of a triumphant air-punch.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R (March 2007)

Frightening, surprising, intense and ambitious? Or scrappy, buggy, overwhelming and confusing? S.T.A.L.K.E.R was all of the above and more, a sandbox-survival horror-RPG-FPS-adventure that cast you as a scavenger around the ruins of Chernobyl. Everyone’s experience was different: ours involved a lot of nervy creeping around in the dark, punctuated by terrified shrieks whenever a mutant spotted us. And we loved (almost) every minute of it.

Red Faction: Guerrilla (September 2009)

God bless Geo-Mod 2.0. It’s rare we’re minded to salute a physics engine, but the unparalleled destruction it enabled is what made Volition’s game such a giddy joy to play. After all, why just shoot an enemy when you can topple a multi-storey building onto him? Expertly paced, with a campaign that escalated into hysterical carnage, Guerrilla may have been unrefined at times but boy was it fun.

Metro 2033 (March 2010)

A rare thing: a great shooter with shooting that isn’t that great. Metro’s gunplay is lacking in feedback, but it’s hard to care too much in a world this rich and enveloping. Every inch of 4A Games’ subterranean nightmare is permeated with an atmosphere so thick you could slice it. This is the FPS as survival horror, and as appropriately brutal and hard-edged as that suggests.

Darksiders (September 2010)

A tilt of the hat to its sequel, too, but we’ve got rather a soft spot for Vigil’s original, even if ‘original’ is hardly a word you’d use to describe Darksiders’ unholy blend of Zelda and God of War. If you’re going to steal, though, then be sure to pinch from the best, and this post-apocalyptic tale did just that, marrying puzzly exploration with thrillingly weighty scraps, topped off nicely by some fine Joe Mad artwork.

Saints Row: The Third (November 2011)

What started out as a poor man’s GTA began to find its own identity in the follow-up, but it wasn’t until the third game that Saints Row realised its true potential. It was a monument to excess, a crude, coarse, tawdry descent into debauchery that was almost operatic in its tastelessness. Some remained immune to its charms (if that’s the right word) but there was genuine sophistication behind the silliness. Dumb, then, but artfully so.


This is no place for a horse.

PC Gamer

When GSC Game World went nuclear last year, it was feared that the Stalker series would be buried in the irradiated rubble. Instead, the ensuing months have seen no shortage of scavengers attempt to lay claim to the ownership of the gloomy open-world shooter. Meanwhile, the actual developers responsible for building its aborted sequel have dusted themselves off and set up on their own. Though their new project doesn't have the Stalker name, it shares a lot of its DNA - albeit mutated into a new free-to-play MMO form. Alexei Sytyanov, lead designer at the newly minted Vostok Games, tells us all about survival in their online wilderness.

Can you talk about why GSС broke up and why Stalker 2 was cancelled? What were the management’s worries about the game?

The reasons are still mainly unknown to us. The development of Stalker 2 was going full throttle, nothing bad whatsoever was looming in the air.

How different is Survarium from the aborted Stalker 2 in terms of technology and design?

First off, Survarium is an MMOFPS, while Stalker 2 is a single-player game. Those are very different technologies – Survarium requires a server, player lobby and a bunch of other things on top that a singleplayer game wouldn’t need.

In terms of design, there are major differences too – firstly, this is a focus on massive multiplayer. In this context, you expect entire systems like chat, forums, stores etc. On top of the story and game tasks, there is communication and competition between the players, all to add dynamics and unexpectedness to the gameplay. Each game session differs from the previous one. The game constantly encourages players to show their inventiveness and skills, abilities of strategy to achieve victory.

The online market (we believe) is the future. In the virtual world players meet other living players, as opposed to bots. However perfect the bots are, they never will be able to be totally different, alive and unpredictable as real players.

Let me add a few important points here. First, this is protection against piracy which severely affects sales of a singleplayer game, and second, no less important, is a possibility of constant project development. Thus, from the moment of release, online projects only start their path – they constantly open new possibilities to the players and keep improving both graphics and gameplay.

Both games feature the Chernobyl area - but Survarium talks about a global ecological catastrophe, not just a nuclear one. Why the change in focus?

The characteristic feature of our games is their ecological implication. The modern science and technocratic society exists on the verge of a global eco-catastrophe. Our stories of what will happen in case the thin ecological balance is shaken and we end up in an irreversibly bad ecological catastrophe that seizes the entire world. How are we going to survive and what will be happening. There is some food for thought here. We are talking about the importance of saving life on Earth now, while we are standing on the edge already.

I’d like to remind you that Stalker was not about a nuclear catastrophe, but about dangerous scientific experiments that have been secretly held on the territory of Chernobyl zone, which actually led to the emerging of the Zone. The nuclear catastrophe was just a disguise.

As for Chernobyl, some of our locations are from the Chernobyl zone. There are several reasons for that – we want to please the fans and to show the succession of the projects.

Will you face monsters as you did in Stalker, or are the threats more earthly - other humans and animals?

Yes, mutants are going to be horrifying and realistic. There will be both – animal and human-like ones.

Can you tell us about the kind of anomalies players will encounter?

We plan to develop the ideas of an anomalous zone which are familiar to you from Stalker, but on a new quality level. The anomalies and artifacts will be in PVP clashes, in co-op play and during the exploration of the Survarium world.

Will players need to cooperate to overcome some anomalies?

Yes, we plan such a system. Players will need to help each other when coming into contact with certain anomalies.

How will the MMO aspect of the game work? Is it instanced? Is it one server?

We offer several play modes – team-based combat, co-operative adventures of a small group of friends and a free-play mode where players are on their own, they are free to both cooperate and compete with each other, alone or in group, which allows totally unique gaming situations to appear spontaneously. There is nothing even close to this happening in a singleplayer game. We have a session-based design, where a session lasts, depending on the mode, from 15 minutes up to an hour. Thus, the players make sallies into the world of Survarium, and those are backed up by the story – protection and capture of important territories and camps, survival, world exploration and so on.

We will limit the number of players on the map – in this way we will receive balanced gameplay and preserve the atmosphere which can be destroyed by a large number of players in one place.

Will there be any separation of PVP and PVE?

PVP and PVE modes differ – we have three different game modes, each with its own inner logic. Thus, for example, in the team-based mode there won’t be monsters, but in co-op and free-play ones we’ll have them; and besides the monsters, players will be able to compete and kill each other. This said, all the three modes are united by the single world where the players can chat and exchange with each other.

How do the factions work? Are they player-defined organisations, like EVE’s Corps, or more like Horde and Alliance?

There are basic factions, such as Scavengers Camp and Black Market, they provide equipment and give tasks and they also participate in the common story of the game world. The players are unable to join those factions. But on top of the basic ones, there will be factions (similar to clans) created by the players. They will be able to develop those, enroll new members, wear specific colors and insignia, conflict with factions of other players.

Is there an end goal or a narrative? Or is the aim simply survival?

Survival is the basis of the game. We plan a big story which the players can influence, as opposed to the singleplayer games. For instance, one part of players chooses tasks on defending a story-related object, which other part of the players will attempt to get it destroyed. Ultimately, the side accomplishing more tasks will impact the story. Therefore, it will decide whether that story object is to get preserved or destroyed for the entire world of Survarium.

Is DayZ an inspiration for the way it handles survival mechanics? Will players get hungry etc?

We plan to add food, but its use in session-based gameplay will be different as we are not going to implement the notion of hunger for a session lasting less than an hour. We are still considering how the food is going to influence the gameplay.

As for DayZ – our approach to survival in the game differs. How exactly – you’ll find out at the launch.

Will it be as ruthless as DayZ?

It will be as ruthless as Survarium. We are creating a truthful story of a green apocalypse. Our strong point is the realistic science fiction, as it could happen for real. This makes an important feature of the project’s atmosphere. We want the player to have shivers all over the body as he plays.

The game is free-to-play. How will you make money from it?

Premium accounts enabling you to speed up your development increase the experience and the in-game currency gained. In addition, selling exotic goods, decoration and small additional possibilities which do not affect the game balance.

We do not plan to sell any items which would break the game balance. For example, a weapon, which is much more powerful compared to similar ones purchased with the in-game currency. On the battlefield players should be in equal condition. We do not want to destroy the game by turning it into pay-to-win. We are after a fair game where everybody is in equal condition.

Give us a sense of what it will be like to play the game: what sort of things will a player typically do across an evening of gaming?

Participation in massive battles among the destroyed towns and settlements, on dead military bases, in the places of ecological catastrophes. Accomplishing faction tasks to earn money to purchase new equipment and weapons, exploring the world to reveal the story behind the reasons behind the catastrophe and its consequences. By joint effort, saving mankind’s remains from the expanding forest anomaly; influencing the fate of the Survarium world. And, certainly, surviving, surviving and once again, surviving!

PC Gamer
Call of Pripyat thumb

It seems to be the day for companies making snide shots across the bow through official statements. In light of yesterday's rather confusing announcement from bitComposer that they had acquired the rights to "the acclaimed S.T.A.L.K.E.R. brand from Boris Natanovich Strygatsky ," GSC Game Worlds have posted on their website to say that actually, S.T.A.L.K.E.R. belongs to them.

Here's their statement in full:

"In view of the rumors appearing in press, we find it necessary to inform that GSC Game World and Sergey Grigorovich remain to be the sole owners of all the intellectual property rights to the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game series and the brand overall, including all the trademarks, the game universe, the technology etc. This can be easily verified with the trademark services online.

"From time to time news on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. brand purchase by this or that company appear over the Internet. We relate such a keen interest in the brand to its exceptional popularity. Even the purchase of rights to create a “Roadside picnic” book-based game by a small publisher is presented as the continuation of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchise. We have doubts regarding the mentioned product by bitComposer (the publisher of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat on some territories), since the latter has significant debts in terms of fulfilling the obligations under the existing contract between our companies."

Leaving aside the dig about bitComposer's debts, what's going on? The confusion seems to have arisen from bitComposer's original press release, and their use of the annoyingly acronymised S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. That specific punctuated quirk is distinct to GSC's series, and doesn't appear in the film/book/whatever, the rights to which are presumably in possession of the estate of Boris Strugatsky.

Which would mean the following:

GSC, specifically Sergei Grigorovich, still have ownership of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.. As stated, the trademark is still active in his name.
bitComposer have actually obtained the rights to make a game based on Stalker, the non-punctuated film based on Strugatsky's book, Roadside Picnic, which while also based in the Zone, would be free of any changes distinct to the GSC games.

Confusing, but it's the most sensible reading of bitComposer's obfuscating press release and GSC's counter. We've reached out to bitComposer for a comment on GSC's clarification.
Shacknews - Steve Watts

BitComposer Games, the publisher of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat in the US and Europe, had claimed yesterday it had acquired the license to the franchise and was planning new games. That didn't sit well with developer GSC Game World, which claims it holds the trademark to the games.

In an email sent to Gamasutra, Eugene Kuchma of GSC Game World noted that the trademark filings still show GSC's CEO in possession of the license. "From time to time news on the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. brand purchase by this or that company appear over the Internet," read an e-mail from Kuchma. "We have doubts regarding the mentioned product by BitComposer (the publisher of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat in some territories), since the latter has significant debts in terms of fulfilling the obligations under the existing contract between our companies."

BitComposer defended its position, saying: "We hold the license for PC and video games from the Strugatsky brothers," he said. He reiterated, "The owner of the license was the Strugatsky brothers. As far as we know, GSC never had the license for S.T.A.L.K.E.R."

However, a marketing director at the Russian games company Nival may have discovered another wrinkle that complicates matters. BitComposer may have actually bought the rights to the novel universe, not the game franchise rights themselves. That would give them the ability to make something similar to S.T.A.L.K.E.R., even if they couldn't use the name.

PC Gamer
38 Stalker Call of Pripyat

For a while there, it seemed as if we'd seen the last of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series and its pesky punctuation. Since STALKER 2's cancellation at GSC, with employees from the developer forming Vostok Games and turning their attentions to the similarly post-apocalyptic Survarium, the Zone seemed forever closed. Now, though, word comes through from bitComposer Games that they've obtained the STALKER license for further titles in the franchise.

"bitComposer Entertainment AG has acquired the exclusive worldwide rights for future video game adaptations of the acclaimed S.T.A.L.K.E.R. brand from Boris Natanovich Strygatsky," states the press release, curiously misspelling Boris Strugatsky's name.

"S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a reputable brand with a long history of success. To date, the series has sold many millions of units worldwide. Naturally, we'd like to tap into the success of this series, and we see a great deal of potential for the future."

BitComposer are already familiar with the series, having handled European publishing for STALKER: Call of Pripryat. They also published this year's Jagged Alliance remake, Back in Action.

The studio claims they will be releasing further details "shortly".

UPDATE: RPS have spoken to bitComposer, who slightly clarify what's going on. The suggestion is that the rights are specifically for game adaptations of Strugatsky's Stalker, presumably meaning the film/book based on Roadside Picnic, a book also by Strugatsky. That would mean that the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games were still owned by former GSC head Sergei Grigorovich, despite bitComposer specifically using those games' acronym affectation in their press release.
Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

After S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 was cancelled, former members of developer GSC Game World founded Vostok Games to continue the ideals of the open-world survival shooter series with Survarium. As for the actual S.T.A.L.K.E.R. brand, though, it wasn't quite clear what was happening. Shady rumours said Skyrim developer Bethesda was sniffing around, but publisher bitComposer today announced that it has grabbed the games license and plans to make more S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

"S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is a reputable brand with a long history of success. To date, the series has sold many millions of units worldwide," bitComposer executive Wolfgang Duhr said in today's announcement. "Naturally, we'd like to tap into the success of this series, and we see a great deal of potential for the future."

bitComposer published the third and almost final S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game, Call of Pripyat (pictured above), in Europe. Who exactly it'll draft to develop the new games is a mystery for now. One might hope it'll find its way back to Vostok, who established its own new setting in Survarium after failing to secure the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game rights.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is based upon the sci-fi novel 'Roadside Picnic' by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, which was also the inspiration for the 1979 Russian movie Stalker.

PC Gamer

Welcome! I am your (g)host, Craig FEARSOME, beckoning you in to this eldritch gathering of... LOOK BEHIND YOU! Yes, there is NOTHING there. The very absence of fear is perhaps the greatest fear of all. No? But I used Caps Lock and italics! WhAt aBOut NOwWow? Fine, you are unafraid of typography. How about a list of the scariBOOest PC games? Hah. I saw you flinch! Now you are atmospherically prepared, ensure there are neither babies nor pets between yourself and the nearest toilet, lest your bowels react unfavourably to this mildly cursed list of possibly evil games, aka The five Scariest PC Games of alllllllll timmmmmme*.

*What? No AvP? No FEAR? No Hidden: Source? Where's Pathologic? Why not Cryostasis: Sleep of
Reason instead of Amnesia? All fine questions... that I can answer by pointing out that you might find things scarier than I do. Even though it does make you less of a man than I am, I'm contractually obliged to let you know that it's all okay, and that you're allowed to be a big baby in face of those games that I consider as scary as a kitten's hug. But please do let us know what you do find scary, and what your list would be, because fear is best shared in a big group.

System Shock 2

You awaken on a broken, quiet space ship. You're one of the few people still alive. The walls are covered in bloody graffiti and the ship's crawling with crew possessed by aliens. It's a standard set-up, but the fact that it wrings out scares from a murk of tropes is truly impressive. System Shock 2's genius lies in plain sight. If you want ink black shadows and scary violin screeches, you have come to the wrong game. This not the canned scariness of Dead Space. There are no closets with monsters. There are long sections of space corridors, punctuated by terrifying fights where you always seem on the back foot. Your weapons break. Your mind gets invaded by the ghosts of those that perished. The incongruous details really put it over the edge. Did that man just apologise for attacking me? Yup. Is that the sound of a screeching monkey? Holy fuck it is. All the while you're being guided by the voice of the ship's captain, who leads you on to one of the most guts-wrenching twists in gaming. It's a trick that worked so well that the developers pulled it off again years later, in BioShock.

Day Z

If there is one thing more terrifying than a game world that barely acknowledges your existence, it's one that's also filled with zombies and humans. The multiplayer post-apocalyptic DayZ welcomes you to its 225sqkm of zombie infested world with disdainful silence. You spawn on a beach miles from anywhere. You need supplies and weaponry. This is where most games would start telling you where you go and what you need to do to, but here all you get is a sneer and a challenge to figure it all out on your own. You are not the star of DayZ; you are meat for the beast. The elements can kill you. The zombies can kill you. But the worst thing is the players. You just don't know if someone's friendly or not. The first friend I made in-game shot me in the back. The second I had to kill because he was acting so strangely I was convinced he was leading me into an ambush. I don't like not trusting people. For weeks afterwards I'd spawn at night, avoid human contact, and pick my way across the pitch black land looking for the glow of light on the horizon, then change direction. People suck, and the guy in the video above, Surviving Solo, understands that.


Stalker is set in the real post-disaster area of Chernobyl and Pripyat, the perfect setting to unsettle. Layered on top of the harrowing, beautiful open-world of a post-nuclear disaster is an ecosystem of mutant animals and wandering scavengers. Day and night tumbles along as you try to survive out in a world of grim Russian fable, picking at the scabs of the story and searching for artefacts. The AI isn't out to get you, it's just trying to exist in a barren land where everything is in pain and hungry. When you're walking in the dark, in the rain and on your own, there's no telling just what will unpeel from the shadows and decide to take you on. It might be a scruffy hound, which is easy to kill but not worth the bullets, or it might be an invisible, blood-sucking hell beast. It might just be your imagination, fuelled by the pitch of night and a soundtrack that sounds like Aphex Twin making music with rust and orgasms.

Thief: Deadly Shadows

Almost any Thief game could appear on this list. They have a thin, low-tone of terror quietly running through that spikes you're inches from a patrolling guard, close enough to hear a quiet a cough and a mumble, nothing but a quirk of lighting keeping you from being spotted. You are always vulnerable, a fact your bladder keeps reminding you of. But then Thief 3 unleashes the Cradle on you. The Cradle is a place where the history is as important as the present horrors. An ancient orphanage and mental asylum (at the same time), the classic haunted house level that subverts the format of Thief and plunges you into a dark story of its own. As you stalk deeper into the place the history is revealed, coming off in chunks rather than a slow reveal of text, and when you put it together the place takes on a twisted life of its own. This is one that should be experienced first hand. If you have played it, Kieron Gillen's amazing dissection is an essential read that'll give you deeper understanding of the themes and backstory. If you haven't, you can grab the full game cheaply enough on Steam or GOG.com. Or just watch this and be glad you didn't.

Amnesia: The Dark Descent

You can see flashes of Amnesia in Penumbra and its sequel: a first-person adventure game where the world is a reactive, physical space to be poked and prodded. Penumbra nearly made it in here, but there's something about Amnesia that raises it above the others. The story is ridiculously hokey, and the setting is closer to a cheesy Hammer horror story than something you'd expect to give you sweaty palms. But in Amnesia you're not a typical game hero: when bad things happen, you don't have the power to confront it, you don't have a buff bar full of counters, and you don't have a gun in your hand. You have a lamp. You have to run and hide and hope whatever it is goes away. Your character's fear is palpable: the screen shakes and warps as the terror builds, and the monsters seem to wait for the perfect moment to strike at you, delivering the sort of scare that has you hyperventilating along with your character. Just keep telling yourself that it isn't real.
Announcement - Valve
Save 75% on this limited timebitComposer/Viva Media Bundle during this week's Midweek Madness!

Get 5 great games at one low price while this bundle is available. The bundle includes:

Grand Ages: Rome
Cargo! The Quest for Gravity
S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat
Shadow Harvest: Phantom Ops
Air Conflicts: Secret Wars

Offer ends Thursday, August 23rd at 4:00PM PST.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Jim Rossignol)

RussianUkrainian blogger and marketing man Sergey Galyonkin – who tipped off the closure of the STALKER 2 project earlier this year – has claimed that Bethesda now have the rights to make a publish a STALKER game. They apparently do not> have rights to the extended universe. GSC owner Sergei Grigorovich has not sold the brand, but apparently Bethesda could now make a game based on the property with their own technology. We’ll report more on this as we get it.

This follows on from the closure of STALKER 2 earlier in the year, an event which culminated in Ukrainian spin-off studios such as Survarium devs, Vostok.

We’ve contacted Bethesda for a statement. UPDATE: Currently they are saying “No comment.”

Shacknews - Alice O'Connor

After the cancellation of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, members of the dev team at GSC Game World went on to found a new studio and start their own irradiated shooter-RPG, Survarium. Yet, according to a fresh rumour, the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series may live on at Bethesda.

A strange rumour indeed, but the source has been reliable before. Nival marketing director Sergey Galyonkin was the chap who broke news of S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2's woes, and now he claims a little bird whispered in his ear that Bethesda has picked up the rights to publish a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game (via Rock, Paper, Shotgun). GSC founder Sergiy Grygorovych still owns the brand, though.

According to Galonkin's source, Bethesda will put out a multiplatform S.T.A.L.K.E.R. game built upon its own tech, though Fallout 3 and Skyrim developer Bethesda Game Studios wouldn't necessarily be the team behind it.

This isn't the first time rumours about Bethesda dabbling in S.T.A.L.K.ing have swirled. They were denied in April, but something may have changed since then. Bethesda's declining to comment on this latest report, as it usually does with rumours.

Story image from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat.


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