Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Cloud9 became the first North American team to win a CS:GO major over the weekend, defeating the favored FaZe Clan in tight overtime action. The following day, a very different sort of eye-popping mark was set when a Dragon Lore CS:GO weapon skin sold for more than $61,000

Dragon Lore ranks highly among the most expensive CS:GO skins to begin with, but this one was particularly valuable for a couple of reasons. First, it's a souvenir skin, which are available exclusively from souvenir packages that only drop during Valve-sponsored CS:GO tournaments. Dragon Lore is actually the rarest skin in the Cobblestone Packages, which currently sell for a little north of $30 each on the Steam Marketplace.   

This particular skin is also "factory new," and its stickers are all "unscratched," each of which compounds its rarity even further. And the timely pièce de résistance is that it bears the autograph of Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham, the MVP of the ELEAGUE Boston Major 2018 where Cloud9 made its mark.   

The skin was originally purchased for $35,000 by a collector named Drone, who told Polygon that the selling price, despite being so much higher than what he paid (which seems absolutely nuts to begin with), was as low as he was willing to go. "I didn’t originally get into this game solely for profit," he said. "I just got very lucky a couple of times, and money is more valuable to different people. I’m very lucky in my financial state to where I can afford to buy these skins and it does not affect me."   

Team Fortress 2

Well, you can add Team Fortress 2 to the growing list of entries into the Steamed Hams meme. A mapper called Whomobile has created a Steamed Hams map for TF2, in which players collect steamed hams and deliver them to Skinner's house, which intermittently catches fire. Players, upon dying, drop steamed hams. (That's what Skinner calls hamburgers. It's an Albany expression.)

If you're not familiar with the Steamed Hams meme, it stems from an episode of The Simpsons called "22 Short Films About Springfield," in which Principal Skinner invites Superintendent Chalmers over for dinner, accidentally burns his roast, and attempts to cover it up by passing off Krusty Burgers as his own cooking. The skit culminates with Skinner's house burning down with his mother trapped inside while he pretends the flames are the Aurora Borealis, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment in front of his boss. The episode has been the source of a number of video remixes posted to YouTube, including a surprisingly good "Steamed Hams but it's Metal Gear Solid."

The features list for the map, at least, is breathtakingly honest:

  • Not Very Well Balanced!
  • Gigantic Sightlines!
  • Based off a meme that will die off in a month!

I didn't see anyone actually playing the map on any community servers, but I ran around it solo for a few minutes. There's an approximation of the Krusty Burger across the street from Skinner's house, and there's huge stack of newspapers in Skinner's garage area, presumably a nod to the episode where he got pinned underneath them and was presumed murdered.

Also, I sincerely doubt the meme will die off in a month, or ever. Memes are eternal. Plus, "Steamed Fortress 2" has a nice ring to it.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Cloud9 celebrates. Image courtesy HLTV, click for source.

It’s been a long wait for North American fans, but after five years of waiting, they finally have their home-continent heroes. The all-American squad of Cloud9 fought their way through a murderer’s row of the best CS:GO teams in the world—including the #1 ranked SK Gaming—to make it into the finals of ELEAGUE Boston Major 2018, then emerged victorious from a grueling, three map, double overtime match against the European superteam of FaZe Clan.

On paper, this looked like one of the most lopsided grand finals in CS:GO Major history. FaZe Clan is notorious for being “the most expensive team in Counter-Strike history”, having bought out the contracts of the best players from several of the best teams in the world. One of their players has won two Majors in the past, and the rest of them have made it deep into the elimination brackets at previous Majors. With SK Gaming, the only higher-ranked team in existence, suffering from the loss of one of their core players, the consensus was that this was FaZe’s tournament to win.Cloud9’s current lineup, on the other hand, is composed entirely of younger players with fairly modest winnings to their names. As a team, they’ve never even made it into the top eight of a Major, and most of the individual players have never made it anywhere near this far in this caliber of tournament. Few people were predicting this outcome.

Not only did the American underdogs come out on top, they did so in a manner that made for one of the most spectacular grand finals in Counter-Strike history. They started things off inauspiciously, losing their own map pick in a 16-14 nail-biter; this set them up to have to face FaZe on Overpass, a map that Cloud9 has lost four times in a row to FaZe in previous tournaments.

Despite that history hanging over their heads, the young team put on a clinic in the early rounds, pulling out a variety of aggressive, exciting plays to drive the score up to an imposing 15 rounds to 4. FaZe showed signs of rallying after half-time, as Håvard "rain" Nygaard found his groove and started posting some big frag numbers, but the comeback was eventually shut down by Cloud9 for a final map score of 16-10.This set the stage for a final showdown on the final map of the tournament, Inferno, where both teams had demonstrated strong tactics in previous matches. Cloud9 got off to a strong start on the CT side, eventually settling for a respectable first-half score of 7-8 in FaZe’s favour. Things began to look grim for the Americans during the second-half, however, as FaZe strung enough rounds together to cripple Cloud9’s economy, driving them to the brink of death with a 15-11 scoreline.

Then, to the visible frustration of a FaZe Clan who felt that this tournament was theirs for the taking, and with the hometeam crowd threatening to bring down the arena roof, Cloud9 posted four consecutive rounds to bring the score to 15-15 and force overtime.

It took them two overtime sets, and a few scarily messy-looking rounds, but Cloud9 finally got the job done. Final score: 22-19.

For the young players of Cloud9, this marks a new high point in their Counter-Strike careers, and for fans of Cloud9 and North American Counter-Strike in general, it marks the end of a drought that had stretched on so long that it began to feel like an unliftable curse. Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham, the quiet Cloud9 player who was awarded the tournament MVP trophy, was asked in the post-match interview what was ahead for Cloud9. His answer was simply, “a lot of tournaments.”We can only hope those future tournaments are half as electrifying to watch as this weekend’s has been.

Counter-Strike

Photo by Jo o Ferreira, click for source.

For as long as CS:GO has existed as an esport, North American teams have played the role of the underdogs, perpetually overshadowed by European—and recently, Brazilian—squads who always end up taking home the hardware at the big tournaments. Since the advent of the Valve-supported Major tournaments in 2013, no North American team has ever won one; today, at the penultimate day of ELEAGUE Boston Major 2018, the Americans of Cloud9 have brought themselves tantalizingly close to ending that drought.

After a rocky start in the group stages, Cloud9 fought their way back into contention with a convincing 2-0 win over the French squad of G2 Esports. The vagaries of the tournament bracket meant that this victory set them on a collision course with CS:GO’s current team to beat, the top-ranked Brazilians of SK Gaming. Riding a wave of momentum, and with the hometown crowd cheering their countrymen on, Cloud9 nonetheless entered their semi-final match as the heavy underdog.

As soon as the first map got underway, it was clear that it was time to throw rational predictions out the window. A series of incredibly well-executed rounds and some huge individual plays led Cloud9 to a crushing 16-3 victory to start things off, shocking the analyst desk and driving the crown into a frenzy. Despite the second map not going quite as well, resulting in a 16-8 victory for SK Gaming, Cloud9’s momentum appeared unbreakable, and they rallied to win 16-9 on the third map to clinch their berth in the tournament’s grand finals.

This outcome marks only the second time a North American team has managed to make it into the finals of a Major, after Team Liquid reached (and subsequently lost) the finals of ESL One Cologne back in 2016. If they pull off a win tomorrow against the formidable opposition of FaZe Clan, they will make CS:GO history, and perhaps begin to turn the reputation of American Counter-Strike around.

They’ll also have faced one of the toughest roads to victory of any Major-winning team in recent memory, due to their lacklustre performance in the group stages putting them in a very tough bracket position. Making their way through G2 Esports, SK Gaming and FaZe Clan, the fourth, first, and second best CS:GO teams in the world respectively, is a feat that will finally put to bed any question about Cloud9’s legitimacy as a top-tier team on the world stage.You can catch the grand finals at 11:00am PST on Sunday morning on ELEAGUE’s Twitch channel.

Dota 2

ESL has announced a deal with Facebook that will make the social media site its "main broadcast partner" for CS:GO Pro League and ESL One events. The move will enable ESL to offer esports fans "a much more advanced viewing experience which also connects to the existing Facebook pages of teams, players and talents." 

One of the driving forces behind the decision to partner with Facebook is Facebook Watch, a video-on-demand service announced last year that supports 1080p/60fps and VR streaming. Facebook's "viewing with friends" function, which enables private chats with Facebook friends who are also watching the broadcasts, and Messenger service will also encourage a more "collaborative experience," as ESL described it, when watching streams. 

"For years ESL has used Facebook to nurture its global community while broadening the audience for esports competition to millions of fans worldwide," Facebook Games Partnerships global director Leo Olebe said. "Having two of ESL’s most adored properties for CS:GO and Dota 2 streaming exclusively on Facebook is the next step in our efforts to delight the passionate esports community on Facebook." 

The move to Facebook might seem like an odd one to esports fans used to getting their fix on Twitch, and replies to the announcement on Twitter make it clear that fans aren't universally thrilled with the new primary platform. But ESL expects that it will actually help expand its viewership and bring esports further into the mainstream. "We’re excited to now be at a stage where we can take the next step towards realizing our shared ambition to grow the overall esports audience and to bring our sports to an even broader group of viewers than ever before," the company said. 

The cost of the deal wasn't announced, but I'm willing to venture that it was probably steep. SportsBusiness Daily reported last week that Twitch paid $90 million for a two-year streaming deal with the Overwatch League. 

ESL streaming on Facebook will begin with Dota 2 at ESL One Genting, running January 23-28, and CS: Pro League Season 7 on February 13. If you can't watch on Facebook, or for some reason just don't want to, embedded streams will still be viewable on the ESL website. 

Left 4 Dead 2

While the speedruns performed live on stream at Games Done Quick events aren't necessarily the fastest runs in their categories (though world records have been broken), they're often some of the most entertaining. The live audience ups the pressure, and the commentary from the streamers as they explain their ridiculous glitches is always fascinating.

Last week, the latest Awesome Games Done Quick marathon raised over two million dollars for The Prevent Cancer Foundation and gave us many more frame-perfect feats to be awed by. Below are some of our favorite runs from AGDQ 2018 (specifically of games that are on PC, naturally), and we'll have more about the event and its future soon.

Note that you may have to skip ahead a ways in these videos if they don't auto-jump to the beginning of the run. You can see all the runs on AGDQ's YouTube channel.

Resident Evil 7 (1:49:27) 

By Carcinogen

Probably the most widely celebrated speedrun of AGDQ, it's no surprise that we'd want to highlight this incredible Resident Evil 7 run first. It's a perfect entry point into what makes AGDQ special: a talented runner, an informative and funny couch of commentators, and a challenging game that's tense to watch. Carcinogen's run is full of moments where things go wrong and he manages to just barely survive, but it's his charisma that really makes it all fun—like when he takes the piss out of a jumpscare by adding in a scare of his own. —Steven Messner

Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap (27:49) 

By tinahacks

Lizardcube's gorgeous remake of Wonder Boy 3 is mostly faithful to the original, and has a retro mode you can activate at any time to see the original graphics. During tinahacks' skilful run she uses that to skip boss intros, and one of the Lizardcube team, who is there on the couch, is just a little bit crushed by it. Having someone who worked on the game there to contribute insights adds a lot to what would already be an impressive speedrun (I played a lot of Wonder Boy 3 on my neighbor's Sega Master System, and I never came close to being as good as tinahacks). Lizardcube are actively involved with the speedrun community, and even decided to leave a few of the more interesting glitches in their remake so runners could exploit them, as you'll see here. —Jody Macgregor

Skyrim (50:26) 

By Wall of Spain

I enjoyed seeing high-skill speedruns like Claris's run of Sonic Mania, but I also like the goofy stuff and Wall of Spain's glitchy tumble from one end of Skyrim to the other was as goofy as they get. He stops to get married (or at least tries to), screws up one of the only fights necessary to finish the main storyline, and makes extreme use of the strange fact that in Skyrim your character's velocity remains constant when you load a different save. You can complain about Bethesda's open-world games being buggy, but without those bugs glorious messes like this wouldn't be possible and speedruns wouldn't be half as fun to watch. —Jody Macgregor

Half-Life: Opposing Force (26:14) 

By alexh0we

It starts slow, but stick with this run to the second chapter where alexh0we starts murdering hapless NPCs to steal their guns, strafe and machinegun boosting, and sticking some brutal jumps. Most interesting from a technical perspective are the framerate tricks—drop it low enough, for instance, and you can walk through lasers because in no frame will they connect with you. Alexh0we's stream of informative commentary keeps this run entertaining even during the slow parts.  —Tyler Wilde

Arabian Nights (47:17) 

By Kotti

The Awful Games block of ADGQ is a gauntlet of nightmarishly terrible games, but none are as baffling or as hilarious as Arabian Nights, an extremely obscure 2001 platformer that tried to cash in on Prince of Persia’s popularity. From start to finish, the run is a confusing mess of inexplicable glitches and terrible game design underscored by Arabian Night’s eye-rolling portrayal of Middle-Eastern culture and Conan the Barbarian-style objectification of women. You have to see it to believe it. Speedrunner Kotti has to endure multiple crashes just to beat the damn thing, but it’s all worth it for the couch commentary and laughably bad cutscenes. —Steven Messner

Left 4 Dead 2 (55:15) 

By mr.deagle, The Master, burhác, and MrFailzzz 

This is a special run in a few ways. Firstly, it's co-op, which you don't see in a lot of speedruns, and secondly, Left 4 Dead 2 isn't going to throw out weapons and zombies in the same way each time, which sets it apart from games that can be perfectly memorized. Yet the zombies are mere pests to these players, who are wholly focused on performing impressively huge skips (which involve a grenade launcher) and bunny hops. Though I could never play as well as this squad does in Left 4 Dead 2, runs like this can reveal how much challenge comes from us buying into a game's premise rather than the game itself. Play Left 4 Dead 2 like a race to master, and the undead are just speedbumps. —Tyler Wilde

Hollow Knight (38:28)

By Mickely3

It's slightly sad to see one of our favorite games of 2017 demolished in under 40 minutes, but Mickely3's run contains some impressive glitching—did you know you can just float around all the time and Hollow Knight is totally fine with that?—as well as just some old fashioned good platforming.  —Tyler Wilde

Dota 2

Following recent changes to Filipino government regulations, Valve has pulled its support of the proposed Galaxy Battles 2018 Dota 2 Major. Set to run between January 15—21 in Ciudad de Victoria's Philippine Arena, Valve has rescinded its Major designation but is now working to run a similar tournament with the invited and qualifying teams.  

"Based on information we’ve recently confirmed regarding new government regulations for esports players entering the Philippines, we have decided to rescind the tournament’s Major designation, including the Pro Circuit qualifying points, for the Galaxy Battles 2018 tournament," reads this post on the Dota 2 blog. "This is based on what we feel are unreasonable infringements on the privacy of the players, as a condition to enter the country. The tournament itself may still proceed, but without any involvement of Valve or the Dota Pro Circuit."

Valve underscores its decision does not reflect how it feels about the Philippines itself, and apologises to anyone who'd planned to attend. 

According to the information listed by the Republic of Philippines' Games and Amusement Board, professionally recognised athletes hoping to perform in the Philippines must ascertain these credentials. A number of Reddit users in turn speculate Valve's decision to pull support reflects the country's ongoing drug problems

Speaking to the event, the Dota 2 blog post adds: "As a result, we’re talking to tournament organizers to try to find a way to run a Major with the invited and qualifying teams, including the Pro Circuit points that would have been available in Galaxy Battles 2018."

Team Fortress 2

Update: So it seems that the report below was incorrect. I initially wrote that Valve was banning Linux users with Linux usernames that included the word 'catbot', but Valve has said those claims were a "tactic employed by cheaters to try and sow discord and distrust among anticheat systems".

It's a bit confusing because a Valve moderator on GitHub, as you'll see below, initially seemed to confirm the story by saying that the banning of users was "deliberate". But another Valve employee has since clarified the matter in a Reddit post.

"VAC will not ban you for simply having catbot in your user name (either your Steam profile or on one or more of your Linux accounts). The bug report—and I suspect many of the posts in this thread—are a tactic employed by cheaters to try and sow discord and distrust among anticheat systems.

"VAC has many different types of detections and we cannot discuss what they do publicly because doing so makes them less effective. However, one thing I can disclose is that all detections require that the detection occur while a user is actively cheating and connected to a VAC-secured server.

"Linux historically hasn't been a problem for cheating--the base rate of cheating is significantly lower on Linux than it is on Windows. Unfortunately, a 'healthy' community of cheaters grew up around catbot on linux and their impact on TF became large enough that they simply could no longer be ignored. Those banned users are very annoyed that VAC has dropped the hammer on them."

Original story:

Catbots, if you're not familiar with the term, are player-created bots that flood TF2 servers, lining up headshots on everything in sight. They're all called things like 'catbot 1574', and they're a nuisance. But in an attempt to stamp them out, some players are claiming that Valve has crossed a line. Anybody with 'catbot' in their Linux username (yes, not their Steam username), will now find themselves with an automatic VAC ban, regardless of whether they've actually booted up TF2 or not.

Now, I don't know how many Linux users have 'catbot' in their username, but there is at least the potential for friendly fire here. On the GitHub thread where the issue was uncovered, one user said that their Steam account was VAC-banned despite claiming to never have cheated. Another said: "I installed Ubuntu on a virtual machine and named the computer catbot-918 and installed Steam, within an hour of not playing anything I received a VAC ban."

A GitHub moderator for Valve confirmed that the policy was in fact a deliberate attempt to combat bots, adding that it was "not open for discussion on Github" (which, on my reading, doesn't mean that the issue is not open for discussion at all, just not on GitHub).

Valve does have a responsibility, and a right, to stop cheaters playing its games. But as a lot of people on this Reddit thread discussing the issue have said, it does seem a bit ham-fisted to ban someone simply because of their choice of Linux username. And besides, it looks like catbot setups have already switched to a different username, which was inevitable. It's probably not the last we'll hear of it.

Dota 2

Battle.net may have Destiny 2, but Steam has millions of simultaneous PUBG players. GOG may have the best collection of DRM-free games, but Valve has, well, PUBG again. And Dota 2, and CS:GO. Competition has increased a lot in the past 10 years, but despite the growth of GOG, itch.io, Origin, Battle.net, the Microsoft Store, and others, Steam is still the gaming store on PC, and Valve runs two of the biggest esports in existence. Its influence on PC gaming can't be understated, so it naturally receives heaps of criticism and suggestions from players and developers alike. That's how it goes when you're on top.

Ruling out obvious fantasy, like a DRM-free release of Half-Life 3, here's what we hope PC gaming's de facto leader does in 2018.

Is a new Steam interface on the way?

A Steam interface overhaul

A big update to Steam's interface was teased last year, and it's about time. While Steam has changed a lot since 2003—mostly as new features were tacked on—it still leaves much to be desired. Better automated sorting of our libraries would be a start. If you have tags, why not let us use them? The controller settings are weird, opening in a Big Picture Mode-style window and changing my Steam overlay to the same as if there's no way someone would use a controller at their desk. The music section of my library is a mess, with repeat entries that don't play. In other words, the tacked-on features feel tacked on. Without entirely throwing out the interface we're used to, an extensive UI and feature refresh would be welcome. (GOG Galaxy's version rollback feature would be welcome, too.) —Tyler Wilde

CS:GO on Source 2

The biggest thing on the wishlist for CS:GO players heading into the new year is the long-awaited move to the Source 2 engine. Rumors have been circulating about when this change-over will finally happen for at least two years now, since shortly after Dota 2 was moved to the new engine in the fall of 2015. Valve confirmed back in April that they’re working on giving CS:GO the same treatment, but so far this update has yet to materialize.In addition to the presumed graphical optimizations of moving to the new engine, the content creation tools for new maps, new skins, etc. are allegedly a vast improvement over the original Source tools. Hopefully, this means we’ll see a glut of new user-created content when the update drops, thanks to the modernized and more user-friendly creation tools.

Similarly, the other big item on the wishlist is the promised upgrade to the new “Panorama UI”, a complete overhaul of all of CS:GO’s menus and interfaces using the panel-based UI that Dota 2 has already adopted. Just like the Source 2 update, this change has been in the works for quite some time now; Valve confirmed they were “preparing” for the UI switch at least as far back as the summer of 2016, but as with everything else Valve does, they’ve been rather tight-lipped about any sort of timeline for the Panorama implementation.

Below these big-ticket items on our 2018 wishlist, there are a litany of smaller changes we’d like to see happen:

  • Classic maps like Mirage and Dust would benefit from the same sort of overhaul Inferno, Nuke, and Dust 2 have received over the last couple of years. 
  • The map pool could use some fresh entries (or some revivals of classic entries) to keep the competitive meta interesting. 
  • An unranked version of CS:GO’s core 5-vs.-5 competitive format has been a popular community ask for years now.
  • Valve’s anti-cheat technology is lagging behind third-party services like ESEA, and could use a serious upgrade.

The astute observer will notice that almost everything mentioned herein could’ve just as easily appeared on a similar list at the end of last year. It often feels like CS:GO is a lower priority for Valve than its other esports juggernaut, Dota 2, so while there are plenty of updates we’d like to see in 2018, it seems unwise to get our hopes up that many of them will happen particularly soon. Nonetheless, we’ll keep our fingers crossed. —Mitch Bowman

A little warning before Dota 2 changes

The TI7 contestants were announced abruptly. The Pro Circuit system was announced abruptly. The games contest was announced, and soon extended, abruptly. Gameplay mini-patches were released abruptly, at one point abruptly breaking custom games. 

A surprise is nice sometimes, but when it comes to Dota 2, one of the biggest games in the world, not everything should come as such. At least a million players likely clock in every day, and a significant chunk of that population—plus some non-players—follow the competitive scene that’s grown from it. Basically, there are a lot of players trying to just play the game and keep up on a fundamental level. 

So, for many out there already irrevocably attached to the experience, frequently needing to stay up-to-date and ready-to-go is exhausting. Maybe it’s just become part of the Dota life: you wake up, see if Valve has done something, and then continue with life. But why does it have to be like that?

Dota 2 players could use a little communication. Just a bit. You can put something off for six hours to get us ready, and you don’t have to give a Riot-length explanation, nor a Developer Diary. It can be a six-hour heads-up on a patch, an announcement of an announcement, or a new way to share what teams are heading to TI. Have someone sit at a computer and press the buttons so people don’t guess teams from the source code. Or all of the above. Valve, you’re allowed to steal these ideas. In fact, please do. 

Of course, we’re also talking about Valve here, and that’s just part of how they do things. I’m sure they’re aware, but the reason why they haven’t changed anything is beyond me and anyone else in the scene who isn’t actually a Valve employee. But it doesn’t hurt to ask. —Victoria Rose

Improved moderation and curating

Steam Direct is great for new developers who don't have publishers, but the consequence is an influx of ripoffs and shovelware. In theory, Steam's algorithmic discovery tools and Curators should surface only the best games, and truthfully, my store page is looking pretty nice during the Winter Sale—a healthy mix of good deals and games I might be interested in. But that's not quite the case in the Popular New Releases section, which is consistently full of free or free-to-play games. Free games aren't necessarily bad, but the 'popularity' metric means free clickers and gags naturally get promoted over anything with even a small price tag, potentially burying great games that dare to cost five bucks. 

2018 should see an even bigger influx of new games—thousands upon thousands—and I'm skeptical that these automated and community-driven tools will be able to keep up. At the minimum, I hope Valve more aggressively cuts asset flips—which it did a bit of in 2017—and outright insulting games, and sets a clearer policy on nudity and sex. It's been totally inconsistent in that latter regard, even receiving criticism from a porn game distributor.

An increase in moderation is doubly needed in the Steam community. It took me five seconds to find a group advertised with a lynching icon and a swastika. Delete. —Tyler Wilde

As always, a game

Valve says it's working on a few, but we aren't holding our breath. And no, nice as it was, Bridge Constructor Portal doesn't count. —Tyler Wilde

Dota 2

In the PC Gamer Q&A, we ask our panel of writers a question about games. This week, the theme is neglecting loved ones. Which game have you snuck off from family to play during the holidays? Let us know your suggestions in the comments. 

Jody Macgregor: Terminal Velocity 

Terminal Velocity was one of the only shareware games I owned the full version of, thanks to a rich uncle who was my main source of videogames. (He also gave me a copy of the original Warcraft, which I still have in a jewel case somewhere.) It was a flight sim that played like a first-person shooter, similar to Descent but with more open levels where you flew through the sky over alien planets. After I unwrapped Terminal Velocity I spent the rest of the holiday ignoring the rellies to play it, and I still remember the way trees popped into sight before the ground they sat on, the way Target Destroyed appeared up in big white letters every time you turned an installation into a blocky explosion, and the sections where you flew inside the planet through hexagonal tunnels and I always hit the sides.I tracked down a digital copy a while back but still haven't played it again. It's enough to know that it's there in case I ever feel the need to get away from everyone. I bet I'll still get crushed by the steel doors that iris shut in the tunnels.

Andy Kelly: Euro Truck Simulator 2

Spending time with family and all that other holiday stuff is fine, sure, for a bit. But sometimes I get the urge. The urge to truck. This festive period I'll be enjoying a bit of Euro Truck Simulator 2, which has recently been expanded to include Italy. So while people are watching films they already own on DVD on the telly, peppered with adverts for January sofa sales, I'll be delivering 16 tonnes of ice-cream from Rome to Milan. But because it's the holidays I'll be doing it accompanied by rich chocolates and luxury ales. Keep on truckin'? I never stop, mate.

Philippa Warr: Dota 2

Let me tell you about a small, obscure game you may not have heard of: Dota 2. A few years ago it was a far bigger part of my life. Writing about it as a freelancer helped me pay my bills and playing it with a regular crew helped me build up a framework of friendships, new and old, after a horribly drawn-out breakup. As a result it ended up as part of my new routine and I leant on it during newly solitary holiday periods. Playing Dota 2 on my terrible laptop over Christmas in 2012 during an in-game event called The Greeviling is one of my fondest memories in gaming. It was daft, it was funny and it was time with people I love.

Tim Clark: Metroid Prime

Will anyone mind if I answer a console game? Probably, but on we go regardless. One Christmas I received Metroid Prime for the GameCube, and managed to make it to the first boss just as Christmas lunch was being served. Without being able to save before the boss, I refused to sit down and eat (bear in mind I would have been 26 at the time) until the fight was done. Somehow, despite the stress induced by my mother's obvious fury, I managed to down the boss with only a sliver of health to spare. But as soon as I entered the corridor leading from the boss room to the save point a small bat flew into my head and killed me. With it went several hours of progress. I sat silent for the most of the meal, cheeks burning with a mix of shame and resentment. The most magical time of the year. 

Samuel Roberts: Assassin's Creed Brotherhood

A few Christmases ago, instead of politely talking to my parents while they were making dinner, I sat in my room and played the challenge rooms of Assassin's Creed Brotherhood over and over again. First, it taught me that this game has some amazing kill animations, and secondly, I learned that Assassin's Creed's combat really isn't the best match for score attack modes. Still, I appreciate that they tried. 

...

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