PC Gamer
No Time to Explain

Steam have just announced the third set of titles to successfully make it through the Greenlight process. There's some great looking stuff in the list of 13 games now eligible for a Steam release. There's also Dragon's Lair. I suppose the public can't be right about everything.

Here's the full list of newly greenlit games:

Darkfall Unholy Wars
Dawn of Fantasy
Dragon's Lair
Euro Truck Simulator 2
Gear Up
Kinetic Void - Space Adventure
The Light
No Time To Explain
Sang-Froid : Tales of Werewolves
Waking Mars

I'll admit to not recognising a lot of the names on that list, but a couple of titles jump out. No Time To Explain is an enjoyable little platformer in which you use a jetpack gun to jump around the levels. Then there's Primordia, the upcoming Wadjet Eye Games adventure. While they're only publishing this one, they've previously brought us Resonance and Gemini Rue, so know how to pick out a great point and click.

This wave has also seen some software titles getting the go-ahead, including the excitably named Action! Screen Recorder, Construct 2, HitFilm and You Need a Budget 4. Maybe YNaB4's first bit of monetary advice is to suggest people stop buying sequels to budgeting software.

Anything you're sad not to see make it? Anything there that you voted for? If you approved Dragon's Lair, you may as well come clean. We might even find it in out hearts to forgive you.
PC Gamer
webgame roundup header 13

While we wait for Far Cry 3 to stop throwing hissy fits, let's cheer ourselves up with the similarly dubsteppian tones of Jason Oda's Skrillex Quest, which is an astonishing thing to behold. Elsewhere it's memes, climbing, gorgons and land ahoy - check them out WUBWUB after the break. Wub.

Shameless Clone 2 by nldr and Squall_SS Play it online here.

nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan nyan ny-

It's meme overload in this vertical shooter, which crams in everything from Nyan Cat to Chuck Norris (actually, those are the two main ones), while remembering to include a serviceable shmup. Because I'm a shallow sot, I'm including this mainly because of the great spritework and music, but there are plenty of stages to sink your teeth into if you enjoy blasting rainbow space cats. (Who doesn't?)

Skrillex Quest by Jason Oda Play it online here.

Skrillex asked Oda to make a Skrillex tie-in after coming across his game Perfect Strangers.

This bizarre overhead 3D adventure may have been conceived as a sort of advert for the Earl of Dubstep, Skrillex, but I urge you to play it even if you hate his music, or (like me) if you only know him for his irritatingly irregular haircut. It's a deliberately visually glitchy, hugely imaginative experience that plays out like a broken Zelda dungeon, or the fitful nightmare of a sleeping NES. An amazingly weird trip down an 8-bit rabbit-hole.

A Man's Quest by Drunk Devs Play it online here.

I would be exactly that excited if I happened across a pair of grip gloves.

A lovely, lovely platformer with a neat central mechanic: the ability to cling to certain walls with special 'grip gloves'. Brilliantly named developer The Drunk Devs (slogan: "cold beer, good friends, and fun game design") recommends running the browser version in Firefox, but it ran a bit stuttery for me, possibly because of my ridiculous number of open tabs. Thankfully, there's a download version too. (Game spotted by IndieGames.)

Oh My Gorgons! by Alan Hazelden and Sarah Marshall Play it online here.

You face other, more traditional enemies too, but the good news is they don't make you cover your eyes.

As with Droqen's Aspyhx, Oh My Gorgons! is game that you have to play along with, in order to get the most out of it. Whenever your character enters the line-of-sight of a gorgon, you have to close your eyes and navigate by memory alone. It's not perfect - it can be hard to tell when you're about to enter their field of vision - but it's a great idea, pretty well executed. it's a also a short one, coming to a close after only a few stages. Alan Hazelden and Sarah Marshall: build on this! (Discovered by Free Indie Games.)

The Carp and The Seagull by Evan Boehm Play it online here.

The sea is a harsh mistress, even when she's wireframe.

IndieGames bring word of this beautiful interactive film/diorama type thing, which takes place across two linked worlds. I love the way that you move from one t'other by simply rotating the scene. Your part in all this is clicking on stuff, repeatedly, until something happens - often it's not clear what that something is exactly, but it's an engaging experience nonetheless. Sadly, it's an experience that doesn't support Firefox, so you're going to need Chrome to catch this one.
PC Gamer
Mass Effect 3 multiplayer guide thumb

The latest Mass Effect 3 multiplayer event will be called Operation: Detonator, and will run from today through till Sunday. According to a Bioware post about the event: "Recent setbacks have prompted changes in unit composition. Turian cabal theory is now dominant training paradigm. N7 units will now be deployed with pairs or higher percentages of biotics wherever available to maximize effectiveness."

I've just run that description through my nonsense translator, and it's come back as "yay, 'splosions!"

It's an individual challenge that requires you to earn 20,000 Biotic Explosion points, with only killing blows made by the combo counting towards your total.

Biotic Explosions are the result of a combination of various powers, the specifics of which are far too detailed to go into, but are nicely summarised on this Mass Effect wiki page. Obviously you're going to want to focus on classes and races with high Biotic skill.

Players that successfully complete the event will be awarded a Commendation Pack, which has some nice weapons in it.

Anyone still digging Mass Effect's surprisingly good Horde-a-like? I must admit, after playing it loads around launch, I've not been back to see what the free content updates have added to the mode.

Thanks, Joystiq.
PC Gamer
Assassin's Creed 3 Perch

I am pursuing a man in a tricorner hat through the streets of colonial New York. In the top-left of the screen, Assassin’s Creed III instructs me to chase him. In smaller text just below it, there is a secondary objective: ‘do not shove or tackle anyone’. I turn sharply into an alleyway and barge past a woman, earning myself a red X on the mission log and losing my ‘full synchronisation’ bonus. I’m not sure why I want to be fully synchronised, but the completionist in me insists that I try again.

A few attempts later, I’ve figured out a system. Stop sprinting when the alleyways give out onto open streets, edge carefully around pedestrians, and continue. It’s ludicrous - why on Earth would I not shove someone, if the fate of a nation was at stake - but I’ve not incurred the red X, I’ve not lost my bonus. I chase the man and, as is tradition, wait for the cutscene where I catch him. It doesn’t come. We pass through the same fishmarket for the second time and I realise that we’ve done a lap of central New York. The game is waiting for me. Oh! I think. This is an assassination. I do those.

I can’t get close enough to use my hidden blades so I wait until we’re running down a clear alleyway, pull my flintlock, and fire. Desynchronised! Target was killed. Try again.

It takes another couple of tries before I figure out that the game wants me to catch him - tackle him, if you will. My objective is to give chase. My sub-objective is to not tackle anyone. The solution is to tackle someone. You may Google your own facepalm jpeg.

Assassin’s Creed III features the silliest and most self-defeating mission design in the the series’ history, and it’s a huge shame. When it isn’t directly hamstrung by constrained mission areas, flakey AI, and imprecise movement, it manages to steer you into the path of these flaws anyway with optional objectives that encourage you to game the system - and Assassin’s Creed III’s systems do not hold up well to gaming. When full sync bonuses were introduced in Brotherhood, they were designed to encourage creative use of the tools at your disposal. Here they more often tamp down your options, exposing the emptiness of the game underneath. You can ignore them, sure, but you can’t ignore the signal sent by that big red X.

Lafayette got a street in New York. Connor fights in every battle in the revolution and doesn't even get a bench.

There’s a lot more to an Assassin’s Creed game than its missions, but the fifth in the series drops the ball with such regularity that it resonates through the entire experience. A pervasive sense of frustration is the snare drum that accompanies Assassin’s Creed III on its march through the American revolution.

You undertake that march - for the most part - as Connor, a young assassin with a British father and a Native American mother. Connor’s quest to negotiate a future for his people against the backdrop of revolutionary war is well written and often well acted. The game’s treatment of issues of race, class, democracy and empire even manages to be insightful, and Ubisoft have no qualms about turning America’s founding mythology on its head. Characterisation is strong. Connor will get some flak simply for not being Ezio, but he comes into his own in the second half of the game. Assassin’s Creed III has a cracking villain, too, in a senior British Templar that the writers seem to like more than they do their ostensible lead.

The game suffers for a lack of female characters - the only real exception being Connor’s mother, who after a brief period of activity retreats from the stage to usher in the series’ next male protagonist. It’s a shame that the game does not do more, given how laudably it addresses themes of repression in other contexts.

There is also, of course, Desmond. Creed’s sci-fi metanarrative splutters to a stop, pulling together its various precursor races, ancient artifacts and cosmic threats for a conclusion with the dramatic impact of a wheezing cat finally sicking up all over the carpet. It’s not all bad: a handful of present-day missions let you see what Desmond’s time in the Animus has taught him, and Danny Wallace’s character has somehow metastasized from the human equivalent of Clippy from Microsoft Word into a likeable person with something to say about history.

"Why?!" "Why?!" "Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?!"

There’s a lot going on, then, and a lot to do. The new Animus bombards you with side-missions, collectibles and challenges, often without heed to what you’re doing or whether the tone will be ruined by the sudden notification that you’re in the top 50% in the world for whistling. Its three main explorable areas - Boston, New York, and the compressed frontier that links them - are liberally sprinkled with men to stab, lists to fill out, and every other form of open-world busywork you can think of.

"Oh wow, that goat really does yell like a man."

Crafting returns, expanded from Revelations’ bomb-making into something far larger and far harder to rationalise in the context of a game about a man who stabs people. Combining materials gathered through hunting and purchased from settlers in your homestead allows you to make a wide array of items for further crafting or trade - from barrels to booze, venison jerky and Franklin stoves. You can top up your supply of arrows and other consumables in this way, but it’s far quicker and not very much more expensive to just buy them. The system feels irrelevant and the cumbersome interface prevents it from simply being a breezy distraction. It’s one example of the many ways that Assassin’s Creed III manages to draw the player away from what is fun or meaningful. It’s like thrusting a pile of dried fruit and a bottle of Captain Morgan into the hands of a pilot and telling him that he’s allowed to make rum and raisin ice cream now. That’s nice, Assassin’s Creed III. Do you mind? I’m flying a plane.

Puppeteer-style controls are gone, replaced with traditional keybindings: interact, attack, secondary weapon and so on. The verisimilitude suggested by the old arms, legs and head system has been lost, but the new way is clearer and for the most part it’s a worthy change. The animation team deserve credit for the way that Connor moves through the environment - the seamless transitions from ground to tree-branch, from street to interior, from attack to canned takedown animation. Assassin’s Creed III manages to incorporate detail that other games would force into quick-time events into the flow of regular play, and as a result it’s substantially less compromised than you’d expect by its cinematic ambitions. If ‘less compromised than you’d expect’ sounds like guarded praise, then that’s because it is.

Counter-riposte combos are still the dominating force in combat, but what exactly constitutes a riposte has been diversified: firing lines mean grabbing an enemy to use as a shield, and heavy foes are better responded to with quick, aggressive jabs at their defences than waiting for them to attack. No more Ezio-style multi-man murder sprees spring from a single tap of the attack button. Hoisting the leader of a roaming patrol into the trees with a rope dart before slamming to the ground and taking out his friends with a few precisions strikes builds on the best of what the series is good at, which is self-contained, satisfying bursts of action. Moments like this are one of the key things that protect Assassin’s Creed III from outright mediocrity, but the problem is that they have to be staged by the player in the open world: the game’s main missions, which should be an opportunity to encourage creativity, more often actively punish it.

Tree-climbing feels and looks great.

The game looks substantially better on PC but otherwise this is an underwhelming port. Keyboard and mouse controls can’t be rebound and feel like an afterthought, so play it with a gamepad. The game ran at 30-50 fps on full settings on an Intel i5 760 system with 8Gb of RAM and a Radeon HD 6970. A few dips to 20 fps while in busy cities necessitated dialing back shadow quality a little. The game uses Ubisoft’s Uplay system, but a permanent internet connection isn’t required and all you lose for switching to offline mode is a few entirely missable unlockables.

The root of my issue with Assassin’s Creed III is this: that for as much stuff as it provides, the amount that it actually allows you to do feels thinner than ever. A vast amount of its content can be reduced to ‘get from A to B and push a button’, and stealth rarely strays from minigame territory: ‘try to stay in the circle’, ‘try to stay in the circle when it’s moving’. It’s about pattern recognition rather than creative thought, binary reactions with no room for life or dynamism. Ubisoft clearly hope that top-grade presentation will be enough to convince you that holding forward to make Connor walk between cutscenes is somehow satisfying - but it isn't. Players deserve the freedom to make up their own minds. Isn’t that what Assassin's Creed purports to be about?

Assassin’s Creed III’s basic mechanics fare much better in multiplayer, where human opponents - or allies, in the co-op Wolfpack assassination challenges - provide the depth and dynamism that the single-player game lacks. The other area where the game excels comes entirely from left field: naval combat.

Connor's dapper Captian's garb is only available outside of naval missions if you pre-ordered from specific retailers.

Connor moonlights as a privateer captain in a series of optional sea missions that thread in and out of the main plot. During these you take the helm of an Assassin frigate, barking orders at your men and steering your warship into broadsides and boarding actions. It’s absolutely spectacular - weather and ocean effects create a phenomenal sense of place, and control is just arcadey enough to be exciting while retaining the heft associated with 18th century naval warfare. What’s more, the mechanics are actually interesting, rewarding tactical thought in a way that sits flush with Assassin’s Creed’s broader historical mission statement. Why is Assassin’s Creed suddenly the best Master and Commander game ever made? I have no idea, but I’m glad that it is.

It is not that the rest of the game feels rushed. The production values on display hit the heights of what this industry is capable of. It’s quixotic, but often admirable for it. Assassin’s Creed III is not a half-assed game: but it is approximately half ass. Frequently during my twenty hours with it I’d find myself wishing that other body parts had played a bigger role. Brains, perhaps, for rethinking the necessity of crafting or trading or courier missions or Desmond. Hands for testing and determining that, no, it is not fun to be whacked with a great big red X for failing to abide by pedantic and inartfully implemented rules. Assassin's Creed III rises above mediocrity by virtue of its ambition, its writing, and the set-piece moments where its best ideas form ranks and push. It's the sequel that proves that a revolutionary rethink is needed, but not the sequel that pulls it off.
PC Gamer

Kongregate, the extensive flash games depository, is busting out of the browser to let you download a selection of free-to-play games. Three games are currently available from their downloads page. There's Bomb Buddies, a Bomberman-style online arcade game; Smashmuck Champions, a top-down arena-based combat shooter; and Super Monday Night Combat - or The One You Might Actually Have Heard Of - which offers a third-person cross between DOTA and TF2.

The service is unlikely to start giving Steam a run for the free-to-play money, but it seems a sensible direction for the site to move in. Of the launch titles, I've only tried SMNC, but the others appear to offer an easy to play experience that should appeal to Kongregate's casual audience. All of the included games are set up so users can sign-in using their Kongregate account details.

Kongregate hope to bolster the number of downloads they offer in the coming weeks.

Thanks, Engadget.
PC Gamer
Total War Rome 2 preview

This article originally appeared in issue 247 of PC Gamer UK.

Creative Assembly’s Total War team is now almost four times larger than it was when developing the original Rome: Total War. Player expectations have advanced in tandem with technology, and the bar keeps rising: from Shogun’s jagged sprites to Rome II’s grime-streaked, battle-hardened soldiers, there’s always more that can be done to render historical warfare with the depth of detail that has come to define the series.

For Rome II, Creative Assembly have divided their developers into cross-disciplinary ‘functional teams’. Lead designer James Russell explains that individual aspects of the game – battles, the campaign, multiplayer – are being handled by small groups of programmers, designers and artists working closely together.
“You have multiple small teams, and you keep that small-team culture,” he explains. As the level of detail has increased, so the boundary between each of these disciplines has shrunk.

“We simulate things,” Russell says. “For example, the projectile system – it’s fully simulated, and that’s a really big deal. From a professional perspective, people might think that we’re crazy to do that. In a typical RTS, you might say that in a given situation there’ll be a specific kill rate.

“Join the Roman Legion, they said. See the world, they said... ”

“If a target enters cover you’ll apply a modifier rule to the kill rate – minus 20 percent or whatever it is,” he adds. “Because we’re a simulation, the kill rate is determined by whether the arrow hits or not. Whether or not cover affects the kill rate is a property of that cover – it’s not in our control, directly, and that’s really scary for a designer.

“But it does mean that you get all of these interesting properties of reality falling out for free. You don’t need to create a gamey rule.”

In order to balance a system like this, Rome II’s designers need to go back to the properties of real life – not the abstractions of wargaming. If men taking cover behind a line of rocks are dying to arrow fire faster than is desirable, then the solution has to come from the whole team – whether that’s a designer tweaking the accuracy of bowmen, an artist redesigning the scenery, or a programmer tweaking the behaviour of the AI.

As much as Creative Assembly have stressed drama and spectacle in the early marketing push for the game, Russell is keen to point out that building a detailed presentation of war is a crucial part of improving the game’s tactical depth.

I think I can see the weak point in your defences.

“Our battles feel realistic, in an intuitive sense,” he says. When troops clash on the battlefield, in other words, the player shouldn’t see a mathematical formula resolving itself: they should see thousands of individual people acting and responding according to the orders they’ve been given and the events around them. “You don’t want to see the hand of the designer, in that respect, because you want it to feel like it couldn’t be any other way. Real-world tactics should win in the game.”

Creative Assembly’s state-of-the-art motion capture facility is hidden on the edge of a railway yard in west Sussex. It is, they believe, the largest developer-owned mocap suite in Europe – and the culmination of years of work on the part of their animation team.

For any other developer a facility like this would be a tremendous extravagance, but Creative Assembly can be confident in the fact that they will always be working on Total War games, and that they will always have a need for detailed and realistic depictions of men murdering one another on the battlefield.
The early build of Rome II that we’ve seen in action uses a fraction of the capture work that will go into the final game, Creative Assembly tells me.

CA aim to make the maths underpinning Rome II’s vast battles nigh-on invisible.

Everything from simple marching animations to choreographed ‘matched combat’ sequences between two or more fighters will be pulled from a vast pool of data, breaking up the monotony of the battle line and investing each combatant with their own personality.

Then, as the dramatic actions of those individual troops propagate up through the simulation, Creative Assembly hope that the new level of detail they can achieve will pay dividends for the game as a whole.

“We want to have our cake and eat it,” Russell admits. “On the campaign map, we understand that it’s a game of statecraft – but we want to make you feel that you’re running an empire that’s populated by real individuals, and that you’re negotiating with AIs that feel like real people. It’s about making the game feel massively enhanced at both ends of the scale.

“I think those two things actually reinforce each other,” he concludes. “That’s the point. We want to take what we’ve learned and use that to push every aspect of the game forward without compromise. It’s really scary. It’s a really ambitious project. We’ve got a motto: ‘If you’re not shit scared, you’re not trying hard enough.’”
PC Gamer

Modern art is all about finding the meaning in a collection of abstract shapes, so games are pretty much a perfect match. It's fitting then, that from March 2013, New York's Museum of Modern Art will install an exhibition of 14 games as a precursor to an intended collection of 40. Paola Antonelli, the Senior Curator for the museum's Department of Architecture and Design, has written a lengthy blog post to explain the selection process.

"Are video games art? They sure are," writes Paola, settling that argument. "They are also design, and a design approach is what we chose for this new foray into this universe. The games are selected as outstanding examples of interaction design — a field that MoMA has already explored and collected extensively, and one of the most important and oft-discussed expressions of contemporary design creativity."

The game's selected range from extremely complex simulation, to quick, fun bursts of action, but they all share a singular, driving focus of intent. Unsurprisingly, the majority of them originated on the PC. Here's the list of titles relevant to our interests:

Myst (1993)
SimCity 2000 (1994)
The Sims (2000)
EVE Online (2003)
Dwarf Fortress (2006)
Portal (2007)
Passage (2008)
Canabalt (2009)

The museum is planning to display each game in a way that can do justice to its particular type. For short games like the Passage, that means a playable version, but more in-depth games like EVE and Dwarf Fortress require a different approach. "To convey their experience, we will work with players and designers to create guided tours of these alternate worlds, so the visitor can begin to appreciate the extent and possibilities of the complex gameplay."

The museum hopes to bolster their collection over the coming years, eventually planning to add Minecraft, Grim Fandango and NetHack, among others. You can see the full list at the MoMA website. Any games that you'd like to see immortalised as works of art?

Thanks, Joystiq.
PC Gamer
Far Cry 3 preview thumb

Oh dear. Rock, Paper, Shotgun report that Far Cry 3's servers are currently down. We've had a quick look ourselves and yes, it looks like Uplay's throwing a tantrum.

While Ubisoft have dropped their previous always-online DRM requirement, the Uplay launcher will still default to booting the game in online mode. If you launch without a connection, there's no in-game prompt to switch over to offline mode, causing menus to load blank and your character to become stuck to his current spot.

The trick is to tell the Uplay launcher to go offline before you start the game, at which point it will load with all the features you'd expect. Like movement.

To reiterate: oh dear. Uplay hasn't exactly enamoured itself to PC gamers, for years acting as the poster child for a needlessly punishing DRM system that would pause your game whenever your connection dropped. While Far Cry 3 is still playable, the fact that there's no easy way to swap between the modes in-game means that for many, their first experience will be, once again, Uplay acting as a restrictive obstacle between them and the game they bought.

Ubi are aware of the problem, and have tweeted to say: "We’re very sorry for the server issues affecting Far Cry 3 on PC and are working as fast as possible to restore the service."

Tom Francis rather enjoyed his time turning wild game into fetching backpacks in our Far Cry 3 review. Admittedly that was back before the servers were being hammered by players excitedly loading their launch day purchase.
PC Gamer
assassins creed header nov 30

Assassin's Creed III's Connor has bumped Hitman: Absolution's Agent 47 off the top of the PC download hitlist this week. The two games swap places in Green Man Gaming's PC download chart, ending the incumbent's short-lived reign as king of the contract killers.

But half-Mowhawk, half-English hero Connor shouldn't get too comfortable in his otterskin briefs as he reclines on his lofty perch. There's every chance jungle celebrity Far Cry 3 will capitalise on its highest new entry position at number three with an assault on the summit in next week's best-sellers list.

The beast-slaying shooter sequel is set in a world where the divide between right and wrong is more blurred than the the embossed lettering on the last pint glass of the night. Far more clear is the appeal of the game which will benefit from tremendous buzz, if our glowing 89% review is anything to go by. Which, obviously, it is.

There's plenty of movement near the foot of the top ten too. Worms: Reloaded, a reboot of the turn-based social classic, has popped up at number eight, ahead of indie RPG Bastion and top-down shooter Renegade Ops. It's been a while, but it's great to proclaim once again - 'We've got Worms. Good Worms.'

Here's the full top ten:

1. Assassin’s Creed III (EU ONLY)
2. Hitman: Absolution
3. Far Cry 3 (EU ONLY)
4. Dishonored -
5. Chivalry
6. Football Manager 2013
7. XCOM: Enemy Unknown
8. Worms: Reloaded (Game Of The Year Edition)
9. Bastion
10. Renegade Ops

Brought to you in association with Green Man Gaming.

PC Gamer
Steam Logo Thumbnail

UK retailer GAME... you remember GAME right? You had to go there back when games came in boxes. You'd dig past the rows and rows of console releases, wade through stands full of pre-owned games, and there, in the back corner, was a dusty shelf full of expansion packs for The Sims and driving test quiz software. Sometimes there was also a rotating display where you could nab three truck simulator games for a tenner.

Anyway, they're taking a step towards our digital future by stocking Steam Wallet cards in stores, from today, that let you purchase one-use codes in denominations of £5, £10, £15 and £20. According to GAME's CEO Martyn Gibbs, "this is the latest initiative offering unrivalled value, range and ease of obtaining digital content for our UK gaming community."

Unrivalled value, range and ease? I'm at my computer right now, making topping up my Steam account (or just buying a game directly) pretty damn easy. Except, the move isn't aimed at people who already have a direct link to the Steam games pipe. It's for family members looking to buy presents without running through the technological minefield of game gifting, or for kids without credit cards or adults sensible enough not to put there details onto the store only to be tempted by every one of their damn sales.

Basically while it's unlikely to get many established PC gamers back into GAME, it does promise to extend Steam's already frightening reach even further. And the cards are only the first part of the planned GAME/Steam partnership. Martyn Gibbs again: "The partnership forms a significant part of our increased offering for any PC gamer which will also include a full digital catalogue available on tablets in store to browse and new ways to pay for digital downloads, making the process easier and more secure than ever."

Thanks, GI.biz