PC Gamer
webgame roundup 18

Today is a SNOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW DAAAAAAAAYYYYYY, which hopefully means you're frolicking in the cold, building snowpersons and trying not to fall over in the street. When you tire of that, why not sit next to the fire with a hot beverage of your choice (must be tea) and play one or more of these fine browser games? Read on for puzzles, banditos, words and mirror images, deviously assembled in the wrong order.

Uirdz by paste Play it online here.

I'm choosing to pronounce the title as 'Weirdz'.

Uirdz...Uirdz is great. And that's despite having a name that is literally unpronouncable. It's a platformy puzzle game that combines dare-devil, against-the-clock leaping with...well...crosswords? Tetris? A bit of both really. To progress, words must be dragged from the bottom of the screen to somewhere in the middle, but before long they're given a secondary function: stepping stones, with differing properties depending on the words. And, like all wonderful things, Uirdz features a fantastically catchy soundtrack, to soften the blow when it's sticking the knife in. (Cheers, Free Indie Games.)

Fractured by GroZZleR Play it online here.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the-oops. Let's try that again. Mirror mirror on the floor...

Speaking of clever sidescrolling puzzleformers, Fractured is one the smartest I've seen for quite for some time. It's a normal platform game, but with a striking twist: the screen has been fractured like a broken mirror, the shattered pieces of each stage flipped around and upside down before being plonked back before your very eyes. Without a clear perspective (and with your character frequently mirrored or the wrong way up) even a simple platforming stage becomes a dastardly environmental puzzle. Play this - seriously, play this. Not only is it tremendously inventive, it's backed up by a rather...extraordinary choice of soundtrack.
(Via IndieGames.)

Steppin' Stones by emieldegraaf Play it online here.

Readers, solve this puzzle for me to win...er...access to level 4.

More puzzley goodness abounds in the form of Steppin' Stones, a smoooooooth jazz track with a game attached. The good news here is that I'm awful, my pea-sized brain wilting after around three stages, possibly as a result of the aforementioned jazz. It really is relentless, though thankfully you can turn the music off. As for that game, it's stepping stones mixed with Sudoku. Is that something you were looking for? Well you've found it. I can attest that this odd mixture works, and works rather well. If I wasn't so jazz-addled I would probably be stroking my beard and nodding my head at how devious it is. (Via Free Indie Games.)

Westerado by Ostrich Banditos Play it online here.

Whiskey bottles. My arch-nemeses.

And now for something completely different, and totally ace. Westerado is a beautiful action/adventure/gratuitous western game, and stop me before I wax lyrical about the era-appropriate instrumental soundtrack. After banditos kill your family, you have to track down the responsible parties - or, instead, you could just shoot everyone in the face, foes and family alike. Westerado gets bonus points for making you unholster and cock your gun before you fire (and a million bonus points for letting you shoot the hats off bad guys). Little things, but they add a lot to the surprisingly fluid, sudden, tense combat. Between shootouts you'll solve problems, ride your horse, and stand in the breeze admiring the astonishing soundtrack. Westerado - play it now. (Thanks to Indie Games.)
PC Gamer

Technically, The Witcher 3 hasn't been announced yet - though thanks to a secret message in the Cyberpunk 2077 trailer and the appearance of a familiar looking sword, everyone's expecting that to change as of February 5th with a big announcement from developers CD Projekt Red.

Of course, until we hear the announcement, we won't know for sure. It might be a spin-off game rather than a sequel, possibly as a base for the long-awaited REDKit editing tools. It could even be a massive troll leading up to, say, Fluffy McMathBunny's Sunny Day Out, the happy edutainment RPG where long division is the key to victory. Still, since the most we can say about those options is "Could be interesting", we know we want to see a Witcher 3 at some point. How can this inevitable sequel play its nudie cards right and build on its predecessors? Here are a few of our hopes...

You may have muscles, but I have the power of QTE!

Keeping Perspective. Sorry to start on a slightly boring one, but by far the biggest problem with The Witcher 2 was that its development felt like it had been very insular, with not enough fresh eyes during the process, or those eyes being too guided. The big tell for this is that the initial version had quests with misplaced map markers - the kind of thing that's easily fixed, but only missed if everyone involved simply knows where they're going. Likewise, elements like the lack of a tutorial and the first big fight in the game expecting players to instantly 'get' the combat system were serious mistakes, no matter how much some of the hardcore players appreciated being dropped in at the deep end.

(Incidentally, my favourite example of this insularity came when the game originally arrived for preview, with stern, genuine instructions not to give away what happened to King Foltest during the prologue. The prologue of a game called 'The Witcher 2: Assassins Of Kings'. Ahem...)

Many of these issues were subsequently patched on the system side, and hurrah for that. Others though were baked much too deeply into the narrative to be changed post-release - the real crash coming with Act 3, which all the branching and untaken paths made very easy to reach without really knowing what was going on and why it actually mattered. Especially coupled with...

Remembering All The Fans. Both The Witcher games have made a bit of an assumption that people playing know this world already. They make a few concessions to newcomers, sure, but I've had fans tell me that expecting the game to pause to explain, say, what Nilfgaard is, is like expecting Darth Vader in a Star Wars game to go "I will now crush you with The Force, which as you know is..." Which is nonsense. The series could absolutely do a better job when explaining the core elements, if not necessarily every little detail - especially factoring in how much you can miss by taking the wrong branches, and that the English speaking world at least only has a couple of Witcher books in print so far.

Some of which which are probably more canonically relevant than others.

"So, you think this cut-scene's getting a million hits on YouTube on Day 1, or will it take a weekend?"

Consequence Over Choice Nobody sane would say that The Witcher 2 lacked for choices to make. The end of Act 1, the entire of Act 2 and most of Act 3 didn't so much have a critical path as a critical spaghetti pile. Make no mistake, this was seriously impressive and deserves credit.

That said, while choices did have big consequences, the scale of the game and sheer number of paths did have a tendency to trip over its own feet - key characters simply disappearing or being shoved into the background, massive events being dismissed, and most painfully of all, much of the plot that Geralt should have been uncovering during the game having to be explained via the final boss actively holding an expositional Q&A. It was also unfortunate that your choices tended to be a step removed from what you were actually choosing - the lead-up to Act 2 being the decision to throw your hat in with Roche or Iorveth, not Henselt or Saskia - or simply swept under the table with the politics of Act 3.

For The Witcher 3, it would be good to see that willingness to take the tough road put to more focused use - the world itself changing as a direct result of decisions, for good and bad, rather than the focus being on altering the path through it. A central city like Vizima wouldn't hurt for this, with its development over the game altering based on who you kill, and what relationships you form. Kill too many crooked officials, and the entire thing becomes a fascist state out of fear, for instance, or have the monster population of the area directly tied to how much killing you bother to do. Direct responses, with unexpected twists, tend to be what make choices interesting. Especially with...

More Moral Ambiguity. The Witcher has never been short on this, but more! More! More! And not just in terms of people lying to you about their true intentions, but situations like the witch in the first game where both sides are at fault but Geralt still has to make fiendishly hard calls.


Save Game Importing That Actually Does Something. Not necessarily anything important for the sweep of the game, but things like only starting Geralt in bed with Triss if he actually pursued that relationship in the previous game seem fairly obvious. In The Witcher 3, a great use for this would be to fill in the What Happened Next for Temeria that the previous game skipped via a chat with Dandelion, now that CD Projekt knows exactly where they plan to take the story and doesn't have to worry about boxing itself into a corner. Assuming of course that this game isn't going to be set there again, in which case just picking an ending and running with it makes more sense than confusing the issue.

"Hey, eyes - and deadly ball of blue plasma death - up here, Witcher."

A Not Too Open World. If CD Projekt's teased game actually is The Witcher 3, we know it's going to be 'fully open-world game'. I can imagine that being excellent, and have faith that it'll be cool. If it's going to follow in the steps of the previous games though, I hope it's not a particularly big open world game - a tighter focus not only allowing for more loving design, but reinforcing when decisions have impact, and conveying their effects in more interesting ways than most games bother with. Now, that said...

Modding, Early. The Witcher 2 came out mid-2011. The REDKit mod tools still aren't out. If this is going to be an open world game, let's see those as soon as possible, and give Skyrim's world some real competition. Fans are ready to mod this universe, but how many are going to devote themselves to starting on something for a two year old game? Especially one so razor-focused on a specific story.

Nilfgaard Or (Actually, Knowing The Witcher, More Likely And) Bust! Wherever the game takes place, it'll need a setting - and if the ending of The Witcher 2 is anything to go by, we'll at least be visiting Nilfgaard, City of the Baddies. That would seem the right choice too, at this point in Geralt's adventures, and with the amount of political messing around they were up to last time.

Speaking of which...

Yennefer, from the TV/film version, because the only in-game pic I have would need a censor bar.

Yennefer? We Barely Know 'Er! But it's time we did. For the third game, Geralt's former lady-love really needs to put in an appearance. According to the end of The Witcher 2, she's alive and in Nilfgaard. All the more reason to pay it a visit and either make something of that thread point or tie it off.

Witchering Hours. The Witcher 2 was somewhat odd, in that Geralt wasn't so much used as a Witcher as a general badass with handy skills. It'd be good to get back to the monster killing this time - not simply smacking wandering enemies over the head, and definitely not buying loads of reference books again, but sorting out more of the dark fairy tale type encounters from the original stories.

"Uh, Geralt?" "Sorry. Distracted. What plot branch are we in again?"

No More Crap Geralt. The Witcher 2 especially had one of the strangest difficulty curves ever - the first act of the game being by far the hardest due to Geralt apparently having given up working out between sequels. Not again, please. He needs to start out feeling like a badass, and fight challenges worthy of one, with a levelling curve built around making him becoming more skilled/powerful rather than spending hours fighting to stop him being bloody useless. Burn that Stamina bar with fire too.

The Execution Of Anyone Responsible For Branding It "The Witch3r". Just saying.

Keeping It Brave. Something that absolutely shouldn't change though is The Witcher's willingness to take risks. Yes, the sex cards in the original were damn stupid, and The Witcher 2 was better for not having them. Other elements did work though, from the sequel's more character-based sex scenes, to the darkness of having characters getting their eyes put out for ending up on the wrong side, and the nature of the storyline and subquests. Most RPGs out there are as sterile as Geralt's third sword. The Witcher can't lose its balls now that CD Projekt Red has made it to the top tier.

Oh, and definitely no more boss fights like this one. Grrr.

And that'll do for the moment, at least until CD Projekt Red makes its big reveal and we can see exactly what we're meant to be getting excited about. If you haven't played The Witcher 2, firstly, King Foltest dies in it. Spoiler! Also it's absolutely worth it. For various reasons, it scored 89% originally. We don't typically re-review games, but while it still has some issues (some mentioned above), that number would have been a couple of points higher had it shipped with the patches and tweaks released since.

The full game is now only £15/$20 from either Steam or GOG, and well worth it if for some reason you missed it on release - especially if you have a PC with the oomph to see it in all its system-melting, game-CDP-clearly-really-wanted-to-make-whatever-the-cost finery.

PC Gamer
simcity chart

It's all change at the top of this week's PC sales chart, compiled by online retailers Green Man Gaming, with one reboot toppling another in the battle for supremacy.

Lara Croft tumbles from the top spot - Tomb Raider is down to sixth in the list - and in her place soars another pre-purchase big-hitter, EA's SimCity.

In fact the top ten is awash with games you seemingly can't wait to splash out on. Only one title in the best-sellers list is available now - and that's Guild Wars 2, which has barely been out of the charts since we can remember. And we can remember back at least as far as November last year.

Last week's number two game, Ron Gilbert's The Cave, is holding on nicely at number four in the hitlist. With the likes of DmC: Devil May Cry and Bioshock Infinite continuing to register strong pre-order sales.

The surprise package is the next Sonic The Hedgehog spin-off, Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed. Sonic is 22 this year, meaning that instead of racing around with pals he really ought to be on the dole and up all night spewing after a heavy session on the pop with mates. Not a bad idea. You can have that one for free, SEGA...

Here's the top ten in full...

1. SimCity* (pre-purchase)
2. DmC: Devil May Cry (pre-purchase)
3. Bioshock Infinite (pre-purchase)
4. The Cave (pre-purchase)
5. Sonic and All-Stars Racing Transformed (pre-purchase)
6. Tomb Raider (pre-purchase)
7. Guild Wars 2
8. Aliens: Colonial Marines (pre-purchase)
9. Dead Space 3* (pre-purchase)
10. Omerta: City of Gangsters (pre-purchase)

*Region restrictions apply.

Oh, and lest we forget a vital, money-saving tidbit of info - make sure you enter the following codes at checkout when you buy selected games from Green Man Gaming (excludes SimCity, Crysis 3 and Dead Space 3 in North America):

25% pre-purchase voucher
Valid on selected pre-purchase titles until 31/01/2013 1600GMT. Cannot be used in conjunction with another voucher, region restrictions apply.

20% site-wide voucher
Valid until 31/01/2013 1600GMT. Cannot be used in conjunction with another voucher, excludes selected titles

In association with Green Man Gaming
PC Gamer
SimCity intro trailer

EA have announced that a SimCity beta test will be running from January 25-28. Or rather, a "beta" test - with heavy emphasis on the quotation marks. More accurately, this is an exclusive time-limited demo, with budding city planners being given a one-hour slice of the game to play.

The sign up page for this micro-beta is now live, and applications are being taken through to January 21st.

According to Maxis' General Manager and Senior VP, Lucy Bradshaw, the tiny test is designed to "help the team improve the live service aspects of SimCity to ensure a smooth and user-friendly experience at launch." Hopefully it will prevent any always-online disasters from striking the game as new players move in.

EA confirm that you will be able to play the included hour "multiple times during the beta period." The full game will release on March 8th.

PC Gamer
Corsair Hydro Series H110

In keeping with the wintery theme of today (my Bath office is looking like a snowy scene from a Dickens classic, there’s even an urchin or two out there) Thermaltake and and Corsair want to help you keep cold and have both announced liquid-based CPU coolers with extra-chunky radiators.

Corsair’s new H110 and H90 coolers are essentially just slightly larger versions of their H100 and H80, with 280mm and 140mm radiators respectively. The original versions came with 240mm and 120mm radiators, both operating using 120mm fans.

The new H110 and H80 both use the larger 140mm fans, and that means they don’t need to spin as fast to shift the same amount of air across the radiators. And what does slow spin speed mean? Yes, quieter operation.

They should both be available soon with the H110 available for $130 and the H90 for $100. In the UK I would expect that to translate to around £100 and £70 respectively if you shop around.

Thermaltake though have announced something even more exciting. Mainly because it’s got such a cool name - the Bigwater 760 Pro.

The whole pump/reservoir/radiator setup sits in a stack of two 5.25-inch drive bays

Rather than having a reservoir/radiator you attach to the exhaust ports of your chassis - with a pump connected to the CPU waterblock - the Bigwater 760 Pro is more like the water-cooling arrays of old.

The whole pump, reservoir and radiator array are designed to be installed in the front of your chassis, taking up two empty 5.25-inch drive bays. Now that I’ve quit installing optical drives in my machines that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.

It means the water-cooler actually takes up almost no space in the chassis itself, but does mean the warm air is being exhausting inside the case. You’ll need to ensure then that there’s an adequate through-flow of air to keep things cool.

One other bonus from this separate pump setup is that it can be expanded, something you can’t do with traditional, closed-loop coolers. That means you can add a waterblock to your graphics card and add that into the liquid-cooling loop too.
PC Gamer
kentucky route zero

Interview by Philippa Warr

Kentucky Route Zero is a poetic point-and-click adventure featuring dreamscapes, predatory debt and, a few episodes down the line, a gigantic eagle. It's a delicately balanced title whose Kickstarter roots serve to echo two of the game's key themes - financial limitations and connecting with others. After reviewing the game, I got in touch with developer Jake Elliott (with whose previous title, A House In California, you may already be familiar) and artist Tamas Kemenczy to discuss pointing, clicking, and channelling the power of bluegrass for an introspective exploration of people living on the margins of society.

So, tell me about the basic concept behind Kentucky Route Zero.

It's a game about hard times, and people trying to connect with each other. It's also about the culture of Kentucky.

And you chose to explore all those ideas through a point and click-style game - why was that?

They're slow-paced by design, which is attractive, and also tend to be really character-oriented. The mouse-driven interface seems less specialized and friendlier to non-gamers than, for example, a WASD+mouse interface for a FPS. We hope to find an audience among people who don't necessarily think of themselves as 'gamers', but are interested in the kind of themes and aesthetics we're exploring.

It's a genre you seem to naturally gravitate towards.

Yeah maybe it is - in this case it really was a 'gravitation' as you say. We initially thought the game would play more like a sort of exploratory, mouse-controlled Metroidvania with a lot of dialogue. But as we developed the content, the platformer elements started to change and fall away, and now it's easier for us to describe what it's grown into as a point-and-click adventure. So it's been a very organic process.

One of the things I noticed while playing was that often all the options would have the same eventual outcome but altered the story slightly just in terms of Conway's character. Is that fair or will the differences lead to more concrete payoffs later in the series?

It's a bit of both - there are choices the player makes in act one that do have fairly dramatic impacts on the plot later in the game (this is what you mean by "concrete", right?), but they're not really framed that way. We're less interested in giving the player ethical or strategic choices, and more interested in giving them poetic or performative choices.

Many of the decisions the player makes in the game are like when an actor in a play can choose how to inflect a line of dialogue, how and when to pause, or what kind of backstory to draw on for the character they're playing in order to perform with honesty and authenticity.

When I was trying to choose how Conway was breathing in the mineshaft section I ended up focusing more on my own breathing - it got strangely meditative! Is introspection a conscious part of the game setup?

Ha, that's great! We do take a few opportunities to sort of hint the player towards an introspective or pensive state. There's also the sign in the gas station basement, and some text in the readme...

It's also a game steeped in nostalgia - what inspired the music and the visual style?

Musically we were of course inspired by bluegrass, and by Ben Babbitt's electronic music (Ben is writing the original score for the game). Visually, we've taken a lot of inspiration from theatrical set design, in the way the environments are structured and presented. Also Eric Chahi's "Another World" is a huge influence on us, as many have noticed!

Then there's the magic realist backdrop which automatically brings a touch of unreality. Is that why you chose it - to set the tone from the start?

The subject matter of Kentucky Route Zero is really pretty dark, and pretty serious: it's about predatory debt, displacement, unfair labour conditions, and other ways that people at the margins are affected by economic decline and austerity. Magical realism is a way of exploring these dark and serious realities playfully, imaginatively, and respectfully.

Does the magical part of magic realism become more overt as the series goes on? I saw a giant eagle in the Kickstarter trailer...

There's a fair amount of magic in act one, especially if you dig for it. But yeah, later on some of these more overtly fantastic elements come out, like the eagle character!

Speaking of Kickstarter, why did you choose the crowdfunded route?

We had fairly pragmatic reasons: we needed some financial support to purchase the licenses for the game engine we use, and to pay the band to record the game's music. We ended up raising about $8,500. This was in January 2011.

The platform feels very different now.

seems to have changed quite a lot: the dollar amounts are higher, and the projects that get a lot of attention are more focused on established names than newcomers.

What was the Kickstarter experience like?

The response to the early teaser/concept trailer and the project's description was really positive and encouraging. As a solution to our financial roadblocks in getting the game made, it worked very well, but the continuing support from folks who backed the Kickstarter drive has ended up being the most valuable part of the experience for us. Some of them helped beta test the game, or just provided feedback and encouragement as we updated them on our progress.

Did it feel different in terms of responsibilities towards supporters rather than traditional customers?

We explicitly made regular updates on the game's progress a part of our promise to supporters, so we did have some extra responsibility to our audience that a more traditional customer model doesn't bring with it. But we never seemed to run afoul of supporters' expectations - even when the release of the game was delayed, we just communicated frankly about it with our supporters, and they were all very understanding in their responses to us. Whether this relationship scales up to million-dollar campaigns without changing, we really can't say!
PC Gamer
DayZ Standalone thumb

Dean "Rocket" Hall, creator of zombie survival mod DayZ, recently took part in a Reddit AMA thread, answering questions on the development of the upcoming standalone version of the game. During the Q&A session, he outlined new features and release plans. He also talks frankly about the impact of controversial rival The War Z, saying "I am angry about the WarZ. I'm very angry. I'm quite hurt personally because anyone can see how similar the words are, and while the average gamer knows the difference individual people don't."

When asked if DayZ Standalone - originally due for release last year - would now surface before April, Rocket said, "Yes I think so, but anything could happen and usually does. We'll know more when the results of the tech test are out. Any dates before then would be pure speculation, and my last speculation didn't work out so good."

He also confirmed that Standalone's focus will be firmly on the Arma 2 engine. "My real hope, is that the next "DayZ" comes out and get's it's big break in ArmA3. I made a space mod for ArmA2 that I never released, maybe I might make that for ArmA3! I guess someone will mod DayZ for ArmA3 and it will probably be great for it, that's the awesome thing about this community."

Inevitably, the issue of The War Z was also raised. "I don't think I've ever said they weren't competition. But I have said ... that competition doesn't necessarily mean lower prices or better quality for the consumer (automatically). It can actually mean that companies get carried away competing for something that isn't important (such as perception, or marketing)."

"I've had family members/close friends mistake the difference and confront me about what they believed was unethical behavior they thought I was making," Rocket adds. "I really don't think anyone can understand just quite how exasperated that can make you feel when you've gambled everything on something, put your whole self and reputation on the line. So it hasn't made my life very pleasant and I disagree entirely with the conduct and how consumers have been treated."

You can see a full digest of the DayZ development progress highlighted in the AMA here. It covers everything from individual feature tweaks, to the possible tease of a new map: "I think DayZ needs a new map, made, that features a western city... let's just say I have plans."

Thanks, CVG.
PC Gamer
F1 2012 screenshots thumb

Codemasters is currently in consultation with members of staff, who were told yesterday that they were at risk of redundancy. An anonymous source for GamesIndustry International claims that around 80 job cuts are being planned. While Codemasters have confirmed that the company has proposed a restructure, and that the consultation process has started, they say that their core titles - including Grid 2 and the F1 series - should be unaffected.

The studio have released the following statement:

"As the Company realigns its operations to focus on areas of increased strategic importance and decrease resources in areas that are not delivering value for the business, the Company has proposed the restructure of certain aspects within its digital development and publishing units in line with future product strategy.

"As a result of the proposed restructure, the Company has therefore entered into a period of collective consultation with the affected employees.

"The restructure is not company-wide and is not anticipated to impact the development of its core console and PC titles such as GRID 2 or its annual FORMULA ONE title."

As well as the recently formed Codemasters Racing Studio, which is responsible for the Dirt, Grid and F1 franchises, the developer also has a publishing arm and online team. The statement suggests that it's these latter two departments that will be affected by the cuts.

Thanks, Eurogamer.
PC Gamer
Legend of Grimrock

Almost Human, developers of Legend of Grimrock, have shared details on the performance of their Dungeon Master inspired RPG. According to their 2012 recap post, the game racked up over 600,000 sales through the year. To celebrate, they've also released teaser images of some brand new dark, dank dungeons, suggesting that new content is incoming.

"Legend of Grimrock ... was the best seller for two weeks in Steam and has continued to surpass our expectations," writes Almost Human's co-founder Juho Salila. "we’re now proud to announce that Legend of Grimrock has sold over 600.000 copies! We would’ve been happy with just one tenth of the sales numbers, so needless to say we’re very happy and the future of our company is secured for a long time."

The post also celebrates the success of Grimrock's Steam Workshop support, which hosts over 450 mods for the game. "Our great community is always surprising us with their skills, creativity and activity in the forums ... That means you don’t run out of dungeons to explore in the future."

Two images are included with the post, giving a hint as to what Almost Human will be working on in the coming year. "But beware," they say, "this is only the tip of the iceberg."

Wait, is that a rat person in the second image?
PC Gamer
Dragon Nest

Cutesy anime MMORPG Dragon Nest has been a long time coming to these shores. But finally, after an additional delay to ensure some extra Euro-friendly localisation, the South Korean action-RPG will be starting its European closed beta on the 27th of February.

What makes it stand out from other imported MMO fare is its focus on action - the promise is that everything is skill-based. There are no queued attacks and auto-targeting: battles here are a cross between fighting-game combo-brawls and frenetic twitch-shooter firefights, and even the lowest level player can dominate if they have the requisite talent.

As our American brothers discovered at an E3 hands-on way back in 2011, you can flip-kick a dude into the air then plug their flailing form with a dozen arrows before it crumples into the ground. That sounds like it might well be worth the wait.

Check below for a trailer to give you a sense of what to expect.