Monday, January 28, 2013

Denpa, Bayonetta, Riptide and MH3U Merch!  


Games: I just finished Denpa Men on 3DS, if you count rolling credits as finishing. (I do.)

@TheGayGamer has advised me that the true last boss is lurking at the end of a post-credits dungeon, and I enjoyed the game enough to want to keep pushing forward. I may not play as intensely as I have over the past week, but I'll definitely keep putting in some time here and there.

At this point, though, I need to actually drive around town and locate some new WiFi signals. In Denpa, characters are recruited by having the 3DS pick up ambient signals. The unit doesn't have to actually connect to a network, it just has to determine that signals are present. Once it finds some, it generates a series of characters that the player can catch and add to their team.

For whatever reason, I've found a large number of certain types, and none of some others... I'm at the point in the game where I really, really want to have a character who can heal everyone in the party at the same time, and I just haven't located one. Thankfully, I was gifted one via the game’s QR code function, but for characters earned in this way, if they die they’re erased from the 3DS.

The hunt continues for a legit found-it-myself all-healer.


Other games occupying my time currently?

I'm still working on the review for Skulls of the Shogun. It's a quality production and I'm enjoying it quite a bit, but the difficulty is a little higher than I expected. I thought I'd be able to blow through it in a couple of days, but I've had to replay a few key battles. Love it, though.

Apart from that, I’m trying to make a serious effort towards trimming down my backlog this year, so I decided to give Bayonetta one more shot. I've started and quit the game twice before, but it comes up in conversation so often and in such positive terms that I'd feel like I wasn't doing my critical due diligence unless I gave it a least one more try.

I just barely started tonight, and I'm not too far... only made it to level five, and I’m still just going over the same areas I’ve already seen in the past. It's funny, but just a few minutes in, I quickly remembered why I disliked it -- I find the action hard to follow visually, and I'm not a big fan of the dial-a-combo structure at the heart of the combat. I much prefer chaining moves together based on how they relate to each other than trying to remember the difference between YYYYB, YYYY (pause) B and YYYYYB.

Apart from the combat, the cutscenes are still as garbage as I remember. A whole lot of talk with little significance, and some really irritating characters. And those pop-up QTEs that result in instant-death? Ugh.

Also, I realize I'm still at the very beginning of the game, but I'm (again) a little surprised that I didn't hear from critics about how much of the structure seems lifted straight out of DMC, and I'm also quite confused about how Bayonetta is generally seen as girl-positive in critical circles. I plan on doing a little reading up on this in the near future, but I'm having a tough time squaring what I heard and what I'm seeing.

In any event, I'm pushing forward and I'm going to try my best polish it off this time around. After all, they do say that the third time is the charm.


I'll be the first to say that the whole Dead Island: Riptide statue fiasco in the UK was an error of colossal proportions, but that aside, I'm still looking forward to the game itself. I had a great time with the first title, and I'm not going to let a bone-headed PR stunt ruin the work of everybody at Techland before it's even done. (Speaking of which, I would love to hear comments from the studio themselves about how this whole thing played out.) 

Anyway, if you haven't seen it already, here's about ten minutes of pre-alpha gameplay footage.  


Last but not least, Capcom listened to the fans and is now offering a special-order Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate case for the 3DS XL in addition to the standard 3DS.

Last I checked, they were still taking votes on which color was the most popular... head on over to cast your vote before 1Pm on 1/28 and then place an order once things are decided!


Following the announcement of Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen last year, we are now pleased to confirm concrete details about this expansion to the world of Dragon’s Dogma. Scheduled for release on both PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 from April 23 in North America and April 26 across Europe, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen is the next exciting chapter in the Dragon’s Dogma franchise. Available as both a physical disc and a full game digital download, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen delivers a huge brand new area, missions, enemies and more, plus all of the content from the original game.

Just off the Gransys mainland is the cursed Bitterblack Isle where gamers will embark on an all-new quest to discover an underground realm, complete with new terrifying foes and incredible treasure. Owners of the original Dragon’s Dogma will be able to export their existing characters and all other saved data to continue their journey as the Arisen, and face a new threat that has emerged from the cavernous depths. Players will be able to take their characters to new heights with brand new high-level skills and augments as well as all new weapons and armor sets. Furthermore, owners of the original Dragon’s Dogmawill receive 100,000 Rift Crystals, unlimited Ferrystones and the Gransys Armour Pack consisting of six brand new costumes for free, upon purchasingDragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen.

For those that missed Dragon’s Dogma the first time around, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen provides the opportunity to start their journey from the very beginning before tackling the all-new content.

Based on player feedback, Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen will make the Dragon’s Dogma gameplay experience even more satisfying with improvements such as easier travel and a more intuitive menu system. For those who already own Dragon’s Dogma and then purchase Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen, these improvements will be automatically retrofitted to their original game save data.

So, what does Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen deliver?

All of the content from the original Dragon’s Dogma plus…
A massive new underground realm to explore featuring over 25 terrifying new enemies
More skills/equipment/augments:
Level 3 Skills
DD: DA provides each character class with a new tier of skills, giving players new devastating abilities and skills to master
Over 100 pieces of new equipment
All new high level weapons and armor sets for players venturing into the underground caverns
14 new character/Pawn augments
New tiers of equipment enhancement
And there’s more:
Increased character customization options
Item appraisal
Option to select Japanese voice over

Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen will be available at retail stores across North America for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and as a download from PlayStation Network on April 23, 2013 for $39.99.


Koch Media, a leading independent producer and marketer of digital entertainment products in Europe and North America, announced today that it has secured the intellectual property rights for two of the most popular and successful THQ franchises, Metro and Saints Row, as well as Chicago-based development studio, Volition, as THQ continues to liquidate its assets in closed auctions this week.
Deep Silver, Koch Media’s international publishing powerhouse, will lead all further development and marketing on the Saints Row and Metro franchises, each of which boast millions of units sold worldwide and vast, dedicated fan bases.


SEGA® of America, Inc. and SEGA® Europe Ltd. today announced that the critically acclaimed BAYONETTA will soon be available for download on the PlayStation®Network.  Experience the free flowing over-the-top action of BAYONETTA from the creators of Devil May Cry and Resident Evil. Play as a witch with powers beyond the comprehension of mere mortals, and face-off against countless enemies, evil forces and giant sized bosses in a game of 100% pure unadulterated all-out action.

Directed by Hideki Kamiya, this stylish and cinematic action game is known for outlandish finishing moves that are performed with balletic grace as Bayonetta flows fluidly from one fight to another. With magnificent over-the-top action taking place in stages that are a veritable theme park of exciting attractions, Bayonetta pushes the limits of the action genre, bringing to life its fast-paced, dynamic climax combat.

BAYONETTA™ is available for download in the U.S. on January 29th for $19.99 and in Europe on January 30th for £14.99 on PSN and is already available on Xbox LIVE® Arcade for the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system.

For more information and assets, please visit the SEGA Press FTP site at: For more news, follow SEGA on Twitter @SEGA or “like” us on Facebook.


NIS America is extremely excited to announce that Persona 4 Golden will  be released across  Europe on February 22, 2013 for thePlayStation®Vita handheld entertainment system. The digital version of the gamewill be available  two days earlier via PlayStation®Network, on February 20. Persona 4 Golden
was developed by ATLUS, a brand of Index Digital Media, Inc., and is an enhanced and extended version of the highly acclaimed, award-winning RPG Shin Megami Tensei®: Persona®4. It offers beautifully remastered visuals, 1.5 times the amount of voiced dialogue of the original release, and a new online dungeon rescue feature. Persona 4 Golden also offers a massive amount of new content—new Personas, new story events with an all-new character, striking new anime cutscenes, and much more!


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Shogun Skulls, Denpa Men, and Crash Mobs  


Games: I usually have a couple of review games going at once, but it's rare that everything I've got on my plate is good at the same time. However, that's exactly the case right now. The stars may not align this way often, but I appreciate when they do.


First up, Skulls of the Shogun for XBLA.

I've mentioned this one a few times over the last couple years (yes, years) but it's finally done, and almost ready for release. The fine folks over at 17-Bit studios were good enough to shoot me a code and the final version is a thing of beauty.

I think it's best described as a turn-based tactics game where the player takes control of an undead samurai general who’s unexpectedly been sent to the spirit world and isn't the least bit happy about it. In his bid to take the place over, he recruits horsemen, foot soldiers, archers and a few other things along the way.

While it may initially look like any other tactics game, don't be deceived. The developers have added a number of unique twists which make the game feel unlike any other tactics title I've played in recent memory. Since the game is not hex- or square-based, characters can freely roam the field of battle. However, when clustered together they form a "spirit wall" which prevents enemies from knocking them back or passing through. Even more interesting are the titular skulls themselves - when dropped by defeated enemies, they can be devoured to increase the health of a friendly unit. When that unit eats three, they transform into a demon and can attack twice per turn thereafter.

There are a number of other interesting ideas and tweaks, and the level of challenge commands respect. Although the graphics are pleasantly cartoony and the irreverent writing is worthy of laughs, it takes some real strategy to get past some of these mission. Just one wrong move can tip the entire balance of the battlefield and a win turns into a loss before you know it. It's been a while since I had to focus this much on a tactics title, and that's not a bad thing.

My wife and I playtested the game in an earlier form, and the difference in the final version was immediately noticeable. I thought it looked great back then, but it's straight-up better in every respect now. All parts of the game have received some love and attention, and there are plenty of perks that make the general experience more pleasant -- things like being able to skip cut scenes, or speed up the AI’s turn.

Microsoft has kept this one under wraps for quite a while with the intention of unleashing it as one of their "big guns" for when the games side of Windows 8 was ready to go. That was definitely a smart move, because so far, Skulls has been worth the long wait.


Next in my queue is The Denpa Men: They Came By Wave for 3DS.

This is a title I had been looking at in the e-shop since the day I picked up my 3DS, but I just wasn't convinced to buy. It was cute enough and it seemed weird enough, but the demo didn't sway me and I left it on my wish list for later.

A short time afterwards, I saw @TheGayGamer talking about it on Twitter, so my interest level rose. He had almost completely talked me into a purchase, but there was still a little hesitancy on my part. As fate would have it, I heard @BrainyGamer talking about it on the Experience Points podcast the very next day, and that was enough to get me to take the plunge. If both of these guys thought it was worthwhile, then there must be something to it.

And there is.

Denpa is a simplified dungeon-crawl RPG that asks the player with putting together a small army of tiny little men. However, one of the big folks is how you get them. In the beginning, the game asks the player to scan for local WiFi signals, and it interprets those signals into specific types of Denpa dudes.

For example, when scanning my home wireless, I get a number of characters with Antidote and Water spells. When I took it to work, I found characters with Ice, Poison, Heal, and so on. Later on, and option opens up that lets the player trade characters with other players via QR codes that are read through the 3DS camera.

This is all pretty novel stuff, but on top of this unconventional recruiting system, the game is actually pretty decent. The core of it is a basic JRPG battle system, but the player can use up to eight Denpa men at a time. There are a ton of different skills to build a team with, and customizing them with the appropriate gear for each dungeon is a nice little challenge. 

Even better, the developers were geniuses when they instituted two different “everybody attack” functions -- one using the magic spells, and one without. It cuts down on unnecessary button pressing, speeds up the entire experience, and the AI does a good job of choosing the right actions at the right times. It's still possible to micromanage if that's what's desired, but I appreciate that it's just as effective to use the auto-battle function.

Also, it's cute as hell.


Last but not least, Tokyo Crash Mobs, also on 3DS.

As I've said several times, I love the weird, and they really don't come any weirder than this one. It's pretty much textbook Japanese game design insanity any way you look at it...

First of all, it uses real people as the game's characters and they also star in the FMV cutscenes.

Secondly, it's a puzzle game vaguely similar to something like Zuma or one of the eighty-four billion copycats like it. However, rather than shooting balls, the player is picking up people called “scenesters” and throwing or rolling them to make matches. Why are they matching these people? Well, the two stars of the game want to get to the head of a line, but it's not explained what they're lining up for, or why physically tossing someone into someone else makes a match. Nor does it explain where these people go afterwards...

I’m pretty sure you're not supposed to think about it too hard. There are all sorts of random elements like UFOs and ninjas that pop up, and if one of the characters loses around, they get shot out into space because... I don't know why.

Every single minute of it is pretty insane, but it's got a good energy and it's quite amusing to play, even if the controls are a hair less polished than I'd like. That said, you don't see something as whacked-out as this everyday, so I can't help but jump aboard. 

I'm hoping the story has some sort of clever bit at the end, but even if it doesn't, the WTF factor is so high on this one that everybody should have it on their 3DS just to show friends at parties, if nothing else.


Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc. today announced a playable demo for METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE is now available via download on PlayStation®Network and Xbox LIVE®. The free demo showcases Chapter 1 of the game and introduces Raiden as the central character - a child soldier transformed into a cyborg ninja killing machine, equipped with a high-frequency katana blade and a soul fueled by revenge.

Developed by Kojima Productions and PlatinumGames, METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE takes the renowned METAL GEAR franchise into exciting new territory by delivering an action experience unlike anything seen before. The title brings two of the world's most respected development teams together with a common goal of providing players with a fresh synergetic experience that combines the best elements of pure action together with epic storytelling, all within the expansive METAL GEAR universe.

METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE will be available on February 19, 2013 for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft  at major retail stores nationwide.

The free demo is now available for download on PlayStation®Network and Xbox LIVE®. 


Reverb Publishing announced today it is expanding on the Primal Carnage Human vs. Dinosaur gameplay with an additional free game mode, “Get to the Chopper,” that is now available through Steam.

Humans must make their way as a group toward set checkpoints through dinosaur-infested territories, holding off ambushes and vicious assaults from all angles before securing their escape in a waiting helicopter. The new “Get to the Chopper” objective-based game mode launches on the new jungle-themed Downpour map, which challenges players to radio into the helicopter pilot at one checkpoint and turn on a fuel valve at another before making a mad dash to their rescue awaiting them at the landing pad. In addition, the DLC also includes a modified Docks map, with additional maps to follow.

The new Spinosaurus is a fearsome predator who makes its first appearance in the “Get to the Chopper” DLC during the climactic rush to the chopper. The Spinosaurus is therefore the ultimate obstacle standing between humans and salvation. With a fearsome one-hit kill bite and vicious claw attacks, it can dispatch minuscule humans swiftly and efficiently. The Spinosaurus will also be available this month as a paid skin for Team Deathmatch maps. 

For more information, visit the official Website:


Bethesda Softworks® and ZeniMax® Online Studios today announced that beta signups are now open for The Elder Scrolls Online at  Interested gamers simply have to go to the website and register for a chance to play. Selected beta registrants will be granted early access to beta test the game. They will be among the first to experience this epic world with others in one of 2013’s most highly-anticipated releases. Timing and details of the start of playtests will be provided at a later date to those who register.

The Elder Scrolls Online is slated for release in 2013 and is being developed for the PC and the Mac by ZeniMax Online Studios. The studio is headed up by industry veteran Matt Firor who has more than 20 years of online game development experience. The Elder Scrolls Online has not yet been rated by the ESRB. 


ATLUS, a brand of Index Digital Media, Inc., today announced a demo of the upcoming RPG Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan will be available for download on the Nintendo eShop beginning 2/7/13. 

The demo will allow players to experience the opening gameplay areas available in the full title, including the introduction, initial mini-dungeon (Old Forest Mine), first skyship area (Windy Plains), and areas of the first main dungeon (Lush Woodlands).  Players will have open access to engage in a variety of sidequests in the main dungeon, along with the complete set of equipment, skills, and classes available in this portion of the full title.  Various facilities in town are also available in the demo, including Guild Card exchanges via QR code and select QR gifts. All progress gained within the demo is transferrable to the full retail version of the game.

As a reminder, those that pre-order or pick up Etrian Odyssey IV at retail launch will be treated to a limited edition art book as well as music CD (while supplies last). Etrian Odyssey IV will be available at retail and on Nintendo eShop for digital download on February 26, 2013 across North America.
Etrian Odyssey IV brings enhanced graphics and 3D effects, more immersive 3D dungeons, and upgradeable skyships that let players travel and battle among the clouds. Players can utilize 3DS' bottom touch screen to chart out a path and create maps to aid in the team's survival of the dangers that await. The game delivers deep character creation and party customization options, and an all-new casual play option will provide greater accessibility for novice players. Additionally, guild card and character trading functionality will be available through the 3DS StreetPass feature.

For more information, visit


CCP Games is proud to announce that DUST 514 is officially in open beta, free to download and play for anyone with a PlayStation®3.  Having recently connected DUST 514 with EVE Online, CCP has forged an unprecedented persistent single-shard universe of incredible depth and scale.  Now EVE Online’s expansive New Eden Universe connects two different games across PC and console platforms in real time. This is the first time two games from different genres and different platforms, a PC space combat simulator and a console first-person shooter, have been linked together into one massive online gaming experience.

Now that DUST 514 has entered open beta, mercenaries will begin to shape their careers in earnest as there are no further character resets planned and every shot, every battle and every contract counts. Going forward, all skill upgrades, weapon choices, dropsuit selections and vehicle fittings will shape the fighting strategies and the battles of all mercenaries in DUST 514.

DUST 514 is in open beta now and is available exclusively on PlayStation 3. For more information, visit and follow the game on Facebook ( and Twitter (@dust514).


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming...  


It feels like it's been a while since I’ve done a proper blog post, and there's a lot of stuff to catch up on, so let's get right to it…


Games: First up, the @IndieGamerChick takes a sober look at what being Kickstarted can really mean, and why it may not be the right way to go for everyone. She's definitely got some pearls of wisdom to share here, so it's worth a read for anyone who's considering using Kickstarter as part of their business strategy.


Games: Had a whole bunch of stuff go live at @GameCritics recently, and we’ve added a bunch of new folks to the ranks of our regular staffers, as well. Our new blood consists of:

Christopher Floyd - @Lamournumerique
Darren Forman - @KayinAmoh
Denis Farr - @Aeazel
John Vanderhoef - @JohnVanderhoef
Michael A. Cunningham - @FinalMacstorm

And in case you missed 'em, here are our reviews of DmC, Giana Sisters, Anarchy Reigns, Crimson Shroud and Uncharted: Fight for Fortune. If you want some info on iOS stuff, here's TouchTalk 5


Games: What am I playing right now? Glad you asked.

At the moment, I'm still putting time into DmC (360) and nearly done with it. I've never been the biggest fan of Dante and his slicey-shooty shenanigans, but @NinjaTheory has really outdone themselves with this one. 

Although I think DMC3 is probably deeper, a very convincing argument can be made that DmC is the best game in the series thanks to the overall level of polish, intelligent design choices, and accessibility to players of all skill levels. It must also be said that the game looks utterly fantastic... I'm honestly surprised that I haven't heard more people raving about the visuals, from the large details all the way down to the smallest. It's pure beauty.

Apart from that, I just completed Gravity Rush (Vita) this afternoon. Although I didn't find it very compelling the first time I played it back in June of last year, I decided to give it another shot and this time it totally clicked. 

It's hard for me to put my finger on exactly why I fell so hard for it now when I was left so cold previously, but the only thing I can think is that I must have been in the mood for something of a higher octane back then. Gravity Rush does have a few tense moments over the course of its campaign, but in general, it's a pretty mellow, laid-back affair. In any event, I have a newfound respect for the title and it quickly became one of my favorite Vita games.

(P.S.GR’s main character Kat is one of the new DLC additions coming soon to Playstation All-Star Battle Royale on PS3/Vita. Excite!)


Games: The good people over at @UndeadLabs have shared a link to a recent devblog post talking about their work on State of Decay, due out on XBLA later this year. 

It's a detailed survivor's guide of sorts, and gives a little insight into the kind of depth that the developers are shooting for with this open-world zombpocalyptic action/sim romp.


Book: Just a quick word on Speaking in Forked Tongues… I got my first round of major edits back from the publisher right before my oldest son came for Christmas, so I put everything on hold at the time. Now that we are well into the new year, I'm just about to crack into the book again and make the requested changes. 

Thankfully, none of it seems too major and I thought the editor did a great job in highlighting areas that needed some polish. I'm a firm believer that no matter how strong a writer is, there's always a benefit from having someone else critique the work. That's just as true for me as it is for anyone else, and this is a perfect example of that. I'm hoping that after these tweaks, the book will be even stronger and ready to go for publication later this year.

More info to come!


Capcom today confirmed that Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate on the Wii U system and Nintendo 3DS will bring the battle to retail stores in North America on March 19, 2013 and across Europe on March 22, 2013. The full game will also be offered for digital purchase on both systems during this launch timeframe and the Wii U game will fully support the voice chat functionality available on that system.  For hunters looking to embark on their journeys sooner, free playable demos on the Wii U system and Nintendo 3DS will be available on February 21.

In Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate, players take on the role of a hunter sent to explore a settlement within the Monster Hunter universe, completing quests on their journey to seek and slay monsters while improving their skills and earning equipment upgrades. With many challenging monsters and over 200 quests, the latest addition to the series is set to be the most expansive offering to date. The game can be played alone, online (up to four players) on the Wii U system, or locally using up to four Nintendo 3DS systems or a combination of up to three Nintendo 3DS systems and one Wii U system.


Deep Silver today unveiled the gory details about a special North American Collector’s Edition for the eagerly awaited zombie action RPG, Dead Island Riptide.  The Dead Island Riptide Rigor Mortis Edition contents were voted in by the Dead Island community in a Fall 2012 survey, which resulted in tens of thousands of entries determining the contents of this exclusive edition.

The contents of the Rigor Mortis Edition are extremely limited and are available for preorder now at retailers across North and Latin America on a first come-first serve basis with a suggested retail price of $79.99.  In the haunting, superb-quality Rigor Mortis Edition, Dead Island fans receive their very own zombie hula girl bobble figurine, a bloody zombie arm bottle opener magnet and a bungalow key with a branded wood keychain.  In addition, the Rigor Mortis Edition will include a copy of the Dead Island Riptide Special Edition for console, packed with a treasure trove of extra DLC content and a helpful digital strategy map.  All of this is embalmed in the ultimate Dead Island replica suitcase – the most iconic item from the original Dead Island.
Dead Island Riptide will be released on April 23, 2013 in North America for consoles and for Windows PC.
For more information, visit one of the following official Dead Island sites: 

Official Website: 


Konami Digital Entertainment, Inc. today announced a playable demo for METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE will be available via download on PlayStation®Network and Xbox LIVE® on January 22. The free demo will showcase Chapter 1 of the game and introduce Raiden as the central character - a child soldier transformed into a cyborg ninja killing machine, equipped with a high-frequency katana blade and a soul fueled by revenge.

METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE will be available on February 19, 2013 for the PlayStation®3 computer entertainment system and the Xbox 360® video game and entertainment system from Microsoft at major retail stores nationwide. 


ATLUS, a brand of Index Digital Media, Inc., today announced that the award-winning action RPG Demon's Souls is now available for download on the PlayStation®Network (PSN) for $19.99.


This week XSeed Games has announced the exciting news that we have come to an agreement with Nintendo to bring the highly anticipated action role-playing title, Pandora's Tower, exclusively to Wii™ in Spring 2013. Developed in Japan by Ganbarion, Pandora's Tower takes the classic fairytale theme of a maiden in distress and adds a violent twist, with the protagonist setting out to slay over a dozen giant monsters and collect their flesh in order to free his beloved from an evil curse. The game can be pre-ordered the game at Gamestop and


Microsoft Studios is announcing the launch of Microsoft Studios PLAY on Windows 8 today with 15 new games. The games are available for download now and can be purchased via the Windows 8 App Store or Xbox live. All Microsoft Studios titles let you try before you buy, so check them out today!  Watch the official PLAY launch trailer here:

 Full List of New PLAY Releases:
 Toy Soldiers (not available on Windows RT)
4 Elements: Special Edition
Hydro Thunder Hurricane
Rocket Riot 3D
Reckless Racing Ultimate
Microsoft Solitaire Collection
Microsoft Mahjong
Microsoft Minesweeper
Pinball FX2
Gunstringer: Dead Man Running
Skulls of the Shogun – launches at the end of January


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

2012's Most Overlooked Games - Part 2  


Games: Continuing last week's effort to give some spotlight to worthwhile games that didn't manage to make it onto many top 10 lists, here are the rest of the nominations for ‘most overlooked’ as selected by friends and freelancers in the gaming sphere.

Without further ado...


I Am Alive – Multi
By Scott Nichols
@Duckols -- Gamerly Musings 

The survival horror genre is in a bit of a schism right now, with the genre trending more and more toward action and heavy shooting. There are frightening moments, sure, but it’s rare to feel like your character is in any real danger. I Am Alive seems to be a direct response to that movement, going in the exact opposite direction by putting the emphasis instead on survival. For example, ammo and healing supplies are incredibly rare. I think the most ammo I ever had at once was a total of 3 bullets, and I felt like a god carrying those around. One bullet is as many as you’ll usually have, so you need to make it count.

In one scene, a survivor might come up to you and give you a little shove. Ok, so you try to walk around him only to see his friend to pop out holding a big knife. You pull your gun and they slowly raise their arms and back away. Do you actually have any ammo? Maybe, but they don’t know. Unlike standard game A.I., they value their lives and don’t want to find out. However, the longer you hold the gun on them without firing, the more suspicious they get. They’ll eventually start to take steps forward again… It’s these standoff moments that make I Am Alive such a rare and wonderful game, but there is so much more.

I met two friendly survivors in a subway tunnel cooking by a fire. They welcomed me and offered me something to eat. I thanked them for it, only to later discover the meat came from some cannibals further down the tunnel. Did the friendly survivors even know, or had they just gladly accepted any offered food as I did? I couldn't be sure. Another woman I met begged for food for her and her child. I had just used my last food to heal myself, but I decided I would come back later when I found more supplies. I returned a few hours later only to find the woman hanging from a home-made noose, and the child nowhere in sight. And don’t even get me started on the hotel…

The game’s atmosphere and attention to detail is simply impeccable, creating an oppressive and, more importantly, consistent tone. Yes, the melee combat is awful (I think purposefully so as to force players into using the gun bluff) and the ship segment is grade-A cheap bullshit, but I can forgive those faults for everything it does right, and that’s without even mentioning the Demon’s Souls-inspired stamina bar which adds a thrilling sense of tension to the otherwise boring Uncharted/Assassin’s Creed climbing mechanics.
I played I Am Alive early for a review, and was honestly shocked when it received so many negative critiques. I said it then and I will say again now, I Am Alive was easily one of the best games to come out of 2012.

Scott Nichols is a US Gaming Reporter at Digital Spy and freelance writer and critic wherever else game writing occurs.


Little Inferno - WiiU
By Nick Simberg -- @TheGameLlama

Despite still being one of only three indie games on the shiny new Wii U (and the sole game currently on sale), Little Inferno didn’t really seem to… ahem… catch fire with the public. The average gamer has done a remarkable job ignoring the pedigree of its developers (World of Goo and Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling Adventure), the dark humor that’s apparent even in the teaser trailer, and the interesting premise, hands-off learning style, and incredible music.

In Little Inferno, you are a young boy sitting in front of your “Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace,” burning all your toys in a futile attempt to keep warm while what appears to be the next ice age descends on the world outside your front door. Burnt toys drop money, enabling you to order newer, better toys to burn next, while solving riddles and burning certain combinations of toys together lets you order toys faster and unlock more catalogs.

The beauty of Little Inferno is that it doesn’t explain any of this to you. Like the original Super Mario Bros., it teaches you how to play the game by limiting your options to only what you need to do, but instead of running to the right and jumping, you toss objects into the fireplace then touch them to light them on fire. Despite the bittersweet atmosphere of the game, however, burning all your worldly possessions is rarely sad, even when it screams or cries as soon as the flames start to lick its skin. It’s more… cathartic. Out with the old, in with the new.

As the flames dance across your screen, you picture a brighter world rebuilt from the ashes, a world free of death, and cold, and sadness. Little Inferno is a game of building a better future on the burnt remains of the old, and it is glorious.

Throughout the game, you’ll start to get letters – letters from your neighbor, letters from the weatherman, letters from the CEO of Tomorrow Corporation (the in-game and real-world developers of the Little Inferno Entertainment Fireplace and Little Inferno, the game). They offer companionship, and lead you to answers, and give you weather reports. The storytelling is minimalist, but the dialogue is so endearing that you quickly come to care about this little world in the flames, and the little world outside, in the snow.

Then as you continue to burn away your childhood memories, things start happening. Things you wouldn’t suspect. And lo, you are treated to one of the finest endings of any game in recent memory, a resolution that will stick with you long after the screen goes dark and the flames die out.

New consoles are a chance for new developers to try new things, and Little Inferno sits pretty, not only as the best indie on the Wii U, but also as quite possibly the best game on the Wii U. Full stop. If you don’t own a Wii U, pick it up on Steam before it’s too late, and build your gaming future from the ashes of the past.

Nick Simberg has been bumming around the game journalism underground for longer than he cares to recall, writing more words than he cares to count. After the ups and downs of “real,” paid games writing, he’s settled into his own game blog,, where he discovered that the best words come when you have something to say and no one to tell you not to.


Binary Domain - Multi
By Matt Paprocki -- @Matt_Paprocki

They think they're alive: corporate controlled, red-eyed robots with a programmed death wish. Tokyo belongs to them in 2080, the Amada Corporation deploying their technological ingenuity in a search for power and created life.

Robots in Binary Domain do not die. They succumb to forced, physical devastation. With their legs blown away, bots crawl through their own scrambled fragments, still determined to carry out their mission against an appropriately named, militaristic Rust Crew. Bullets do not impact these creations called “Hollow Children,” they shatter them. That's Binary Domain's immediate, enthralling hook.

Almost every AAA or AA video game shoots. We praise and adore what they do right in death, but Binary Domain is almost soothing. Fragmentation carries a twisted allure against an enemy that is too inhuman to feel sorry for. Particle effects are ingeniously employed to sell impact, and there is no loss of power as the robot death march proceeds. If anything, their resistance to the hail of gunfire is what sells the shots; taking any one of them down is an accomplishment, the entire horde a thrill.

Between the bombs, guns, and gruffly comedic English dubbing, Sega builds an intertwined story. The Rust Crew comes from all circles, female, male, English, British, and more. This is a world war fought on Asian soil, via a design that is strikingly Japanese featuring characters determined to be American. Bosses, inserted into the narrative as action highs, bring with them patterns and weak points. Binary Domain could pass as a reincarnated Contra at its peaks, an extensive campaign paced to perfection, and challenging as ego takes over.

Rust Squad is not an ingrained unit. There is a sense of distrust amongst their members. While Sega may do little to sell the concept of voice commands via headset, quick selections on the directional pad will issue responses to conversations. Responding to offensive calls for cover, taking the lead in combat, and ensuring fire never strays into a friendly will create trust. It becomes a vital system as the crew branches out into their own war torn territories. Who you choose on each mission will help create bonds that mend together a narrative, unique to the structure of this overlooked gem.

What's unique about Binary Domain in the midst of third-person, highly budgeted shooters is its heart. While the point-and-shoot mechanisms are the immediate draw, camaraderie expands within often wet, dilapidated environments. Tokyo feels completely under siege, failed government sanctions allowing a mad man to experiment with new – if wholly artificial – life. The loose fabric that forms Rust Crew is challenged by mechanical warriors, and tested by how they behave.

Binary Domain asks questions, and maybe its metaphors are lost through some quirky, defiantly Japanese plot devices. This is not a macho, American shooter where guns solve everything, nor is it remotely plausible. The game is comfortable within its own skin, even if that skin can be unnervingly weird.

Sega packs in some multiplayer options that should not exist outside of cooperative play, but it is easy to forgive that sin. Almost no one will remember their online conflicts in Binary Domain. They will almost certainly question what it is to be human. In an era where shooters are often little more than pockets of meat exploding into blood marshes, Binary Domain wants to be more. It succeeds, and deserves a look for being daring.
Matt Paprocki has been a movie and video game critic for 13 years. His work has been featured on a variety of websites, and he currently edits and


The Sea Will Claim Everything - PC
By Ian Findlay
@IDFinners – Just Press Start 

I can think of a handful of games released this year that didn't gain the audience they deserved, but there is only one that I failed to fully appreciate within my initial review. That game is The Sea Will Claim Everything by Jonas and Verena Kyrates, and here’s why it deserves your attention:

The more time you take to explore the fantastical ‘Lands of Dream’ the more poignant your adventure becomes. Even a cursory playthrough will impress with some novel puzzles, memorable characters and an incredible soundtrack courtesy of Chris Christodoulou, but click on everything you see, read every line of dialogue and take the time to truly reflect upon the experience and you will be rewarded with something intellectually challenging and emotionally affecting.

As an example, the genre staple of item collection is given a somewhat unsettling undertone due to the financial crisis that has befallen ‘The Fortunate Isles’. The leaders of each island may be manipulating the situation in slightly different ways, but all of them have enacted isolationist policies that have crippled trade. 

Market stall owners will ask you to locate items that, whilst as peculiar as the rest of the game, were common mere months ago. Intellectual discourse has undergone a similar fate, with libraries being threatened with foreclosure and once great philosophers retiring to sell melons. The current financial crisis in Europe is the game’s most prominent satirical target, but cultural allusions are everywhere - be that upon the spine of the many books or within the thoughts of the many mushrooms - and almost every click is edifying.

The game isn’t stifled in any way in order to portray its message, you meet the most extraordinary characters and Jonas’ turn of phrase is often even more whimsical than Verena’s illustrations, but there is an unspoken dissonance between certain elements that places you in a rather contemplative mood. This would be impressive if rather irksome if the game attempted to force an ideology upon the player, but it doesn’t. It is instead confident enough to simply frame the events within the context of philosophy, mythology, politics and literary theory in order to promote introspection and discussion.

You are never truly an inhabitant of the wondrous ‘Fortunate Isles’. You will interact with its characters, explore its depths and ultimately become engrossed by it, but even within the fiction of the game you aren’t physically there. Instead, you are viewing it through a ‘magical window’ created by a druid in need of your help. Initially this seems more of a novelty than anything else, but once the tone is established it becomes clear that it is because the game doesn’t want to fully remove you from reality. It doesn’t want to tie your fate to that of the impossible world you are striving to save, it wants you to pay closer attention to the one we all share.

The sea may or may not claim everything in the end, but this remarkable game will almost certainly claim your heart.


They Bleed Pixels - PC
By Kyle Mcintosh

Masochism at its finest, They Bleed Pixels delivers intense combat within a moody, Gothic world. Dark colours dominate the Lovecraftian world, but spend any amount of time with the game and you'll soon find yourself painting the town red. Add in nail-biting platforming, rocking chiptunes, and guest and bonus levels, and They Bleed Pixels is the can't miss package of 2012 that far too many did, in fact, miss.

They Bleed Pixels' greatest strength comes from tearing up enemies and throwing them into the myriad environmental obstacles. Having experimented with one button design prior, Spooky Squid have competently mapped all combat moves to a single button, making them sensitive to the context they're enacted in (say running forward or jumping down). These enemies fit perfectly into the world: Not only are they inspired by Lovecraft's creations and horror tropes, they're smart.

Coming at enemies while button-mashing is often a fruitless endeavour. Each has a specific set of ways it needs to be defeated (if not thrown to its demise), meaning TBP is more about precision than simply brawling. Precision, too, is key to the platforming elements of the game, and it's an area players may struggle with. Many of the game's eleven areas are more about platforming than combat, and tough as nails to boot. Unless one is willing to commit to learning everything there is about the unnamed protagonist--especially how to best utilize her dash, double jump, and mid-air combat -- he or she won't find the platforming "clicks" like games of a similar vein.

This is mostly forgivable given TBP's creative checkpoint system. Instead of having checkpoints set in stone or forcing players to restart the level, TBP allows players to set their own. In order to do so, players fill a meter by collecting the spilled blood of enemies. Stand still and the checkpoint is placed for player convenience. Racking up more kills and combos means more checkpoints, creating something of a coping mechanism for dealing with a challenging game.

Be warned: Super Meat Boy this is not, and comparisons here have been annoying since they've started. Yes, TBP is masochistic. Yes, it was made by two guys. And yes, there's platforming to be had. The comparisons largely stop there. Where Meat Boy is about great platforming, TBP is about rewarding combat; where SMB has an almost polished aesthetic, TBPs is, well, pixellated; and whereas blood is shed in each, the former comes from the game's protagonists, and in the latter, from the enemies.

There is one other commonality: Both Super Meat Boy and They Bleed Pixels revere and showcase the work of fellow indies. In the case of TBP, these are in the form of guest levels with mixed up aesthetics. Taking inspiration from Seraph and Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure, each is an additional goodie for players to enjoy, as well as a welcome change of scenery. With one more of these levels slated to be available for free, as well as a free Halloween update from Spooky Squid, it's not hard to see They Bleed Pixels is a love letter to fans. Yes, sometimes it's a little rough around the edges, but it's hard to deny the allure it has for gamers of a certain persuasion. Don't miss out.


The Darkness II – Multi
By @TheDarkWayne

(Brad sez: Yes, I know this was already covered in the previous post, but clearly the game has a lot of fans out there. This was the only title that was chosen multiple times, and I had to cut it off at two entries.)

The Darkness II is a game that lets you eviscerate enemies in incredibly gruesome ways. You can slice them in half, rip their hearts out, and run them through in all manner of visceral and violent ways. As Jackie Estacado, a powerful mob boss with the unholy power of the ancient Darkness, you can perform an incredible array of extreme and exciting violence. The back of the box even proudly touts the feature of “quad-wielding”, something that sounds like something out of the most radical ‘90s arcade game. As much as the game and its marketing focus on this, it was completely secondary to what made me enjoy the game. Far and above anything else about it, I was playing The Darkness II for the world and its characters.

The Darkness II has, with the possible exception of more RPG-like games like the Deus Ex series, the most enjoyable and lively world of any first-person shooter I’ve ever played. The first Darkness is famous for letting players sit down with Jackie’s girlfriend Jenny and watch the entirety of To Kill A Mockingbird on an in-game TV. It was one of the most personal and intimate moment in a game this, or any, generation, and The Darkness II blows past that with the wonderful things it does.

In between missions, players are free to explore Jackie’s swanky mob boss-penthouse and interact with all the characters within. Some are typical mob movie clichés, like old mafia veteran Jimmy the Grape, while others like Johnny, a historian of The Darkness, are more unique. All of them are impeccably voice acted and an absolute joy to talk to. Even the clichéd characters, the psychopathic goon who loves killing for example, or the aforementioned mentor Jimmy the Grape, are unique and excellently written characters that are so much fun to share a world with, and oftentimes do a lot to interestingly subvert their conventions.

Going a step further, my absolute favorite parts of The Darkness II were the missions completely devoid of violence. Without spoiling some great moments, Jackie finds himself in a mental hospital à la One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and it provides some of the game’s best moments. There’s no combat, no ripping people’s hearts out with your evil snake-arms, but I enjoyed pressing X to exhaust half an hour’s worth of conversation about fruit from one hospital inmate more than just about anything else in games this year. That’s not to say the bread and butter of the game’s combat is bad either, far from it! Doing all kinds of awful, violent things to equally awful and violent bad guys manages to feel excitingly empowering while also providing a challenge.

The Darkness II was my favorite FPS of the year, in a year filled with heavy-hitters like Halo 4 and Far Cry 3. Heck, it was probably my plain favorite game. It provides a wonderfully unique and inventive twist to many FPS genre conventions, from gameplay to narrative. It managed at times to be stupidly funny in both its jokes and gameplay, and at others genuinely heartfelt and touching. Finally, if for no other reason, The Darkness II should be on anyone’s GOTY list for having the funniest FPS calibration tutorial ever.


…And there you have it, two posts’ worth of overlooked games hand-picked by the people who know.

Hopefully you've already played a few of these or have heard about them, but if not, then do yourself a favor and track a couple of these down. Everyone knows about the "big" games of 2012, but as you can see, there were a whole lot of quality experiences to be had that didn't generate as much buzz as the ones currently topping most of the critics’ lists.

Don't miss out!


Thursday, January 10, 2013

2012's Most Overlooked Games - Part 1  


Games: Now that 2012 is on the books and most places have wrapped up their GOTY awards, I thought it might be nice to check in with some friends and freelancers in the gaming sphere to see which titles they felt didn't get their due.

Everyone’s heard of XCOMDishonoredHalo 4Journey, and most of the other usual suspects. Heck, I bet most people interested in last year's best have even heard of Mark of the Ninja and Super Hexagon. However, there were still a ton of other games released over the last twelve months, and not all of them were lucky enough to end up on a published list somewhere.

In an effort to give a little spotlight to those that didn't get it before, here are some nominations for ‘most overlooked’ taken straight from my fellow games writers. In fact, I got so many from them that I'll be splitting this content into two separate posts. The first batch is below, so take a look and if you haven't already checked them out, then... you're welcome! (P.S. - Roy gets to go first since he made his own video.)


Xenoblade Chronicles - Wii
By Roy Blakely
@Kotowari -- Kotowari

The end of 2012 had me perusing a number of "best games of the year" posts -- writers and gamers that I respect all weighed in on what games made this past year matter.  To my dismay, one title didn't get the recognition I feel it deserves: Xenoblade Chronicles.  It's time to set the record straight about this under-appreciated JRPG.

The story surrounds a world in which two massive gods once fought to the death.  Their bodies, frozen in their final moments of combat eventually develop life -- different races for each god and even across different body parts.  How's that for an imaginative setting?

The main character, Shulk, grew up in a colony on one such god.  The colonies live in constant fear of attacks from Mechon, robotic beings that developed on the opposing god.  After no small amount of bloodshed, Shulk acquires a weapon capable of defeating these metal foes: the legendary and iconic Monado.  He and his friends go on a quest to seek revenge for their fallen comrades.

The battle system borrows a number of MMORPG elements: all skills have cooldown times, there is an extreme reliance on tanking, and each character has a different way they fight (think different jobclasses).  But Xenoblade does its fair share of innovating as well.  Team attacks, for instance, allow the player to temporarily control their AI followers to unleash devastating combos.  Now, the AI isn't bad, but having direct control allows the player to chain together attacks that build off one another, inflicting increasingly debilitating statuses. Not only does this system feel fluid and stylish, but it can greatly turn the tide of a battle.

The Monado allows its wielder to see the future, and this ability carries over into battle as well: when an ally is in danger of receiving a mortal blow, the player will see a glimpse of the attack before it happens.  There will then be a short amount of time for the player to prevent the doomed character's fate.  This can be accomplished by controlling agro, increasing defenses, or inflicting status effects.  All these elements make for some refreshingly tactical gameplay.

Like nearly any massive RPG, Xenoblade features an equally massive roster of NPCs.  Most of them will ask you to run an errand for them.  Things start to get incredible when, as you quest and speak with NPCs, a massive affinity map is compiled showing how each NPC knows another.  Character A doesn't like Character B's cooking; Character Z thinks Character Y doesn't apply themselves, etc.  Forming these connections increases your party’s affinity in the relative town, unlocking higher level quests and more revealing dialog.  These aren’t one-dimensional NPCs spouting the same nonsense over and over -- they grow, change, and have a purpose.

With the genre struggling for relevance these days, it’s hard to recall the last time I enjoyed a JRPG on the level of Xenoblade Chronicles.  This game shows key innovation to creating what I consider to be a modern classic.

(Yeah, I made a video to go along with this post...)


The Darkness II - Multi
By Justin Keverne
@GTElephant -- Groping the Elephant

It’s hard not to feel some sense of affection for a game that lets you launch a cockney demon in a union jack t-shirt at your enemies. The Darkness II is a game that manages to be at once both twice as stupid as it thinks it is and twice as smart as it has any right to be. A relentless procession of blood, bullets and tentacle arms it somehow managed to tell a story that - barring a sequel baiting misstep after the credits - is memorable and personal.

The frequent interludes in an asylum that seems out of place at first gradually begin to make you question exactly where the game is going. The patients and doctors that inhabit this sterile environment becoming more human and relatable even as the events in the “real world” spiral further out of control as cults and eternal wars between light and dark come between protagonist Jackie Estacado’s and his search for redemption for his lost love.

Combat is straightforward and frequent, with enough variation in the types of enemies you encounter in its hectic and often prolonged fire fights to prevent fatigue. The need to devour the hearts of fallen enemies for health is a risk-reward tension at the heart of combat that is more engaging that it sounds and the Darkness tentacles - though reduced in capabilities compared to the original - and the need to stay out of the light give each encounter a twist toward the horrific and tactical.

The Darkness II should be utter comic book hokum, and with its “quad wielding” and tentacle arm executions for the most part manages to achieve that with aplomb and a sense of style. Yet when it tries for pathos it’s largely successful. The Italian-American stereotypes that constitute the Franchetti crime family are larger than life and hard to believe, but at its core The Darkness II is about Jackie and his relationships, with his Aunt Sara, his lost love Jenny and the Darkness itself.

In its closing moment The Darkness II actually lets you decide which of its two realities you want to accept, do you take the hand of Jenny Romano the nurse and slow dance with her in the ward as the credits role to the beautifully apt “I Only Have Eyes for You”, or do you leap from the asylum’s roof to continue your search for the “real” Jenny Romano by descending into hell itself to retrieve her soul?

The Darkness II is at once exactly what it appears to be and something just that little bit smarter than anybody was expecting. It was hamstrung by a short campaign and comparisons to the  Starbreeze developed original, and despite all that it’s a rare video game where you actually grow to give a damn about the characters. For a game about demonic tentacle arms and Italian Mafioso that’s a minor miracle.


Ys Origin – Steam
By Michael Cunningham
@FinalMacstorm -- RPGamer -- Pocket-Console

In terms of gaming, I've heard many people say that 2012 was underwhelming. I can see where they are coming from, as a lot of the big AAA titles were not nearly as impressive as some of the smaller games and portable offerings. Thankfully for me, I love RPGs, which fit in both of those categories, so I didn't feel as empty.

One of my favorite games of the year is also one that very few people seemed to have played outside of a few in my circle of RPGamers. Ys Origin -- a fantastic game, but not even one I would typically play, as I tend to eschew PC gaming and am not the biggest action RPG fan, but as a recent convert to the Ys series I felt compelled to try it out. I’m very glad I did.

Ys Origin was released in Japan in 2006, so it's far from being new, but it wasn't until 2012 that XSEED Games was able to officially license it and release it in North America via Steam. Since it has a bit of unintended mileage on it, Origin is not a graphical powerhouse, but it makes up for that in many other ways. An action RPG with platforming elements and exploration, Ys Origin is like a cross between The Legend of Zelda and Metroid with a dose of character progression added in. It offers a fast-paced, high action experience throughout, so even gamers who don't typically enjoy action RPGs should be at home here, as it lacks the repetitive nature of many of those. Oh, and I can't say enough about the rock inspired  soundtrack from Falcom's JDK band. The music, especially boss themes, are truly outstanding.

There are a few caveats, though, as the difficulty ramps up pretty quickly, even on easy. If you start out and have trouble with the first boss, it's no shame to drop the challenge down to where you can enjoy it. Even on the lowest difficulty the game is far from a cakewalk, but it's always fair. There are also two characters to choose from at the start (with another added once you complete the game), Yunica and Hugo. Yunica is a young girl with a large axe and her playstyle is very similar to series standard Adol. She's all about getting in close and hacking things up. Hugo, however, is much different as he carries a wand and is surrounded by two magical orbs for ranged combat. I felt that his attacks were much faster and even more flexible than Yunica's and it made all the difference.

Ys Origin might not have made a big splash, but it should have. It's a frenetic, action-filled adventure with straightforward, yet not overly simplistic combat mechanics. The soundtrack is outstanding and more than makes up for the dated graphics. The plot might be pretty standard RPG fare, but the characters are likeable (except the villains you're supposed to hate) and it offers a few good twists, at least on Hugo's path. Best of all, it doesn't drag on too long, lasting only about eight hours. If you want an enjoyable and challenging action RPG, check out Ys Origin.


The Secret World - PC
By Steven Strom

A Native American woman nervously jokes about the local New England townies "hiding their mouthwash" whenever she leaves the reservation. She says it as if to reassure herself, rather than you, that their reactions don’t hurt. It’s a small line said out-of-hand to try and sell the paper-thin camouflage of humor. It’s a line that feels real, like something someone has actually said at one point or another. Her words hang there for a split-second before everyone realizes there are more pressing issues at hand. Issues like an apocalypse at the hands of alien gods, and the Illuminati and Templar agents swarming around the globe trying to waylay it.
It’s some of the best video game writing of 2012, and it’s a lesser example of thousands of such lines. It didn’t come from an art house indie game or a blockbuster shooter, either. It came from, of all things, an MMO called The Secret World.

The universe presented in The Secret World is so twisted around its ugly, mundane, fascinating counterpart known as The Real World it’s hard not to develop a sympathy for its inhabitants. Maturely-handled sex, existing bigotry, tolerated mental illness and pop culture references all provide a context for the high concept fantasy. The interwoven tales of conspiracies and faceless, Lovecraftian monsters are great, but it’s The Secret World’s grounding in reality and likable, believable characters that continues to keep me arrested from mechanically superior fare like Guild Wars 2.

So when that same woman asks you to put down a band of zombies that's been eating its way through her friends, you're able to put aside the indifference bred by a thousand scif-fi/fantasy tropes and genuinely want to help her. Not just because doing so will net you your next bump in experience, but because she feels real enough for you to want to help. It’s a shame a lot of people didn't bother looking hard enough to see that reality, and dismissed it the moment they saw the telltale hotbar. It's a shame those same people will never realize that this MMO doesn't always play like an MMO.

Just like everyone else, the developers of The Secret World saw the problem with repetitive MMO quest structure. "Kill [X number of] boars" has become the de facto joke when referring to the massively mutliplayer games, and their rebuttal was to pour out every play-style in the book and see what rose to the top of the mess.

Pig slaying hasn't been supplanted completely (though the swine has been replaced with demonically possessed CDC agents, which is interesting in its own way) but it has been woven between dives into survival-horror, stealth missions, puzzle-based investigations and even augmented reality games requiring research outside of the game proper. Not all of these experiments hit the mark 100% of the time, but when they do it's a revelation amongst a stagnant genre.

But those revelations -- both the ones you play and the ones you have to see and feel -- will be lost on a crowd that gave up on massively multiplayer game. They saw what happened to The Old Republic and 38 Studios, and they decided that 2012 was the year that the genre died.

I’m happier to believe that 2012 was the year that MMOs finally made me feel something more.


Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning - Multi
By Mike Mahardy
@mmahardy -- Mike's Portfolio

Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning was talked about this year, but for all of the wrong reasons. Between 38 Studios’ financial woes, bankruptcy filings, and loan disagreements with the state of Rhode Island, it seems that everyone forgot just how many things the actual game does so well.
Eschewing the number-based combat of so many RPGs, Reckoning delves into the timing mechanics of action-oriented games. This doesn’t downgrade the game into a mere button-masher though; every spent skill point shows tangible results. This means that hard-earned experience provides new combat maneuvers for any one of the unique weapons. Instead of just increasing the chance for a critical hit while using Faeblades, a new improvement permits a dizzying spin attack with the Elven weapons. The gameplay loop between the enticing combat and subsequent rewards means that combat is a centralized mechanic instead of a distracting filler.

The fighting elements of Reckoning are amplified once you spend a few thousand gold on an easy respec. Getting tired of your dagger-wielding thief? Switch to a brawler build and beat on a few trolls with a gigantic hammer. The ease with which Reckoning allows you to try each and every skill means experimentation is just as important as execution when it comes to character-building.

When you’re not exploring for the sole purpose of finding more things to fight, you’ll be taken aback by the gorgeous world of Amalur. Lush forests, arid deserts, and rolling plains are nothing you haven’t seen before. The vibrant colors and cartoony vibe of it all are what set Reckoning’s aesthetic apart: greens are more pleasant, browns more desolate, and everything in between more alive.

The Faelands – and the quests therein – are more reminiscent of an MMO than anything else. Each gigantic zone contains myriad ways to distract you on the way to the next. Although many of the environments are self-contained, many missions will encourage exploration of uncharted territories. Completionists will have it especially rough – every yellow exclamation point on the mini-map is a mark of shame pulling you back into each fantastical environment. 

None of this is to say that Reckoning doesn’t function smoothly on a minute level as well. In fact, so many tedious aspects of RPGs are improved that it’s a wonder more games haven’t done the same. Sneaking is effective and – dare I say it – fun, inventory management allows the marking of items for quick sale, and mid-combo weapon swapping exponentially increases combat potential.

The story of Reckoning isn’t exceptional – characters, events, and places are all muddled together and forgotten within a few of hours of completion. The amalgamation of RPG and action elements is what makes your journey through the Faelands memorable. Everything flows together in the most fluid way: Exploration leads to quests, which lead to combat, which leads to experimentation, which recreates the whole process. It’s hard to feel as if you’ve made a dent in Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning without dozens of hours logged, but these are hours very well spent.


Don’t Starve – PC
By Dan Crabtree
@DanRCrabtree -- Games on a Stick

In a genre predating survival horror, survival shooters, and survival RTS, Don't Starve carves a bleak new direction for subsistence gaming. Klei Entertainment (ShankMark of the Ninja) has taken the Harvest Moon formula and stripped away any optimism, replacing it with a dark, pen-drawn visual style and a single, negative command.

The player wakes up as Victorian gentleboy Wilson, stranded on a muted, brown patch of dirt dotted with tufts of grass, rabbit holes, a tree or two, the errant flint, spider nests, berries, seeds, ravens, rocks, pig kings, poop, gravestones, twigs, and an invisible night predator. The player’s goal is as trivial as it is consuming – don’t starve. An inventory at the base of the screen reveals Wilson’s relative poverty, and a build list on the left hints at his survival potential. At the right, flashing heart and stomach meters guide him towards the first order of business.

The first night, Wilson invariably dies. How should the player know that he would need that much grass to keep a fire going through the night? But that first death is critical, because it sets the tone for the rest of the game, the tone that only permadeath can conjure. It’s more akin to roguelikes, and evinces a dire aura similar to Dark Souls’ soul-crushing enterprise. Don’t Starve is a bit cheekier than that.

Don’t Starve thrives on its dark humor, not unlike LIMBO, but stands in gaunt contrast with LIMBO’s playful forgiveness. By attacking too many spiders, forgetting to gather materials for a campfire, or staying in one place too long, the player learns the hard way (that is, by starting all over) that this simulation won’t award personality. Survival suddenly matters.

Don’t Starve is the first game in several years that Klei Entertainment self-published and it squeaks with an independent, experimental verve. That ingenuity extends to the player’s toolkit, which includes, among other oddities, a life-saving meat effigy, more or less an olive branch to dedicated players. Also roaming the sparse island are regenerating pig-men who, when killed and fed to the pig king (of course), turn into gold nuggets for experience.

In the interest of science (generated by the Science Machine), players can dig up graves to release ghosts, who attack Wilson and his arachnid enemies, or they can set fire to a tree to burn down all flora on the map. None of that’s explicitly communicated to the player. Like in the moment of that first death in the pitch black night, these tough lessons encapsulate the pioneering backbone of Don’t Starve.

The game is, however, an unforgiving frustration at times, and the exploration starts to wear thin after ten or so hours. Even then, there are still combinations of resources, pan flutes, and top hats that could take twice as long to see into completion. Since Don’t Starve runs a light, fast client on PC, popping in and out of this gentleman scientist’s survival nightmare is easy, bizarre, and briefly gripping.


This is the end of Part 1. Check in at the next update for Part 2!