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Rock Paper Shotgun – PC Game Reviews, Previews, Subjectivity

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"So, all the lights in the heavens are our enemies, huh?" - a Gurren Lagann quote, but it's what pops into my head every time I see maximalist RTS AI War 2, which entered early access today, but was previously open to Kickstarter backers. Sequel to Arcen Games's cult favourite AI War, it's a solo or co-op space RTS about taking down a massively more numerous and powerful foe. While still played on a 2D plane, this sequel adds 3D graphics, making for some spectacular battles with thousands of little spacecraft shooting and exploding at once. Below, a launch trailer.

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Old-school first-person shooters will always be my jam, and Project Warlock has already got my foot tapping. It's a retro FPS by Buckshot Software with chunky Wolfenstein-inspired blocky maps, but more modern-styled combat, and due to make its debut (as a timed GOG exclusive) this Thursday, October 18th. While it's hard to get a feel for the game without playing around with its weapons and grungy pixellated monsters, the launch trailer below definitely looks and sounds the part.

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As £70 / $69 gaming mice go, the MSI Clutch GM60 is arguably one of the most adaptable mice I've seen in a while. It's ambidextrous for starters, making it a good pick for right and left-handed PC peeps alike, but you also get not one, but two pairs of magnetic side covers, an extra USB cable (one braided, one rubber) and an additional top cover. All right, the latter is possibly a slight misfire in that it doesn't actually change the overall height of the GM60, but the rest bring a welcome touch of flexibility to this eight-buttoned gaming mouse that helps go a long way in justifying its premium price.

It is, however, weirdly flat. Despite measuring a sizable 130mm long, 65mm wide and weighing a hefty 170g, the highest point of the Clutch GM60 stands just 39mm off the ground. From there, it's a steady decline down to a positively titchy 12mm or so, making the whole thing feel a bit like a pancake. Does its deflated shape make for best gaming mouse material? Let's find out.

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Fire the (plasma) broadsides, launch (nuclear) torpedoes and splice the (warp?) mainbrace - free-to-play heavyweight space naval shooter Dreadnought is out now after years in beta. Playing like a blend of World Of Tanks and World Of Warships with less gravity and more lasers, it's an online team shooter developed by Spec Ops: The Line folk Yager and lesser-known outfit Six Foot. While Dreadnought has been available to play in beta one way or another for ages, it made its version 1.0 debut yesterday. Check out the release trailer below.

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Some might tell you that the latest Dragon Quest XI patch sounds great, lifting the cap on framerate and adding more key binding options to the game our Noa called "a beauty of a JRPG". These people are incorrect. The patch has introduced a grave injustice by allowing people to leave their horses behind. Just think of the sort of monster that would leave a digital horse alone in a land of slimes. The game previously punished such monsters by sometimes making the game crash but now Squeenix say that was a "bug" and they have "fixed" it? So people can abandon their horse without consequence? Terrible. Terrible patch. Terrible news. A terrible precedent.

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John Carmack and ZeniMax Media have settled their legal disputes with each other, the Id Software co-founder has said, closing one front in the sprawling legal war between ZeniMax and Oculus. ZeniMax own Id Software (along with Bethesda, Arkane, and others), see, and claim that Oculus Rift cybergoggles benefited from work Carmack did at Id before he left for Oculus. That matter is still not fully settled but Carmack's own beef, that ZeniMax owed him $22 million related to the sale of Id, now seems resolved. I welcome all legal settlements that make my job simpler when I have to write about this mess.

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Feature: The existence of Diablo III kind of spoils the ending

Have You Played… Diablo II?

I liked playing Diablo III because so much of it is like Diablo II. And Diablo II is amazing - especially if you got the Lord of Destruction expansion, which added a whole fifth act and two character classes. In fact, one of those classes is the Assassin, and she’s the coolest, so we should probably consider Lord of Destruction as the definitive way to play.

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It’s deathly quiet in the forest. Then the silence gives way to a man shouting for help. He's tied to a post and trying to fend off a ravenous wolf. A single crossbow bolt takes the feral creature out. The shirtless man pleads for my help to free him, cussing as he explains his predicament. I choose to cut him loose. “I owe you my life,” he says. “I’ll never forget this, I swear.”

Inconsequential though it may seem, I begin to ponder his words. Could this have implications? Maybe his captors will return to find he’s escaped and attempt to track me down. It may have been better to leave him tied up. But perhaps he’ll help me the next time our paths cross. It’s this kind of small-scale player choice that runs through the heart of Metro Exodus.

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I'm no history buff, but I know an awful lot of 'em. When I listen to my friends enthuse about what famous generals liked best on their toast, I'm thinking about how my favourite memories of Paradox games have been formed by escaping stuffy old history and pretending to be a Lannister.

Luckily for me, Paradox are building tools that will make it much easier for modders to replace carefully modelled authenticity with fictional gubbins - or just twiddle with historical simulations, whatever floats your trireme. Those tools are part of a new engine what will make everything run better, look nicer and sound snazzier, but will also let people mod games while they're running. To some extent.

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Lawyers from Lucasfilm have shut down Apeiron, a fan remake of BioWare's 2003 RPG Star Wars: Knights Of The Old Republic (one of the best PC games, according to us). It's little surprise that The Suits have stamped this out, though of course it is a bummer - and doubly so because Poem Studios put three years of hope and work into Apeiron before it caught the The Suits' cruel eye. The Suits even want them to destroy all their work. Our Alec seemed hopeful (well, by his standards) and called Apeiron "extremely pretty" back in 2016, but so it goes.

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Feature: Suda, woulda, coulda

Let It Die’s free-to-play money-grubbing fits it perfectly

There's this art installation called the Minimum Wage Machine. Between 2008 and 2010 conceptually-motivated artist Blake Fall-Conroy exhibited a box operated by a hand-crank, which spat out a US penny every four seconds, intended to be equivalent of working for the minimum wage in New York at the time. I take this art piece to be about how labour can be completely disengaged from utility. At your job, you create things you don’t necessarily even consume. Marx, who had maybe one or two things to say about the role capital plays in culture, would call this "alienation". How different, really, is turning a crank in an art gallery to lads in factories making electronics they’ll never be able to afford? To collecting cocoa beans if you’ll never get to eat a Freddo? For years I’ve wondered if a big videogame might also try to leverage this kind of financial cynicism through interactivity.

I’ve been playing Let It Die this week.

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Yesterday, a flood of pink gnomes took over World Of Warcraft, racing from the starting area of Gnomeregan to the pirate harbour of Booty Bay. The Running of the Gnomes has grown over its nine annual iterations, now seeing thousands of participants log in to celebrate and raise money for breast cancer research.

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Sometimes, in Hearthstone, your entire deck hinges on a single card. Also sometimes, you can overdraw, causing those cards to be burned away. And, once in a while, you burn your key card on stage in a championship decider match, right after the production crew cuts to signs in the crowd predicting that you’ll do exactly that.

Be warned, I’m going to spoil the moment and the match below. Let’s start with the clip:

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While we’re all busy digging into ancient Greece, Ubisoft haven’t forgotten last year’s Ptolomaic playground, Assassin’s Creed Origins. During development, they partnered with Egyptologists, and in doing so they apparently discovered that translating hieroglyphs is very difficult and time consuming. In response, they started looking into ways to streamline the process using machine learning, and this week, they presented their initial progress.

Take a look at their introductory video explaining what they’re trying to achieve:

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Feature: Read more

The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for promising yourself you'll devote some free time to a project, then inevitably reneging and playing yet more Assassin's Creed. Or reading the best writing about video games from the past week (and beyond).

I said 'ooh, that's a good point' aloud when I read this bit in Christian Donlan's Eurogamer piece about the relationship between technology and nature in Zelda: Breath of the wild.

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Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 may have its differences from its many predecessors, most notably its inclusion of Battle Royale mode Blackout, but it’s still a first-person shooter at its core. Except, players have been using emotes to activate a third-person view, giving them a good look around them and potentially an advantage over their opponents. Treyarch say they’re already working on a fix.

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Bard-based adventure Wandersong is, simply put, delightful. But though its colourful style and heartwarming story of hope in the face of adversity are excellent, it’s the little details that I find myself enjoying most. There are so many of them, scattered through every part of the game, but a really good example can be found in its achievements.

Spoilers up to and including Act Four below the cut.

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When thinking of holiday destinations, Fallout 76’s irradiated wasteland might not be the first place that springs to mind. But the state of West Virginia wants you to focus on the landscapes, scenery, and terrifying mutated creatures folklore, and consider heading out to see them in person. They’ve put out a video of a Vault-tec bobblehead hanging out next to the state capitol building to entice you in:

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Ubisoft’s melee-dramatic, vaguely historically inspired For Honor has always been a speculative thing, mashing together unrelated factions for the fun of it. With the pending release of the Marching Fire expansion, they’re taking it one step further and asking: what if knights vs. samurai vs. Vikings, but now everything is burning? See for yourself below:

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Feature: Spooky, scary...

Priceless Play – 13th October 2018

Welcome to October, dear friends. As we get ever closer to that spookiest of holidays, Halloween, it becomes increasingly requisite to break out the thrills and chills we find in classic horror video games. Now, obviously, I could recommend to you any AAA powerhouse: Until Dawn, Alan Wake, Fatal Frame, Silent Hill 2… the list goes on. There is a veritable pantheon of formidable horror games with which you could regale yourself. And then, of course, there’s the independent horror scene. I have my pet favourite indie faves -- Kitty Horrorshow’s Anatomy should be obligatory. And then, of course, those nostalgia-rich browser horror games -- The House anyone?

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As if holy wars weren't bad enough, Paradox are making them more complicated than ever before in their expansion, Holy Fury, for historical political life-sim Crusader Kings 2. Announced back in May, the expansion now has a release date - November 13th, just one month away. Leaders can become saints, successions are to become thornier, and pagans can forge their own custom path instead of bowing to one of the other trendier religions. This one's going to be bigger than past expansions, and include random world generation too. Below, a new story trailer.

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The sheer audacity of Greywolf's Pax Nova is impressive - not content with tackling Civilization-scale 4X strategy as shown above, it stretches out to spacefaring scale as well. Just announced and looking like a hybrid of several major 4X strategy games smushed into a shared hex-and-turn-based format, Pax Nova enters early access "soon" and is to be published by Iceberg Interactive. You can check out its teasingly brief debut trailer below.

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Feature: Flights, Gatherer, Action!

Unknown Pleasures: Species of Eight

It's another transitional time, view-chums, when the students are settling, the returning TV dramas are nervously eyeing up various sharks, and I must decide which of my first ever batch of plants must be sacrificed to the ice gods. Will it be Younas, the defiant mortar tomato? Surely it couldn't be Wilfred, producer of the Great Unexpected October Chilli? Oh, the terrible burden of choice!

Fortunately, the demands of the column have prepared me, and in fact this time we're having not five, not ten, but eight of the best overlooked games on Steam. Nobody tells Unknown Pleasures what to do. Except Graham. And Alice. And sometimes Brendy. And the magistrate that one time.

Making a noble sacrifice this week: Genetic meddling, smooth transitions, and Wooian manshoots.

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Gwent - Geralt of Rivia's favourite collectable card game - now steers the fate of nations in Witcher spinoff Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales. CD Projekt Red have just released a 37 minute walkthrough of the card-RPG, introducing us to its characters, and the tweaked version of Gwent that the game uses to resolve its conflicts. It's genuinely interesting stuff, with the player's deck-building skills tested in battles that go far beyond the usual formula of the card game. Thronebreaker launches in a little under two weeks on October 23rd. The walkthrough video lurks below.

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When I was a child, 4D cinemas were all the rage. You know the ones, with the seat-rumbling and the spurts of air in your face when something explodes onscreen and the spaceship you and 40 other people are meant to be piloting starts crash-landing into the moon. Well, Whirlwind FX have come up with the PC equivalent of 4D cinema that you can stick on your desk.

The Vortx, they call it, and this small, speaker-sized doodad is being touted as the world's first environmental simulator for PC gaming. It does so by essentially blowing hot and cold air in your face for those air-quote worthy goals of "maximum immersion" and "making you feel like you're in the game" - provided you can still hear the game over the din of its fans, that is.

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Some time after Gunfire's apocalyptic hack n' slasher Darksiders 3 launches next month, whip-cracking heroine Fury gets to poke around some Serpent Holes. Nothing to do with Brendan's horny lizard-folk, but rather one of two planned bits of DLC for the game included in the Deluxe Edition's price.

The first DLC - The Crucible - has Fury return to the survival arena from Darksiders 2, while Keepers Of The Void re-purposes the Serpent Holes from the original Darksiders - formerly a fast-travel network, they're now full of puzzles, monsters and loot. Below, the latest trailer.

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Watching all of Imperator: Rome’s wars, trade deals and politicking play out is a lot like viewing a highlight reel of Paradox’s current generation of grand strategy epics. The upcoming strategy game has Crusader King 2’s detailed characters, Europa Universalis 4’s broad national scope, Victoria 2’s demographics and even Hearts of Iron 4’s wargame sensibilities, all transposed to the world of antiquity. It's the latter that stands out the most, however. Imperator: Rome is a game of big wars.

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The prospect of Hitman 2 has seemed to be 'more of the same good stuff, in new places' but with the game's launch now only one month and a day away, developers IO Interactive today announced that--surprise!--it'll introduce a 1v1 competitive multiplayer mode. Ghost Mode, as it's named, isn't about two hitmen trying to whack each other. Instead, they'll compete to off the same random targets fastest in different instances of the same level, existing in each other's world only as a faded 'ghost'. Ah you'll understand if you watch this new trailer below.

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