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Rock Paper Shotgun – PC Game Reviews, Previews, Subjectivity

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Development of next year’s entry in the Call Of Duty franchise seems to have gone through a significant shift this week, as reported by Jason Schreier at Kotaku. Apparently, publishers Activision have changed the studios working on the game, moving it from Raven and Sledgehammer to Black Ops developers Treyarch, who will be working to release Black Ops 5 a year earlier than expected.

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The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for being lazy. Here's the best writing about videogames from the past week. (Although this week is unusually light on vidgams. You're welcome/sorry.)

For Vice (which Waypoint has now regrettably been folded back into, by the way), Elizabeth Ballou delved into the fascinating and sometimes creepy world of Ingress, an augmented reality game about spies and logistics. I love how people get so deeply invested, but the way that tips over into genuine harassment is disturbing. Ballou's article is only about that in part though. It's riveting and you should read it despite the slightly misleading headline.

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What’s better than a real garden, full of flowers and sunshine? A virtual one, obviously. Particularly when it comes to Fujii, a VR game scheduled to release next month, because there’s this happy, leafy bear to keep you company and play some sweet ukulele tunes as you explore about. You can meet them in the trailer below.

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Dungeon-crawling hackathon Conglomerate 451 will be hitting Steam early access next week, opening its maglev doors to a world of grimy concrete and pink neon. Players will be able to hack themselves and the world around them in an attempt to overcome the baddies without sustaining ongoing injuries or agent death, the latter of which will necessitate wheeling out a fresh clone who might have the same face but won’t remember any of the upgrades they received before death. A fitting way of dealing with new recruits, considering the genre. Here’s a trailer showing off some of the fighting and biomodding.

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Smile For Me is a phrase that’s less cheery and innocuous than it sounds. Whether it’s a misguided “just be happy!” response to mental illness or a rando guy approaching women on the street, there are actually very few situations in which telling someone to smile is appropriate or welcome. Bearing this in mind may be helpful when it comes to thinking about Smile For Me, the game, a point and click puzzler where you must enter something called The Habitat and make its residents happy again by fulfilling their many strange requests. Here, this trailer will show you what I mean.

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World Of Warcraft Classic will be throwing players back to the halcyon days of 2004 come August, reverting the MMO back to its original state. But it seems that some have been looking back through rose-coloured glasses, or at least gotten so used to the 15 years of quality of life improvements that they’re confused by some of the game’s original details. As such, Blizzard have released a very lovely list of things to please stop telling them are bugs.

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Feature: Head to your local mass photocopy outlet today!

Priceless Play – 18 May

To this day, one of the most powerful things I've experienced is printing my own zine. Opening the box shipped to my door and seeing the neatly stacked little booklets with my handwriting inside is the sort of pride I imagine is reserved for published authors or narcissists. "Zine," for those not in the know, is short for "magazine," and it's honestly a lifestyle. Typically a zine is a do-it-yourself booklet made via photocopier, with a small circulation and a counter-culture slant. They're purposefully messy, a little (or very) provocative, and imbued with the feelings and power of the people who make them.

Zines are not solely relegated to the power of print, however. The ink-stained fingers of zine-makers weaseled their way into the digital years ago. From vignette-games to zine-software to (of course) the rise of those meddling videogame zinesters, this week's Priceless Play is an ode to the makeshift.

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Feature: WELL!?

What are we playing this weekend?

We have zero Alices in work today, and everything is collapsing. The life force of the RPS treehouse is drifting lazily out of all the windows, like some sort of JRPG miasma. Without the Alices, we're doomed. Something drastic must be done. Perhaps... yes, here it is. Alice O told me only to use this strange device in an emergency. But if this isn't a crisis, I don't know what is. Let me just fiddle with the settings. In the meantime...

What are you playing this weekend? Here's what we're clicking on!

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As someone who has rolled lawns, built decking, knocked down old conservatories and more, I cannot think of few things I'd rather simulate less than the contents of Garden Flipper. Released today, it's the first major expansion for House Flipper, Empyrean's game of cleaning up other people's messes and ordering shedloads of virtual Ikea furniture to conceal interior design sins. As the title might suggest, this one is about all things outdoors. Mow lawns, install garden furniture, plant flowers and generally act like you're part of the Gardener's World B-team. See the trailer below.

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The next big update for space-ninja looty shooter Warframe is just over the horizon. The Jovian Concord, previously known as the Gas City Remaster update, is due out next week, although Digital Extremes are a bit fuzzy on what day exactly. It'll bring a complete story-driven rework to one of the free-to-play shooter's earliest environment types (Corpus gas-mining platforms on Jupiter), a new set of enemies, a big honkin' flying monster boss (above) and a new Warframe. Below, trailers looking at the overhauled industrial zones and a peek at the new Warframe's powers.

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I've seen a lot of dialogue systems in games. Some with dice-rolls, some with obscure glyphs, but none quite like Signs Of The Sojourner, which transforms conversation into a deck-building puzzle. Just announced by Echodog Games and aiming to release later this year, they've just released a playable alpha demo, available via their Discord channel to gather feedback. It's a story about leaving home in the wake of a parent's death, travelling, discovering delicious foods and trying to come away from every conversation with knowledge of how to talk to others better.

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Unsurprisingly, but no less frustrating for it, Riot Games (League Of Legends) management aren't backing down from their stance on forced arbitration. This company policy is preventing two current employees from suing over gender discrimination, and the primary reason for the recent staff walkout. They have, at least, said they'd end forced arbitration for new and future staff, but according to a public statement released last night, that's as far as they'll budge. They did declare - in cheerfully bland corporate language - that they are setting up a "Diversity & Inclusion Rioters Council", an internal forum where staff can air their grievances, plus a road-map for diversity improvements, which you can see below.

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Lovely as Metro Exodus was, the extremely Russian post-apocalyptic FPS came (optionally) bundled with a sealed mystery vault of goodies in its season pass. Now, 4A games have finally revealed what's in the box, and it thankfully doesn't sound too painful. There are two expansions on the way, the first offering a more classic linear Metro story, and the second adding another open-world sandbox zone to explore, and both put you in the shoes of new characters. The first expansion - The Two Colonels - is out this summer, and the second - Sam's Story - launches in early 2020. Below, details and possible spoilers if you've not finished the main game.

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Feature: Cheap games, graphics cards, monitors and more

Best PC gaming deals of the week – 17th May 2019

Man alive, it's a good time for some epic deals, eh? After last week's mega haul, I didn't think anything could possibly top it this week, but oh how your deals herald has been proved wrong. For not only are Epic slashing dozens of prices on new and unreleased games until June 13, but Green Man Gaming are also celebrating their birthday this month with a bunch more deals, while Fanatical have gone a bit loopy with their May Madness sale. And that's before we get to all the graphics card deals and other miscellaneous hardware bargains going on. So, if you've been hankering for some cheap Monster Hunter: World, Resident Evil 2, Surviving Mars, anything made by Raw Fury, or GTA V action, read on. Your deals herald will provide.

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Welcome back to Spawn Point, where we take something wonderful from the world of gaming and explain what it is, why it’s worth your time and how to get involved. This time, we look at “Spectacle Fighters”, or “Character Action Games” if you like your genre names vague and uselessly ambiguous.

What’s so spectacular about these fighters, then? It’s Spectacle Fighters, a genre of mostly third-person action games that focuses on the visual spectacle of combat above all else. These are games designed to make you both feel and look like a badass through a huge range of freedom in combat options. They also tend to rate your performance with a score, rank or grade of some kind, usually from D through to S.

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Feature: Listen now and make some pals

Podcast: The strongest friendships in games

You’re a good person, reader, and I will always believe in you, no matter what. No, not you. The person behind you. No, to the left of... No, the other person. The one in the green-- No, you, with the... NO. The person BEHIND you, I said. The person with-- Oh great they’ve walked off now. This whole thing has been a waste of time. My only friend among you is gone because we’re several sentences into this intro and none of you can understand how pointing works. I hope you’re all happy. Here’s your god damned podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show.

Honestly.

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Feature: But don't try to export it

The Flare Path: RTFM

Just as real aircraft are a lot more dangerous than sim ones, real aircraft documentation can imperil its owners in ways the sim variety can't. This week it emerged Oleg Tishchenko, a 42-year-old avionics expert at Eagle Dynamics in Moscow, has been extradited to the US from Georgia to face multiple charges connected with the procurement, smuggling and reselling of manuals for recent and current USAF fighters. Tishchenko claims he sourced the manuals to aid him in his development work. Eagle Dynamics has denied all involvement insisting “its employee acted in a purely private context and for his own personal interests.”

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My days by the Hearthstone are mostly long behind me, but every now and then I get lured back by something shiny. That's happened with The Dalaran Heist, a Solo Adventure released yesterday as part of the Rise Of Shadows expansion. It's about beating up gnomes and beleaguered zombie bureaucrats in an attempt to steal the floating city of Dalaran, and the first chunk is free.

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Feature: Plane sailing

Have You Played… the Just Cause 2 multiplayer mod?

When Graham asked if you'd played Just Cause 2, he (correctly) spent most of his time praising the extent of its wanton destruction. Then he claimed that the multiplayer mod "lets you wreak the same havoc – and much more – in huge multiplayer servers." I don't think he realises how right he was.

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Ubisoft's open world winter sports sandbox (snowbox?) Steep is the publisher's latest giveaway. Available to snag and keep forever between now and Tuesday, May 21st, it features skiing, snowboarding, wingsuit diving and paragliding - four fun ways to hurl yourself down a mountain without dying. While sadly not coming with its copious collection of DLC, it is, per Ubisoft standard, still more than enough to get your teeth into, and there's the options to expand it further if you want to stick around on the slopes. Grab it here, free, and keep it forever.

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I'd imagine that being cold and dead makes a hot cup of coffee sound like a fantastic idea, which is probably the force driving spirits to Necrobarista's magical Melbourne coffee-shop. Developed by Route 59 Games and out on August 9th, it's a modern-day visual novel tale of magic and myth set in a necromancer-run cafe frequented by the recently deceased and living alike. It's all rather Neil Gaiman, give or take a little Aussie devil-may-care attitude, and wrapped up in some lovely anime-styled 3D art. Below, a new trailer that I'm not ashamed to admit has me excited to play it.

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Spark The Electric Jester 2 is unquestionably a Sonic The Hedgehog fan-game with the branding filed off, specifically in the vein of the 3D Sonic Adventure series. Imagine those poorly-aged (but much-loved) Dreamcast classics with better controls, fewer (but not zero) cutscenes, and where every level was about going super-fast, except for boss fights which play a bit like Metal Gear Rising Lite. It's the work of solo dev Feperd Games, and out today. While it undoubtedly has some rough edges, I've had a fun few hours rushing through its main story on normal mode. Below, some thoughts.

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Another day, another Games Workshop board game adapted to PC, but Dark Future: Blood Red States is a bit different from the Warhammer norm. Based on the 1988 (and obviously Mad Max-inspired) Dark Future for tabletop, it's a tactical real-time car combat RPG. Rather than driving your vehicle directly, you're effectively juggling its weapons systems, picking lanes and speeds and prioritising targets in slow-motion while the car itself handles navigation. It's developed by Auroch Digital (OGRE, Chainsaw Warrior, Achtung! Cthulhu Tactics) and out now. See a trailer below.

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Alt-Frequencies, the strange time-looping audio adventure from Accidental Queens (the folks behind A Normal Lost Phone), is out today. It's an oddball puzzle, set entirely in the comfort of your own home, listening to the radio. Problem is, the world (minus you) is repeating the same three minutes over and over again, and you've got to somehow break out by recording messages from the airwaves, and sending them in as a caller. A coffee-break Groundhog Day scenario, then. Have a listen at the audio-heavy trailer below, although the game itself is fully and helpfully subtitled.

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Feature: Thumbs up for Shadow of the Tomb Raider (sort of)

Nvidia GTX ray tracing revisited: How much faster are the GTX 1660 and 1660 Ti?

Last month, I put Nvidia's GTX ray tracing driver to the test, seeing what kind of speeds were possible on the GTX 1060 and GTX 1070 in Metro Exodus and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. The results, it's fair to say, were pretty mixed. Metro was completely unplayable on both cards, but Tomb Raider did, in fact, show promising signs of life as long as you kept its ray tracing setting on Medium - which ended being such a minuscule kind of effect that it was barely worth bothering with.

Now, I've got the GTX 1660 and GTX 1660 Ti back in to see what they're capable of as well. Can our new best graphics card champs' new Turing GPUs make a better go of ray tracing than the GTX 10-series' old Pascal architecture? Let's find out.

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Feature: Quaid, start the reactor

Surviving Mars: Green Planet review

I’m trapped on Mars, and it’s getting cold. Despite the reflective sheeting I’ve hung up to insulate my workspace, night has long since fallen, and the heat is leaching from the glass walls. I’m eating boiled potatoes yet again, and I miss my family like crazy. But there’s no way I can see them again, until I’ve solved a lot of problems

So I put another layer on, rub my hands to warm them, and press on with the mission. Leaning forward to inspect my screen again, my face is lit with the dull red glow of the monitor - the same sombre ochre as the Martian surface. My face looks haggard in that light, as I review the colony’s dwindling water stocks. I’ll have to set a new vaporator, and that’ll mean making new parts, which I’ll need metals and… yeah, it’s going to be a long night yet.

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It's a busy day over on the Epic Games Store. On top of the expected fortnightly giveaway - this time the excellent horror-adventure Stories Untold - they've launched their first big sale. You can snag Stories Untold here for free, and I highly recommend it even if point & click (or even parser-based) adventures aren't usually your thing. Developers No Code's upcoming followup, the space-disaster AI thriller Observation, isn't out until May 21st but pre-orders are down from £20 to a surprising £7.99/€8.89/$12.49 in this sale. Many games are similarly discounted until June 13th.

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Feature: Where Total War meets Crusader Kings

Total War: Three Kingdoms review

My eldest son died horribly at the Battle of Yangzhou in 198 CE. Cao Ang led a small retinue in General Xiahou Yuan’s army. Xiahou’s army was the best I had: disciplined troops, carefully selected and commanded by heroes. At Yangzhou they were mauled by a massive army of peasant rebels led by the Yellow Turban He Yi. My defeated army escaped, but He Yi challenged Cao Ang to a duel and personally killed my son. Though my son was not a great commander or, obviously, duelist, his death is a tragedy for my whole faction. Cao Ang commanded a third of the defeated army, and without a substitute general his retinue will disband. The only candidate has no military experience and has never left court: Lady Bian, the boy's mother. She assumes command in tragic, desperate circumstances; in 201 CE she will march back to Yangzhou to duel the rebel who killed her son and become my greatest general.

Total War: Three Kingdoms is a historical strategy game set during China's Three Kingdoms period. The campaign is divided into two layers: players build towns, recruit soldiers, declare war and move armies across a map of China each turn. When two opposing armies fight, players command units in real time. You're a warlord in a shattered kingdom, and every campaign begins with the same instruction: China must be united.

Three Kingdoms is the best historical strategy game in a very long series, and certainly the most dramatic and personal.

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Put that putty knife down, you storming degenerate. You’re a terrible decorator, we all know that. But listen, that doesn’t mean you can’t follow your dream in the fantastical realm of the videogame. Tools Up will let you to indulge in that wallpaper-stripping you love so much. It’s a “couch co-op game about renovating apartments in a mysterious skyscraper.” Four players, a new sofa, some carpets, and plenty of paint. Surely you will fare better at this pretend decorating than you do with all that spackling paste in your bathroom. Surely. Let’s look at the footage and see.

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Oh look, one of the best games in existence has changed a bit. Yesterday's patch to Mordhau's swords and vandals hasn't brought any major changes, but it has brought a few that made me go 'oh cool'. The headlines: kicking is better, stab attacks are a bit slower, and it's slightly easier to get past some of the most annoying shields. Oh, and the AI in Horde mode now throws less poo at you if you try to cheat.

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