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Rock Paper Shotgun – PC Game Reviews, Previews, Subjectivity

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Videogames are awesome (and also one word), but the industry making them has some undeniable problems. The newly-established Game Workers Unite UK, now an official branch of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) hopes to make things a little better for folks in the business, reduce worker exploitation and improve diversity. We've all heard tales of soul-shattering crunch, unpaid overtime and people axed from jobs with little warning and even less severance pay, so as far as I'm concerned, this is a good, sure step in the right direction.

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Splendid deck-building roguelikelike dungeon-crawler Slay The Spire will leave early access and launch in full on January 23rd, 2019, developers Mega Crit Games have announced. If you've foolishly been waiting for the full launch--it's been one of my favourite games of the year for months so holding off is daft okay--there you go. Mega Crit also note that they'll bump the price up a touch before launch so look, get it now and start scaling that tower of oddities.

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The Link is dead, long live the Link! Valve's official Steam Link hardware may now be discontinued, but its software heart lives on, and now free on the Raspberry Pi. Formerly released on Android (although not iOS due to Apple being grumpy gits), this new version is version 3B or 3B+ of everyone's tiny PCB powerhouse system, favoured by tech-tinkerers worldwide. For those late to the party, Steam Link is a local streaming solution, letting you tunnel through your LAN or Wi-Fi to play games from your desktop via your TV in another room.

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Six years in the works (counting its time as an Arma 2 mod) and Bohemia Interactive's zombie survival sandbox DayZ has left early access, flinging open its doors for a free launch weekend. Snag it here on Steam before December 17th and you too can enjoy hiking through the rain across the sprawling, bleak land of Chernarus. Maybe you'll even find weaponry and shelter before zombies or other humans do you in. Having not played it since its early days as a mod (I feel very old, suddenly), I went for a jaunt around Chernarus last night. Thoughts and a launch trailer below.

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Feature: Win yourself a war-torn Christmas present

The Flare Path: A Flurry Of Foxers

Aware that the perfect blizzard of misfortunes* currently battering the North Pole HQ of Mr S. Claus may mean some deserving boys and girls go without historical wargames this Christmas, Surrey philanthropists Slitherine have given me forty Steam activation codes to distribute as I see fit. Regular FP readers will know that I like to make folk work for their windfalls. Below you'll find ten solo 'foxers' (word and picture puzzles) that fully or partially 'defoxed' (solved) have the power to win you some seriously substantial/knobbly strategy stocking-fillers.

* Striking elves, a bluetongue outbreak amongst the reindeer, and the boss' double hernia.

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Below surfaces today

It's the RPS/Gamer Network annual day of chest-thumping/excessive consumption/enforced PowerPoint-watching, so we'll all be offline when Capy's much-anticipated rando-dungeon-runner Below launches this evening.

Hence, let's say this now: Below's out today! Somehow! After half a decade! Is that even a long time in games development any more? I don't know I've been here 11 years so it feels like Below only got announced like, last summer! Anyway! It's really happening! Happy days!

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Riot Games have punished chief operating officer Scot Gelb with two months' unpaid suspension plus a little training, Kotaku report, for his highly visible role in the recent public revelations that Riot's workplace culture is a trash fire. Gelb was the fella alleged to have slapped other men's testicles, dry humped co-workers, and farted in faces. When the League Of Legends developers broadly acknowledged complaints about the workplace (without specifically addressing any charges of bro-ing out, discrimination, or sexual harassment), they vowed to remake their culture, saying "we've never backed down from a challenge before and we don't plan to start now." Their visible actions since then have suggested they still don't really care.

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The first big Artifact update is out, slapping new decks on the table and letting people chat while they use them. There are no new cards in Valve's CCG, but fans of the Call To Arms mode - where everyone dukes it out with pre-constructed cards - might be pleased to see two new decks. That's not my jam, but the new Pauper tournaments where expensive cards are forbidden just might be. I'm most intrigued by the new chat wheel though, which lets me tease opponents using my unit's voices.

We've also got bot gauntlets, leaderboards, colourblind support and more. None of that's especially interesting to me, but hey - a "skill-based progression system" is coming next week!

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I had a fine time with Mutant Year Zero: Road To Eden's post-apocalyptic, ducking good blend of real-time stealth and turn-based combat, but one concern dogged me throughout. Used repeatedly throughout the game are two beyond-familiar terms: 'zone' and 'Stalker.' Names scorched into the very soul of anyone who's played the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games/seen Tarkovsky's Stalker/read Roadside Picnic.

How what why? I asked Mutant Year Zero's developers to explain this anomaly. (And then I spent far too long researching the Swedish release dates of cult 1970s sci-fi).

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Feature: Good muscles, cyber pal

Have you played… BioForge?

BioForge was a work of experimental fusion, the unfathomable prowess of the human brain fused with the constant vigilance of a mid-1990s desktop computer. Adventure game meets hand-to-hand combat, a feverish exploration of a cybernetic figure of unknown origin and capabilities. Your character (the cyborg) wakes up in a cell, and finds himself the newly-formed avatar of Promethean strength, nervously wearing all the muscles of his demi-human body on the outside of his skin. This is an important game. A noteworthy game. A game worth playing all the way through.

I never got out of the holding cell.

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It's a good day for free stuff - the second giveaway of the day is Lego The Hobbit. While not the greatest of Traveller's Tales's sprawling list of film-to-virtual-plastic adaptations, it's a decent way to distract the kids, or yourself if you're young at heart. Based on just the first two films, it's a platformy action-adventure with local co-op and tongue firmly in cheek. Blocky little dwarves - including the gratingly handsome one - accompany the smallest person (a tiny plastic Bilbo Baggins) on his quest to irritate a dragon and conclude on a cliffhanger. Yoink yourself a copy here before December 15th, 6pm GMT.

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Book Of Demons wears its inspirations on its book-sleeve. Leaving early access after two and a half years of testing and updates, developers Thing Trunk have wrapped a cute papercraft aesthetic around this clear Diablo tribute. It's an unusual little dungeon crawler - feeling a bit like a real-time version of Card Hunter, it's more about planning and careful use of abilities than other ARPGs. While single player only, it did recently add Twitch and Mixer integration support, allowing stream viewers to help or hinder a streaming player. Stay a while, and see the launch trailer below.

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With aid and investment from League Of Legends studio Riot, Hypixel Studios - the folks behind the massive Hypixel Minecraft server - have just announced Hytale, their secret project of the past three years. Unsurprisingly, it's a block-building sandbox, but with a bit more of an RPG focus as its core module. Building on what Hypixel liked so much with Minecraft, Hytale will support community servers, official and unofficial mini-games, and support full modding with an integrated toolkit - good stuff, and they're taking beta sign-ups now.  See the announcement trailer below.

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Feature: Listen or be lost at sea

Podcast: The year 2018 is sinking and only 3 games can be saved

Look out. The year 2018 is going down in a storm. There are hundreds of games aboard, running, jumping, trying their best to survive the maelstrom. But there’s only one tiny lifeboat, and only enough room for three games. It falls on the sorry shoulders of the RPS podcast, the Electronic Wireless Show, to decide which trio of games clamber onto the life raft and which games drown and become lost to history.

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Feature: Look quad they did

PlanetSide Arena is another battle royale from Daybreak

The sci-fi generals of PlanetSide 2’s never-ending conflict will be waging a new kind of war early next year. PlanetSide Arena is a battle royale shoot-the-lads that will launch as a full game on January 29, developers Daybreak are telling everyone today. It’s going to have a shrinking battleground, reworked guns, spacebucks, jetpacks, orbital strikes and big group matches that see 250 boots-on-the-ground shooting at 250 other boots-on-the-ground. Also, everybody has a quad in their pocket that they can whip out whenever they want and drive across the hills.

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Anyone who didn't uninstall Final Fantasy XV in a fit of despair and/or rage last month after the abrupt cancellation of 75% of its upcoming DLC will have noticed a delightful 15GB update waiting for them on Steam today, in which finally arrives support for Nvidia's frame rate rocketing tech, DLSS (or deep learning super sampling, if that makes things any clearer).

It's one of the things I've been most looking forward to testing on Nvidia's new Turing RTX GPUs, but as with almost everything to do with the launch of Nvidia's RTX family, there's a catch. You can only enable it if you have a 4K display.

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The deals deluge begins, and GOG's winter sale opens with free goodies. Swoop on down to the giveaway page here and you can grab Full Throttle Remastered, Double Fine's polished-up version of the classic short-but-sweet Lucasarts adventure. While John wasn't sold on its new (and optional) art, he still had a lot of lovely things to say about it in his review. It was worth the money then, and it's absolutely worth your time now. There's some other, near-free goodies to snag and some time limited deals too, and the sale runs until January 3rd. Full Throttle is available free for its first 48 hours - see my pick of the day below.

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Feature: Three is the magic number

Turtle Beach Atlas Three review: A great mid-range gaming headset

Take one look at Turtle Beach's Atlas Three and Stealth 300 headsets and you'd probably swear blind they were exactly the same thing. Apart from the Stealth 300's giveaway blue highlights, both headsets share the same design, the same 3.5mm audio connection and flip-to-mute microphone, and both have the rather baffling need to be charged every 40-odd hours due to their built-in bass amplifier gubbins despite the fact they're both fundamentally wired headsets instead of wireless ones. Thankfully, the Atlas Three is much more than just a monotone palette-swap of Turtle Beach's mid-range console-oriented headset.

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Zanki Zero: Last Beginning's strangely picturesque apocalypse and oddball cast sent to their repeated ends feels fitting as a followup to teen murder mystery-fest Danganronpa. Confirmed for a PC launch on March 19th, Spike Chunsoft are putting their spin on Wizardry and The Legend Of Grimrock-style real-time labyrinth RPGs. Danganronpa 2 director Yakauki Sugawara and series producer Yoshinori Terasawa are at the helm, so expect death - its eight heroes are clones, dying of old age and needing to be respawned every thirteen days. The release date trailer is below.

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Let's face it, news about graphics card software updates is infinitely less sexy than news about proper, new graphics cards, but AMD's latest Adrenalin 2019 Edition package has a string of neat-ish features that current AMD GPU owners may want to take note of, such as free, in-home streaming to your phone or tablet, an easier to parse set of menu options and even more tools to help you get the best out of your RX or Vega GPU.

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Feature: Obvious beauty

Gris review

Matthew played a preview of Gris and loved it, and John played a longer preview build of Gris and found it beautiful but empty. And after playing the full review build, wot I think is that it is empty, but I don’t mind that. It’s so beautiful that it functions as a thing just to be looked at, and that works even in the empty bits.

My problem is that at times Gris's beauty is terribly, painfully obvious.

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Microsoft pulled the plug on Windows XP and Vista years ago, but the vintage operating systems have still been supported by an ever-dwindling number of games - a number which will dwindle further when League Of Legends ditches them in 2019. Part of what made the MOBA a mega-hit was that it can on pretty much any PC built in the past 15 years, but so few of its players still use XP or Vista--under 1% for XP, developers Riot Games say, and less for Vista--that Riot say it's not worth the effort of keeping it going.

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Stoic finished telling their Viking-y fantasy tale earlier this year with The Banner Saga 3, and now only violence remains. Yesterday they launched the turn-based tactical RPG's Eternal Arena DLC, letting players fight on and on in customisable sandbox battles. All the game's heroes, villains, and maps are yours to toy with, and it has a weekly challenge with leaderboards too. Eternal Arena is probably the Varl's idea of heaven, though probably less so for the weary humans of the deathmarch caravans. The DLC is free for Banner Saga 3 Kickstarter backers, because it was a stretch goal, and a couple quid for everyone else.

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Feature: Big Mike is doing business

Fallout 76 review

Poor old Fallout 76. In the weeks since its release, reviewers have piled on it like a pack of football hooligans who’ve just seen the opposing side’s mascot waddle desperately past their pub. By the time I picked it up, it felt unsporting - cruel, even - to run in and deliver a sharp kick to a man already dying inside a foam owl costume.

But mercy should be reserved for those who ask for it - and Fallout 76 does not. This game isn’t a noble vision gone awry, or a gleefully reckless creative overstretch - it’s a stolid failure to innovate, resting imperiously on the laurels of a 20-year-old RPG. This crunched-up mascot has beckoned me to street level with a mauled finger, put my ear to its blood-dampened beak, and called me a wanker. And so, alas, the kicking must begin.

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After pulling the plug on their Infinity Blade series of mobile action-RPGs this week, Epic added the eponymous sword to Fortnite Battle Royale - and now Fortnite players are upset about Infinity Blade too. Only one supersword is available on the whole map but whoever pulls it from the stone atop an icy mountain will go on to wreck faces. Cleaving bone and brick alike with superhuman strength and leaping with superhuman speed, sworders have a good shot at winning the whole round, even at top levels of competitive play, or whoever kills the carrier and claims it will. The homage has backfired.

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If you've been struggling to hook up with ghost pals in newfangled Soulsian RPG Ashen, you should give your dating profile an overhaul. If you've just been trying to play the videogame with them, then good news! Developers Aurora44 have fixed an issue preventing some players from accessing multiplayer, leaving them stuck with AI companions rather than a humans. That's good, because co-op in the Dark Souls vein (where a silent stranger appears and you occasionally bow at each other) is one of Ashen's key selling points.

All the other selling points also involve being a lot like Dark Souls, which is either FINE or AWFUL depending on which member of the RPS treehouse gives you the scariest look.

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Feature: Become the Doomslayer

Have You Played… Doom VFR?

As one of the few people who have enough room for a VR setup in their own home, it seems like madness that Bethesda supported the format as much as they did. While other efforts were ports of existing games, retrofitted to have HTC Vive support, Doom VFR was the only one of the three games to be specifically designed with VR in mind. It's also one that required your room to be of a certain size.

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