Author Archive

Two Germans (and me) in a boat: finding my happy place in Sea Of Thieves


I’ll go into this more in my full Sea of Thieves review (tomorrow, all being well), but my overwhelming feeling so far about Rare’s online pirate sim is that it’s a weirdly empty and inadequate game that can nevertheless be transformed into something oddly unforgettable if you manage to crew your ship with the right mateys. I’ve had many tedious or irritating voyages, defined by dull repetition or sudden gankings from other players acting like, well, pirates, but every miserable moment was thoroughly redeemed by my harmonious morning with The Germans. What a perfect sailing adventure it was.

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Chris Avellone sheds light on Into The Breach’s time-travel mysteries


If there’s one thing that grips me more about Into The Breach than the razor-sharp tactics of its death-chess scenarios, it’s trying to wrap my flabby brain about the dark possibilities and implications of its terse but tantalising plot. I’ve already espoused one possible and particularly fatalistic reading of what’s going on – the idea that every time your team of time-travelling Mechs wins, loses or otherwise begins a new campaign, they spawn a new timeline full of human suffering – but without definitive answers from the game itself, that’s little more than a guilt-stricken guess.

Time to go the source, then, that being Into The Breach writer – and writer, designer or both on a long list of revered games including Planescape: Torment, Fallout: New Vegas, KOTOR 2, Pillars of Eternity, Prey and ITB predecessor FTL – Chris Avellone. Though Into The Breach very much considers brevity to be a virtue when it comes to dialogue, its short lines drip with implication about the rules of time travel, parallel realities and the motivations and peccadilloes of its pilots. It was pretty clear to me that there was a vast spider-web of careful fiction behind the minimalist facade, and Avellone’s expansive answers about where and when the Mechs come from and exactly what happens when they breach only confirm that.

But, for every question they answer, they open up a dozen more. As is only right.
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Sea of Thieves solo is maddening and brutal – as it should be

Walking the plank? Not exactly

My own jury’s still out on whether Rare’s newly-released online pirate sim Sea of Thieves deserves to sink or swim, primarily because, during work hours, I either have to play with black-hearted randoms or solo. A little later in the week I’ll be able to tell you all about how it shakes out with a full crew of trusted mateys, but for now I can tackle the question of exactly where on the sane>insane axis playing it solo lands.

The answer: pretty darned insane. It’s frequently a horrendous experience – but at the same time, that is both entirely appropriate and oddly satisfying.

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HDR for PC games is a hot mess (but it’s nice when it works)


A few of the things I have had to do in order to get a workable version of HDR (also known as high dynamic range), the new-ish display technology that significantly ramps up brightness, darkness and vibrancy, on my PC (not including the acquisition of a fancy monitor):

– Try four different display cables
– Adjust as many as seven different brightness/contrast/colour etc shaders per game. (I have spent long, unhappy hours doing this to date)
– Manually turn on HDR on the monitor, manually turn HDR on in Windows then manually turn on HDR in the game settings. Or sometimes HDR off in Windows but on in the game then alt-tab back to Windows and turn HDR on, and off, and on, and off. Or sometimes alt-tab and alt-tab and alt-tab and alt-tab and alt-tab until HDR suddenly, randomly kicks in. When I exit the game, I have to manually turn it all back off again or Windows is unusable.
– Install an unfinished preview build of Windows 10 whose HDR isn’t totally broken on Nvidia cards.
– Almost completely lose my sense of whether anything is actually different after all of this.

The egg yolks in Final Fantasy XV were a bit shinier, though.
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Have you played… Rise of the Tomb Raider?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

A very good game wearing the skin of not a very good game. Peel that skin away, or at least try to ignore it, and find the golden bones underneath. Alternatively, just play the survival mode DLC and experience Rise of the Tomb Raider‘s best bits without the flab with a new sense of urgency.
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Little Inferno devs reveal ‘incredible road trip’ adventure Welcome To The Information Superhighway


Tomorrow Corporation, them folks behind Little Inferno and the upcoming 7 Billion Humans, and whose staff have the likes of World of Goo, assorted EA things and Henry Hatsworth on their storied CVs, are at it again. ‘It’ tends to mean playfully exploring the outer boundaries of what makes a game a game, but apparently their upcoming Welcome To The Information Superhighway “is shaping up to be one of the more game-like games we’ve made.” It’s also, it would seem, shaping up to be a road trip though a vibrant interpretation of the best and worst of the internet.

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Wot I Think: Surviving Mars


I shed a surprising amount of tears during the founding of my first red planet colony in Surviving Mars. None of those tears had anything to do with the pipe leak that killed 58 people, I hasten to add. For those, I just swore at my repair drones and made more colonists work gruelling night-shifts at the polymer factory so we could patch up the air tubes.

My tears, I’m afraid, came instead at testaments to my own magnificence: when a dusty patch of sand patrolled by listless worker robots and automated factories saw the construction of its first bio-dome, when the first humans from Earth arrived to stake out a new life in this place I had built for them, when the first non-Earth baby was born. Live inside my work, ye Martians, and try not get caught inside a meteor storm.

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Wot I Think – Warhammer: Vermintide 2


I don’t tend to think about how many things I murder in a murder-related videogame. I just remove whatever obstacles are in the way and move on, in the time-honoured tradition of solving problems in action games. In co-op online stabber-shooter Warhammer: Vermintide 2, I’m unusually conscious of the body count. It is, if you’ll forgive a little early-90s melodrama, extreme. That’s just one reason why Vermintide 2 successfully escapes the shadow of ‘it’s just Left 4 Dead but with Games Workshop’ faint-praise damning that its predecessor stood within.

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Have you played… Slay The Spire?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Still very much a going concern around these parts, but screw it, I’ve not yet written about Slay The Spire, a game that has consumed most of my waking thoughts these past couple of months, so here we go. Read the rest of this entry »

Wolfenstein 2 rounds out its pulpy but middling DLC today


Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus‘s story-led DLC to date has been big – well, medium – on character but low on novelty, recycling chunks of the main game into vignettes starring new characters with borrowed Blazcowiz powers. I’ve looked at three out of four of ’em, and wound up wearing my ‘disappointed, but not bitterly so’ face, much like the one I sported when taken to the legendarily underwhelming Flintstones theme park on a US holiday in the early 90s. The final chunk of the season pass DLC lands today, and, like before, tells a new micro-tale from the wider Wolfenverse, this time with a pulpy war comics vibe.
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Vermintide 2 is grimdark ultraviolence at a spectacular scale


We’re planning on a full review next week, but seeing as the weekend, and with it the tortured paralysis of what to play, looms so close, I thought I’d share some initial thoughts on the newly-released, Warhammer vs Left 4 Dead rat-splatting sequel Vermintide 2. In short: it’s the same co-op survival formula, but now writ very, very large and very, very bloody.
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Why playing Into The Breach makes you history’s greatest monster


Did you win outright, for all four islands and without a single lost building the first ever time you played Into The Breach? No? Well, did you play again afterwards? If you did, you’re the most genocidal maniac humanity has ever known.
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Oculus issuing $15 apology voucher for #goggpocalypse


There is no pain greater in our universe than not being able to use your virtual reality goggles for a whole day. As such, the $15 Oculus store voucher the Rift-makers are offering by way of apology for yesterday’s #goggpocalypse, in which messed-up software effectively broke their headset for a while, only begins to salve the wound. I demand that Ian Oculus comes to my house and installs triple-SLI GTX Titan Blacks in my PC this very evening.

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Special edition of Inside, complete with what is presumably a ball of gruesomely quivering limbs

Don’t tell John, but Playdead’s adventur-o-puzzle Inside, with its abyss-black humour and boundlessly wicked imagination, is quietly one of my favourite games of the past few years. So much so that I seriously flirted with the idea of ordering its $375 special edition, before remembering the physical possessions are a burden, unless of course they’re plastic robots. Much has been made of the fact that Playdead have partnered with Realdoll, purveyors of high-priced, dead-eyed, cold-fleshed silicon sex puppets, for the so-far mysterious contents of the box.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that no orifices are involved – but an awful lot of, well, limbs are.
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Have you played… Timeshift?


Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

I think about replaying Timeshift, a 2007 FPS that has all but evaporated from the wider collective gaming memory, surprisingly often. Which is because I find myself hungry for a perfectly decent 7/10 action game surprisingly often – hard to come by in an age where it seems as though blockbuster manshooters can seem polarised between the epochal and the disastrous, and between absurdly lavish cutscenes and hamster-wheel multiplayer.

Sometimes I want to play something without complications, something entirely self-contained and something that lets the critical part of my brain drift off to sleep. This time-bothering shooter did that deftly. Read the rest of this entry »

Fright of the navigator – Into The Breach’s most powerful but most cowardly mech pilot

One thing I didn’t say much about in my starry-eyed review of the sublimely elegant turn-based strategy game Into The Breach was its metagame.

A campaign takes an hour or less, but the business of earning new types of mech and new pilots to drive, fly or teleport them will last you months. I’m a long way off unlocking everything, though I do have a bit of a head start from beta builds, but already I’ve found the pilot I will spend the rest of my life with. Isaac Jones, you complete me. Or rather, your game-changing ability does. Read the rest of this entry »

Wot I Think: Pit People


Equal parts absolutely delightful and absolutely infuriating, turn-based strategy-RPG/surreal cartoon Pit People probably couldn’t have a chosen a worse time to lumber out of early access. The reason for that is Into The Breach. I came to Pit People straight off the back of my Into The Breach review, which means I’d just experienced a revelation in how brisk and elegant the age-old formula of taking turns to shuffle a small force of units across a set of tiles to bash or shoot enemies can be.

Because of that, it’s hard to forgive Pit People’s drawn-out, slow-motion wars of attrition. But it’s even harder to put it down, because it’s such a firehose of ideas, visual gags and spoken comedy outside of its cold and chewy tactical meat and potatoes.

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Have you played… Talisman?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Talisman, in either boardgame or videogame form, is a stupid game. It might even be a fundamentally broken game. Man, I love it. And I hate it. But also, I love it. Read the rest of this entry »

Slay The Spire’s excellent new daily challenge mode is a reason to play forever


Casually fulfilling its destiny to become the videogame that consumes the rest of my life, ultro-superb CCG/roguelike combo Slay The Spire just introduced its third mode, the Daily Climb. It’s about the most logical move Spire could have made, adding a daily challenge mode of the type popularised by Spelunky and The Binding Of Isaac (even big ol’XCOM 2 was inspired to do it, though the sadly the take-up hasn’t been great).

Just as my Spire obsession was starting to waver – I’ve unlocked everything, and the difficulty gonkery for the sake of difficulty gonkery of Ascension mode isn’t quite for me – this solid gold reason to play every day turns up.

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