Halo Wars 2’s Blitz Mode could be its salvation

This is Atriox, your chief adversary. He leads a rogue Covenant faction, the banished – the remaining Covenant races are now at peace with humanity following the events of Halo 2. I know these things because I once had to write a 5000-word Halo timeline.

I was all set to thoroughly dismiss Halo Wars 2 [official site], before I joined Microsoft for a spot of top-down Warthog-baiting earlier in the month, and I’m still not completely convinced. Last year’s Xbox One beta suggested yet another Halo game intent on rebottling the lightning of a departed era – in this case, that fleeting, Quixotic period when the idea of RTS on console sounded like cash in the bank.

Much of what made the original Halo Wars work so well on Xbox 360 has been preserved – the snappy, colourful visual design, the stripped-down resource and research aspects, the adroit translation of Halo’s alien Covenant and human UNSC factions into the language of an Age of Empires spin-off. Startlingly little has been added or changed, whether you’re talking about new units or a fresh approach to the typically leaden business of storytelling in a strategy game. This is exactly what many fans are hoping for, I’m sure, but given Creative Assembly’s success with the Warhammer license and Alien: Isolation, it’s hard not to wish for a shade more, well, magic.

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IF Only: Apocalypse Eve

Prospero Cover Clip

Apocalypse is a popular topic of IF. Brian Moriarty’s Trinity explored the threat of nuclear annihilation, back in 1986; Phantom Williams’ 500 Apocalypses got several mentions here last year, from me and from Philippa Warr. Max Kreminski’s Epitaph takes a more Spore-like approach, as you’re allowed to try to nurture procedurally generated civilizations to survive longer than a few turns, and instead (most likely) rack up an impressive collection of failures.

Whatever kind of apocalypse you’re trying to model, interactive fiction probably has something to offer. Here are some of the most interesting.

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Games are best when they ignore you

Tutorials are a lot like first dates. They’re awkward but necessary, can be a total waste of time, and sometimes there’s a lot more hand-holding than you’d like. It would be best for everyone if we just skipped all that uncomfortable small talk and went straight to the middle part. The good part. Unfortunately, you can’t have a good relationship without getting to know someone first, and you can’t have fun with a game if you don’t understand how to play it.

Or can you?

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3 years on, The Forest is beautiful and terrifying by turns

The Forest [official site], a pretty-but-harrowing singleplayer survival/crafting game, has been traipsing through the Early Access woods for three years now, and it impressed us even in its earliest days. I’ve yet to have the pleasure of butchering turtles or being savaged by cannibals, but with The Forest back in the charts and well over a year’s worth of development under its belt since the last time we looked at in earnest, I decided that now was the time. Time to live on a steady diet of squirrel kidneys, in a log cabin adorned with severed heads. Beats reality, right?
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Have You Played… Doom 3?

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

Much of last year’s FPS love may have gone to capslocked DOOM but spare a thought for the try-hard, cliché-fueled darkness binge that was Doom 3. In 2016 the franchise had become self-aware enough to indulge its overblown past, yet back in 2004 the bad penny still hadn’t dropped. There were experiments gone wrong, there were zombies, there were messages on the walls written in blood. I have mixed feelings about it all.
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How historical games integrate or ignore slavery

Video games always come with an expectation that the player will suspend disbelief to some extent. Genetically engineered super-soldier clones don’t exist, radiation has never and will never work like that, and overweight Italian plumbers could never make that jump. In most cases, if we are unwilling or unable to suspend our disbelief, we may well struggle to enjoy the game and our questioning of the basics of its ‘reality’ would probably make us insufferable to be around.

There are some games however, where the realities of our world are key to enjoying the game. These are the builders like City Skylines, simulators and sports games like Prison Architect and FIFA, and even crime games like Grand Theft Auto. One genre has a particular problem when it comes to maintaining a foot in the real world yet still creating a setting where one can have fun without becoming mired in morally questionable events and choices: historically based games. And among historical games, few subjects are as complex to represent as slavery. Many have tried, from Europa Universalis IV and Victoria II to Civilization and Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, and in this article I’ll investigate the portrayal and use of slavery in these games and more to explore what they get right, what they get wrong, and how games could do better in future.

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Wot I Think: Ladykiller In A Bind

Content warning: this review discusses a rape scene.

Sex in games is a (t)horny issue. Games are predominantly made for and marketed at men, and thus most games that attempt to cause a panic in your battlestations are normally pointing their hormone missiles at your throbbing periscope and not the, uh, hang on, there aren’t any vagina analogues in this terrible, tortured metaphor.

Look, Ladykiller in a Bind [official site] is set on a boat. A cruise, in fact – from Halifax, Canada to Southampton, England. For some reason, a bunch of incredibly wealthy, privileged teens are on this cruise. To Southampton. Obviously, the thought of going shopping in Southampton’s glittering WestQuay mall (there’s a Swarovski!) is enough to get these teens all riled up in their unwhisperables, and that’s where you come in: a handsome, charming, absolute bastard of a boy ready and willing to do whatever it takes (sex) to get what you want (more sex).

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