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Rock Paper Shotgun – PC Game Reviews, Previews, Subjectivity

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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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Traffix sounds like the name of a breakfast cereal made from five whole grains that’s full of fibre for the whole family. But no, listen. It’s a small and simple game about controlling the flow of traffic by clicking on wee lights. You basically have to keep the cars moving and avoid jams or pile-ups, but it’s all done with a minimalistic Mini Metro vibe. If you have a soft spot for the administration of road safety (or if you just like playing those air traffic control games that demand a suspicious amount of permissions on your phone) this might be something you’re into. Come look at it in the moving pictures below.

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Everyone is dead when you arrive at The Mount Inn. Well, almost everyone. Only the bartender is left alive, among a scattering of cowboy corpses. “My memory is little hazy” he says. “Don’t know why.”

It’s probably because he has a knife stuck in his head. This is Once Upon A Crime In The West, the third murder mystery game from the folks who made 2000:1 A Space Felony. It’s a crime story, but also a western, but also a comedy, but also a Christmas game. So the exact genre is as much a mystery as the pile of cadavers. It’s like arriving late to a Tarantino movie and trying to reconstruct the plot while stepping over all the blood.

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Warhammer 40,000: Mechanicus was such a pleasant surprise last year, so I'm glad to report that there's an expansion on the way. Heretek, due this summer, is the first DLC announced for Bulwark Studios's offbeat squad tactics game. In the main story, the bickering factions of the Adeptus Mechanicus worked together against the Necron threat, but Heretek escalates to full-blown infighting. It will add a new set of missions aboard an Ark Mechanicus ship, and a bunch heretical cyber-monks to murder. Plus the option to recruit a few along the way, pragmatically.

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Today, Coffee Stain rolled out their first major early access update for Satisfactory, their 3D Factorio-like space-industrial sandbox. While shockingly good even in its first release, it still felt like the game had some gaps to fill. Today's update adds new vertical conveyor belts, an exploration vehicle with springy suspension, demolition charges and firearms which go a long way to filling out those blanks.  Below, a straight-to-the-point developer update video, made significantly more amusing by hair-dye interfering with their chroma key effects, or the full patch notes here.

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Yes, you can now pet the dog in lovely action-RPG CrossCode. There are also now dogs to pet, as of today's massive Version 1.1 update for the game. Developers Radical Fish have made good on their post-launch plans, and gone above and beyond with this one. The showcase feature this update is the Rhombus Square Arena, the new end-game place to be for combat fiends. There's three cups to compete in, each with multiple scored battles plus a non-stop endurance mode, all scaling up to top level. Skilled players can earn fancy new gear there, decorative items and adorable pets.

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Crypt Underworld may have missed its original December 2017 release date a tad, but the extra time in development has done wonders for Lily Zone's interactive fever-dream. In a chunk of footage released today, we get to see some more of its strange nightmare environment, full of mismatched textures, odd sculpted polygons and sprawling mega-structures. It honestly makes me a little uncomfortable, like I'm seeing someone's videogame nightmare, somehow immortalised in code. Below, ten and a half minutes of bounding through this uncanny virtual space and meeting the locals.

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Some of the team behind ace dungeon-crawler Legend Of Grimrock have broken John (RPS in peace). That's John Walker, renown strategy disliker, who said that Druidstone: The Secret Of Menhir Forest felt "like something special". Those words and more are in his Druidstone preview, which has blown my initial misgivings out of the water and made me want to devote my whole evening to it. That's convenient, because it just came out.

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Rowdy meat-free lads have risen from the grave and only you have the will and the power to channel their boisterousness into productive behaviour. That's Undead Horde, a game about a necromancer raising the dead to rampage across the kingdom for fun and profit. I am only now realising that I'd rolled Undead Horde and Skeletal Dance Party into one game in my memory but no worries. Undead Horde is made by 10tons, the gang behind games including Crimsonland and Jydge, so I guess I'm glad to now be fully aware of it. They make some fun video games.

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Feature: Fort for the day

Has Fortnite been improved by its updates?

Play games online and you’ll be familiar with the idea of a “skill ceiling”: the concept of how good it's possible to be at something, before there's no more room to improve.

Fortnite Battle Royale has one too, except it’s a literal ceiling. I’m trapped underneath it — a flat pane of patchwork brick — by a bunnyhopping bear-person with a shotgun. I try to jump to safety, but manage only to donk my head, as the six-foot cuddly toy shoots me in the back.

As metaphors go, it’s an effective one, describing the extra dimension that Epic’s Fortnite brings to the now-familiar Battle Royale format: specifically, the ability to build things. In addition to guns, Fortnite lets players harvest wood, stone, and steel, before turning those raw materials into walls, ramps, and — yes — ceilings. Clever players can use these fortifications defensively, chucking up barricades, blockers, and even full-fledged forts in a flurry of left-mouse clicks, but the best players will also use them on offense. That’s how I ended up trapped in a flat-pack coffin by an anthropomorphised teddy.

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While not quite as reliable a source as PayPal (who had leaked details on the wallet-devouring event in years past), the ever-unofficial Steam Database reckon that the 2019 Steam Summer Sale starts on Tuesday, June 25th. Kicking off at 10am PST/6pm BST on the day, it'll run two weeks, and flood anyone who has a Steam wishlist with mail notifications. Steam Database have been consistently reliable, and cite Chinese Steam fan-site SteamCN as their primary reference, which they've confirmed with "multiple sources", which I'd hazard a guess at meaning anonymous developers.

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Are you looking to meet heavily-armed and available men in your area for hot action... and maybe more? Someone who won't flashbang you then run? Or fancy a group of like-minded murdermen for chat and banter? Pick up your mouse and click on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which has added a looking-for-group system to help players party up and party down. The game already has matchmaking but this lets players investigate each other and have a chat before they commit to anything.

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Feature: Chronicles of ridicule

Wastes Of Space: a Space Engineers Diary – Part Three: Space Dungeoneers

Last time on Wastes of Space: After having been dumped on the alien backwater known as Horace’s World with barely any kit and even less of a plan, Alice, Matt and Nate finally managed to meet up, thanks to their robot friend ODD (and his Vengabus). In one place at last, they laid the foundations of their colony, and began the backbreaking work of taming the final frontier. Also, Matt learned to fly, and they built a car called the Eiffel 69.

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In a classic case of 'doing it because we can'-itis, HP have unveiled the world's first dual-screen gaming laptop. Dubbed the Omen X 2S, this gaming laptop not only has a regular 15.6in screen, but a smaller, almost touch pad-sized screen beneath it sitting above the keyboard. According to HP, you see, 82% of people use their phones for messaging while playing games these days, while 49% use them to watch livestreams, videos and surf the web. Thus, the logic surely follows that you might as well ditch your phone altogether and just do everything from your trusty laptop - and pay loads more for the privilege, too.

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Square Enix have shut down Studio Istolia and cancelled the new-ish team's only known game, a JRPG named Project Prelude Rune. This has been a short and unspectacular life for the studio. Squeenix announced Istolia's opening in February 2017, with former 'Tales Of...' producer Hideo Baba in charge, then showed only wee snippets of Prelude Rune since. They say they're working to get Istolians jobs on other Squeenix games, so that's good at least.

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Feature: You could say their dominance came as a... Shock

Know It OWL: San Francisco Shock Special Edition

The thing about writing a column about the Overwatch League is that you have to be selective. There are 20 teams playing 16 games per week, so you necessarily have to pick out certain stories to follow and let others fall by the wayside. Unfortunately, that means that I have barely mentioned the team who just became our stage two champions, San Francisco Shock. Oops. Sorry. Lets rectify that.

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After years of surviving in the wilds and on islands, Don't Starve has returned to civilisation and... oh god, no one told me living in a city would be a struggle too. Klei Entertainment last night launched Hamlet, the third expansion for their survive 'em up, after six months in early access. It sees our motley crüe of survivors stumbling into a city of posh pigpeople in the heart of a tropical jungle, who live in actual proper houses and get their food from actual shops with actual fridges. Civilisation! Why is it, then, that we're drawn to explore and plunder the ancient ruins beyond the metrotterlis?

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The ancient Greeks are at it again. Or rather, Dr Pippin Barr is, as he continues his game-making katabasis with Let's Play: Ancient Greek Punishment: Chess Edition.

LP:AGP:CE is the eighth in a series of lo-fi nightmares released by Barr, in what he calls “an investigation around what it means to make the ‘same game’ multiple times”. Each iteration of the series is themed around the same set of horrible afterlife punishments from Hellenic myth, and illustrates them via a series of brutal anti-jokes constructed around a chosen mechanic.

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Feature: The second life

Have You Played… The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim?

Another winter, another new Skyrim save file. You may be asking why I own this particular game on multiple different platforms, and sometimes more than once on one platform (looking at you Special Edition). You may think it’s because I like to create a different character build each time, a wise mage, a heavy melee warrior, or a stealthy archer. You may think it’s because I want to change whose side I’m on, the Stormcloaks or the Imperials. You may even think it’s because I really want to give playing as a Khajiit another go because they just look so damn cute, but are so horribly bullied it actually affects my real-life anxiety. If you’re thinking it’s because of any of these. You’re wrong.

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Risk System, released today by Newt Industries, isn't quite like any other shmup I've played. While I've seen some use the idea of gaining power through 'grazing' enemy bullets (letting them fly close without hitting your central hitbox), I've never seen one commit so thoroughly to the idea. By default, there is no fire button in Risk System - you automatically shoot at whatever is in front of you - as you're meant to be entirely focused on every incoming bullet, absorbing their power to fuel your own ship's shields, guns and bombs. See the very swish anime-styled trailer below.

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