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Found 117 results

  1. I've seen a lot of strange runs through many different games, but this one ranks as one of the most bizarre. When Bethesda's Fallout 3 begins, players go through a process to create their character. While most games relegate this to playing with sliders and moving stat points around, Fallout 3 allows players to "grow up" as their character, seeing different stages of their lives as they become adults. That process ends when the player enters the wider, blasted landscape of a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. A couple years ago, players discovered it was possible to glitch through the baby section of Fallout 3's opening and escape from the underground Vault before events flash forward to when the player's character becomes an adult. The fact that the glitch exists is in itself is entertaining, but one player decided that they would play through the entire game as an infant. And, well... this happened. YouTuber Bryan Pierre walks viewers through his attempt to finish Fallout 3 as a baby. It's actually pretty fascinating to hear him talk about the details of how this works and how strange the game's implications become when the protagonist is a tiny baby. For example, the baby's hit box is much smaller than normal, so many enemies can barely hit a crawling child. The video itself is about two years old, but it is very much still worth a watch to see just how far some people are willing to go to do obnoxiously silly things in video games.
  2. I've seen a lot of strange runs through many different games, but this one ranks as one of the most bizarre. When Bethesda's Fallout 3 begins, players go through a process to create their character. While most games relegate this to playing with sliders and moving stat points around, Fallout 3 allows players to "grow up" as their character, seeing different stages of their lives as they become adults. That process ends when the player enters the wider, blasted landscape of a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. A couple years ago, players discovered it was possible to glitch through the baby section of Fallout 3's opening and escape from the underground Vault before events flash forward to when the player's character becomes an adult. The fact that the glitch exists is in itself is entertaining, but one player decided that they would play through the entire game as an infant. And, well... this happened. YouTuber Bryan Pierre walks viewers through his attempt to finish Fallout 3 as a baby. It's actually pretty fascinating to hear him talk about the details of how this works and how strange the game's implications become when the protagonist is a tiny baby. For example, the baby's hit box is much smaller than normal, so many enemies can barely hit a crawling child. The video itself is about two years old, but it is very much still worth a watch to see just how far some people are willing to go to do obnoxiously silly things in video games. View full article
  3. It is easy to forget that BioWare took a bold risk when they launched their untested, original IP as an Xbox 360 exclusive back in 2007. The RPG genre had never truly veered into uncharted territory with a mainstream release as with a third-person shooter hybrid. On top of that, it was set in an unknown universe that the marketing team could easily have over-inflated to generate hype only to fall victim to the backlash (remember the cautionary tale of Advent Rising?). However, what made Mass Effect special was that it actually managed to live up to the hype. It worked. It had choices that engaged players. It was full of unique and interesting piece of universe-building and memorable characters. It delivered the sci-fi adventure some people had been waiting their entire lives to see in a video game for the first time. Almost a decade later with a new entry in the franchise releasing this week, does the original Mass Effect stand as not merely a good game, but one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Mass Effect 'Uncharted Depths' by Hy Bound ( You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, follow the show on Twitter and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday View full article
  4. It is easy to forget that BioWare took a bold risk when they launched their untested, original IP as an Xbox 360 exclusive back in 2007. The RPG genre had never truly veered into uncharted territory with a mainstream release as with a third-person shooter hybrid. On top of that, it was set in an unknown universe that the marketing team could easily have over-inflated to generate hype only to fall victim to the backlash (remember the cautionary tale of Advent Rising?). However, what made Mass Effect special was that it actually managed to live up to the hype. It worked. It had choices that engaged players. It was full of unique and interesting piece of universe-building and memorable characters. It delivered the sci-fi adventure some people had been waiting their entire lives to see in a video game for the first time. Almost a decade later with a new entry in the franchise releasing this week, does the original Mass Effect stand as not merely a good game, but one of the best games period? Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative. Outro music: Mass Effect 'Uncharted Depths' by Hy Bound ( You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! If you want to have your opinion heard on air, follow the show on Twitter and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
  5. Just when people thought their time on Pandora might be taking a hiatus, Telltale swoops in with a trailer that teases the first episode of their Borderlands series. Unfortunately, the trailer doesn't give any hints as to a release date, but it looks like Telltale is still planning to release it in 2014. While we were shown a preview of the first episode in action back during E3, the first episode finally has a name: Zero Sum. Additionally, we now know the official casting details, final casting details. The season will feature Troy Baker as Rhys, Laura Bailey as Fiona, Chris Hardwick as Vaughn, Erin Yvette as Sasha, Patrick Warburton as Vasquez, and Dameon Clarke reprising his role as Handsome Jack. We can also confirm that there will be five total episodes of the Tales from the Borderlands series. Tales from the Borderland will be available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC, with some slight variations in price. It looks like the console versions will retail at around $4.99 per episode with season pass options for $19.99. The PC version will be a season pass for $24.99. Android and iOS devices will also see the first episode of the Telltale's Borderlands before the year is out.
  6. More free stuff! Microsoft is unlocking Xbox Live Gold's features for everyone with Xbox 360 starting today. From today until the 12th, Xbox 360 owners can enjoy the benefits of a Gold membership for free. The offer does not extend to Xbox One owners. There is, unfortunately, one exception. Players who don't have a full Gold membership won't have access to Games with Gold or Deals with Gold promotions during the free weekend.
  7. Bungie’s newest game, the most pre-ordered new IP in history, is entertaining. The gameplay is tight, the environments are gorgeous, and the character designs ooze cool. In fact, it seems like many of the design choices in Destiny revolve around a rule of cool, as if Bungie was constantly asking, “Will this be cool? If not, scrap it.” The result is a game that looks superb set in an inviting universe populated by interesting and diverse enemies. If that’s the case, why then does Destiny feel so hollow? Note: As of the writing of this review, end-game content such as raids have not been unlocked. The review will be updated when raids unlock next week. Playing Destiny just feels good. Players are given a kit of abilities and weapons and tasked with eliminating groups of enemies that all behave in different ways. Do you want to save your rocket launcher ammo for the boss or is the large group of clustered enemies rushing toward you worth the shot? Take the time to reload your auto rifle or go in for the melee attack? Use your super move or attempt a headshot with your throwing knife? These are questions you’ll be asking yourself constantly, often with only a split second to come to a decision. All of these choices come together and feel fluid in-game. The same feeling of fluidity carries over into competitive multiplayer. Initially, there will only be one game type to choose from, but others will unlock as players level up. Control is similar to many capture point-style modes found in other games, while Clash is traditional team deathmatch under a different name. Rumble is a standard free-for-all brawl. The Skirmish mode is interesting. It pits two teams of three against each other, emphasizing the importance of team work. Finally, Salvage tasks teams of three to battle over possession of relics. With a decent number of well-balanced maps, multiplayer is sure to be a draw for a number of people. It does have a few problems, though. Notably, despite the tag of “Level Advantages Disabled” it seems like there is still a noticeable power difference between well-geared or leveled people and players who are just starting out. Hopefully a patch can balance the competitive multiplayer a bit better. There are also a great deal of weapons that can insta-kill: shotguns, fusion rifles, headshots with the hand cannon, sniper rifle, and each playable class’ super move which has the capacity to instantly kill multiple enemy players. Not to mention the vehicles which, though nerfed since the beta, still empower people to a frustrating degree. These instant death situations are plentiful and they lead to a lot of deaths that feel cheap. Though players can team up on story missions or wander the large maps in Patrol mode, Strikes are the highlight of Destiny’s cooperative multiplayer. They require a degree of teamwork to claim victory and can’t be pulled off alone. They tend to culminate in large boss battles against enemies with ludicrous amounts of health. They are long, feature tons of bad guys, and test the limits of player skill. In other words, they’re one of the best parts about Destiny. Destiny truly shines when it comes to the visuals. I would love to see a feature in an upcoming patch that allows players to completely disable the HUD. The vistas are so gorgeous that it seems a shame to have some of them hidden behind objective markers, a radar, and ammo counter. It is refreshing to see that, even though Destiny has aspirations to be a serious shooter, it isn’t cut from the same washed-out cloth as many other FPS games. Destiny isn’t afraid to access a rich and vibrant color palate. Each area feels different, distinguished in part by variances in architecture, color schemes, and terrain. The pitted grey surface of the moon feels totally distinct from the rainy and tropical climes of Venus. Similarly, the human buildings on Earth feel at odds with the alien fortresses on Mars. Every change in scenery is accompanied by a new enemy entering the mix. There are four alien races so far: the Fallen, Hive, Vex, and Cabal. Each race has their own unique enemy types and tactics. The enemies are distinct from each other to a pleasing degree. It is easy to recognize the difference between the lumbering forms of the Cabal from the wiry, mechanical forms of the Vex. I got the sense that each of these races has a history, a reason for why they are in the Sol system and utterly hostile toward the human race. But I only got an impression, never any moving story sequences or moments to illustrate why I should care about them, other than the fact that they look cool. As players progress, they will unlock portions of lore in Destiny’s Grimoire. However, the Grimoire is inaccessible through any in-game means. You are forced to either go to Bungie’s website or download the free Destiny app to a mobile device. To me, locking off the background information to separate devices seems like a bizarre design decision. There is so much to like about Destiny. When it comes together, it feels sublime and there are glimpses of greatness. However, more often than not, it comes up short on its potential. A major contributor to this is the narrative, which feels like it was treated as a secondary or maybe even tertiary concern when balanced against the gameplay and visual design. Whenever someone might want Destiny to be more than functional, it can’t seem to rise to meet that desire. That’s a shame because there is so much potential in the Destiny universe, so many events alluded to that would be interesting to explore (at one point the Peter Dinklage-voiced robot casually tosses out that at one point the entire planet of Mercury was transformed into an evil machine!). **Spoiler Warning** Here is a brief synopsis of approximately half of the story present in Destiny: A sentient mechanical eyeball voiced by Peter Dinklage resurrects the protagonist to help defend the last city on Earth from the coming Darkness. The two then go off on a series of excursions that put them in contact with an old AI named Rasputin that somehow is connected with the Moon. While on the Moon, the duo crosses paths with a mysterious person (with no connection to Rasputin) who indicates they should check out Venus, because there is an even worse evil there than the aliens that live underneath the surface of the Moon and have been invading Earth. This is indicative of where Destiny’s story goes wrong. It doesn’t bother to create coherent events that run together or make sense. Instead, it opts to go for just a series of events that happen. The Rasputin AI is used to get players from Earth to the Moon and is never mentioned again until one of the last missions in the game (which happens to be a side mission, not one of the core story missions). There is this concept known as economical storytelling which just means that every element of your story should be essential. Nothing is gained by including Rasputin into the narrative of Destiny, other than getting the player to the Moon. Furthermore, Bungie associates a lot of important language with the AI. Destiny refers to the AI as a Warmind and tells the player that it has the potential to save mankind from extinction by reactivating old defenses, but we never see any of that happen, aside from a giant communications array rising from the ground. The tell-don’t-show approach spills over into other parts of Destiny as well. The most obvious example of this is the stakes into which players are continually asked to invest themselves. The old “aliens want to destroy the world” cliché just doesn’t hold up as well when you are trying to tell a compelling narrative in video games these days. Why should we care about the last city on Earth? For all the player knows, everyone in the city is already dead since we never see any of them. Guardians all seem to live in Tower, the central hub of Destiny. You can see a few non-guardians wandering around or running shops, but other than that, there are large stretches of buildings far below. Those buildings are as close as players ever get to having a reason to care about the human race (other than the fact that the people holding the controller and playing Destiny are, presumably, human themselves). Then there are the other issues with the narrative like the constant use of ambiguity. At times it feels like players are fighting against concepts instead of factions of aliens with their own goals and agendas. The clearest example of this is the often mentioned “Darkness” that is coming. What is it? I’ve finished the story and I have no idea. The game just tells you it is bad and that it almost destroyed all human life. I guess it is hard to see the threat posed by the Darkness when Earth is already overrun with several different alien races that want to destroy the remaining humans and the nearest planets house aliens that also want to kill everything. Why even mention the Darkness at all if it has nothing to do with the central plot? Clearly it is a set up for future expansions, but it serves no purpose in the narrative of Destiny as it stands currently and is bafflingly present in many of the dialogue exchanges throughout the game. This is the opposite of economical storytelling. I understand that video games contain different story structures than more traditional forms of media, but the fact remains that Destiny wastes a lot of its narrative time on inconsequential elements of its universe. I think that is where Destiny’s story went wrong. It took the building of a giant universe as its story’s central mission instead of building the world as a part of the narrative. We are meant to envision a large, rich game universe as Destiny throws around terms like Warmind and concepts like the Darkness. It is an attempt at world building that largely succeeds, at the cost of a coherent narrative that players will be able to enjoy. Now, this could all simply be attributed to lazy writing, but it seems to me that a project as big as Destiny would have to be a bit more self-aware. I have a suspicion that the narrative is intentionally structured this way. Destiny is rated T by the ESRB, which means it can be sold to younger gamers under the age of 17. While Destiny’s plot might not make much sense on paper, in practice it moves at a breakneck pace through vastly different scenery and enemies. Propelling players forward as fast as possible through the story is much easier when you don’t worry about things like character development, stakes, drama, etc. Many younger players, ages 12-16, could very well be utterly beguiled by the stylish combat, gorgeous scenery, and downright cool vibe Destiny throws out. The big sounding words and concepts impart a sense of scale that will leave the upcoming generation of gamers feeling like Destiny is one of the coolest games they’ve ever played, though they will struggle to articulate exactly why that is and what makes it so great. Though Destiny slips up and falls completely flat from a dramatic standpoint, it is still blast to play, which is why I can’t find it within myself to feel angry toward what it does or fails to do, just a bit of realistic disappointment. The opening mission holds such promise. Resurrected from the dead by a Ghost, it is a mad dash away from oncoming Fallen forces through rusting cars and timeworn corridors. Things seem so large and big as Ghost rattles off crucial details of the situation. Then you acquire weapons and armor and learn how to use them in your first real encounter. The fighting is fast, flashy, and leaves you feeling great as you take off in your newly acquired spacecraft. It feels so reminiscent of Star Wars that it kindles a bit of hope that the experience of Destiny might be something utterly unique and magical. What else could the game have in store? As you spend hours and hours making your way through the various missions and game worlds, it becomes clear that there isn’t much more to Destiny’s gameplay than what you experienced in the first mission. In fact, I can only think of one mission where I was required to do something other than shoot bad guys until the game allowed me to continue and that was a mission where I got a sword to slice up bad guys until the game allowed me to continue. The potential of the first mission is never realized. In fact, as Destiny continues there are more and more opportunities for interesting scenarios and interactions, but nothing ever comes of them. By the end of the campaign it felt like all that had been accomplished over the course of several days was the creation of a blank slate universe to which Bungie can add content as they wish. Conclusion: It is hard for me to conjure any animosity toward Destiny. It plays well and looks great, but the story is deeply flawed on numerous levels. It has nothing to say about which I feel offended other than way it undermines its own narrative, which just makes me feel kinda sad. The multiplayer is fun, though frustrating at times, and teaming up with friends to blast away at digital aliens in a Strike is good fun. Destiny is a worthy first-person shooter if all you are looking for is a shooter with neat visuals and tight gameplay. If you are looking for a story that will stick with you for years to come, Destiny is not that game. Perhaps the expansions will contain a story worth your time and attention, but until then enjoy the fun. Time will tell for certain, but I think the lesson to be learned from Destiny in five to ten years is that while a fun experience is pleasurable, it is also ephemeral. High quality stories are pleasuarable, too, but they also last. Destiny is currently available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. This review will be updated when raids are released next week. Update: Having experienced Destiny's raids, they do not significantly alter my opinions regarding Destiny's end game content. The lack of matchmaking for raids will prove to be a considerable barrier for players with less than the five highly levelled friends required to participate.
  8. According to Warner Bros., the game still needs a bit of polish on older systems. The Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor have been pushed back to a November 18 release date. Thankfully the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 versions will be unaffected by this delay and are still planned for release on September 30. A bit of good news: The PC version is being bumped ahead to a slightly earlier release date. It will launch alongside the Xbox One and PS4 versions rather than a nebulous date in early October.
  9. Anyone with an early copy of the upcoming sci-fi shooter should be able to play it before the official launch. The servers have been up since 6AM CST this morning to allow members of the press and anyone fortunate enough to get their hands on a full-release copy a head start on Destiny's content. Expect to see social media going bananas over the next twelve hours as we close in on the official launch of Bungie's next first-person shooter. According to Activision, Destiny's launch has taken on historic proportions by becoming the most pre-ordered new video game IP ever. This isn't terribly surprising since over 4.6 million players participated in the Destiny beta, setting a high bar for future betas this generation. "Destiny is the game we've always wanted to make," said Bungie's president, Harold Ryan. "We've dreamt of this universe for years, so we couldn't be more thrilled to swing open the doors and let fans shape this experience as they tell their unique stories in the game. For us, the next generation of games is all about allowing players to collide and interact with each other as they take on epic, action-packed adventures all their own." Destiny releases September 9 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
  10. The second season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead is a harsh slog through death, violence, and zombies. Which makes it all the more incredible that Season Two manages to be masterfully, achingly human. I’ll be attempting to keep this review spoiler-free since the main draw of the Telltale adventure games has always been experiencing the story. The Walking Dead Season Two places players in the shoes of Clementine, the young girl who was a staple character of the previous season. Soon after the second season begins, Clementine becomes separated from her friends and meets a new group of survivors. Players follow her trials and tribulations with the new group and the people they meet as they go through their ordeals. At its core, The Walking Dead Season Two knows how to construct drama. That mastery immediately sets it apart from many other blockbuster video games that rely on set piece spectacle, graphical horsepower, and marketing. Those bigger titles forget that effective drama relies on the audience empathizing and understanding the motivations of the characters. In this area, The Walking Dead Season Two excels. We understand the motivations of the characters, usually within the first few minutes of being introduced to them. Each character, even the bit players, have their own wants and needs, their own motivations. When we see those needs and wants clash, we can genuinely empathize with the situation, even if that situation is full of zombies. If any game makes a compelling case for more diverse video game casts, it is the second season of The Walking Dead. The most interesting characters of the second season are mostly women. There are several non-white characters. There is even a great moment involving a male character who is in a relationship with another man. All of this comes together to create a more interesting narrative. Seeing different views and ideologies collide is fascinating, especially when you can understand their viewpoints. As the season progresses, the player comes to an understanding of the level of violence permissible in the world of The Walking Dead and that understanding elevates the drama. When characters that we care about are threatened by intense, graphic violence we don’t want that to happen on a very fundamental level. When I say that the violence is some of the most graphic I have seen in a video game, I am not being hyperbolic. In particular, one scene stands out. There is a segment that involves a character being beaten into an unrecognizable, bloody mess with a crowbar. It is nauseatingly awful to witness and that is precisely the point. The Walking Dead’s second season makes a statement about how easily we accept horrific acts in our video games and how those acts are almost always treated casually or loosely justified with statements like, “It was war,” or even more simply, “they were the bad guys.” The brilliance of The Walking Dead Season 2 is that instances of violence, even in the most extreme cases, are never cheap and there is always an underlying point to their existence. I’m currently playing through Wolfenstein: The New Order, so it is hard for me not to compare how violence works in each title. Don’t get me wrong, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great game, but it falls into a category that I like to call, “well executed dumb.” It is trying to take players on a violence fueled romp through the ranks of Nazi’s who have taken over the world. The core mechanics all revolve around killing. I’d argue that violence is the end goal of Wolfenstein. If you take away the violent interactions there is no game left. You are never meant to think about the Nazi soldiers you kill in Wolfenstein as human beings. You are meant to think of them as monsters. There is nothing wrong with violence for its own sake, sometimes it can be very cathartic. However, violence by itself is empty excitement. When you compare the violence of The Walking Dead Season Two with that of Wolfenstein, you find that The Walking Dead uses violence with a purpose. For Telltale, violence is the means to an end. Let’s return to the crowbar scene that I mentioned earlier. What end does the incident serve? On a purely base level for the player it provides a certain amount of catharsis seeing an “evil” character get some form of retribution. On a character level it is a statement about what kind of a person Clementine is becoming. It is a pivotal moment where she, and by extension the player, is given multiple opportunities to leave and let the event go unwitnessed. Whether the player decides to stay or leave says something about what Clementine has learned in her time surviving the apocalypse. Then the scene drags on and on. It becomes grotesque. It is not pleasant to sit through, nor was it intended to be. Why does such an occurrence of violence feel so strange and unique in the gaming world? In fact, it is remarkable how often games create similar scenes or situations and treat them casually. How many soldiers have we mowed down in Call of Duty without giving it a second thought? How about Grand Theft Auto? In real life the acts we see performed in most video games would be utterly awful. In that way, despite its cel-shaded graphics and preposterous setting, The Walking Dead Season Two feels like one of the most honest depictions of violence that video games have to offer. It is enough that it makes one question; should violence be so easily digested? Midway through episode two Clementine is asked what she thinks is the most important thing in the world. No matter what response the player chooses the answer, Telltale’s writers tell us, is family. Where growing up was the central idea of the first season, family is the theme of the second season. We see Clementine through the struggles of surviving alone and then through the struggles of surviving with the people with whom fate has stuck her, much like how we are all stuck with our own families. In fact, there are a lot of different topics that are brought up over the course of playing the Walking Dead Season Two. A lot of people die, causing many characters to question the meaning of life and whether living is worth the trouble. Some find it hard to go on, others soldier on because it is the only thing they know how to do. How important is friendship and family in the face of life or death? Do children belong in such a world? Are the zombies or the humans the real monsters? Often Telltale forces players to make split second decisions; choices made in the heat of the moment that perhaps reflect a truth about how the player views the world. All of this serious talk might make it seem like The Walking Dead Season Two is doom and gloom all the way through, but that would be a misrepresentation. There is real joy and laughter nestled amongst the sadness and loss. I laughed out loud at several moments and smiled through others. A lot of the humor derives from Clementine being a young girl who is treated out of necessity as an adult. Most of the time she rises to the occasion admirably, but sometimes she can’t help but show how in many ways she is still a kid. Maybe those moments taken out of context weren’t hilarious, but any levity serves such a contrast against the dismal backdrop of the world that a good guffaw isn’t too far away when the comedy hits. You’ve probably noticed by now that I haven’t said much about the gameplay. That’s because there isn’t much to say about it. It is the least interesting aspect of Telltale’s recent adventure games and The Walking Dead Season Two isn’t an exception. Between the decisions that players will make are action segments comprised of quick time events. They’re not interesting by themselves, but the context of what players view on the screen makes them bearable. Tapping the Q key is not an interesting way to interact with a game. Often, interactivity is limited even during the moments when players are allowed to search an environment. However, I am more than happy to put up with the annoyance of quick time events and limited interactivity if I can experience more narratives of the quality produced by Telltale Games. The third season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead has been confirmed which leads me to wonder how the next season will work. The ending of the second season diverges wildly after a certain point of decision the player makes as Clementine, resulting in three different core endings, two of which have several different ways they can play out. This would make it very difficult to start the third season with Clementine remaining as the main character. Perhaps Telltale’s writers will perform some complicated word jiu-jitsu and make it work, but I think it is more likely that next season will have a different protagonist and Clementine will make an appearance as one of the side characters. Only time will tell for certain, though. Conclusion: The Walking Dead Season Two is one of the best narrative-focused games to be released this year. The writing is excellent, the performances are compelling, and the emotions it evokes are potent. The lack of variety in the interactions with the game world is overshadowed by the powerful narrative. Anything that might distract from the core experience with the story has been stripped away, revealing a journey with characters that will break your heart, mend it, and then shatter it all over again. The Walking Dead Season Two is available on PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
  11. The latest trailer for Advanced Warfare goes for broke to sell gamers its story. The trailer kicks off with a quote from Abraham Lincoln about the use of power before diving into a near future world seemingly ruled by terrorism, private military contractors, and a despotic Kevin Spacey. It seems like the next Call of Duty will have a number of interesting elements at play in its narrative, but it remains to be seen if it will come together in a meaningful way. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare will launch on November 4 on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC. What do you think about the direction the Call of Duty series seems to be taking? Let us know in the comments!
  12. Over the past few days I had the opportunity to take a break from reviewing the incredibly long PC RPG Divinity: Original Sin (68 hours in with the end still not in sight!) by suiting up as one of humanity’s last Guardians. After three focused days with the beta, I can say with confidence that Bungie has put what it learned from years developing Halo and successfully read the gaming landscape to create an FPS title that will stand the test of time. The Destiny beta was previewed on PlayStation 4. How does one describe Destiny? Destiny seems like a hodgepodge of various elements copped from other famous science-fiction games, movies, and books that were then rolled up into one package, streamlined, and then given some of the characteristics of an MMO (I thought about putting in the dictionary definition of destiny here instead, but decided that would be too obvious). The physics of the movement is very Halo-esque, giving the player a sensation of great power and fluidity, while eschewing the frantic pacing of titles like Call of Duty or Titanfall. Meanwhile the gunplay is heavily influenced by Borderlands. The aesthetics and setting have Star Wars influences written all over along them (imagine that the Deathstar was sentient, good, and didn’t blow up planets and you basically have the premise for Destiny). Finally, the story is a mix of Rendezvous with Rama and Childhood’s End both of which were written by Arthur C. Clarke. And here is the thing: All of those disparate elements come together feeling new and fresh, which is a real achievement! I walked away from my weekend with Destiny having enjoyed myself and feeling optimistic about the game’s future. However, I don’t think it is enough to tell you that I had this positive reaction to Destiny, instead I’m going to attempt to explain why. One of the main attractions of Destiny is how it empowers players. It goes about this in a variety of ways, but first and foremost, it conveys power through movement and terrain traversal. As usual for an FPS, players can toggle between normal running and sprinting, the pace of which is not frenetically fast, but instead instils a feeling of accuracy and control. It is a small touch, but it works. Jumping represents a major contributor to the empowerment of movement in Destiny. At first it seems like a more toned-down version of Halo’s high, floaty jumps, but upon reaching level three or four, players unlock the double jump and it changes everything. In my mind, Titanfall was the first FPS that truly embraced the notion of verticality and freedom of movement. I played Titanfall and felt like I was seeing what the new trend in multiplayer would be; Bungie, much like Respawn, realized that it needed to get away from the landlocked mentality of last-gen’s shooters. I won’t say that Bungie looked at Titanfall and tried to emulate it; Destiny has clearly been in development for years, too long to make such a fundamental change to its entire structure and gameplay dynamics. Destiny and Titanfall both happened to hit on the idea that giving players more options in how they move makes the game a great deal more fun and allows for a more flowing feel to the entire affair. Oh, and the speeder bikes that you can summon almost anywhere control very well and lend the maps a sense of scope while finally allowing you to see what it would be like to ride one of the speeders from Return of the Jedi. Those are pretty sweet. Beyond movement, Destiny takes a running leap (har har) right out of the gate in regards to progression. Completing missions and killing enemies grants experience that adds up over time to level characters. Over the course of the first few missions players level up frequently, about a level per story mission, and find new equipment everywhere. Each level rewards players with a new ability, a variation of one of their existing abilities, an upgrade for core power, or a boost to base stats. New equipment comes in the familiar rarity color coding made omnipresent by Diablo (now go ahead and tell me that Diablo wasn’t the first game to start this sort of color scheme, Diablo was the first I could recall), though the best equipment typically drops in the form of schematics that must be decoded. Uncommon or rare weapons also gain experience the more they are used and can be upgraded once they’ve been used enough in battle. All of this comes together to give players a real sense of escalating power. Now, I can’t speak as to how this will continue on in the full version of Destiny, since the beta caps progress at level 8, but I’d imagine that, similar to other MMOs, the pace of power growth will slow dramatically during the mid to late game compared to the early sections. And make no mistake, Destiny is an MMO despite the marketing of it as being a “shared world.” Destiny takes many design decisions found in a typical MMO and applies them to a first-person shooter in a remarkably deft manner. The elements are there, from random events, to raids (called Strikes), to sidequests that branch off from the main story missions, to seeing the numbers indicating damage dealt pop up with ever successful shot to an enemy. At any given time I could see three or four other Guardians pursuing side missions or participating in random events, but social interaction never felt forced on me or like it took me out of the experience. The strange part is that this all comes together very well. I have my gripes with the Borderlands series, but being able to team up with friends and shoot your way through a campaign was undeniably fun. Destiny captures the essence of that co-op experience and applies it on a wider scale. In fact, the gameplay really does remind me of Borderlands, albeit with more mobility, except that Destiny manages to both make the gameplay its own and appropriately tone the entire affair. That tone is what will make Destiny such a success. Undoubtedly many kids under the age of 17 got their hands on the M rated Borderlands and Borderlands 2, but think of how many more copies Borderlands would have been able to sell with a T rating from the ESRB. On June 26 the ESRB announced that Destiny will be rated T, which widens the audience quite a bit. Combine that with the Star Wars vibe that the title exudes, the sweeping scope, the gameplay which can be enjoyed with friends, and the lack of a subscription fee (ignoring, for a second, PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live), and to me that seems like something that will be astronomically big. It will be innocuous enough to get by most parents while still appealing to the youth demographic and it will be interesting and edgy enough to pull in the older crowds. Now, from all those glowing statements about what Destiny does right, you might be thinking that this is the most perfect game to have ever existed or that I am a goon paid for by Bungie. Neither of those assumptions are correct for there are a number of areas in Destiny that fell short. Many people have pointed to Peter Dinklage’s voice acting performance as something that detracts significantly from their experience. I would never presume to try and invalidate the feelings that other people have, because gut reactions to things can never be “wrong” in any quantitative sense. However, I do think that this is a case of people signaling out a surface-level, lackluster element and pinning their frustrations on it. While Peter Dinklage at times certainly gives a phoned-in performance* (which could very well detract from some players in-game experience, it just didn’t significantly alter my own), the main problem with Destiny isn’t that the performances aren’t as nuanced and deep as they could be; the main problem is that Destiny’s narrative doesn’t know how to begin its story. I don’t want to be overly critical here because Destiny is still months from release and could very well have some of the beginning story elements locked away. However, the product on display in the beta is clunky. It is never sure of how much or when it should dole out information. My character awakens to the line, “you’ve been dead for a long time,” and immediately, without any questions asked, the game placed me into the action. Now, this is a good way to grab a player’s attention, but it comes with a number of questions that demand answers after that action is concluded. Those answers never came. I was whisked away to the last human city, Tower, where I was given general background information about the state of the world and my character’s place in it, but those don’t satisfactorily answer why or how my character was brought back from the dead. There are lots of logic things that can be overlooked in the name of drama, but it was really irritating to me to hear my character speak and somehow fail to ask how he was brought back from the dead. That’s kind of a big deal. If technology is advanced enough to bring people back from the dead after “a long time” how is humanity in bad shape? This serves as a great example of one of my biggest complaints regarding Destiny, because there are numerous times when important details about the world seemed to go unexplained or ignored. Players are simply told to accept the quirks of the various races and events in Destiny’s story without enough context to make sense of it all. The previous paragraph was a minor complaint. That might seem odd, but the story of Destiny is such a secondary (possibly tertiary) concern that it won’t be something that affects most players experience with the game, because the refinement of Destiny’s gameplay trumps most of the minor quibbles it has, story or otherwise. One of those nitpicks goes to the AI, which seem to encounter invisible walls from time to time that can be used to pick off enemies or manipulate them into doing stupid things like running out of cover for no reason. Melee enemies in particular seem to be hit on the head with dumb. Jumping to a high elevation causes them to mill around helplessly like lost puppies. If I had to pick one more smallish complaint, it would be that the sidequests scattered throughout the exploration mode are largely uninteresting and seem to exist mostly out of obligation. Despite the annoyances and the narrative concerns, the heart of the matter is that Destiny is fun. The diversity of inspirations works to make the journey through a devastated Earth and beyond seem new instead of rehashed. It is visually exciting and delivers moments of tense action, comradery, and a sense of adventure. All other concerns aside, the bottom line is that Destiny is such an enjoyable experience that trumps almost any other criticism you could level at it. Destiny releases September 9 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. * Regarding Peter Dinklage: Here’s the thing, folks, Peter Dinklage is a very talented actor. He has a real flair for the dramatic and is capable of turning an audience to putty in his hands through his tone of voice. While it is true that the end result of his voice acting in Destiny sounds less than stellar, we don’t know why he sounds that way. Making a video game is a highly collaborative process. It could be that he found the lines too ridiculous to say seriously; it could be that he just didn’t care; it could be that Dinklage acts best when physically present on a set (to my knowledge, he has only ever done voice work for one other property and that was for Ice Age: Continental Drift in 2012); but it could also be that the people directing him didn’t know how to get what they wanted or they made the call that what they recorded was an acceptable final product. It is important to remember that Peter Dinklage doesn’t have the final say on what goes into Destiny and that others are making the call that those lines were read appropriately. Finally, in Destiny, Dinklage voices a robot and, to me, he sounds very robot-like and detached in-game, which could contribute to why some of his lines sound so lifeless. He’s undeniably a great actor, capable of compelling work (Here is a brilliant scene from Game of Thrones Season 4, spoiler warning and all that), but for that talent to shine it require people in a number of other capacities to recognize what the game needs and bring it out of Dinklage.
  13. I’ve been directed through a labyrinthine maze of small meeting rooms and temporary walls that represent the barrier between Wargaming’s inner workings and the public spectacle they have going on outside. E3 is fully underway and I’ve arrived at the heart of the colossal structure that is Wargaming’s E3 booth; a veritable two-story behemoth that’s larger than most houses. With the hugely successful World of Tanks continuing to rake in new players every day, World of Tanks 360 proving itself to be very popular among American gamers, and World of Warplanes spreading its wings, Wargaming has set its sights on finishing World of Warships. That’s why I am there; they will be showing me live, pre-alpha gameplay from their latest build of World of Warships. Christine Yeo, Wargaming’s PR manager, and Ivan Goldensohn, a marketing specialist for Wargaming, greet me at the door to meeting room #8 (mind you, this is on the show floor and I am in a hallway that has more meeting rooms on both sides). After a minute or two of introductions and chatter, the three of us begin talking business. On one wall of the meeting room hangs a giant television on which Ivan begins showing me World of Warships. He has to talk loudly to avoid being drowned out by the realistic sounding explosions. Later I would find out that the explosions sound authentic because the sound design team finds, fires, and records each specific gun and cannon type used in World of Tanks, Warplanes, and Warships. If they can’t find a working model for the gun they need to record, they recreate it to the best of their ability and record the facsimile’s sound. Ivan talks, almost yelling over the sound of explosions, “So, now my plane has been sent out, I’m switching back to macro-management, as I like to call it, versus micromanagement. My turrets are rotating, I’ll see if I can get one more here… See, but this guy’s in a cruiser, so it’s going to be a lot harder to [an explosion drowns out his words and a siren begins blaring].” In World of Warships, players can send out scout planes to get a view of the battlefield (battle-sea?). These planes are controlled by AI, but players can set waypoints for the planes to follow. As you can imagine, these planes represent a huge combat advantage, so both teams will have to pay attention to who has the most vision in the skies. There are a number of different tactics to consider when facing down enemy ships. Two of the most important factors to keep in mind are your target’s hull integrity and the hit points of the individual gun emplacements on the target. You can focus on either sinking the ship or defanging it and eliminating its total hit points. Depending on the class type of your enemy and what warship you happen to be piloting, one option or the other might be more effective. To that end, there are different methods of attacking. We were shown sniper and torpedo modes. The artillery mode previously shown in 2013 has been removed from the game since it incentivized players to hang back behind islands and shell each other. This just ended up rendering the game not as much fun. The sniper mode works much as you might assume from the name. Players enter a sniper-esque view and aim their cannons at their intended target and then take into account distance and adjust accordingly. Torpedoes are one of the most deadly weapons on the seas and can easily destroy an unprepared ship. They can be aimed quickly and will travel in a straight line until they hit something. Players can adjust the spread and aim of the torpedoes; a narrow spread will equal more damage, but is more likely to miss, while a wider spread will more likely score a hit, but do less damage. Ivan continues to show me the various features of World of Warships, “You’ll notice at the top we are seeing some base capture icons. Similar to World of Tanks, we have this Capture the Flag style game. I don’t think they have anyone who’s fast enough to catch up with us, but this looks like torpedo central to me, so I’m going to lock on to him. I’m going to increase my spread to have a greater chance of hitting him. I can then follow these torpedoes and I can actually switch between them. It’s all the little features like this [the explosions of a nearby enemy ship drown out Ivan’s words] help the game come together. Being able to watch your torpedo actually slam into the enemy-[explosions from his torpedo fill the screen as the sound fills the meeting room]” I laugh, “You got him!” Even in pre-alpha, World of Warships looks gorgeous. Wargaming is aware of how great their game looks and has added various ways to get up close with the action and drink in the visuals. A perfect example of this is the ability to have your camera follow torpedoes that you’ve launched. This leads to a few tense seconds of “will it hit?” nail-biting and the opportunity to see a glorious explosion or two or three, depending on how many hit their intended target. Wargaming even added the ability to switch between the torpedoes to capture the action from the best possible angle. Given the presence of scout planes shown in-game and the history of the time period that Wargaming seems to be on a mission to capture, I ask the inevitable question, “Are there any plans to have cross over [between World of Warships] and World of Warplanes?” Christine responds with what seems like a practiced reply, “You know, that is something that people always ask us. We are definitely thinking about different options, but right now I can’t say anything in the near future. It’s just a lot of balancing that we need to take into consideration.” “Well, yeah, it would certainly be a huge undertaking,” I say. It isn’t as simple as just slapping together the code for World of Warplanes and World of Warships together. Balancing how the two games would interact with each other while still maintaining the level of strategy and fairness that have been cornerstones of Wargaming’s titles would be a game designer’s nightmare-level challenge. “Right,” returns Christine, “But [it is understandable] that people ask because the fact that you can send out scouts and meet with aircraft carriers, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.” “And you know, we are always open to suggestions and what players want is what we usually do,” Ivan pitches in his two cents. As the match ends, Ivan turns to me saying, “It is still in alpha stages. It’s not perfect, but it looks gorgeous. The level of complexity is there, but the ease of use and jumping into it is really cool. And, you know, some of the more complex elements like sending out a scout plane, you’re not going to have to deal with until you get up a couple tiers, so the game is going to dynamically introduce you to those concepts.” “So what elements are not present here that will be in the final version?” I ask out of curiosity. “Well that is a really good question. What’s cool about developing a game like this, is when we are talking about changing it we are not like, ‘we’re going to make this gun slightly bigger’ or ‘this tank, this plane, this ship is going to be slightly faster.’ We are saying fundamentally, from the ground up how do we modify it to be exactly what our players want.” As an example, he mentions the elimination of artillery that was stifling gameplay options for their players. Another thought occurs to me, “What happens when you ram into another ship?” “A lot of damage,” laughs Ivan. “A lot of these models aren’t finalized, so the damage on them isn’t complete. But, I mean, in the final game you are going to be seeing stuff like ships breaking based on where they were hit. So, if you blow off the back of a ship with a killing blow, you will actually see that ship break in that spot, or torpedo damage will cause ships to sink in a different way from overall damage, or bomb damage from airplanes will cause different damage to the top of the ship. So, all that stuff is cool, but then in the fundamental game mode we will be constantly switching it up.” The eventual goal is to have battles flowing and allowing players to join 15v15 warship battles. Even though the game is in pre-alpha, it is hard not to feel a jump of excitement at the prospect of thirty players going at each other on the high seas. Ivan then hands me an iPad to try out World of Tanks: Blitz. As I begin to play (I’m going to fess up, I am absolutely terrible at World of Tanks on PC and I fared little better in World of Tanks: Blitz), I notice and comment about how great the game looks for an iPad app. Ivan launches into an explanation of how they fit Blitz onto an iPad, “This could be a PC game, but this is running from my iPad right now. […] People say, ‘where did you have to make sacrifices to put this on an iPad? What did you have to pull out of a 30GB PC client?’ The answer is nothing. Instead of taking things out, what we did was modify the game to be more app friendly and we used that to our advantage. So, you see we have the module system, all of this is just as complex as the PC. I can switch out the engine, my turret, and my tank. All of this is going to affect my percentages and every detail from your equipment I can put on my tank and there are five different consumables that I can use. What we did instead is we said, ‘where is the game different as a mobile game and how do we change that?’ So, all the maps are a fifth of the size. They are tiny. It is so much more fun. Suddenly you have this little map you can run across the whole thing in a minute and a half and everybody is jumping right into the battle. You have these super focused, super intense battle modes. It is like instead of taking out content, we switched it to make it mobile and it ended up helping everybody.” It turns out that while the PC version takes up around 30GB, the app uses a minuscule 500MB. And it does look remarkably good. The presentation is a bit barebones, but the things that are in-game look great. The maps are just as small as stated, but for a mobile game that’s perfect. I fiddle with the iPad for a few minutes before a Finnish player takes me down like a clumsy, tank-sized bull in a china shop. People who are into fast-paced, military combat games and are looking for a mobile title to fill that particular void couldn’t do much better than World of Tanks: Blitz. It is free and currently available. The conversation turns to World of Tanks 360 and the updates that they have been rolling out for it since release. To sum up the changes these updates have had/will have in the near future: Weather variance to will be added to maps that provide different visibility and aesthetics. New autoloaders, new tanks, new maps, new modes are constantly on the way. World of Tanks: Soccer is a game mode released specifically for the 2014 World Cup. Like the title suggests, players battle it out on the soccer field in tanks trying to score goals by any means necessary. Platoon groups can now go up to seven members instead of three. The conversation draws to a close and I begin to make my way out the door. I think to myself how glad I’ll be to return to E3 next year and see the next incarnation of Wargaming’s immense booth and have another opportunity to sit down and chat with people who are as passionate and committed to their game as Christine and Ivan. There are a lot of video game developers out there these days, especially in the free-to-play market, but Wargaming is special. Wargaming’s commitment over the years to responding to its massive player base is something from which many developers of online games could learn a thing or two. On top of that, they deserve praise for how well it handles free-to-play, right alongside Riot Games. I might be awful at playing their games, but I respect Wargaming for making those games well. As of the writing of this article there is still no official release date for World of Warships, though the beta is speculated to be beginning sometime in the next couple months.
  14. If you have been paying the barest attention to mobile gaming over the last couple months, chances are you’ve heard of the game Threes!, which was designed by indie developer Asher Vollmer. It turns out that Vollmer has been working on a different game in the wake of Threes! success and it happens to be one of the best games I’ve played at E3 this year. Close Castles is a unique take on the tower defense genre that plays like a minimalist reduction of a real-time strategy game. In its current state, Close Castles has no single-player or online multiplayer and as far as I know there aren’t currently plans to make either of those features. The game pits two, three, or four local players against each other in a battle of wits. The premise of Close Castle is, fittingly, that each player has built a castle too close to the neighboring castles of other nations and this has started a war. The war takes place on a grid with each castle residing in a different corner of the grid. Players move their cursor to different squares within their territory to build one of three different structures which then expand their territory. The most basic structures necessary for securing victory in Close Castles are houses, which spawn knights that can attack enemy buildings. If an enemy is invading your lands, towers are a great investment as they assault attacking knights. However, houses and towers don’t just build themselves; all buildings cost money and the more money a play has over their opponents, the more likely they are to secure a victory. To that end, markets are a must for any long-term conquest. I know that I said there were three structures, but another key element to Close Castles is constructing roads. Roads cost nothing and don’t expand your territory, but they are how you direct your knights from their houses to attack enemy buildings. With these basic rules and mechanics, Close Castles sets players loose against each other. On the surface, Close Castles looks simple enough: The last player with a castle standing wins. But how do you go about besting your friends? Do you go for a building out towers to slowly and safely expand your empire? Or do you build a couple early markets and then blitz your opponents with several houses spewing forth knights? Each strategy has advantages and disadvantages. Allowing a player to turtle for too long can result in an unstoppable wave of knights later on, while neglecting early defense can leave you wide open to an early house rush. There is definitely a learning curve to Close Castles that lends itself to evolving strategies over time. One of the hardest lessons to learn is how to build roads. Roads are what allows your knights to target enemy structures and you can target more than one building at a time. However, targeting multiple structures will result in an even split of your knights between those targets. Therefore, the more targets you have, the more you divide your forces. This can allow you to hit multiple locations at once, but if you aren’t careful you can simply end up losing all of your knights and leave yourself open to a counterattack. It is worth noting that we played Close Castles entirely with Xbox 360 controllers, which might make it the first RTS-like game able to be enjoyed with a gamepad. Each building was mapped to a different face button, while the cursor was moved using the left joystick. It felt smooth and responsive, which is incredibly important when you need to respond to an unexpected enemy attack. Close Castles is still in the early stages of development and there are almost certainly features that will be added or tweaked, but as it stands right now it is one of the most game-like games I’ve played at E3. It completely embraces the spirit of tower defense, while getting at the heart of what makes real-time strategy so engaging. It takes those concepts and strips them down to the bare essentials. That this is played against people who are physically present and frantically strategizing both against and with you adds to a sense of frenetic excitement. Though currently there is no release date for Close Castles, if the build I played went on sale for mobile, PC, or consoles tomorrow, I would pick it up and recommend you all do the same. Not because it is doing something radical or something new, the concepts on display are old as Chess, but because it does those old things so well that it makes them feel new. Like I said, Close Castles seems simple enough on the surface, but that simplicity stems from elegance. And elegance is a beautiful thing.
  15. The latest Skylanders installment introduces new characters, toys, and a whole new portal for capturing the bad guys. Skylanders Trap Team expands on the previous Skylander entries by introducing powerful new enemies known as Traps. These are the most villainous baddies around, but once they are defeated and trapped using the new Traptanium Portal, they can be called upon in-game as new playable characters. Also, once trapped, these villains will lend their voices to the toy in which they have been captured. Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision Publishing said in an announcement that, “with Skylanders Trap Team, we’re no longer just letting kids bring their toys to life inside the game anymore. This time, we’re letting them pull their toys out of the game as well." Trap Team can be pre-ordered from now until its release on October 2 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. There will also be an entirely different adventure available on 3DS.
  16. BioWare today revealed the impending release date along with a new gameplay trailer to get fans excited to play as the mysterious Inquisitor. The new trailer shows off a bit of the overarching Inquisition story as well as some brief snippets of combat, enemies, and shows off the gorgeous environments. Be sure to check out the screenshots released last month that showcased the new creatures, environments, and characters. Dragon Age: Inquisition is slated for release on October 7 on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC via Origin.
  17. With Demon's Souls, Dark Souls, and now Dark Souls II, From Software has made providing gamers with challenging entertainment their overriding game design philosophy. The difficulty of Dark Souls II is both its greatest strength and also its greatest weakness. For the uninitiated, Dark Souls II is an open-world action RPG. Players step into the shoes of some poor man or woman who has become afflicted with “The Curse” and has ended up in the kingdom of Drangleic. This is about as specific as the story seems willing to be, with the rest is a blur about a king, something about fire keepers, and giants. About three-fourths of the way through the game, the storyline inexplicably changes gears from trying to cure your character from The Curse to becoming the new king or queen of Drangleic. I was pretty confused when this happened, but being confused in Dark Souls II is the normal state of affairs. Also, I’d be lying if I said this game was about its story. The vague plot serves as an excuse to insert strange monsters and visuals. To its credit, Dark Souls II looks incredible. It retains the aura of faded glory, despair, and hopelessness of the first Dark Souls, but it isn’t afraid to access a brighter color palate. Sunsets on endless oceans, soaring mountain peaks, misty forest vales, these locations all have distinct color schemes and feel unique. By extension, Dark Souls II stands out visually more than its predecessor, whose graphical styles ranged from dim to dark. I can believe that people, insane though they may be, live in the kingdom of Drangleic, whereas the denizens of Lordran seemed entirely out of place. The creature designs range from traditional fantasy fare like giant spiders and dragons to monsters that would be right at home in a remake of John Carpenter’s The Thing. For example, one of the bosses is literally a giant pile of corpses fused together to form a disgusting mass of grasping arms and legs. It’s gross. The Souls series has constructed its identity around the idea that games should be hard, but fair; a game design concept that many console games in the 8-bit era of gaming strove to embody. Gameplay largely revolves around knowing when to block, dodge, heal, and attack. Most monster encounters consist of learning their timings and weaknesses. In the average Dark Souls II fight or boss battle, if you die, it is largely your own fault for being too slow to block or dodge. Dark Souls II mostly succeeds in walking the knife-thin line that separates a difficult game from a frustrating game, but it does have its fair share of insta-death moments. Random explosions, powerful monsters masquerading as treasure chests, one-hit-kill boss attacks, Dark Souls II has a number of cheap ways to die. At times, this game made me so mad I had to put it down for a couple hours so as not to pull my hair out in rage. What mitigates the feelings of frustration and will keep you coming back for more punishment is the sense of accomplishment after conquering a particularly hard section or boss. It also helps that Dark Souls II is fully aware of how difficult it is and is designed to lessen the impact of its own betrayals. Sure, there will be numerous times when you die unfairly, but the penalty for death is simply dropping your souls, the in-game currency used to level up and buy items. These souls can be reclaimed by going to where you died and recovering them. Once you know something will instantly kill you, it is usually easy to avoid. After killing enemies a certain number of times, they will disappear forever. This is probably to prevent people from farming up souls, which you obtain by slaying enemies, and to help players make it through overly frustrating portions of Drangleic. Another method of alleviating difficult sections of gameplay is by summoning other players to assist in combat. A player having trouble with a boss or a long stretch of enemies can use an item called a human effigy to restore their zombie-like form to its human state, allowing them to summon allies. Offline players are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to summoning, since they may only call upon the various denizens of Drangleic. These stalwart heroes are controlled by the AI and are not very smart. They’ll throw themselves at bosses with as much relish as Kobayashi at a hot dog eating contest and they won’t stop until they are dead. There is another problem with summoning, though, and that is finding the item that allows you to summon and be summoned. You see, the majority of the problems that I had with Dark Souls II stemmed from just how oblique and purposefully confusing the game can be at times. The player is never told that one of the most essential skills in the game is just talking to the NPCs repeatedly until they have nothing new to say. At one point in my playthrough, I had explored all available sections of Drangleic and was stuck. After several hours of aimless backtracking I found that I needed to talk with a specific shop keeper multiple times, a shop keeper I had no reason to talk to and whose merchandise I couldn’t use. Talking with that specific character opened up an entire half of the game. Talking with other seemingly unimportant characters multiple times is also what nets players access to certain items, like the items required to summon help for boss fights. On numerous occasions I picked up an item, read the description, and was still completely in the dark as to its purpose. Perhaps the greatest example of just how frustratingly obtuse Dark Souls II can be is found in the information it conveys to players regarding covenants. Covenants are essentially groups you can join that give you special powers or advantages. One of the earliest covenants players can encounter is The Way of the Blue which summons other players to your aid whenever your world is invaded by enemy players. This is by far the most useful covenant early on in the game. However, there is another covenant called the Company of Champions, which was the first covenant I happened to discover. Not really knowing anything about it, I joined. Dark Souls II game never explains what the Company of Champions does, so I played the game, remarking how incredibly difficult all the starting areas seemed to be. It wasn’t until I reached a boss fight half-way through that I began to suspect the purpose of the Company of Champions. It turns out that joining the Company of Champions amounts to ratcheting up the difficulty to eye-gougingly hard levels. I’m all for allowing players to discover things for themselves; that can be a beautiful and awesome thing if implemented correctly. However, a little more explanation would go a long way toward making Dark Souls II a more accessible and less frustrating experience. Conclusion: On the one hand, I admire Dark Souls II. It is a game that is what it is and doesn’t bother trying to explain itself except in the broadest possible sense. Players must rise to meet its challenge; it doesn’t stoop to accommodate anyone. On the other hand, there are many occasions when Dark Souls II intentionally obscures itself in order to give the illusion that it is more meaningful and complex that it is. Difficulty should stem from gameplay, not from intentionally confusing the player. I enjoyed Dark Souls II very much at first, but it eventually wore out its welcome. If you enjoyed the first game or if you love difficult games, you’ll probably also enjoy Dark Souls II. If you don’t have a lot of patience or persistence, you should probably steer clear, or at least until the price drops significantly during a Steam sale or something. Reviewed on Xbox 360
  18. Titanfall, which released earlier this week, has proven to be so popular that speculation is already swirling around what type of content the DLC packs will bring to the table. According to Respawn's community manager, at least one might involve pitting players against alien creatures. As part of its season pass, Titanfall will be receiving three DLC packs as well as bundles of free content. Alien animals appear in the current Titanfall maps and there are creatures featured in the collector's edition art book that never made it into the finished game, leading many fans to believe aliens could play a role in the upcoming DLC. When asked about monster-related DLC, Respawn community manager Abbie Heppe stated, "We are going to have maps added, and we’re trying to give players as much of a varied look at things as we can so that is definitely a possibility." Heppe was also asked if new titans were planned for the future, to which she responded, "That’s a real big question. In order to [add a Titan] it takes so much balancing to make all the Titan abilities work with each other, and then against pilots. It’s a huge undertaking. Originally we just had the Atlas titans and then the team refused to add in the rest of the Titans until we were all sure that that one fitted perfectly with everything else in the game, so… I’m not announcing any new Titans right now!” So, a maybe on aliens and a bit less likely on new titans, but I'd still be willing to bet money we'll see some new titans. Which would you rather see: more robots or more aliens? Personally, I'm pro-robot!
  19. Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to spend an extended period of time experiencing a small selection of multiplayer maps and modes from the upcoming Titanfall. What did I think? Read on to find out! My initial thoughts on Titanfall were far from positive. I booted up the game and was greeted by the training tutorial which appeared to be a black screen full of polygons. I managed to progress a few lessons into the tutorial, but noticed with growing alarm that weapons were missing, textures were wonky, and the final straw was when enemies would be covered in strange twisted wire sctulptures. My gaming rig can play most games at max settings, so I knew something was wrong. After spending several fruitless hours searching for solutions, I was directed toward a YouTube comment that solved my problem. In some instances on PC, Titanfall will default to use the integrated PC graphics rather than the actual graphics card users have installed. So, if you want to save yourself a great deal of frustration when you boot up the retail version of Titanfall, make sure that you check to make sure it is running on your graphics card. I was... confused. After resolving that issue, I managed to complete the tutorial, which consists of both pilot and titan training. In a number of ways Titanfall seeks to improve the established multiplayer FPS gameplay established by the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty. One of the most prominent being the emphasis on mobility and verticality to level design and combat. While on foot, players can run on walls for a limited time or jump from wall to wall indefinitely. The inclusion of jet packs also means that reaching higher ledges is easy and juking enemies becomes a valid option. This mobility comes in very handy once enemy titans enter the fray. Called down from orbit, these giant robotic suits can kill players simply by stepping on them without even bothering with their array of rockets, giant chain guns, reflective bullet shields, and dashes. Stepping into the cockpit of a titan or seeing them sow destruction across the battlefield is always impressive. When a match starts, all players begin with a certain amount of time to wait before they can call down their titan and eliminating enemies reduces the timer. This system might seem to favor teams who receive their titans first, but on-foot players aren't completely defenseless. Armed with an anti-titan weapon and the ability to cloak, players can make themselves undetectable to titans while also packing a punch. But be warned, while cloaking is very effective against titans, it doesn't work quite as well against other enemies on foot. Titans are also limited to ground. They can't climb on buildings or jump, so sometimes having the higher ground can be a very effective way to fight against their overwhelming force. Titans can also be exited and made to follow the player or to guard a position, which can be useful if you want to provide a big distraction or hold a position. If this all sounds impressive and fun, that's because it is very impressive and fun. Three game modes were available during the beta: Attrition, Capture Point, and Last Titan Standing. Attrition was by far my favorite, which pits two teams of six against each other with each player or Titan kill deducting from a team total. If your team loses, all surviving players have to make a mad dash for an escape shuttle while the enemy team hunts down the survivors and attempts to destroy the shuttle. An interesting factor in attrition is that, even though there are only six players on each team, there are large numbers of AI soldiers who also participate in the battle, shouting to each other for back-up, calling out the positions of enemy pilots or titans, and respond to various combat situations relatively well. They aren't all that bright, but they lend every battle a feeling of scope that would be lacking otherwise. Capture Point is very similar to Attrition, but with the tried and true systems we've seen from other multiplayer FPS games before. Last Titan Standing is a single-life death match between two teams where every player starts with a titan, and the team to eliminate all enemy titans first is the victor. In a nice twist, even if you happen to lose your titan, you can still help your teammates while on foot. Titanfall rewards players with experience following each match, allowing players to feel a sense of progression. Each level brings with it an unlocked weapon, mod, ability, etc. and completing certain challenges can unlock more gear to test out on the battlefield. While the level cap during the beta was fourteen, it is expected to be much higher for the full game with many other goodies unlocked later on like different titan chasis. Eventually, players will unlock the ability to use burn cards, which are cards that can be activated in-game while respawning to give a limited, one-life advantage in the form of a more powerful weapon, faster movement, etc. which serve to spice up the combat even more. It is worth noting that while most of the weapons are different takes on weapons we've all seen before in FPS games, there was one that I found enjoyably different. The smart pistol lines up headshots automatically, requiring more time to target more powerful enemies. Once all shots are locked on, the pistol can fire and each bullet will hit, provided something else doesn't get in the way. If this seems cheap, it can be, but the downside is that with all the movement enemy players are capable of, locking all your shots can be a difficult task, especially if your opponent has a more conventional rifle or sniper rifle and has noticed your approach. Overall, my experience was overwhelmingly positive. Discovering small things like the several different animations that play depending on how you approach getting into your titan, or that you can hitch a ride on friendly titans, or calling down your titan on an unsuspecting enemy are all amazing little touches that give Titanfall a feeling of depth and excitement I haven't felt while playing online multiplayer since the original Halo. My first thought upon coming out of my first online match of Titanfall was that Respawn Entertainment has crafted the next big thing. It is fun, slick, responsive, creative, and you get to punch the snot out of giant robots. What's not to love? Titanfall releases on Xbox One and PC on March 11 with an Xbox 360 coming March 25.
  20. Titanfall, the first game from the creators of Call of Duty since they left developer Infinity Ward, has gone into open beta on both Xbox One and PC for the next few days. Though originally slated to end on the 18th, it was announced via Twitter that the beta would be extended due to server down time and would instead end on the 19th at 6pm Pacific. Everyone who registered for the beta should now have the game added to their Origin libraries. However, if you didn't register it would appear that you are out of luck as new registrations are not being accepted. Those with access to the beta can try out three different game modes: team deathmatch, Last Titan Standing, and capture point. The beta allows players to raise their accounts to level 14 as well as customize their Titans and loadouts. Titanfall is being released on March 11 on PC and Xbox One with a Xbox 360 version coming on March 25. Are you playing in the Titanfall beta? What do you think of it?
  21. Earth Defense Force 2025, the latest installment in a series that has accumulated somewhat of a cult following after the 2007 release of Earth Defense Force 2017, received an amazing trailer today along with an official release date. The teaser shows off footage from 2017, before giving a run down of the features and weapons being added to the roster. In short, it is a lot. 2025 will include 4 player co-op, the class-based gameplay from Earth Defense Force: Insect Armageddon returns (albeit with more style), more weapons including melee options for the Fencer class, more vehicles, and new enemy types such as the flying dragons featured in the trailer. The trailer even implies that there might be some degree of characterization for the four main protagonists, a first for the series. Earth Defense Force 2025 will be available on February 18 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. If you are wondering what the game is like, why not read our hands-on coverage of the game from E3?
  22. In a week between the release of a new generation of video game hardware and software, the release of a fighting game from a decade ago can easily be overlooked. "Transcending history, and the world, a tale of souls and swords, eternally retold," it would appear that the opening words of Soulcalibur II ring true as one of the most popular fighting games of the GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 era has been remastered and ported to Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as a digital download. The ten year anniversary HD release stays true to the original, with a few minor improvements. The character roster includes Spawn and Heihachi Mishima, previously only available on the Xbox and PS2 versions, respectively. Nintendo didn't allow Link, the exclusive character in the GameCube version, to appear in the re-release. Most importantly, as the name would imply, Soulcalibur II HD Online will include online matchmaking. Any Extra Lifers out there have fond memories of Soulcalibur II? Thinking about picking up HD Online? Let us know what you think!
  23. Bungie's next project doesn't come out until early 2014, but fans can get early access to the beta by pre-ordering the title from participating retailers. To check which sellers are participating in the per-order beta giveaways, check Entry codes will be printed on receipts, flyers distributed at the time of purchase, or sent via email through a retail rewards program. Fans that pre-ordered before October 1 and qualify for this offer are automatically entered into the beta and will receive their entry code from their retailer via email. Use the code on and follow the instructions to access the first glimpse of Destiny. The beta will begin next year on all systems that Destiny will release on: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. Additionally, Bungie released a new gameplay trailer called "The Moon" which highlights the enemy race known as the Hive.
  24. To kick off the launch of Skylanders Swap Force on October 13, Activision Blizzard is turning the month of October into a celebration of the popular figurine/video game franchise. Beginning October 1 and continuing through the 31, Activision will be giving away a Starter Pack of collectible toys each day through the Skylanders twitter channel (@SkylandersGames). To be eligible for those giveaways, hop over to, experiment with your favorite combinations of characters, and then tweet your preferred arrangement with a catchphrase and the hashtags #SWAPtober and #Skylanders. October 10 kicks off the official SWAPtoberfest in New York City's Times Square. In addition to giving gamers a chance to play the game earlier than just about everyone else, the event will feature photo opportunities with characters from the game and opportunities to get swag ranging from Starter Packs to Skylanders-themed merchandise from MEGA Brands, Rubie's Costume Company, Hybrid Apparel and Power A. Skylanders SWAP Force will release October 13 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, and 3DS on October 13. It also will be available day-and-date with the launch of PlayStation 4 on November 15 and Xbox One on November 22.
  25. On October 29, Battlefield 4 launches on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3. The PlayStation 4 version of Battlefield 4 hits shelves on November 12, followed closely by the Xbox One version a week later on November 19. Battlefield fans who don't want to wait the two or three weeks for the next wave of consoles can purchase a current-gen copy and upgrade to a next-gen copy via a number of methods for a small fee. Upgrading will carry over all multiplayer statistics and premium memberships. Where can you upgrade and how do you upgrade and how much will it cost? PlayStation 3 customers who want a PS4 upgrade for Battlefield 4, marked copies will come with a code that can be redeemed for $9.99. This offer expires on March 28, 2014. Microsoft is offering upgrades at numerous retail locations. Best Buy, Microsoft stores, and GameStop* can trade-in an Xbox 360 copy of Battlefield 4 and upgrade to an Xbox One version for $9.99. Alternatively, Amazon is offering $25 of credit toward Battlefield 4 on Xbox One in addition to the minimum $25 trade-in value of the game. All offers expire December 31, 2013. *GameStop trade-in only available to GameStop Power-Up Rewards members.