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Jack Gardner

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Jack Gardner last won the day on July 15

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  • Birthday 08/22/1991

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  1. For the past... wow, 11 years, people have been putting forward the name of wisecracking actor Nathan Fillion to be the motion picture face of the Uncharted series. Fillion, known for his roles as a freewheelin' space captain in Firefly and wealthy book author/crime solver in the long-running Castle series, frequently talked about wanting to take on the role, but did not land the part for the official film. Tom Holland is currently slated to play the role of Nathan Drake in the official upcoming film, which will serve as a prequel to the events of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. However, that doesn't mean that Fillion has completely given up hope of staring as Drake. Earlier this week, a 15-minute fan film appeared on YouTube. Directed by Alan Ungar, the short stars Nathan Fillion as Nathan Drake and Stephen Lang as Drake's long-time friend Sully. Drake, suspected of stealing an artifact from a mysterious, wealthy businessman quips his way through an interrogation scene - something that's all part of the plan to recover a clue to something bigger than he or Sully could have ever imagined. The short definitely feels like only part of a larger project, though it's probably too much to hope that we'll ever see a feature-length film that elaborates on this particular plot. If anything, this feels like a proof of concept for Fillion as a potential action star. Take a look below: Look, all I can say is #MakeFillionNathan.
  2. For the past... wow, 11 years, people have been putting forward the name of wisecracking actor Nathan Fillion to be the motion picture face of the Uncharted series. Fillion, known for his roles as a freewheelin' space captain in Firefly and wealthy book author/crime solver in the long-running Castle series, frequently talked about wanting to take on the role, but did not land the part for the official film. Tom Holland is currently slated to play the role of Nathan Drake in the official upcoming film, which will serve as a prequel to the events of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. However, that doesn't mean that Fillion has completely given up hope of staring as Drake. Earlier this week, a 15-minute fan film appeared on YouTube. Directed by Alan Ungar, the short stars Nathan Fillion as Nathan Drake and Stephen Lang as Drake's long-time friend Sully. Drake, suspected of stealing an artifact from a mysterious, wealthy businessman quips his way through an interrogation scene - something that's all part of the plan to recover a clue to something bigger than he or Sully could have ever imagined. The short definitely feels like only part of a larger project, though it's probably too much to hope that we'll ever see a feature-length film that elaborates on this particular plot. If anything, this feels like a proof of concept for Fillion as a potential action star. Take a look below: Look, all I can say is #MakeFillionNathan. View full article
  3. No Man's Sky was one of the most hyped games of this generation. Many people who got their hands on it felt profoundly disappointed when it didn't fully live up to their expectations (though I was not one of those people). Despite a massive backlash that included attempts to sue Hello Games for false advertising, the studio continued their work on the title with the help of its small, but strong community. Updates since its launch have added base-building, ground vehicles, more music, additional weapons, a camera mode, new world types, over 30 hours of story content, increased resolution support, and more. The Next Update will be the most game changing alteration to Hello Game's infinite universe yet as it will bring true multiplayer to the previously mostly single-player game. Friends will be able to travel the galaxy together, building and surviving as a group rather than as a solo player. This opens up all kinds of possibilities like space piracy and player-made galactic hubs for communal living and trade. The No Man's Sky Next update will also herald the release of the title on Xbox One. So, when does all of this hit players? Those who own the title will be able to download the free update next week on July 24! Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  4. No Man's Sky was one of the most hyped games of this generation. Many people who got their hands on it felt profoundly disappointed when it didn't fully live up to their expectations (though I was not one of those people). Despite a massive backlash that included attempts to sue Hello Games for false advertising, the studio continued their work on the title with the help of its small, but strong community. Updates since its launch have added base-building, ground vehicles, more music, additional weapons, a camera mode, new world types, over 30 hours of story content, increased resolution support, and more. The Next Update will be the most game changing alteration to Hello Game's infinite universe yet as it will bring true multiplayer to the previously mostly single-player game. Friends will be able to travel the galaxy together, building and surviving as a group rather than as a solo player. This opens up all kinds of possibilities like space piracy and player-made galactic hubs for communal living and trade. The No Man's Sky Next update will also herald the release of the title on Xbox One. So, when does all of this hit players? Those who own the title will be able to download the free update next week on July 24! Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  5. We're going all the way back to the arcade heydays of video games this week! In 1980, Pac-Man became one of the biggest games of all-time. It consumed billions of quarters, caused the music and film industries to view video games as genuine competition, and paved the way for its strange successor. Ms. Pac-Man technically improved on Pac-Man in almost every respect and offered gamers the first playable woman in gaming history. It also has one of the oddest development origins. While many might put Pac-Man as one of the best games of all-time, can the same be said for Ms. Pac-Man? 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: Shovel Knight 'Shovel Power' by Jorito (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03758) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is 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, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  6. We're going all the way back to the arcade heydays of video games this week! In 1980, Pac-Man became one of the biggest games of all-time. It consumed billions of quarters, caused the music and film industries to view video games as genuine competition, and paved the way for its strange successor. Ms. Pac-Man technically improved on Pac-Man in almost every respect and offered gamers the first playable woman in gaming history. It also has one of the oddest development origins. While many might put Pac-Man as one of the best games of all-time, can the same be said for Ms. Pac-Man? 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: Shovel Knight 'Shovel Power' by Jorito (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03758) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is 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, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  7. Jack Gardner

    Feature: Review: Vampyr

    Dontnod has made a name for itself over the last several years as a publisher willing to try new things and take risks. Mixed reactions to their debut effort Remember Me grew into acclaim for Life Is Strange. Three years have passed since Life Is Strange captivated players; Dontnod used that time to not only craft a sequel, due out this year, but also something completely different. Unlike anything the developer has tackled before, Vampyr takes players into a dark and dirty vision of early 1900s London; a world of death, disease, and vampires. Doctor Jonathan Reid, a field medic returning from the battlefields of World War I, awakens in the corpse pits of a London under siege by the Spanish flu, a brutal virus that swept through the real world shortly after the turn of the century. Maddened by a profound hunger and the echoing words of an ethereal entity, Dr. Reid stumbles through the carnage, happening upon a woman looking through the dead. She knows him, embraces him, and in a fit of insanity, he digs his fangs deep into her neck. He drinks, she dies, and he is reborn - sane and in agony at the realization of his crime. This opening scene strives to capture the unsettling horror of Vampyr on a small scale, giving players a textual stake (har har) in the consequences of their actions. You see, Mary, the woman murdered in the opening minutes of Vampyr happens to be Mary Reid, Dr. Reid's sister. This death haunts Jonathan throughout the game in a way that can profoundly alter the course of events, depending on how players choose to develop the doctor as a character. Vampyr tempts players with blood at every opportunity. Completing quests rewards players with nice chunks of experience that can be used on a variety of vampyric and scientific abilities. However, players can take shortcuts to power by manipulating the citizens of London, mesmerizing and taking them to dark corners for a taste of their blood. This kills them, of course, but grants thousands of experience points, more than can be gained by completing quests. The system encourages players to take care of the people they meet, treating their illnesses with appropriate remedies and learning their secrets by interacting with the people in their social circle. The healthy blood of someone more intimately known provides quite a bit more experience than someone almost totally unknown who has been struck with the plague. As the primary vampire of Vampyr, players have to be careful how they exercise their newfound power. Some parts of London's communities are more necessary than others. The pillars of each community hold those around them together by their presence and tireless efforts. Killing those people could bring the entire district they live in crashing down under the weight of the epidemic. Not all parts of the community can claim to be aligned with those constructive forces, however. Some proudly declare themselves criminals while others hide dark secrets of murder and abuse. Of course, no matter who Jonathan chooses to feed upon, the community will react. It could leave it a better place, but that act of murder could also plunge everything into chaos, leaving openings for the plague to seep in among the bodies. Players who seek to walk a nobler path will be pleased to know that the life of bloodsucking innocents can be avoided almost entirely. However, those who opt out of this staple activity of vampirism will find themselves at a definite disadvantage, making do with fewer and less powerful blood and shadow based powers. The difficulty will definitely have some players looking longingly at the NPC they know to be a murderer, contemplating murder for their extra experience. The point of the difficult path is to tempt the righteous to fall, and the developers certainly play into that aspect of their game. Dontnod cleverly leaves the player with the ultimate decision to give Mary Reid's death meaning. Will Jonathan steer the hardest path and make his first steps as a newborn vampire without sacrificing others along the way? Will he pursue power at all costs, slaughtering as many people as London can bare? Or will he walk a middle path, turning himself into the judge, jury, and executioner of London's wickedest denizens? Those are interesting questions to explore over the course of Vampyr and answer for yourself. The system that enables this, the complex net of relationships and dependencies of each section of London that shift with each death, must have taken an incredible amount of effort to create, and stands out as one of Vampyr's best features. It's strange, then, that Vampyr does not choose to focus its narrative that core systemic conceit. Instead, the narrative revolves around a series of three acts to which the residents of London play background parts as pieces of set dressing and leveling opportunities - a decision which defangs the whole "needing to kill for the blood needed to survive" aspects of vampires. The first act revolves around Jonathan Reid coming to terms with his role in his sister's death and his new life as an Ekon, Vampyr's term for the beings we traditionally know as vampires. It is here that we are also introduced to the other varieties of vampires. Skals make up the majority of vampires, but are often people who failed to transform into full Ekons, often going mad in the process. They only need to eat flesh to live and don't require blood the way other vampires do. Vulkod are the brutes of the vampire kingdom, possessing superior speed and strength to other kinds, but often losing themselves to blood rages. Other kinds exist, too, but they are left to be mysterious around the edges of British vampire society. Before going on, we should note that the icing of yet another woman in the opening minutes of a video game for dramatic effect, a trope with a long tradition (I'm looking at you, Shadow of Mordor), is getting so old. It doesn't help that this is the game's cold open; as players, we have no investment in Jonathan or his sister within those few minutes, which robs even more drama out of this storytelling cliche. The cliche compounds in the closing minutes of the first act as it practically repeats itself. This is lazy writing, and it doesn't sit well in 2018. We can and should do better than going for cheap shock value and character motivation. The second act expands the world with more details about the various factions: The Guards of Priwen, the Ascalon Club, and the Brotherhood of St. Paul's Stole. The Guards of Priwen act as a human check on vampire activity during the epidemic, wandering the streets and killing any kind of mutated beast they come across. The Ascalon Club operates as an exclusive group of vampires who seek to control the wider world, a kind of shadow government based on blood purity. Finally, The Brotherhood of St. Paul seems to mostly be a group of holy researchers who are more pragmatic than the Guards of Priwen and prioritize the greater good over any vampire vendettas. This act is also when many of the pillars of each London community have to be addressed by the player, often in ways that could doom the communities if handled poorly - but perhaps that's what a less scrupulous Dr. Reid desires? The third and final act introduces a lot of esoteric lore that was barely hinted at throughout the preceding sections of Vampyr. The final twenty or thirty minutes of Vampyr possesses an energy lacking in the earlier segments of the game as secret after secret comes tumbling out and the narrative pieces all begin coming together. To say much about these closing minutes would spoil quite a bit, but suffice it to say that a Vampyr 2 would be incredibly welcome as Dontnod veers far afield of what might be considered the classical vampire stylings they had adopted up until that point. Overall, the narrative takes an understandable detour around its core system based around vampyric feeding and winds up with a tale composed of many interesting parts when taken on their own, but without much of a through line keeping it all connected. Mary's death recedes into the background after the end of the first act, replaced by a lot of factional drama that doesn't ultimately get resolved or have many consequences in act two. The third act concludes the plague plot and possesses the strongest focus of the three parts, but doesn't have much to do with the themes of previous sections. The feeding mechanic further muddles the themes of the game. Doctor Jonathan Reid makes a distinction between killing average citizens and those those who oppose him. For example, when it comes to one of the in-game factions called the Guards of Priwen the good doctor seems to have carte blanche to drink their blood and kill without mercy. This leads to moments throughout the game where Dr. Reid claims to have not killed anyone, provided the player has not fed on one of the civilians of London, despite the massive trail of bodies left behind him as he tore through the Priwenites in the streets of the city. This isn't an active impediment to enjoying Vampyr, but it represents a larger problem of mixed messaging that erodes Vampyr's story structure. The combat mechanics also present a fun, flawed opportunity that needed refinement. There are a handful of abilities to choose from, each of which can be upgraded, eventually into diverging paths. These include defensive moves, like creating a shield of blood, attacks, like creating a large area of exploding darkness beneath enemies, utility maneuvers, like invisibility or leaping into enemies, and your garden variety carry more of bullets or serums and increase health/stamina/blood. More variety would have been welcome, as after initially deciding which skills to take the system encourages you to stick with those until the end. There's not much room for experimentation or really a need for much as almost any offensive skill will carry you through to the end of the game. On its own, the combat serves its purpose. When everything is going well, it feels serviceable. Dashing out of combat range to set shadowy traps, whirling through enemies with one of the small variety of interchangeable weapons, powering up an ultimate maneuver, it all can be exciting. That is, at least, provided technical issues or strange design decisions don't get in the way. Some of the enemies have variable attack ranges, will sometimes land a hit without actually hitting anything, and many powers don't feel all that effective. Enemies are often made more difficult by giving them more health and damage rather than interesting mechanics to play around and counter with your own growing arsenal of vampy powers. One of the most consistently irritating aspects of Vampyr's combat is that if you die in battle, you return to a section just outside the area where you died. That's fine, but any consumables you used in the fight disappear. Struggling through a boss fight only to die at the last minute? Well, good luck trying it again with out any healing items, stamina boosts, or additional blood transfusions. Alternatively, have fun trudging back through the areas you just battled through to make more of those items because you have to craft them all yourself at specific crafting stations and can't store more than you can hold in your inventory at any one time. That means that if you can only hold two serums for use in battle, you can only craft and hold two serums of each type at any given time. The other issue that plagues Vampyr boils down to mobility. As a vampire, Jonathan Reid can shadow dash and teleport himself to higher vantage points. This seems like it would be a particular useful ability to escape combat situations or navigate the world. Unfortunately, once Dr. Reid enters combat, he loses the ability to travel vertically to escape his assailants. The game simply won't allow that to happen until everyone in the area has perished. This becomes irritating when you realize that often these optional fights simply take up time and resources without giving much in return. The flipside of this issue rears its head when it comes to world traversal. Mobility stands out as one of the defining aspects of vampires both in the myths and legends of our world and in the game itself. Characters routinely disappear out windows or appear seemingly out of nowhere. Our protagonist doctor doesn't seem capable of this outside of very specific circumstances. This attaches Jonathan firmly to the ground, no doubt as a means of gating player progress from more dangerous areas in the opening portions of Vampyr. In the absence of a fast travel system, players constantly find themselves backtracking across districts and areas that had previously been cleared, but enemies constantly respawn. It becomes one of the most tedious aspects of Vampyr and probably a large reason why the middle act seems to sag and lose so much momentum. Running freely along the rooftops of London or flying through the air as a cloud of shadow bats could have gone a long way toward easing this frustration, even if it only became accessible later on. Instead, we are left with a system that grants freedom of movement, but only on its own constrictive terms. It would be a grave oversight to not talk a bit about the visuals of Vampyr. London has never looked so dingy, squalid, and vaguely post-apocalyptic (in video games, obviously) than in Dontnod's bloodsucking adventure. Drainage water sits tepid in the streets, reflecting the shining moonlight from between damp cobblestones. Candle light filters through boarded windows. Each NPC has a distinctive face, model, and animations that sets them apart from everyone else (if you don't count the enemies that you meet in combat). Everything looks grim, dirty, and that can all come together to resemble the locations sought out by urban explorers for their decaying beauty. The effort that went into making London an interesting locale shows; despite all the backtracking, it doesn't wear out its welcome. The voice acting does quite a bit of work to sell the various characters. Notably, Anthony Howell turns in an incredible performance as Dr. Jonathan Reid. You can feel the sorrow and pain in his voice, a character who has seen and done horrible things on the battlefields of Europe and now must contend with the twisted homeland to which he has returned. Dr. Edgar Swansea, an eccentric doctor who treats with vampires and mortals alike, helps to expand and explain the world with the aid of Harry Hadden-Paton's performance. People might recognize Hadden-Paton as the voice actor behind the male Inquisitor's voice in Dragon Age: Inquisition or his role in Downton Abbey as Bertie Pelham. Katherine Kingsley manages to create a compelling and mysterious character with her role as Lady Ashbury, a centuries old vampiress whose every line drips with the weight of history. It is a difficult role and Kingsley plays it perfectly. In the hands of these capable professionals, what could have been a campy story about vampires turns into a tale filled with genuine drama and memorable exchanges. Conclusion: Dontnod deserves to be applauded for taking risks in a time during which many developers opt for the sure thing time after time. The world and characters they have created in Vampyr could easily be continued in future games, something I very much hope that they do. They took concepts that many might have thought done to undeath and made them their own. The visuals and sense of place that London will take players on a wild journey filled with horror and vampire shenanigans. Even the ideas that don't necessarily work perfectly are at the very least interesting or have the potential to be used more effectively in the future. A few kinks in the machine show a number of narrative and mechanical hiccups that occasionally cause player momentum to screech to a halt, but those setbacks are always temporary. For those who persevere, a rewarding experience offers something you can't find anywhere else. Vampyr is ambitious, flawed, and I loved it. Dontnod, a sequel would be excellent. Vampyr is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  8. Jack Gardner

    Review: Vampyr

    Dontnod has made a name for itself over the last several years as a publisher willing to try new things and take risks. Mixed reactions to their debut effort Remember Me grew into acclaim for Life Is Strange. Three years have passed since Life Is Strange captivated players; Dontnod used that time to not only craft a sequel, due out this year, but also something completely different. Unlike anything the developer has tackled before, Vampyr takes players into a dark and dirty vision of early 1900s London; a world of death, disease, and vampires. Doctor Jonathan Reid, a field medic returning from the battlefields of World War I, awakens in the corpse pits of a London under siege by the Spanish flu, a brutal virus that swept through the real world shortly after the turn of the century. Maddened by a profound hunger and the echoing words of an ethereal entity, Dr. Reid stumbles through the carnage, happening upon a woman looking through the dead. She knows him, embraces him, and in a fit of insanity, he digs his fangs deep into her neck. He drinks, she dies, and he is reborn - sane and in agony at the realization of his crime. This opening scene strives to capture the unsettling horror of Vampyr on a small scale, giving players a textual stake (har har) in the consequences of their actions. You see, Mary, the woman murdered in the opening minutes of Vampyr happens to be Mary Reid, Dr. Reid's sister. This death haunts Jonathan throughout the game in a way that can profoundly alter the course of events, depending on how players choose to develop the doctor as a character. Vampyr tempts players with blood at every opportunity. Completing quests rewards players with nice chunks of experience that can be used on a variety of vampyric and scientific abilities. However, players can take shortcuts to power by manipulating the citizens of London, mesmerizing and taking them to dark corners for a taste of their blood. This kills them, of course, but grants thousands of experience points, more than can be gained by completing quests. The system encourages players to take care of the people they meet, treating their illnesses with appropriate remedies and learning their secrets by interacting with the people in their social circle. The healthy blood of someone more intimately known provides quite a bit more experience than someone almost totally unknown who has been struck with the plague. As the primary vampire of Vampyr, players have to be careful how they exercise their newfound power. Some parts of London's communities are more necessary than others. The pillars of each community hold those around them together by their presence and tireless efforts. Killing those people could bring the entire district they live in crashing down under the weight of the epidemic. Not all parts of the community can claim to be aligned with those constructive forces, however. Some proudly declare themselves criminals while others hide dark secrets of murder and abuse. Of course, no matter who Jonathan chooses to feed upon, the community will react. It could leave it a better place, but that act of murder could also plunge everything into chaos, leaving openings for the plague to seep in among the bodies. Players who seek to walk a nobler path will be pleased to know that the life of bloodsucking innocents can be avoided almost entirely. However, those who opt out of this staple activity of vampirism will find themselves at a definite disadvantage, making do with fewer and less powerful blood and shadow based powers. The difficulty will definitely have some players looking longingly at the NPC they know to be a murderer, contemplating murder for their extra experience. The point of the difficult path is to tempt the righteous to fall, and the developers certainly play into that aspect of their game. Dontnod cleverly leaves the player with the ultimate decision to give Mary Reid's death meaning. Will Jonathan steer the hardest path and make his first steps as a newborn vampire without sacrificing others along the way? Will he pursue power at all costs, slaughtering as many people as London can bare? Or will he walk a middle path, turning himself into the judge, jury, and executioner of London's wickedest denizens? Those are interesting questions to explore over the course of Vampyr and answer for yourself. The system that enables this, the complex net of relationships and dependencies of each section of London that shift with each death, must have taken an incredible amount of effort to create, and stands out as one of Vampyr's best features. It's strange, then, that Vampyr does not choose to focus its narrative that core systemic conceit. Instead, the narrative revolves around a series of three acts to which the residents of London play background parts as pieces of set dressing and leveling opportunities - a decision which defangs the whole "needing to kill for the blood needed to survive" aspects of vampires. The first act revolves around Jonathan Reid coming to terms with his role in his sister's death and his new life as an Ekon, Vampyr's term for the beings we traditionally know as vampires. It is here that we are also introduced to the other varieties of vampires. Skals make up the majority of vampires, but are often people who failed to transform into full Ekons, often going mad in the process. They only need to eat flesh to live and don't require blood the way other vampires do. Vulkod are the brutes of the vampire kingdom, possessing superior speed and strength to other kinds, but often losing themselves to blood rages. Other kinds exist, too, but they are left to be mysterious around the edges of British vampire society. Before going on, we should note that the icing of yet another woman in the opening minutes of a video game for dramatic effect, a trope with a long tradition (I'm looking at you, Shadow of Mordor), is getting so old. It doesn't help that this is the game's cold open; as players, we have no investment in Jonathan or his sister within those few minutes, which robs even more drama out of this storytelling cliche. The cliche compounds in the closing minutes of the first act as it practically repeats itself. This is lazy writing, and it doesn't sit well in 2018. We can and should do better than going for cheap shock value and character motivation. The second act expands the world with more details about the various factions: The Guards of Priwen, the Ascalon Club, and the Brotherhood of St. Paul's Stole. The Guards of Priwen act as a human check on vampire activity during the epidemic, wandering the streets and killing any kind of mutated beast they come across. The Ascalon Club operates as an exclusive group of vampires who seek to control the wider world, a kind of shadow government based on blood purity. Finally, The Brotherhood of St. Paul seems to mostly be a group of holy researchers who are more pragmatic than the Guards of Priwen and prioritize the greater good over any vampire vendettas. This act is also when many of the pillars of each London community have to be addressed by the player, often in ways that could doom the communities if handled poorly - but perhaps that's what a less scrupulous Dr. Reid desires? The third and final act introduces a lot of esoteric lore that was barely hinted at throughout the preceding sections of Vampyr. The final twenty or thirty minutes of Vampyr possesses an energy lacking in the earlier segments of the game as secret after secret comes tumbling out and the narrative pieces all begin coming together. To say much about these closing minutes would spoil quite a bit, but suffice it to say that a Vampyr 2 would be incredibly welcome as Dontnod veers far afield of what might be considered the classical vampire stylings they had adopted up until that point. Overall, the narrative takes an understandable detour around its core system based around vampyric feeding and winds up with a tale composed of many interesting parts when taken on their own, but without much of a through line keeping it all connected. Mary's death recedes into the background after the end of the first act, replaced by a lot of factional drama that doesn't ultimately get resolved or have many consequences in act two. The third act concludes the plague plot and possesses the strongest focus of the three parts, but doesn't have much to do with the themes of previous sections. The feeding mechanic further muddles the themes of the game. Doctor Jonathan Reid makes a distinction between killing average citizens and those those who oppose him. For example, when it comes to one of the in-game factions called the Guards of Priwen the good doctor seems to have carte blanche to drink their blood and kill without mercy. This leads to moments throughout the game where Dr. Reid claims to have not killed anyone, provided the player has not fed on one of the civilians of London, despite the massive trail of bodies left behind him as he tore through the Priwenites in the streets of the city. This isn't an active impediment to enjoying Vampyr, but it represents a larger problem of mixed messaging that erodes Vampyr's story structure. The combat mechanics also present a fun, flawed opportunity that needed refinement. There are a handful of abilities to choose from, each of which can be upgraded, eventually into diverging paths. These include defensive moves, like creating a shield of blood, attacks, like creating a large area of exploding darkness beneath enemies, utility maneuvers, like invisibility or leaping into enemies, and your garden variety carry more of bullets or serums and increase health/stamina/blood. More variety would have been welcome, as after initially deciding which skills to take the system encourages you to stick with those until the end. There's not much room for experimentation or really a need for much as almost any offensive skill will carry you through to the end of the game. On its own, the combat serves its purpose. When everything is going well, it feels serviceable. Dashing out of combat range to set shadowy traps, whirling through enemies with one of the small variety of interchangeable weapons, powering up an ultimate maneuver, it all can be exciting. That is, at least, provided technical issues or strange design decisions don't get in the way. Some of the enemies have variable attack ranges, will sometimes land a hit without actually hitting anything, and many powers don't feel all that effective. Enemies are often made more difficult by giving them more health and damage rather than interesting mechanics to play around and counter with your own growing arsenal of vampy powers. One of the most consistently irritating aspects of Vampyr's combat is that if you die in battle, you return to a section just outside the area where you died. That's fine, but any consumables you used in the fight disappear. Struggling through a boss fight only to die at the last minute? Well, good luck trying it again with out any healing items, stamina boosts, or additional blood transfusions. Alternatively, have fun trudging back through the areas you just battled through to make more of those items because you have to craft them all yourself at specific crafting stations and can't store more than you can hold in your inventory at any one time. That means that if you can only hold two serums for use in battle, you can only craft and hold two serums of each type at any given time. The other issue that plagues Vampyr boils down to mobility. As a vampire, Jonathan Reid can shadow dash and teleport himself to higher vantage points. This seems like it would be a particular useful ability to escape combat situations or navigate the world. Unfortunately, once Dr. Reid enters combat, he loses the ability to travel vertically to escape his assailants. The game simply won't allow that to happen until everyone in the area has perished. This becomes irritating when you realize that often these optional fights simply take up time and resources without giving much in return. The flipside of this issue rears its head when it comes to world traversal. Mobility stands out as one of the defining aspects of vampires both in the myths and legends of our world and in the game itself. Characters routinely disappear out windows or appear seemingly out of nowhere. Our protagonist doctor doesn't seem capable of this outside of very specific circumstances. This attaches Jonathan firmly to the ground, no doubt as a means of gating player progress from more dangerous areas in the opening portions of Vampyr. In the absence of a fast travel system, players constantly find themselves backtracking across districts and areas that had previously been cleared, but enemies constantly respawn. It becomes one of the most tedious aspects of Vampyr and probably a large reason why the middle act seems to sag and lose so much momentum. Running freely along the rooftops of London or flying through the air as a cloud of shadow bats could have gone a long way toward easing this frustration, even if it only became accessible later on. Instead, we are left with a system that grants freedom of movement, but only on its own constrictive terms. It would be a grave oversight to not talk a bit about the visuals of Vampyr. London has never looked so dingy, squalid, and vaguely post-apocalyptic (in video games, obviously) than in Dontnod's bloodsucking adventure. Drainage water sits tepid in the streets, reflecting the shining moonlight from between damp cobblestones. Candle light filters through boarded windows. Each NPC has a distinctive face, model, and animations that sets them apart from everyone else (if you don't count the enemies that you meet in combat). Everything looks grim, dirty, and that can all come together to resemble the locations sought out by urban explorers for their decaying beauty. The effort that went into making London an interesting locale shows; despite all the backtracking, it doesn't wear out its welcome. The voice acting does quite a bit of work to sell the various characters. Notably, Anthony Howell turns in an incredible performance as Dr. Jonathan Reid. You can feel the sorrow and pain in his voice, a character who has seen and done horrible things on the battlefields of Europe and now must contend with the twisted homeland to which he has returned. Dr. Edgar Swansea, an eccentric doctor who treats with vampires and mortals alike, helps to expand and explain the world with the aid of Harry Hadden-Paton's performance. People might recognize Hadden-Paton as the voice actor behind the male Inquisitor's voice in Dragon Age: Inquisition or his role in Downton Abbey as Bertie Pelham. Katherine Kingsley manages to create a compelling and mysterious character with her role as Lady Ashbury, a centuries old vampiress whose every line drips with the weight of history. It is a difficult role and Kingsley plays it perfectly. In the hands of these capable professionals, what could have been a campy story about vampires turns into a tale filled with genuine drama and memorable exchanges. Conclusion: Dontnod deserves to be applauded for taking risks in a time during which many developers opt for the sure thing time after time. The world and characters they have created in Vampyr could easily be continued in future games, something I very much hope that they do. They took concepts that many might have thought done to undeath and made them their own. The visuals and sense of place that London will take players on a wild journey filled with horror and vampire shenanigans. Even the ideas that don't necessarily work perfectly are at the very least interesting or have the potential to be used more effectively in the future. A few kinks in the machine show a number of narrative and mechanical hiccups that occasionally cause player momentum to screech to a halt, but those setbacks are always temporary. For those who persevere, a rewarding experience offers something you can't find anywhere else. Vampyr is ambitious, flawed, and I loved it. Dontnod, a sequel would be excellent. Vampyr is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  9. Survival? In my zombie game? Wha- wha- whaaaaaaat? That's right, this week we are tackling State of Decay! Released in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and since released on PC and Xbox One, State of Decay garnered a cult following over the years. Developer Undead Labs' created its first game with the goal of carving out a niche in the saturated zombie game market by adding permadeath, individual survival elements, and larger, group-oriented goals. How well did they succeed at doing this? And does the game as a whole stand as one of the best games of all-time? Take a listen and share your thoughts! 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: Undeadline 'Marching Towards Roshufa's Spirit' by Jorito (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03475) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is 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, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  10. Survival? In my zombie game? Wha- wha- whaaaaaaat? That's right, this week we are tackling State of Decay! Released in 2013 for the Xbox 360 and since released on PC and Xbox One, State of Decay garnered a cult following over the years. Developer Undead Labs' created its first game with the goal of carving out a niche in the saturated zombie game market by adding permadeath, individual survival elements, and larger, group-oriented goals. How well did they succeed at doing this? And does the game as a whole stand as one of the best games of all-time? Take a listen and share your thoughts! 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: Undeadline 'Marching Towards Roshufa's Spirit' by Jorito (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03475) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is 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, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  11. If Dan Smith isn't a name you know in video games, you should fix that mistake as soon as possible. At 18 years old, Smith won a BAFTA in 2016 for his work on a game called SPECTRUM, a solo project he had been working on since age 15. Ripstone Games saw the potential in Smith's game and offered him the backing necessary to fully flesh out the title that earned him such a prestigious award. Now, two years later, SPECTRUM has been renamed The Spectrum Retreat, fleshed out with puzzles, and given a more concrete narrative. With an impending release in a matter of weeks, I sat down with Smith to talk about and play his first commercial video game. The Spectrum Retreat has something of an odd story premise. Without giving too much away, players wake up in the spacious and immaculately ordered Penrose Hotel. Slowly explore the surrounding area reveals that it's a vast complex, empty save for a number of very polite robots that handle the day-to-day maintenance of the facility. However, no matter what you do, the robotic refuse to let you leave the hotel. As this reality begins to sink in, someone contacts you over the phone, a woman who seems to know that something is going on, something bad. She begins giving instructions on how to escape. Unfortunately, the easy way out becomes impassable and she guides you to a restricted area blocked off by color coded force fields. It's here that the puzzle-solving truly begins. The core conceit of The Spectrum Retreat, based on the mechanics from SPECTRUM, revolves around color. Players are able to absorb a color and use it to walk through barriers of that color and then swap it out for a different color. It's a simple mechanic, Smith even said it was one of the first puzzle concepts he learned when he dove into programming, but it's one that has fascinated him enough to build an entire game around the complex puzzles that can be constructed with it in mind. I saw the color swapping create bridges over chasms, walls, and can easily imagine that the uses only become more complicated as crazier geometry and gating mechanisms combine in future puzzles. The opening levels slowly introduce new twists in how space and the color mechanics can be used to create more elaborate scenarios in a slow, accessible way. The goal, according to Smith, was to make a tutorial that didn't feel like a tutorial, with players discovering how to proceed on their own. This approach certainly worked for me; I enjoyed the dopamine tickle across my brain as I discovered new ways to overcome each challenge. A large part of what makes The Spectrum Retreat so interesting is how the color mechanic works with the non-euclidean space of its world, an unnerving aspect of the hotel that carries over into the puzzles. Sometimes dropping down a hole will bring you back to the beginning of a level, but it could also bring you to an almost identical version of the level with a story hint or clue to the puzzle. Certain hallways repeat endlessly, but how sure can you be that its not part of the puzzle when you turn back and find yourself in a new location? Combine this uncertainty with more concrete areas that feature maze-like layouts and the potential for some truly stimulating scenarios becomes apparent. After the demo areas were completed, my character had to return to the hotel to "keep up appearances." However, Smith told me that as the game progresses, the comforting art deco world of the Penrose Hotel will begin to merge with the strange, sterile puzzle rooms, creating an unnerving sense of dislocation. He said that the overall theme of the game would be one that grapples with the downsides of escapism, how we can run so far away from our problems that the methods used to run can actually create far more issues with which we eventually need to grapple. The Spectrum Retreat launches on July 10 for the PlayStation 4 and on July 13 for Xbox One and PC. A version for the Nintendo Switch will launch later this summer. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  12. The Binding of Isaac has released in several different versions across a staggering number of gaming devices over the years. Now, it is making the leap from digital to physical with The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. Edmund McMillen, the developer behind The Binding of Isaac, launched the project on Kickstarter with the help of Studio 71. The game found itself fully funded in only an hour and a half. It currently sits at about $865,000, more than 17 times the base cost of creating the game. It seems like Four Souls plays somewhat like a darker, more competitive version of Munchkin. Up to four players take turns fighting monsters and gaining treasure. Occasionally, boss monsters will be pulled and players who defeat them will harvest their soul. The first player to reach four souls wins the game. Of course, other players can help or hinder the defeat of a monster, so while cooperation might dominate the early game, the final soul will be a truly tricky prize to obtain. Optional rules add in bonus souls for players who are able to save up enough money or horde enough items. McMillen stated that the game ideas came to him and to an extent some of the cards and systems are still in flux. He's been trying as best he can to translate the varied mechanics from The Binding of Isaac into a card game, no small task for a game that has seen expansion after expansion that have kept fans coming back over the past seven years. "It was really fun to take a well known item or monster from the game and think up ways to convey stuff like, How could I show that the carrion queen takes damage when you hit her butt?" said McMillen, "Or how could I represent the rng aspects of cursed floors or troll bombs only using a deck of cards?" At least part of the answer to that question seems to have involved creating a large number of cards to represent the various monsters and mechanics of the digital game. The Four Souls comes with several hundred cards, with additional character and ability cards unlocking as reward tiers are passed and backer challenges are completed. One of the most recent challenges involves nine people finishing the first boss on camera while blindfolded. Those who back the game at $35 or higher can receive an expansion pack bonus of 68 cards, pushing the number of cards close to 400. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
  13. The Binding of Isaac has released in several different versions across a staggering number of gaming devices over the years. Now, it is making the leap from digital to physical with The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. Edmund McMillen, the developer behind The Binding of Isaac, launched the project on Kickstarter with the help of Studio 71. The game found itself fully funded in only an hour and a half. It currently sits at about $865,000, more than 17 times the base cost of creating the game. It seems like Four Souls plays somewhat like a darker, more competitive version of Munchkin. Up to four players take turns fighting monsters and gaining treasure. Occasionally, boss monsters will be pulled and players who defeat them will harvest their soul. The first player to reach four souls wins the game. Of course, other players can help or hinder the defeat of a monster, so while cooperation might dominate the early game, the final soul will be a truly tricky prize to obtain. Optional rules add in bonus souls for players who are able to save up enough money or horde enough items. McMillen stated that the game ideas came to him and to an extent some of the cards and systems are still in flux. He's been trying as best he can to translate the varied mechanics from The Binding of Isaac into a card game, no small task for a game that has seen expansion after expansion that have kept fans coming back over the past seven years. "It was really fun to take a well known item or monster from the game and think up ways to convey stuff like, How could I show that the carrion queen takes damage when you hit her butt?" said McMillen, "Or how could I represent the rng aspects of cursed floors or troll bombs only using a deck of cards?" At least part of the answer to that question seems to have involved creating a large number of cards to represent the various monsters and mechanics of the digital game. The Four Souls comes with several hundred cards, with additional character and ability cards unlocking as reward tiers are passed and backer challenges are completed. One of the most recent challenges involves nine people finishing the first boss on camera while blindfolded. Those who back the game at $35 or higher can receive an expansion pack bonus of 68 cards, pushing the number of cards close to 400. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  14. If Dan Smith isn't a name you know in video games, you should fix that mistake as soon as possible. At 18 years old, Smith won a BAFTA in 2016 for his work on a game called SPECTRUM, a solo project he had been working on since age 15. Ripstone Games saw the potential in Smith's game and offered him the backing necessary to fully flesh out the title that earned him such a prestigious award. Now, two years later, SPECTRUM has been renamed The Spectrum Retreat, fleshed out with puzzles, and given a more concrete narrative. With an impending release in a matter of weeks, I sat down with Smith to talk about and play his first commercial video game. The Spectrum Retreat has something of an odd story premise. Without giving too much away, players wake up in the spacious and immaculately ordered Penrose Hotel. Slowly explore the surrounding area reveals that it's a vast complex, empty save for a number of very polite robots that handle the day-to-day maintenance of the facility. However, no matter what you do, the robotic refuse to let you leave the hotel. As this reality begins to sink in, someone contacts you over the phone, a woman who seems to know that something is going on, something bad. She begins giving instructions on how to escape. Unfortunately, the easy way out becomes impassable and she guides you to a restricted area blocked off by color coded force fields. It's here that the puzzle-solving truly begins. The core conceit of The Spectrum Retreat, based on the mechanics from SPECTRUM, revolves around color. Players are able to absorb a color and use it to walk through barriers of that color and then swap it out for a different color. It's a simple mechanic, Smith even said it was one of the first puzzle concepts he learned when he dove into programming, but it's one that has fascinated him enough to build an entire game around the complex puzzles that can be constructed with it in mind. I saw the color swapping create bridges over chasms, walls, and can easily imagine that the uses only become more complicated as crazier geometry and gating mechanisms combine in future puzzles. The opening levels slowly introduce new twists in how space and the color mechanics can be used to create more elaborate scenarios in a slow, accessible way. The goal, according to Smith, was to make a tutorial that didn't feel like a tutorial, with players discovering how to proceed on their own. This approach certainly worked for me; I enjoyed the dopamine tickle across my brain as I discovered new ways to overcome each challenge. A large part of what makes The Spectrum Retreat so interesting is how the color mechanic works with the non-euclidean space of its world, an unnerving aspect of the hotel that carries over into the puzzles. Sometimes dropping down a hole will bring you back to the beginning of a level, but it could also bring you to an almost identical version of the level with a story hint or clue to the puzzle. Certain hallways repeat endlessly, but how sure can you be that its not part of the puzzle when you turn back and find yourself in a new location? Combine this uncertainty with more concrete areas that feature maze-like layouts and the potential for some truly stimulating scenarios becomes apparent. After the demo areas were completed, my character had to return to the hotel to "keep up appearances." However, Smith told me that as the game progresses, the comforting art deco world of the Penrose Hotel will begin to merge with the strange, sterile puzzle rooms, creating an unnerving sense of dislocation. He said that the overall theme of the game would be one that grapples with the downsides of escapism, how we can run so far away from our problems that the methods used to run can actually create far more issues with which we eventually need to grapple. The Spectrum Retreat launches on July 10 for the PlayStation 4 and on July 13 for Xbox One and PC. A version for the Nintendo Switch will launch later this summer. Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games! View full article
  15. Dontnod, the developers of Vampyr and Life Is Strange, released The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit for free just a few days ago. The narrative adventure follows Chris, a young boy who lives with his dad, throughout an afternoon of his life. It has a lot of heart, occasionally channeling the spirit of Calvin & Hobbes, and also quite a bit of darkness. It walks a thin line between the joyful attitudes of youth and the stark realities of adulthood, with all of the trauma and pain that entails. Sit down, kick back, and listen as we parse out the details of this interesting lead up to Life Is Strange 2. A correction: At the end of the episode, there's some mention of this free piece of content being the first episode of Life Is Strange 2 - that is not the case. It's a free prequel to the events of the five episodes that comprise the full game. The first episode of Life Is Strange 2 will release on September 27. Outro music: Kirby's Epic Yarn 'Blue Lava, Grass Landing' by The Hit Points (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03754) You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is 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, share your opinion in the comments, follow the show on Twitter, and participate in the weekly polls: @BestGamesPeriod New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday Don't forget to sign up for Extra Life to help sick and injured kids in hospitals around the US and Canada by playing games!
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