Monthly Archives: January 2014

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition – Graphics Comparison

Compare Tomb Raider on the Xbox 360 with Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition on the Xbox One and the Playstation 4.

Watch the Call of Duty: Ghosts Onslaught livestream this Friday

If you want to see some new Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer maps and both of the new forms of the Maverick weapon, you’ll need to tune in to the GameSpot livestream this Friday January 31 at 12:30 PST.

Broadcasting live from Infinity Ward, GameSpot will team up with Call of Duty developers to help you get prepared for the upcoming Double XP weekend. We’ll start off by playing through some multiplayer then we’ll wrap up by showing off the first in a four-part episodic narrative for the DLC, Episode 1: Nightfall.

Stay tuned to the GameSpot Twitter and our Facebook page and use the hashtag #onslaught to learn how you can get involved!

Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition Review

Examining ancient relics is just one small aspect of an archeologist’s job. Sure, in-depth knowledge of deceased civilizations is important, but much less so than mastery of a deadly bow or a knack for a quick recovery after a bloody fight. Excitement defines the actions of an adventurous archeologist, no matter how reluctant you might be to bear arms, and you see this chaotic lifestyle through the eyes of perpetual survivor Lara Croft. Her life is one of bloodshed and misery, strength peppered with pain, and as she overcomes every crushing setback, she learns what kind of person she truly is. Such endeavors are so fantastical that her story of emotional growth is often overshadowed by the wildly unrealistic events, but the overwhelming beauty of the island is so gripping, and the exploration so expertly designed, that you become invested in Lara Croft’s incredible journey.

The Definitive Edition of Tomb Raider is a lot like Lara Croft’s excellent adventure from last year, only with enhanced visuals and extra features. Just about all of the downloadable content from the 2013 release is now located right on the disc. There are a host of new multiplayer maps to gun down your friends (or enemies) in, weapons pulled straight from Hitman: Absolution, and a handful of new characters to play as. Single player hasn’t been ignored, either. One new tomb lets you flex your puzzle-solving muscle, and a variety of outfits give you more stylistic flexibility. Have you ever wanted Lara to dress like a 1930s explorer? Now’s your chance! None of these additions are all that interesting, so if you’ve already played through Tomb Raider on an older console, there’s little incentive to jump in again. Unless, that is, you love voice communication. Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions support commands, so just saying “map” or “pistol” immediately does what you’d expect. It’s not the most novel functionality, but at least it works.

Lara Croft is a junior member of a small crew searching for the remains of a lost kingdom that mysteriously vanished. Her companions encompass typical archetypes that are at once recognizable and forgettable. There’s the scientifically minded man who wears glasses and shirts with geeky puns, the muscled fisherman who defies his impressive physique by repeatedly showing just how sensitive he is, and a stoic mercenary who’s also a long-term mentor to Lara. Their names don’t matter, because with such little development of their personalities, you quickly forget who they were as soon as they’re offscreen. This tired cast is thrust into a story filled with equally tired tropes, so you rarely care about the overarching events.

It’s unfortunate how poor so much of the exposition is, because Lara herself is well defined. She starts out as a strong-headed recent graduate determined to scout unexplored lands in search of this lost civilization, but quickly realizes the terrible predicament she’s in when things go awry. You understand her unwillingness to believe the terrible events that have transpired, and feel as squeamish as she does when she’s forced to kill an attacker. Killing eventually becomes commonplace for Lara, and though it’s hard to accept how quickly she adjusts to this bloody lifestyle, her anxious cries during battle and exhausted collapses afterward make you see the scared person hiding beneath the surface. And when she finally cracks halfway through the adventure, shifting from someone fighting to defend herself to a person clearly on the offensive, you understand that, too, because everyone has a breaking point.

Her shift from wide-eyed adventurer to full-fledged killer makes sense, and that’s precisely why it’s so uncomfortable. We’re forced to put ourselves in her shoes, question how we would respond to attacks on our lives, and wonder if we’d be able to fight when it would be so much easier to surrender. Smart pacing ensures that there is plenty of time to examine what transpired in that last deadly fight. With only a half dozen or so attackers, most battles are over before you get lulled into a rhythm that demands you turn off your moral leanings. So you scavenge for a while, explore the environments, and then face five minutes of chaos and screaming before you’re once again left by yourself. Such deliberate and rare steps into bloodshed make every fight so much more effective and emotionally taxing. As smartly as Tomb Raider handles its rare forays into combat, it does a poor job of showing death. Lara is tortured in such sensational ways that it’s downright gratuitous, as if the game is reveling in her torment.

The overwhelming beauty of the island is so gripping, and the exploration so expertly designed, that you become invested in Lara Croft’s incredible journey.

Lara has no fear of being dangerously close to flames in very cramped places.

Thankfully, you can avoid such glorification if you want. Just don’t die! Though that’s often easier said than done. The early moments of Tomb Raider, and many other sections sprinkled throughout the adventure, are composed of quick-time events in which one mistimed button press leads to an immediate end. Often, these brief sequences are a welcome change of pace. When you’re ambushed on a narrow bridge, or are running away from an avalanche, your heart races, and these sequences end quickly enough so that you don’t get weighed down by your lack of input. However, by cramming so many QTEs in the first 10 minutes, the game makes you wade through tedious encounters before everything opens up. It’s a shame that the early sections are so dry, because the rest of Lara’s trip is full of excitement, but it’s a small price to pay for the graphical brilliance these sections carry with them.

From the opening moments, Tomb Raider showcases its gorgeous visual design. Yes, the Definitive Edition sports better textures, lighting, and a variety of other technical effects than its PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 counterparts, but it’s the art style that makes you want to venture deeper into this haunted island. As Lara picks her way through a claustrophobic cave, or hunts deer in a forest bursting with life, you feel as if you’re a part of this world. Summit a mountain and then look toward the horizon; the delicate light streaming through the clouds creates a sense of romantic wonder that would please any couple on their honeymoon. This is a stunning game that shows how technical expertise can enhance artistic brilliance, and vice versa, as just about every element draws you ever more into Lara’s world. The odd hiccups, such as flames that defy reality, stand out amid the well-realized look that seeps into just about every other element.

And you have plenty of time to admire the view. Lara travels through many different sections of the expansive map, and almost every one is a small-scale open environment. Hidden goodies are sprinkled throughout; some add details to the backstory, and others let you examine ancient treasures. Though none of them have much of a tangible impact, the sheer joy of uncovering their hiding places is endlessly satisfying. Tools that you gain throughout the adventure open up more pieces of the environment, letting you pull down structures with a rope arrow, blast through doors with a shotgun, and overcome other roadblocks as well. This encourages you to revisit sections to ferret out every lost doodad, and I spent hours just trampling through the environment in search of condor nests and flags.

Come on, Lara, stop and smell the trees and worry about surviving later.

There are optional tombs to plunder as well. It’s strange that a game titled Tomb Raider places so little emphasis on, well, raiding, but the bite-size side quests certainly add a nice puzzle-solving element. Tombs hide elaborate mechanical structures that need to be appropriately manipulated in order to make your way through them. You may have to balance a platform with weighted barrels or use the power of wind just right, and there’s a thrilling rush when you figure out what needs to be done. Granted, many of these areas contain only one or two puzzles, so you may spend only five or so minutes in one before you find the treasure at the end. But even though they’re brief, they provide a nice detour that urges you to use your cunning along with your various abilities to discover every secret.

Such deliberate and rare steps into bloodshed make every fight so much more effective and emotionally taxing.

Eventually, you have to pull your attention from burial masks to the armed men attacking you. Lara has a vulnerability that leads to a quick end if you get hit more than a couple of times, so combat is built on smart movement and steely precision in the face of danger. By standing near chest-high barriers, Lara automatically crouches safely out of harm’s way, though don’t expect to stand your ground as your killers swarm toward you. With Molotov cocktails and well-positioned shots, attackers make you pay for standing still, so you must be as fast on your feet as you are with your trigger finger. Roll from one pillar to the next, or climb up to higher ground to relish a brief moment of respite. Enemies pursue you, leaving themselves exposed as they try to mimic your motions, and it’s satisfying to loose an arrow or pick them off with a pistol as they stumble clumsily behind you. There are some silly moments, such as when you merely wait for a dumb guy to stick his head out from cover, but combat is so fast and exciting that such missteps are easy to overlook.

Part of the reason the combat enthralls from beginning to end is how brief fights are. With only a few enemies present in most fights, you can eliminate threats within a few minutes, so you’re back exploring the impressive locales in no time. That makes you appreciate each encounter all the more, and there is enough variety so that every fight feels different. You may approach a camp in the dead of night and have the choice to pick enemies off stealthily or take your chances with a full-out rush, or, in another scenario, you’re hanging upside down in a snare while enemies rush toward you. Other times you’re rolling around in a room with destructible pillars, or plunging through a burning building, and every fight requires a slightly different approach. This variety helps keep the fights exciting. Plus, even though you have a standard assortment of guns, the bow proves to be both more satisfying to use and more challenging. Taking out someone with the bow with one perfectly logged headshot feels so empowering that I deliberately fought without guns so that every fight could be as exciting as possible.

A gun? How gouche.

Unfortunately, while the single-player exploits are both inventive and exciting, when you venture into multiplayer, things lose that glow. Everything here feels fine. Sticking an arrow right through someone’s head is just as satisfying here as it is against an AI opponent, and there are even traps to stop unsuspecting players in their tracks. But it’s all so expected. Whereas the solo quest veered from the norms in interesting ways, such as by offering fully explorable environments and putting such a small emphasis on combat, the multiplayer just recycles much of what has become the standard in competitive arenas. Sure, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with such uninspired battles, but it’s a shame there aren’t more interesting elements to wrestle away your attention from other games out there.

What’s most remarkable about Tomb Raider is how its many elements so perfectly complement each other, so that no matter which activity you’re currently engaged in, you’re fully invested. Even the straightforward platforming, in which Lara’s sticky hands ensure there’s little chance of failure, is thrilling thanks to brief quick-time events that keep your mind focused on even your smallest actions. There are two things that hit me when I first played Tomb Raider last year, and then resurfaced when I played through the Definitive Edition, that cement this as one of my recent favorites. Lara herself is so well crafted that I grew attached to her exploits and was sad to say goodbye when the credits rolled. And the exquisite visual design is so breathtaking that I continually found myself staring at the scenery instead of pushing onward. Tomb Raider is a great reinvention of this enduring franchise that made me eager to see where Lara goes in her future.

Might & Magic X: Legacy

You need to have the nostalgia gene to fully appreciate Might & Magic X: Legacy. I do, especially when it comes to role-playing games, so I did. But this is one of those “genre within a genre” retro affairs that self-consciously turns its back on modern conventions and embraces what us old folks were stuck with back in that antediluvian era known as the 1990s. Limbic Entertainment has created an old-fashioned RPG epic that might well have landed on some “best of” lists at the end of 1996. If you’re the sort of person who fondly remembers a time before the Might & Magic name meant nothing but turn-based fantasy strategy, this game is for you.

Noting that M&MXL is not for everyone isn’t necessarily an insult, either. On the contrary, it’s clear from the very first moments of the game that the developers are trying to be as unfashionable as a pair of acid-washed jeans. Everything about this game can be traced back to first-person party-based RPGs from the 1990s, like the original M&M games, the Wizardry series, and even the Eye of the Beholder D&D line. The campaign setting of Ashan is all new for this franchise, however, having been ported over from Might & Magic Heroes right down to the goofy winged helmets. Oddly enough, this approach actually makes M&MXL more of a traditional fantasy game than its forebears, as the original M&M role-players blended spaceships in with their swords and sorcery. Still, the general objective seems to have been to create a new game that picks up right where this style of RPG left off about 15 years ago.

The M&MXL bestiary includes the usual roster of fantasy monsters and mythological creatures, like this manticore, which almost looks like a cute puppy dog about to tear your throat out at this angle.

And that mission has been accomplished. Well, mostly. Several core components of the game are well done. There is a fair amount of choice when it comes to character creation, with four races and 12 classes (three per race) spread along the might and magic spectrums. Don’t expect anything more revolutionary than the likes of dwarven defenders, human freemages, elven bladedancers, and orc barbarians in the beginning, but you have a lot of freedom to specialize once your party starts leveling up and you begin doling out points between attribute stats and skills. You can specialize in everything from maces and bows to a whopping seven schools of magic, allowing for the custom-crafting of almost any sort of heroic adventurer that you can dream up. The sheer amount of liberty even allows for some evolution during gameplay. I started off with an elven ranger who I thought would be good in ranged combat, but I eventually realized that she worked better as a second spellcaster who specialized in healing. A few levels later, and I had an impressive cleric wannabe curing poison and dishing out restoration incantations when she wasn’t offing foes with her bow and arrow.

It’s clear from the very first moments of the game that the developers are trying to be as unfashionable as a pair of acid-washed jeans.

Managing your party is more involved than in most RPGs, so you can’t just storm off looking for adventure. First, you need to take care of business by buying food. Without it, you’re not allowed to rest, which soon causes your party to grow tired and drop ability scores. You also need to rest to regain health and mana, because neither regenerates on its own over time. Not much of this is spelled out, and the tooltips offered up at the start of the game don’t do much to explain the basics. All becomes clear if you’re patient, though, or if you remember doing this stuff many years ago. Nevertheless, the game could use more hand-holding in the beginning.

Battles in M&MXL are spectacularly hard and unforgiving. It took three hours to beat these guys. Well, not really, but it felt that long.

Like most RPGs released when grunge was still a thing, M&MXL features a first-person camera and grid-based movement where you move one step at a time. This system works relatively smoothly. Yes, you’re stuck with an odd perspective that forces you to view the world as if the party were crammed into a car and looking out through the windshield, and the entire four-person party has to trudge as one through dungeons and forests, like a tank bristling with battle-axes and magic wands. But you soon get used to navigating in such a restricted fashion.

Movement has even been improved from the days of yore. M&MXL features turn-based combat, so you can’t gimmick the system. Back in the day, it was common to cheat through real-time battles with tricks like the Eye of the Beholder Two Step, where you would zip forward to hit a monster and then immediately retreat before it could hit you back. Here, you’re locked into battle once an enemy closes and the fight begins. So instead of dipsy-doodling back and forth, you’re stuck going toe-to-toe with the bad guys. This results in some grueling combat, since you have virtually no range of motion once melee combat has started and no ability at all to choose the better part of valor and run away.

Managing your party is more involved than in most RPGs, so you can’t just storm off looking for adventure.

In some ways, the game goes too far. Not only does it take away the exploits common to first-person RPGs in the ’90s, but it hammers away at you relentlessly (even at the lower “adventurer” setting). Combat is unforgiving right from the opening tutorial quest to clean spiders out of an underground lair. Monsters flank and surround you in almost every other fight, frequently spawning in out of nowhere to your rear. Just when you’ve got your hands full with that minotaur in your face, along come two more to hassle you from behind. Most monsters also have devastating special abilities. Almost every enemy has the ability to stun you, poison you, enfeeble you, petrify you, hit you with extra attacks, and more. Wolves and goblins can insta-kill party members if they get lucky. I don’t recall an easy battle in the entire campaign. That sounds sort of fun and intense, but really, I could have done without titanic half-hour struggles to best the likes of two goblins, a couple of cavemen, and a pack of panthers.

Balance can be an issue in spots. You can easily run into enemies that will slice you to ribbons for not being at a high-enough level, like these nasty spectres.

M&MXL isn’t impossibly hard, but the punishing difficulty can lead to tedium. You can (eventually) beat any monster, group of monsters, or even the game’s collection of brutally tough bosses by thinking about what you’re doing when it comes to strategizing and spellcasting. The extreme challenge is a natural fit for a revamped classic, but that doesn’t make the occasional bitter pill of a battle easier to swallow. When actually playing the game, I was too busy cursing out the nagas or spiders gooning me from all sides to appreciate the retro character of the battle difficulty.

How dated M&MXL is in other areas is harder to appreciate. The story isn’t particularly well developed. The opening preamble is about as exciting as listening to someone recite a tax return, and there isn’t much of a tale told during the game itself. Your party consists of a bunch of heroes, oddly called “raiders,” who are out to do good things for the human empire in a time of unrest. There isn’t much role-playing to be had here; the game is a dry tactical affair where combat is the first order of the day, followed up by the odd puzzle.

Monster stock is limited. Areas and dungeons are populated by just a few specific types of creatures or human thugs, and the pace can drag because fighting the same fight over and over again. Loot isn’t varied or particularly imaginative, either when it’s dropped or when you check out what’s available in shops. It gets better as you go, but there isn’t a lot of memorable “gotta have it” gear. As a result, you can go for hours with few serious upgrades of weapons and armor. How items are doled out is also strange. Monsters don’t tend to drop much when they’re slain, but chests loaded with goodies and gold are strewn all over the wilderness like some kind of medieval take on geocaching.

Minotaurs aren’t too hellish in a labyrinth, but you don’t want to be surrounded by three or four of them in a forest.

The throwback production values are as traditional as the adventure itself, though these elements have not aged all that tastefully. Animations can be choppy, especially in forests, and slowdown is a common occurrence in the wilderness and when there are multiple lighting effects on the screen at the same time. Sound is also sparse, with what seems like a handful of weapon and monster effects. Hero battle boasts like the orc warrior’s “I kill you!” are repeated constantly. Even worse, your heroes shout their cries of sadness about being knocked out or killed a few seconds before the blow is actually delivered, so you get advance warning when somebody is about to be taken down. This makes battles a teensy bit anticlimactic.

Might & Magic X: Legacy is a somewhat successful trip back in time to an era when RPGs were both simpler and more complicated than they are today, and a lot more demanding of players when it came to combat. If nostalgia drives you to visit this particular kingdom, you’ll not likely regret the time spend there. If your good old days weren’t brimming with games of this nature, it’s more difficult to appreciate the take-no-prisoners challenge and overlook the limitations.

Neill Blomkamp rumored to direct Halo TV series pilot

Neill Blomkamp, director of District 9 and Elysium, might direct the pilot for the upcoming Halo TV show being produced by Xbox Entertainment Studios and Steven Spielberg.

Latino-Review reports that it has heard the news from “trusted sources.”

Though he’s had a difficult history with the brand, In April 2013 Blomkamp did indicate that he’s still interested in Halo. “I still really love the world and the universe and the mythology of Halo. If I was given control, I would really like to do that film,” Blomkamp said.

“But that’s the problem. When something pre-exists, there’s this idea of my own interpretation versus 150 other people involved with the film’s interpretation of the same intellectual property,” he added. “Then the entire filmgoing audience has their interpretation. You can really live up to or fail in their eyes. That part isn’t appealing to me, but the original pieces are appealing.”

Blomkamp and Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson were in pre-production on a Halo movie that famously fell through in 2006. The two instead went on to make the Oscar-nominated sci-fi action movie District 9 and then Elysium, which, coincidentally, had a few things in common with the Halo fiction.

Microsoft first announced the Halo TV series in May 2013, saying series developer 343 Industries will oversee development on the show with Steven Spielberg.

Top 5 Skyrim Mods of the Week – Top Immersion Mods

Join Kevin VanNord as he forages for his very life, across the Skyrim wilderness in an immersion-themed episode of Top 5 Skyrim Mods of the Week. Also he drinks too much mead.

Pandora: First Contact Review

There’s a special kind of fear that aliens can tap into. They are often unknown, unreasonable, and unrelenting. Many 4X strategy games are strongly tied to real events, people, and cultures in human history, but some of the best games in the genre are set in space against powerful and hostile alien races. Pandora: First Contact is one such game, and it takes heavy cues from games like Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. While it is meant to be a respectful tribute, Pandora is laden with awful design choices and a confusing mishmash of old and new mechanics. The pieces that stand up are pulled directly from other, better games, and the original ideas aren’t developed well enough to carry the experience.

Pandora: First Contact opens with a smattering of people desperate to find a new Earth after decades of environmental destruction. The most prosperous societies have each launched their own expeditions, loosely representative of several modern-day nations and ideologies. These groups form the different factions and have their own vaguely defined play styles ranging from brutal, polluting industry to hyper-religious zealotry. Unfortunately, while they are thematically distinct, none of the factions stand out. Besides how the diplomatic options are phrased, and a few starting bonuses, they are all more or less the same. In my games, playing as the super-scientific faction wasn’t terribly different from playing as the environmentalists. All of the units are the same, and the victory conditions are far too limited for any of your decisions to have much of an effect. There really is only one correct play style: extreme aggression.

Pandora borrows heavily from the works of Sid Meier, but it’s missing too many pieces.

Civilization has often been lauded for allowing you to seek scientific, cultural, military, or even diplomatic victory, and each of these routes is supported by an entire system of mechanics that help support that path. These systems connect with one another and can be attached or separated, giving you an enormous amount of freedom in how you play. Those choices are meaningful because they are symbolic; they represent different and distinct ideologies. Pandora, too, has “different” victory conditions, but none of them are well developed. There is a scientific victory that amounts to having 75 percent of all possible research items complete. To achieve military victory, you have to take control of over 75 percent of the planet’s populace. Unfortunately, the mechanisms by which you accomplish these conditions are nearly identical, and there’s virtually no way to stop a player who’s nearing victory. The element of choice and the ability to consistently have any efficacy or agency in the game is totally subverted by this design.

The planet of Pandora is crawling with aliens when you first touch down, and it takes only a few turns for those forces to turn aggressive; unlike the barbarians from Civilization, these creatures are absolutely everywhere and are much, much stronger than any of your starting units. For example, a unit of marines has a starting combat strength of 2, while aliens range from 1 to 18, with 2 and 8 being the most common. How well you handle these early foes determines how much land and resources you have to work with in the mid to late game.

While it is meant to be a respectful tribute, Pandora is laden with awful design choices and a confusing mishmash of old and new mechanics.

Sadly, ignoring them isn’t an option. Even if you never attack the aliens or show any sign of aggression, at a certain point they begin attacking you. Expanding and fortifying your armies, and then raiding alien hives for their massive cash reserves is the only way to play. Any land you don’t grab for yourself is land a future opponent will use against you, and any aliens you don’t kill feed the resources and experience of your rivals. This design choice forces the game into a two-stage system. The first stage is rapid expansion and extreme brutality against the indigenous aliens, and the second stage is focused more on developing the land you’ve claimed and steadily pushing back against enemies. While the first stage might be frustratingly limited, the second is fundamentally broken.

In better-designed 4X games, much of the mid- to late-game conflict stems from resource scarcity. You need a specific plot of land that an opponent has; this causes conflict, which then buttresses the final stages of a match. In Pandora, land is certainly important, but expansion is agonizingly slow. Even on the fastest setting, with the exception of a handful of rare tiles, there’s absolutely no scarcity. Aside from mountains, just about every tile can be converted into every other kind, and they don’t carry the bottlenecking effect that’s common in other games. Without scarcity, there’s very little to fight over, and the monotony of expansion across hundreds of same-y tiles wears down to tedium very quickly.

Classic sci-fi homage.

In place of a varied and interesting landscape, Pandora has a fairly robust unit upgrade and operations system. As you progress technologically, you have access to a wider variety of weapons and equipment for your various units. For example, initially your legions of marines only have access to their basic machine guns, but once you develop the flamethrower, you can bring marines back to a city to refit them with the latest gadgets. This is typically done for a significant cost, though, and can become overwhelmingly expensive when upgrading masses of units. Additionally, at each new stage of technological development, you also gain access to advanced versions of every unit. The colonial marine, your bread and butter, later becomes the assault trooper. After you’ve unlocked the next stage, it’s often more practical to simply send your old units to their death at the hands of a foe and just start production on the next batch of souped-up soldiers

To cut down on some of the banality of this cycle of production-upgrade-sacrifice, you can set your cities to crank out new units with the upgraded tech. This costs extra production time, but typically that’s much easier to manage than trying to purchase all of the upgrades outright. Unfortunately, there’s no system or mechanic allowing for the retrofitting of old units with new gear via production capacity, nor is there any way to take an old unit and make it into one of the newer variety. This is probably intended to be balanced by the experience system, which can dramatically enhance the combat effectiveness of older troops, but that loses relevance in the mid to late game because of operations.

Without scarcity, there’s very little to fight over.

Operations can range from nuclear strikes and satellite scans to field training missions. They are produced much like standard units but are immediately consumed upon use. These field training missions are ridiculously cheap, particularly in the late game, and I often had one city of mine constantly producing them. After I finished a new batch of troops, I’d march them all to my most forward base, dump 10 field training missions on them to max out their level, and then let them heal up for two or three turns before marching out my legions of tanks, airplanes, and marines to conquer whatever stood in their way. It’s much faster and less risky than trying to naturally level up fresh recruits, and it always ensured that my warriors would be at the top of their game.

At the end of the day, unit management is bogged down by a plethora of underutilized mechanics. Instead of adding to the gameplay, they simply encourage you to abuse other systems to circumvent the poorly designed interface. That seems to be par for the course for Pandora. There are a lot of neat ideas here, but none of them pan out. The game’s creators clearly adore 4X strategy games in general, and Alpha Centauri specifically, is clear here, but Pandora: First Contact is not a proper tribute. I want to love Pandora, I really do, but nostalgia can’t fix a game that doesn’t work even at the most basic level.

Brutal Legend 2? "I would love to go back there," Tim Schafer says

Industry veteran Tim Schafer, head of independent developer studio Double Fine Productions, has yet again expressed his admiration for the metal-inspired Brutal Legend series, telling GameSpot today that he hopes to return to the franchise some day.

“I love that world and I would love to go back there. And I think [actor Jack Black] might be up for it, too,” Schafer told GameSpot today during a live-stream for his new game Broken Age. A replay of the stream is available below.

Black played Brutal Legend hero Eddie Riggs, a roadie turned warrior.

Brutal Legend fans shouldn’t jump for joy yet. The original Brutal Legend cost around $25 million to develop and Schafer said raising that much money–or more–for a sequel “might be tricky.”

Though a full-on sequel may not be in the pipeline just yet, Schafer said a DLC pack surrounding Brutal Legend’s Lionwhyte might be more likely. Lionwhyte, leader of the fictitious Hair Metal Militia, was voiced by Judas Priest lead singer Rob Halford.

“I would love to go back to that world or even just do a DLC pack…we’re always trying to get Lionwhyte in there; a playable Lionwhyte army,” Schafer said. “Maybe that would happen someday. I would definitely love to do that.”

Brutal Legend launched in October 2009 for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 published by Electronic Arts, while a PC version of the game arrived in February 2013. It is Double Fine’s best-selling game ever, Schafer told GameSpot today, though it’s unclear how many copies of the game have been sold to date.

GS News – Microsoft buys positive Xbox One comments, Dead Rising 3 gets huge 13GB update

Resident Evil 4 HD is coming to PC via Steam, leaked documents reveal that Microsoft have been paying YouTubers for Xbox One praise and just what is Dead Rising 3’s enormous update for?

Feeling the Love in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

I, like a lot of you, spent a good chunk of my spare time as a kid with a ragged controller in hand, hunkered down on the floor with slices of pizza and a friend or two by my side. These memories are recalled fondly, but not content to live solely in the past, I still make a point to connect with friends over a game in meatspace whenever possible. However, there were a few years when the emphasis on online gaming threatened multiplayer as I once knew it. I get it: online multiplayer is convenient. Still, a friend whimpering in defeat or celebrating triumphantly in your ear doesn’t compare to the same scenario on a couch, where you feed off of each other’s energy and potentially elbow each other in the ribs.

Keep your online multiplayer, I say. Give me a controller and a second player port, and I’ll show you how to co-op.

Thankfully, all hope for local multiplayer isn’t lost. With games such as Samurai Gunn and Nidhogg drawing GameSpot editors in like a fun-filled vortex, I’m reminded that the spirit of playing with friends is alive and well. After playing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze with GameSpot video producer Jeremy Jayne at a local event recently, it struck me that Nintendo has actually kept the local co-op candle burning for decades, and games like Super Mario 3D World and the latest Donkey Kong sequel are ensuring that those smart enough to own a Wii U are never without opportunities to connect with a friend in front of the TV.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is enjoyable in single-player, but Retro Studios’ tough-as-nails platformer begs for a partner in crime. I began playing solo, but I quickly realized that this was a mistake. Also, the game becomes very difficult very quickly, and the thought of a sidekick becomes really appealing, really fast.

So Jeremy and I teamed up to tackle Tropical Freeze and ours was the only demo station with two players in control, and compared to the furrowed brows and hushed curses coming from around the room, our boisterous and animated reactions clearly stood out. This is a game that warrants your full and undivided attention, but even though Jeremy and I died, a lot, we were enjoying ourselves in the process.

Tropical Freezes predecessor, Donkey Kong Country Returns, wasnt a walk in the park either, and it, too, was a more enjoyable experience with a second player riding along. Though I have fond memories of Returns, which was a great game in many ways, Tropical Freeze immediately overwrites that game in my mind. Tropical Freeze doesn’t significantly alter the Donkey Kong Country formula, but it offers a new character to control in Cranky Kong, whose aptitude with a cane puts Scrooge McDuck to shame. Cranky not only uses it to bounce off of dangerous obstacles and kill enemies underfoot, but he puts it to work underwater as well, clearing enemies and objects from his path.

There are stages where his skill set is particularly useful, with spike traps standing between you and a collectible item, and the same goes for Diddy and Dixie Kong, two other playable characters from previous Donkey Kong Country games who reemerge in Tropical Freeze. Diddy Kong still has his jetpack, giving him an extra bit of hang time, and Dixie’s ponytail achieves roughly the same effect as Diddy’s jetpack, albeit with an added boost of altitude at the end. There’s little your squad can’t achieve when two players put these skills to good use, and though you could, in theory, achieve the same results in single-player, the two-player experience is riskier, and thus more rewarding. It may not seem right to champion anything that makes a game harder than it has to be, but if it adds to the overall enjoyment, what’s not to like?

I feel the same question cross my mind when people deride Nintendo for delivering games with marginal changes to preexisting formulas and franchises, something I’ve been guilty of in the past. I can certainly relate to the desire for groundbreaking design and fresh settings and characters, and I can’t wait for the next game from Retro Studios that pushes the envelope like Metroid Prime did on the GameCube. However, I can see no reason to hold Tropical Freeze against Retro. It’s a logical successor to its previous Donkey Kong game, with new levels, characters, and yet another amazing soundtrack. While I had some fun playing on my own, I thoroughly enjoyed playing with Jeremy, someone I interact with but rarely play games with. I would have been perfectly content to keep playing, but with the cloud of impending deadlines overhead, we had to call it a day sooner than I liked.

Even though adult responsibilities eat up most of my free time, and it might be easier to arrange online multiplayer games as a result, I’m glad games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze continue to beat the local co-op drum. It’s not an innovative or groundbreaking game by any measure, but it reminded me why I love games in the first place: they bring people together. In an era where technological innovations impose limits on our social life for the sake of convenience, I’m glad that I can still look to video games to not only connect with old friends, but also make new ones along the way.