Monthly Archives: May 2016

Stellaris Review

Serenity and wonder fill my ears when I first open Stellaris. Pulling from the same lived-in future aesthetic of games like Mass Effect, Stellaris opens with an invitation. It wants you to explore, it wants you learn, to unearth secrets your galaxy has held for millennia. As I do, astral outlines and nebulae dot my galactic map. Carved out into large chunks are the cosmos’ remaining empires. The Kalaxenen Order. The Sibulan Core Worlds. The Bruggan Consciousness. And my own nascent superpower–the Reaper Commonwealth.

We’d coexisted with our neighbors peacefully for centuries, but we were out of space and desperate for some breathing room. Our scientists yearned to comb through the rest of the galaxy’s hyperspace lanes and long-forgotten ruins. And our priests were compelled to spread the will of the divine. So the galaxy erupted in war.

War always seemed to follow me in Stellaris. That’s partly because it’s hard to expand indefinitely without frustrating someone, but also because there’s a few hitches hiding within the layers of Paradox Interactive’s latest grand strategy game.

If you’ve ever played Civilization or any of its 4X descendants, you’ll be familiar with Stellaris’ basics. You helm a new civilization at the start of its journey. You can choose how they’ll govern, what their guiding principles are, and how they’ll develop technologically. If you choose to play alone, each of your opponents will have a randomly generated set of traits all their own- ranging from despotic fantastical pacifists to xenophobic materialists. Human players are just as likely to come up with creative personality combinations too. When you start a match, you’re dipping your toes into an ocean of possibilities, eager to yield as your people explore and grow.

That principle is reflected in Stellaris’ pacing. Before locking down your starting solar system and working to build out its infrastructure, you’ll scour neighboring stars for potential colony sites and resources. Then move in with settlers and engineers to start exploiting virgin territory.


Along the way, you’ll find all manner of long-lost technology, pre-industrial civilizations and other space-faring races. Each often comes with a “quest” line of sorts that develops into its own narrative thread. On one of my first planets, I discovered an advanced subterranean people. I had to decide upon a diplomatic strategy for them, whether I wanted to give them access to technology, and if I’d be willing to bail them out if they ran into trouble.

It was a small piece of Stellaris, but my relationship with these people became one of my most valued. In time, they paid me back for all the favors I’d done, and supported the empire at large. But even if they hadn’t, I felt connected to them. I caught myself roleplaying my interactions with them, trying to live up to my empire’s own benevolent spiritual collectivist beliefs. It’s this kind of ongoing, deterministic narrative scaffolding that forms Stellaris’ backbone. Where most other strategy titles are content to focus on conquest and victory, Stellaris wants its relationships and the story you weave as your people grow to be the focus.

That runs straight to the core of Stellaris, too. As you encounter new species, you’ll be able to integrate them as citizens in your civilization. And you’ll have to balance their prejudices and ideologies against those of your own citizens, decide whether they can vote, and even help them settle new planets that might be tough or inhospitable for your own race. These dynamics can have massive effects on intergalactic politics as well. If you enslave or purge (read: genocide) another race, other civilizations will remember your sins and hold centuries-long grudges.

If you catch yourself sandwiched between two stronger empires, you’ll have a tough time of advancing the game without creating some powerful alliances or risking a costly war.

These dynamics start coming into play when you hit the mid-game. After you’ve got your basic group established, as your borders and those of your neighbors start grinding against one another, you’ll have to find more creative ways to keep up the early game’s strong momentum. If you’re not careful, you can be boxed in by ancient and powerful civilizations. Grand strategy games often devolve into war at some point, but conflict with these giants is a quick path to eradication. Instead, it helps to build a multi-racial empire with several disconnected settlements. When one front stalls, you can push another and keep your populace moving so that there’s always something to do and someone to manage. It also helps to play on a map with few other empires so you can grow a quite a bit before you start running into problems.

It’s not easy, and it’s a bit strange that you have to finagle the game into maintaining a solid pace, but those problems also stem from some of Stellaris’ best decisions, even though they don’t always work out the way they should. For example, research in Stellaris works quite a bit different than in most 4X games. There’s no static tree you climb, moving from agriculture to calendars and then to crop rotation. Instead you’ll receive several “cards” from a deck of possibilities. Some, like sapient artificial intelligence, are rarer than others and represent major leaps forward in tech that can also help you break away from the pack.

Others are weighted to show up more often to give everyone the same basic tools to start with. In theory, this keeps any one game from feeling too similar to any other. That works to a point, but it also means that you can pass up some critical piece of infrastructure tech and you might not see it for a while, or if you’re unlucky, never again. It forces some tough decisions that, while engaging, don’t always make sense. There doesn’t seem to be any real reason that I have to lose out on colony ships for a better research facility. On balance, though it’s a welcome change, and I got more out of it than I lost.

Stellaris is filled with intrigue and promise.

Technology plays into galactic diplomacy as well. Some hyper-advanced civilization may find your development pathetic and offer to bring you under their wing as a protectorate, giving you major bonuses to research and a benevolent overseer that can keep you safe from the big bullies on the block–or at least try. The catch here, is that if you develop past a certain point, you become your overlord’s vassal. With that, they can, in time absorb your civilization completely. Or, you can request–and likely fight–for your independence, often at a time when their resources are spread thin with another war or even a recession.

It’s here–with warfare and diplomacy–where Stellaris takes the most risks, and their payoffs can vary from match to match. Those with pacifistic civilizations might try to form strong bonds with others and form powerful peacemaking coalitions. Others will, no doubt, flex their muscles and conquer all the can. Bringing everything from psychic warriors and specially designed war ships to bear down on their foes. And while these two outlets for Stellaris’ systems each work well on their own, their dependent upon so many of the game’s other novelties that they don’t fit together all the time.

Stellaris is strange in that it wants you to play on its terms, but within that you have amazing latitude.

The semi-random nature of research means that you won’t always be able to guide your people to what they need. Plus, negotiating federations can be difficult when meeting new races depends upon you breaking out of your starting area–something that can sometimes be impossible if you’re surrounded by super-hostile enemies. When it works, though, an alliance can help you leap ahead and match your elder rivals. Trade with someone who pities you can provide a massive influx of cash to fuel your economy, and, within short order you might have a diverse enough population to colonize a dozen or more extra planets. That, in turn, gives you more people to crew ships, drive research, and more complex internal politics to manage. But that’s just it, it’s based on chance. You can tilt things in your favor and increase the likelihood of a more exciting game, but that’s never a solid guarantee.

Stellaris is strange in that it wants you to play on its terms, but within that you have amazing latitude. Its emphasis on exploration is exhilarating. It makes each run feel inviting and special. But that doesn’t always hold. Some games run through to the end and hit all the right notes at all the right times. Others are best left running in the background as you crunch for better technology so you can break free of your narrow corner in the galaxy. This could be helped if you could sneak, or stealth ships through enemy territory to colonize far-flung worlds. Or, if you could have finer control of research. Or, if you could overwhelm enemy fleets with superior tactics, despite a massive technological disadvantage. Instead, you’re at Stellaris’ mercy. It is fortunate then, that more often than not Stellaris doesn’t just work, it excels, but that makes its breaking points feel that much more agonizing because it wouldn’t have taken much tweaking to smooth them out.

Best Stuff in Comics This Week

Every week, we take a look at some of the most bizarre, exciting, and downright unique things to happen in comics. Check out our choices of the strange and wacky things that shouldn’t be overlooked from this week’s releases.

There may be some tiny spoilers ahead.

The Dark and Bloody #4

Best Nightmare-Inducing Imagery

When someone you know turns into a giant, murderous crow, with the intentions of tearing you apart, you’re going to have nightmares for the rest of your life.

The Dark and Bloody #4

Most Intense Scene

Following that frightening moment, readers are treated to two pages of some intense moments as the human-crow beast attacks. Apparently, a shotgun is still the easiest way to deal with crow people.

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #6

Best Scene We Acted Out With Our Toys as Kids

As a child, you probably played with all of your toys, no matter what company the licenses came from. This week, Batman and Shredder had one epic battle, which was a moment stripped right from when we were kids.

Starfire #12

Best Time to Quit Drinking

If you’re ever wondering when you should call it a night after drinking, just look into the sky. If you see an orange woman riding a flying dolphin, it’s time to go to bed.

Vision #7

Best Joke

The Vision tries to connect with his ex-wife, Scarlet Witch, in bed by telling a joke, with an incredibly dry delivery. It’s still a solid joke though.

Gwenpool #2

Best Way to Get a Hero’s Attention

If you see Thor in the sky, lots of people are going to be yelling “Thor” to get her attention. However, if you want to make sure she’ll turn around, call her by her birth-name.

Earth 2: Society #12

Best Surprise Return

There was a huge surprise at the end of Earth 2 this week. One of the oldest supervillains at DC comics, Ultra-Humanite, made his return.

Web Warriors #7

Best Mixture of a ’90s Character and an Animal

Doctor Doom is pretty cool. Doom 2099 is pretty cool as well. What if you took the concept of Doom 2099 and made him a duck? Well, you’d get Ducktor Doom 2099. It’s ridiculous and wonderful all at the same time.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers #3

Best Power Rangers Replacement

If there’s a Putty loose in town, and the Power Rangers aren’t available, who are you going to call? Well, Bulk and Skull got all dressed up to try and help some people that needed to be saved from a Putty.

Kennel Block Blues #4

Best Song and Dance Number During a Prison Escape

Trying to escape from prison can be intense and nerve-wracking. The easiest way to get back on all that stress is to turn it into a giant musical number.

All-New, All-Different Avengers #9

Best Stern Talking To

After a new Wasp meets the Avengers, Jarvis gets pretty upset and gives her a quick history lesson about who Janet Van Dyne was.

Deadpool #11

Best and Weirdest Getaway

Deadpool has always been a weird character, but the end of last week’s issue was super-weird, as Deadpool found himself on a horse, running from Mounties.

Silk #8

Best Almost Escape

Spider-Gwen may have an amazing amount of agility, but she’s not perfect. She almost makes an escape in issue #8 of Silk, but gets shocked at the end.

That’s it this week. Let us know in the comments below what other Best Stuff you dug this past week. If you want to participate or felt we missed some other Best Stuff, don’t complain, contribute! Each week you can @reply us on Twitter at @GManFromHeck and @ImMatElfring by Fridays using the hashtag#BestStuffInComics. We’ll give you a shout out and I’ll think you’re pretty groovy.

Soft Body Review

Soft Body is a playable kaleidoscope, an ever-changing symphony of motion, color, and sound. It’s a mixture of different genres, combining the best aspects of bullet hell games, puzzle games, and Snake to create a challenging and mesmerizing experience.

You control two snakes that either move in unison or independently, dependent on the given level. The control inputs typically only require the left and right analog sticks. Using them, you guide snakes around a geometric landscape filled with angular enemies that emit waves of projectiles. You have to complete a collection of small objectives in order to beat each level, which usually involves moving a small ball or circular object around a maze, “painting” borders by touching or merely coming close enough to them, and destroying nearby enemies. The objectives remain simple and straightforward throughout, but the layout and challenges vastly differ from puzzle to puzzle. Despite their variance, none of the puzzles stray too far from Soft Body’s established rule set, and each design features the similar visual stylings and effects while also introducing new colors and contrasts.

While minimal, Soft Body’s controls can be disorienting, particularly when you have to control each snake independently. It is a game of trial and error, requiring precision and careful navigation. In its worst moments, some puzzles devolve into a series objectives with no apparent connective tissue, including levels with two maze-like objectives located at opposite corners of the screen and divided by a large barrier that needs to be “painted” in order to complete the level. The void in between each of these objectives was basically a minefield of projectiles and enemies that felt added in for sheer navigational challenge alone and gradually grew more tiresome. These moments are rare, but their design still comes across as haphazard when compared to more organized levels whose puzzles follow a more logical flow.

Tiny visual and aural flourishes breathe life into Soft Body’s two-dimensional stages. When the snakes under your control come into contact with objects, particle effects spout onto the screen. When you complete your objectives, decorative background shapes spin and shake in excitement. These elements are enhanced by Soft Body’s sound design, which is just as minimalist yet striking as the visuals, adding impact to each interaction between snakes and their environment. Every touch, hit, or movement around borders generates electronic chirps, and both the sights and sounds blend together to create a captivating, Zen-like experience.

Visual and aural flourishes breathe life into Soft Body’s two-dimensional stages.

For such a bizarre, abstract game, Soft Body has a consistent visual language that communicates when and how enemies will act. Your foes take the forms of circles, squares, and triangles, each of which has a specific animation telegraphing its upcoming attacks. One circular “turret” latches its aim onto your snake and follows its movement for several seconds before the line representing its aim solidifies and the turret fires a projectile. Squares have a core that slowly swells toward the borders of the full shape, releasing a wave of deadly, circular projectiles once it reaches its edges. These enemies never break from Soft Body’s established rule set and language, making it consistent to solve despite its ever-changing presentation.


Experimentation and identifying the reactions of the environment are essential to solving Soft Body’s puzzles, since new elements are sprinkled in throughout, often without any explanation. In one level, I saw a triangular border surrounding an enemy inside. Despite not having seen triangles in the game prior to that point, I swam up alongside it and discovered I could paint it to be my color. This speaks to the strength of a well-designed puzzle game: when the rules are consistent and the challenge is set up around that core rule set, solving puzzles remains satisfying in the long run. Soft Body embraces that concept while refusing to limit itself to being one predictable string of levels.

Soft Body is captivating. It’s the fish tank to my inner cat, a fascinating display of methodical movement, clever sound, and unusually satisfying puzzle solving. It’s a minimalist, meditative arcade throwback whose simplicity sometimes backfires into chaotic design, but more frequently delivers challenging and beautiful puzzles.

Tastee: Lethal Tactics Review

In Tastee: Lethal Tactics, your plan is more important than the action that follows. It’s a game of bets and bluffs, and if you telegraph your next move, you’ll likely lose. Tastee doesn’t always communicate its ideas effectively, and there are frustrating barriers to hurdle, but there’s a tense, layered, turn-based strategy game waiting on the other side.

It all revolves around simultaneous turn-based combat in two phases. In the planning stage, you direct the stance, movement, vision cones, and attacks of four individual mercenaries fighting your opponents. In the action phase, you watch your plan unfold–all while the enemy does the same.

This forces you to think on several levels as you extract briefcases of money, defend control points, and eliminate enemy soldiers from an overhead view. You not only have to plan out your own attacks–you also need to consider the route your opponent might have in mind. So while your sniper may have one doorway covered, and your grenadier is ready to move around the corner of that building to get in position, this could all fall apart in the action phase if your opponent anticipated it. The resulting clashes are whiteknuckled displays of who saw the bigger picture in the planning phase.

This structure isn’t new–Tastee borrows from games such as Frozen Synapse and Laser Defense Squad, which use similar phase-based combat systems that emphasize careful planning over reactionary tactics. As was the case in those titles, you spend most of your time in the planning stage, your squad members frozen in place, trying to think two steps ahead of the opponent. Facing another human exacerbates the tension of the missions. Tastee’s AI performs well, but matches become cutthroat poker games when you can relate to, and exploit, another player’s perspective.

Vision cones are essential to your battle plans.

Considering the numerous mechanical layers at play, and the nuance they display on each level, there’s a steep learning curve to Tastee’s combat. In fact, its tutorial only teaches the bare fundamentals of movement, aiming, and attacking before thrusting you onto the battlefield, either in multiplayer or the single-player missions. Because of Tastee’s unforgiving difficulty–characters can die from only one bullet–most of your learning is based on trial and error. I spent almost two hours before I completed a mission without any casualties.

The 30 single-player missions focus loosely on a band of 12 misfit mercenaries fighting against the drug cartels in a desert wasteland. The story is sparse and and repetitive, and serves mainly to introduce new characters, complete with unique abilities to use on subsequent missions: flashbangs, door breaches, ricochet grenades, and enhanced sniper rifles, to name a few. They’re some of the game’s best aspects, as they create stronger attachments to their respective owners.

The loss of each soldier isn’t permanent, but reverberates throughout the rest of your mission –losing a mercenary means losing a useful superpower, as it were. Augustus’ Scout ability, for instance, lets you spot nearby enemies through the fog of war. If you can deduce which direction a soldier is running, and where he’ll emerge from behind cover, you can set a sniper’s sights on that exact spot. These abilities seem simple at first, but reveal deeper uses as you learn them.

There are numerous mechanical layers at play at any one moment.

Tastee’s stellar map design is the catalyst for all of this planning and subsequent action. Missions span a variety of sandswept urban locales, from construction yards to abandoned shanty towns. Concrete walls funnel soldiers through choke points, wooden boards create complex sightlines, and low barriers provide opportunities for cover. The environments present a fine attention to detail, both in how they force your squad into precarious scenarios and how they allow you to master your surroundings. There’s a sadistic thrill to circling your opponent’s squad, eliminating them one by one, and setting up ambushes to stop their attempts at escape.

Maps can become something of a conundrum, however. Tastee’s bigger arenas play host to numerous smaller encounters and nuanced skirmishes, lending a sense of cohesion to the separate huts, garages, and gas stations. The problem is, these bigger maps add to the confusion that sometimes rears its head in Tastee.

During the action phase, it’s usually useful to zoom out from the map to see your overall plan unfolding. But the bigger the map, the less I understand the tactics of Tastee’s world. There are more opportunities for distant snipers and random grenadiers to kill you on a whim. Often, I have no idea where I went wrong–what mistake sent things south. These sprawling locales are well designed in how they encourage tense individual encounters, but when they keep you at a distance from the action, it’s hard to see what’s happening on a minute level. The grasp I usually have on the tactical situation dissipates, leaving me confused.

Tastee’s user interface doesn’t do it any favors either. Instead of crowding the edges of the screen, characters’ abilities and commands manifest in an arc above their heads. While this streamlines the process of selecting a mercenary, giving them a chain of commands, and setting waypoints throughout the map, it leads to several more frustrations. For one, characters’ selection boxes often overlap. In close-quarters battles, it’s often tough to target the wrong character. Secondly, cancelling commands or waypoints is laborious, forcing you to parse through tiny buttons on a small list for sometimes minutes on end, in an effort to finalize your plan.

Despite these annoyances, it’s hard to deny the thrill of Tastee’s firefights: moving your mercenaries into position, covering almost every sightline, worrying about that one you can’t cover, and wincing as a shotgunner misses his target by a few inches–this is Tastee at its best.

Tastee is also clever in the way it disguises its systems in order to teach you through experience. It’s an intelligent, difficult game with a high barrier of entry, and without patience, you might not see how great it can be. But once you see the layers hidden beneath the surface, Tastee Lethal Tactics becomes an intricate game of cutthroat poker. It just takes a bit of frustration to buy in.

EA Creative Chief Leaves After More than 30 Years

[UPDATE] EA has confirmed that Hilleman has left the company. In a statement to GameSpot, EA called Hilleman a “pioneer,” and wished him well for whatever comes next.

“Rich Hilleman is a pioneer–a creative mind whose work influenced many games at EA and beyond. We are thankful to Rich for his contribution over more than 30 years with the company, and we look forward to seeing what he pursues next,” an EA representative told GameSpot.

The original story is below.

One of the most senior and veteran employees at Electronic Arts has left the company, according to a report from Polygon. Richard Hilleman, who was instrumental in designing the early Madden games and eventually became EA’s chief creative director, has parted ways with the gaming giant, sources said.

EA has not responded to requests for comment at publication time.

Hilleman began his career at EA in 1983 as a support specialist, according to his LinkedIn page. He rose to the role of VP of production, and apparently left EA in 2002 before coming back in 2004. He was named chief creative director in 2008, a position he held until leaving EA earlier this month, two sources told Polygon.

Hilleman’s LinkedIn page also mentions that his career at EA ended this month.

There is no word yet on why Hilleman left EA, what he plans to do next, or who will replace him. We’ll report back with new details as they become available.

Hilleman made headlines recently for saying EA’s games are “too hard to learn.” He also defended Battlefield 4’s rocky launch, saying the game got extra attention in part because “the more customers you have, the more noise becomes available.”

Battlefield 1 Xbox One Branding Doesn’t Turn Off PS4 Gamers, EA Says

Sony’s PlayStation 4 is leading the current-generation sales race, but one of this year’s biggest shooters, Battlefield 1, has aligned with Microsoft’s Xbox One for a co-marketing deal. During EA’s Investor Day briefing this week, EA was asked if it had any fears about this arrangement impacting sales.

EA CEO Andrew Wilson said PlayStation gamers won’t be turned off by the fact that the game carries Xbox branding. Chief marketing officer Chris Bruzzo agreed.

“This is a game for PlayStation as much as it is for Xbox as much as it is for PC,” he said. “I don’t seem any limiters to our ability reach a really broad audience of gamers across the whole shooter spectrum.”

These kinds of arrangements are commonplace in games. Sony has co-marketing deals in place for Star Wars: Battlefront, the Call of Duty franchise, and Destiny, while Microsoft and Bethesda partnered to promote Fallout 4.

Wilson said when a game has some kind of arrangement in place for a console you might not own, it can in fact raise awareness for the game in question across the board.

“Our console partners want to stand right next to the biggest and best games in the industry,” Wilson said. “Typically, what we see is that just aids awareness. It aids awareness whether you’re a PC gamer or an Xbox gamer or a PlayStation gamer.”

Microsoft and Sony secure these co-marketing deals because they believe it will drive “disproportionate awareness around the game as it relates to their particular console,” Wilson said. However, this may not actually be the case.

“But what we have seen–and we’ve seen the analytics against it–is if you’re a PlayStation gamer, you do not reject it because it is brought to you by a potential console partner. You understand deeply that it’s also available on your console. And what we get is just a multiplier effect of greater awareness in the marketplace.”

Battlefield 1 launches on October 21, though people with an EA/Origin Access membership or those who pick up the deluxe edition can get in on October 18. Additionally, a beta will be held sometime before launch.

For more on EA’s Investor Day briefing, check out the stories below:

Homefront: The Revolution – Ask The Reviewer – The Lobby

Homefront: The Revolution reviewer Scott fields questions about his experience with the shooter. Will the game ultimately be cursed by its auto-save freezes and frame rate issues? As you play, let us know your thoughts.

The Atom takes on DC Universe Online [Exclusive]

Check out Brandon Routh, aka The Atom, as he takes on DC Universe Online.

Doom Review

In Doom, I see a world brimming with demons, explosions, and hellfire. I see familiar faces screaming, with bloodthirsty eyes and unwavering stares. Playing it delivers the same cathartic craze the original Doom and Doom II did in the early ’90s: overwhelmed by the horrors around every turn, but empowered with an impressive collection of weapons at the ready.

But the new Doom is louder and faster than the old model. Its battles ask more of you, and its heavy-metal soundtrack causes your body to quiver from turbulent surges of adrenaline. From the outset two things are made immediately clear: you were born to kill demons, and you’ll do anything it takes. You will wrench countless jaws from their joints and eviscerate the swollen flesh of your enemies between bouts of furious gunfire. These powerful moments carry what, at its core, is a simple game. The cadence of Doom’s campaign is unwavering to the point of predictability as you make multiple round-trips between Mars and the depths of hell. Each location bears its own distinct but static identity, and your return trips inspire more deja vu than surprise as you tread familiar ground on either side of the dimensional portal you’re charged with dismantling.

Into the belly of the beast we go.3064074-doom_20160515162451.jpg3064076-doom_20160515165232.jpg3064077-doom_20160515171005.jpg3064078-doom_20160515173534.jpg3064079-doom_20160515173705.jpg3064080-doom_20160515174150.jpg3064081-doom_20160515174755.jpg3064082-doom_20160515181102.jpg3064083-doom_20160515183732.jpg3064084-doom_20160515191514.jpg

You rarely take an unexpected turn, but any bothersome feelings this gives you are washed away the moment you enter battle. Doom equips you with a range of weapons that start simple and grow ever more elaborate. Not all are created equal, and there are some you will ignore for their lack of stopping power, but many are formidable, and a near constant stream of upgrades allows you to tweak your favorites in order to give them greater functionality and strength–more cause for attachment to, and wonder in, the power at your fingertips.

This power extends to Glory Kills, Doom’s contextual dismemberment techniques that can be triggered when you cause an enemy to stagger. They are the embodiment of gore fetishization, offering multiple ways to tear enemies into pieces, dependant on your angle of approach. Glory Kills are also strategically valuable. Enemies occasionally drop health items and ammo when felled by a gun, but you’re guaranteed an injection of health when you flay your opponents using your bare hands–and occasionally with a body part of their own. This incentivizes you to rush in even when on the brink, offering hope at the end of a potentially deadly tunnel. Similarly, you also collect a chainsaw that can rip demons in half as a one-hit kill, which causes ammo to spout from their corpses. Your chainsaw requires precious fuel and should be used sparingly, and figuring out the best time to use it becomes a tense mind game of its own.

The rhythm of combat–which almost always begins as a plainly presented lockdown in a room–grows increasingly hard and fast over the course of Doom’s thirteen missions. Larger and more dangerous demons appear over time, and in greater numbers. As you weave and leap around maze-like arenas to improve your vantage and search for much-needed supplies, you function like a magnet, drawing enemies toward you. As you do, the once-disparate groups in an arena become concentrated. The effect of this is that you can put your explosive munitions to good use and inflict heaps of damage to multiple enemies at once. But there is a downside: you can quickly back yourself into a corner as you retreat. Despite this danger, herding enemies is par for the course in Doom as it’s often the most viable tactic. This plays into the cyclical murderous bliss of Doom: round and round we go.

The tension of facing increasingly durable enemies gives this system longevity despite its repetitiveness. Bipedal imps give way to towering, bloated monstrosities, powerful stampeding beasts, and disembodied flaming skulls. To keep up with the horde, you must use resources earned for your past feats to modify and upgrade your weapons with new capabilities. This steadily feeds into your brash and violent persona in order to maintain the high of combat in the face of your growing tolerance for all things brutal. Where a shotgun blast to the face was once satisfying and effective enough, you ultimately desire the thrill and power of unleashing a mortar-like cluster bomb from your double-barrelled best friend. When he’s spent, you’ll be thankful you upgraded your heavy assault rifle with micro-missiles that pierce the air with a subtle whistle before lodging under the skin of a demon and exploding, one after another.

Where a shotgun blast to the face was once satisfying and effective enough, you ultimately desire the thrill and power of unleashing a mortar-like cluster bomb from your double-barrelled best friend.

Upgrades can be earned by sweeping maps of demons, or discovered by exploring every inch of Doom’s environments. Both techniques demand diligence. Secrets and hidden areas aren’t new to Doom, but the variety of rewards you can reap are greater than ever. Every bit of hardware, including weapons, armor, and their underlying software, can be augmented in multiple ways. Nevertheless, you come across your fair share of upgrades even if you stay on the beaten path, and you’ll probably want to as the thrill of combat gets under your skin. The process of awkwardly platforming your way across Doom’s maps grows increasingly tiresome as your pulse drops to a murmur, and your patience for anything other than combat wears thin. The advent of Rune Challenges mixes this up a bit, offering self-contained tasks that momentarily take you out of missions and into tiny arenas where you need to defeat enemies under strict conditions. As enjoyable as these can be, they don’t hold a candle to mission combat and eventually become an afterthought as you seek your next battle.

When Doom funnels you from one location to the next, it introduces brief moments that tell your story, and the story of the energy-obsessed Union Aerospace Corporation. It’s the UAC’s ill-conceived decision to tap into Hell’s energy resources that created the portal between dimensions in the first place, and though you are an agent of the UAC in a way, yours is a reluctant enlistment. The tale of your involvement carries a certain gravitas in the way it speaks of legends and dark messiahs, but it ultimately amounts to little more than window dressing to justify your actions.

Say “hello” to my not-so-little friend.3064090-doom_20160515162511.jpg3064091-doom_20160515164903.jpg3064092-doom_20160515192025.jpg3064093-doom_20160515195519.jpg3064094-doom_20160515220504.jpg3064095-doom_20160515220600.jpg3064096-doom_20160515220724.jpg3064097-doom_20160515222338.jpg3064098-doom_20160515224148.jpg3064099-doom_20160515231842.jpg

When your journey comes to a close, you will have spent close to a dozen hours in the thick of it, the last of which are punctuated with riveting boss fights and seemingly impossible odds. With a flush arsenal and enhanced physical abilities, you may opt to return to previous missions and find items you may have missed, or lay waste at higher difficulty levels, but multiplayer awaits those who seek something new. Apart from a few multiplayer-exclusive weapons and the ability to play as demons during portions of a match, there’s actually very little new about Doom’s multiplayer. Its modes are few, delivering the expected assortment of match types, including team deathmatch and domination challenges, and a couple fun diversions like freeze tag. By and large, you won’t find much in multiplayer that hasn’t been done before, but what’s there is enjoyable in small doses thanks to the fast pace of combat and the explosive nature of Doom’s weaponry.

Doom is straightforward and simple, but it serves its purpose: to thrust you into increasingly dire scenarios fueled by rage and the spirit of heavy metal.

More impressive than multiplayer is Snap Map, a mode that allows you to create and share both multi- and single-player maps online. Tutorials walk you through the steps involved in creating a map, which is intuitive to begin with. Beyond ease-of-use, Snap Map will live or die through the creativeness of the community, which has already made a strong showing, delivering a range of maps that range from brutal to absurdly entertaining. More than multiplayer, Snap Map is the cherry on top of the new Doom.

But without a doubt, the loud and chaotic campaign is Doom’s strongest component. It’s straightforward and simple, but it serves its purpose: to thrust you into increasingly dire scenarios fueled by rage and the spirit of heavy metal. Many shooters chase the thrill Doom delivers, but few are as potent in their execution. It captures the essence of what made the classic Doom games touchstones of their day, and translates it to suit modern palates with impressively rendered hellscapes and a steady influx of tantalizing upgrades. Doom is the product of a tradition as old as shooters, and while it’s not the model to follow in every case, modern shooters could learn a thing or two from Doom’s honed and unadulterated identity.

Captain America: Civil War–9 Comics to Read After Watching

What to Read After Watching Civil War

Besides the famous arc it’s based on, Captain America: Civil War is packed with plot points from other comics. Whether it’s an underground Avengers team or the concept of multiple Winter Soldiers, these concepts have appeared in some shape or form in past stories. If you’re interested in seeing how these concepts and plot points played out in the past, here are some comics that cover or expand on what you saw on screen. Be wary; there are major spoilers from the film ahead!

You can also read our review of Captain America: Civil War. But if you want a spoiler-free look at the film, check out our video discussing our thoughts.

Marvel’s Civil War (2006) by Mark Millar

Now that you’ve seen the film’s interpretation of Civil War, you should check out how the comics did it. The crossover event retains the concept of a government legislation overseeing superhero actions, but it tells a different story from the film with completely different plot points. Reading this story is recommended, as it establishes greater context for the stories ahead.

Captain America: Red Menace (2007) by Ed Brubaker

If you’re itching to see how Steve Rogers found Bucky after his brainwashing wore off, read the “Red Menace” arc of Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America. It follows Rogers as he tries to foil a terrorist plot by Crossbones, the villain you saw in the beginning of the Captain America: Civil War. The struggle eventually led Cap to Bucky, who at this point is acting covertly to seek vengeance against the men who recently used him as a tool for murder. While it’s possible to dive into this one directly, we recommend starting from the beginning of Brubaker’s run, beginning with the “Winter Soldier” arc (Issues 1-14).

Black Panther: Who is Black Panther? (2006) by Reginald Hudlin

The film had its own rendition of the Black Panther’s origins, but if you’re curious to see what that story looked like in the comics, check out Reginald Hudlin’s run on the character. It’s a modern re-telling of the Black Panther’s origins that tells similar story beats, with T’Challa taking on the mantle as he seeks vengeance against Ulysses Klaw, the man who killed his father. Alternatively, you can also check out Stan Lee’s and Jack Kirby’s classic rendition of the Black Panther’s origins in issues 52-53 of Fantastic Four Vol. 1 (1966).

Captain America: No Escape (2011) by Ed Brubaker

Captain America: No Escape is the story to read if you were infatuated with Zemo and his desire for revenge. After the events of Civil War in the comics, Bucky assumes the role of Captain America, leading a successful career as a crimefighter and member of the Avengers. However, Baron Zemo–longtime nemesis of Captain America in the comics–catches wind of Bucky’s activity and plots to reveal his history as the Winter Soldier, which could mean a whole lot of trouble for his stint as Captain America. What follows turns into a psychological drama–similar to the one witnessed at the end of Captain America: Civil War–that threatens not only Bucky’s future but everything he has ever believed.

Winter Soldier: The Complete Collection (2014) by Ed Brubaker

The film’s concept of multiple Winter Soldiers was taken from Ed Brubaker’s run on The Winter Soldier solo series. In that story, Bucky has to track down and take out three ex-Russian super soldiers that he helped train during his time as a brainwashed assassin. The espionage drama in this arc is thrilling, capturing the same tone and style seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

The New Avengers Vol. 6 (2007) and The Mighty Avengers Vol. 1 (2007) by Brian Michael Bendis

Similar to the film, the end of Civil War split the Avengers into two different teams. Where one operates as a government-sanctioned team, the other fights crime covertly, outside the eyes of the law. If you were fascinated by the concept of a rogue Avengers team, Brian Michael Bendis’ run on The New Avengers shows what it would look like if the superhero team had to operate in a post-Civil War universe. Alternatively, if you’re interested in seeing the Avengers operating as a government-sanctioned team, check out Bendis’ The Mighty Avengers.

Iron Man: Civil War (2007) by Brian Michael Bendis

If you came out of Captain America: Civil War more fascinated by Iron Man’s point of view, read Brian Michael Bendis’ Iron Man: Civil War. The two-issue series expands on Tony Stark’s motivations and beliefs, providing more insight on why he chose to side with the government. It also sheds light on his decaying relationship with Captain America throughout the conflict.

Spider-Man: Civil War (2007) by J. Michael Straczynski

Like the film, Tony Stark also took to mentoring Spider-Man during the events of Civil War in the comics. You can see what this relationship looks like in J. Michael Straczynski’s Spider-Man: Civil War, where Spider-Man becomes Tony’s protege. However, this relationship is deceiving in nature compared to the film, as Tony only mentors Spider-Man to gain the public’s favor.

Avengers: Vision and the Scarlet Witch–A Year in the Life (1985) by Steve Englehart

If you enjoyed the romantic vibes between Vision and the Scarlet Witch in Captain America: Civil War, then you’ll be happy to know that the two are actually a couple in the comics. Both characters appear in a 12-issue series by Steve Englehart where they embark on crime fighting adventures as a married couple.