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Logo by:Meghan Duffy and Daley Wilhelm
by CJ Streetman There’s a certain amount of respect I have to give Unworthy for the sheer level of shameless inspiration it clearly takes from the Dark Souls series. In most circumstances, the level of similarity between the two games would probably border on one ripping off the other, but Unworthy is a gem that we all need to be paying attention to. To discuss the basics, Unworthy is a ruthless sidescrolling action game with emphasis on careful rolling, attacking, and blocking. On a mechanical level, Unworthy really takes advantage of the work of its predecessors, allowing Souls initiates to comfortably slip in to the way the game works, while its simple design would be easy to adjust to for newcomers. Your actions are essentially limited to move, roll, attack, and this simplicity lends itself well to the 2D format. It features some clever innovations on the Souls formula as well, such as only being able to block every once in a while based on a recharging meter. The aesthetic of Unworthy is simply phenomenal. The entire game is represented in simple silhouettes that miraculously manage to always be easily recognizable and understandable. The color palette of drab blacks and grays, with the occasional splash of red blood, really hammers home the bleak world of the game, that here there is only a cycle of death and violence. Finally, the boss battles, or battle, as I was only able to reach and defeat one boss, are suitably unforgiving, and do a wonderful job of slowly ramping up the difficulty. As the boss’ health drops, they slowly add more and more moves into their arsenal. Because of this, an easy fight against a giant skeleton that strictly took slow swings quickly evolves into a frantic balance of managing my stamina as I dodge swords, fire, and undead hands reaching from the ground. Initially, the plan for this preview was going to be to address the content that already exists, and then predict what kind of content could and should be added in, but frankly, there’s terribly little to ask for that won’t obviously be added in the full game (i.e. saving), as the game even boasts features like controller support already. Other than those basics, all there is to want is more of the same. Unworthy is a title that I can easily see matching or even surpassing its inspiration. In a way that many games have tried and failed to, Unworthy makes abundant use of Souls concepts as a springboard, rather than a crutch for its own brilliant ideas. More information on Unworthy can be found at its website, unworthygame.com, where you can sign up for a newsletter and the chance to be in future beta and alpha tests. This preview is based on alpha build 1.1 of Unworthy. All images from: unworthygame.com and Facebook
by CJ Streetman Reviewed on Xbox One Destiny: Rise of Iron is the last expansion to Destiny, also kicking off Year Three for the long-living console game. Rise of Iron comes following the tremendously well-received The Taken King, and frankly, it’s a pale shade of an expansion following the massive adventure aboard the Dreadnaught. Back to what you know The single strongest point of Rise of Iron is the heavy emphasis on Destiny’s strong core gunplay. From the very first mission every moment is about motion and marksmanship against an aggressive horde of enemies. There are significantly fewer arena fights than in previous expansions, which gives a feeling of constant forward momentum through each and every moment. Even the arena fights are significant shakeups of the previous formula of shoot enemies until they stop spawning. As an example, the final mission of this expansion, which may be the best single mission in Destiny, puts a very special weapon into your hands for the duration of the arena fight. Even the new raid, Wrath of the Machine, focuses on one or two new mechanics with very little in the way of puzzles and a whole lot in the way of shooting baddies. Contrary to last year’s Kings Fall, Wrath of the Machine is infinitely more about execution than puzzling out the scenario you find yourself in and genuinely deserves consideration alongside the brilliant Vault of Glass as the best raid in Destiny. In the same field, the new Crucible mode, Supremacy, is excellent in that it forces players to rush into dangerous situations. The only major failings of the new mode are the heavy emphasis on Titans, with their advantage in close-range and the forced uselessness of sniper rifles, due to their long range. I actually like these people, I guess? I cried over a character in Destiny, which is something I genuinely never expected. One of the major failings of Destiny over the last two years has been an inability to ground the player in the universe, lore, and characters with whom they interact. The closest thing to a great, world-building triumph in Destiny until now had been the genuinely excellent Books of Sorrow. Where Taken King dipped into that field, by humanizing characters like Cayde-6 and Eris Morn, Rise of Iron dives straight in. I found myself genuinely caring about characters like Lord Saladin. Perhaps most telling of all is a moment with Ghost. As the two of you overlook the place where he found you two years ago, he reminisces about the search for you. In the most shocking moment of Rise of Iron, wherein you fight horrific SIVA perversions and become a hero of an ancient order, I cried over a character in Destiny, which is something I genuinely never expected. Sounds like a good vacation spot The Plaguelands is the new area directly connected to Old Russia’s Cosmodrome. It’s terribly unimaginative and small, so that doesn’t really lend itself to exploration. The hidden alcoves all just reveal temporary weapons or collectibles, and the patrol missions become tedious faster than in the other patrol zones. The bright spot of the Plaguelands is definitely the Archon’s Forge, which itself is a rather shaky experience. The new PVE arena is an unreasonably hard feature to activate that, for all intents and purposes, replaces the Court of Oryx, where players can only carry one SIVA offering item at a time as opposed to upward of 100 Runes in the Court of Oryx. This leads to a very disjointed experience in the arena, where between bursts of exciting and intense gunplay, everyone pauses to check their inventory to see if they even have one of the ignition items to start another round. UPDATE: After the time of writing, Bungie uploaded a hotfix that fixed the economy of the Archon's Forge. More patrols guarantee SIVA offerings and the Forge itself is much more likely to reward the player with SIVA offerings. While only being able to carry one offering at a time still leads to frustration, it's much more likely that a fireteam will be able to start another round of the Forge immediately. That’s a lot of glimmer Now let's just talk logistics. Rise of Iron costs $30, the two Year One expansions cost $20 each, and The Taken King cost $40. In my opinion, the biggest sign that Rise of Iron is a letdown is that I have never previously felt like I've been shorted by Destiny, and that’s coming from someone who actually shelled out for Silver, the game’s premium currency that allows the player to buy emotes and other aesthetic items. Rise of Iron includes around six missions (more to be revealed as you discover exotic quests), one strike, one raid, a new mode, three new maps, and one decent area. This is unavoidably compared to Taken King’s 20 story missions, three new strikes, a raid, three new subclasses, two new modes, eight new maps, a raid, and an intricate and exciting to explore new area. Frankly, Rise of Iron feels like one of Year One’s short DLCs except overpriced and overhyped. TL;DR What is in Rise of Iron is excellent and possibly some of the best content in Destiny so far. Unfortunately, what is there is so incredibly small that I will be genuinely shocked if I find myself playing Destiny in even a few weeks. It’s worth noting however that, in modern Destiny, the worst piece of content is still incredible fun. +A return to focus on Destiny’s incredible gunplay +Heavy focus on character development +The moment with Ghost in the quest for Kvhostov +New raid is fun and straightforward -Campaign is maybe 3 hours long -Price feels too high for the amount of content -Archon’s Forge is disjointed and hard to start -The Plaguelands are fairly dull All images from The Daily Dot, VG 24/7, Digital Trends
by CJ Streetman Seventeen years after the cult classic Blair Witch Project¸ and some number of years after the other one that we all try to forget even happened, Blair Witch picks up the story as a direct sequel to the movie that birthed a genre. Blair Witch follows James Donahue, brother to the original movie’s Heather Donahue, as he tries to uncover what happened to his sister in the Black Hills Forest of Maryland. What follows feels like two completely different movies: one that is always several steps away from success, and another that almost makes you glad you trudged through the first. There is some masterful tension building throughout the first half of the film that is ruined by... cheap tactics that ultimately make the first half of this movie feel fairly pointless. A chore of an introduction What begins with a fairly engaging plot, believable motive and, perhaps most miraculously, non-migraine-inducing found footage, quickly devolves into a series of short cuts, loud noises, and a complete lack of tension. It’s in this first act that it becomes clear that the makers of this movie felt the need to make some serious concessions to modern found-footage film. There is some masterful tension building throughout the first half of the film that is ruined by a fake jump scare such as someone coming into frame with a loud noise accompanying them or a camera malfunction. All cheap tactics that ultimately make the first half of this movie feel fairly pointless. Nope, I’m out of here The one thing that the first half of the movie has seriously in its favor is the believability of the characters. Each of the characters feel like fairly sensible people who react appropriately to the increasingly messed up situations they find themselves in. Wake up in the morning to find that a dozen occult-looking dolls are hanging over their tents? They leave. Can’t find their friend who has been separated from the group in the middle of the night? They wait till morning to search. This is one of the major successes of the film; the fact that these characters generally avoid making stupid decisions drives home exactly how screwed they are as the night gets worse and worse. As the film goes on their decisions become less and less logical, but the decisions in question are made after extended periods of fear and exhaustion. How is this even the same movie? It’s in the second half that everything really comes together, and some very clear instances of impressive directorial restraint appear. Jump scares stop being fake outs and are even accompanied by less ridiculously loud noises. A scene many will recognize from the trailers shows a character crawling through tunnels is simply brilliant, playing on fears and expectations almost masterfully. Ultimately, what really brings the finale of Blair Witch to the next level is that it clearly doesn’t view its audience as stupid in the same way that movies like Paranormal Activity do. The latter feels the need to shove every little fact down the viewers’ throats, whereas Blair Witch proves that trusting the audience can pay off immensely. The answers that the characters spend the whole movie searching for are there, waiting for viewers to notice the clues and piece together the larger puzzle. Spoiler-free tip: pay very close attention to landmarks that are mentioned as important. TL;DR While the final moments leave a lot to be desired, the second half of Blair Witch is a genuinely good horror movie. It takes time to build tension, consistently raises the stakes and toys with the viewer’s expectations. It’s just unfortunate that we had to watch the first half as well. Overall, Blair Witch is a mostly fun movie that will likely be forgotten in a matter of weeks. +Builds tension -Ruins that tension with jump scares +Doesn’t treat the viewer as stupid +Believable characters -The first half is just lazy All images from Forbidden Planet International Blog, Movies Philippines
by CJ Streetman @GalledGiatric Lazer Team is the first feature film by Rooster Teeth Productions, a more than decade old entertainment company famous for the groundbreaking Red vs Blue series. The film earned its place in the public eye for being the most crowdfunded film of all time, earning over 2.4 million dollars through Indiegogo. Lazer Team tells the story of four small-town idiots who stumble upon a suit of alien armor and accidentally become the champions of Earth, forcing them to prepare for a long-awaited alien threat. The film, directed by Matt Hullum, stays securely within Rooster Teeth’s roundhouse of talents, sci-fi comedy, and is genuinely one of the funniest movies of the past year. The Team The leads all performed beautifully despite the characters themselves being fairly flat or one-note. Zach (Michael Jones) is the dumb, entitled jock, Hagan (Burnie Burns) is the small town cop, Herman (Colton Dunn) is the has-been football star, and Woody (Gavin Free) is a dumb hick. Each character gets plenty of time in the spotlight to really show what depth they do have, and all establish themselves as genuinely funny characters. Despite Burns, Jones, and Free’s acting experience being limited to, admittedly talented, voice acting and work in RT Shorts and series, the three truly shine, while Dunn proves his comedic and acting talent once again. These characters never stray too far away from these stereotypes, but strap alien weaponry to them and make them try to work together and the comedy and interactions just click. The real standouts of the cast are Alan Ritchison and Michael Jones. Ritchison delivers a surprisingly emotional and genuinely captivating performance as Adam, the would-be hero of Earth, who now has to train the morons who stole his birthright. Jones, for his part, plays one of the most convincing douchebags of modern cinema. In one of Zach’s establishing scenes we see him crash an opposing football team’s party, declaring “I won, they’re all my parties,” start a brawl, and ultimately punch a cop in the face before laughing it all off. It’s impossible to see this movie and not think, “I’ve met this prick.” The story starts out seeming fairly straight forward, but evolves act by act into an incredibly engaging and surprising narrative. The comedy is classic Rooster Teeth, effortlessly mixing ridiculous slapstick, cleverness, and crude comedy. Despite the seemingly cookie-cutter characters, the comedy never feels stale, and more than a few moments had me laughing hard enough to require pausing the movie. Some of the jokes even come across as subtle (pay attention to Woody when they put the suits on). There are very few Rooster Teeth references as well, making the whole experience very accessible to any viewer. The Lazers The action and special effects of Lazer Team are some of the more surprising aspects of the movie. The action sequences are never handled with straight-faced seriousness, and where they find themselves lacking weight on an action level, it is absolutely made up in comedy. The special effects hold their own for the most part. Aside from one or two less than impressive moments, the CG is done very well. Anyone familiar with Gavin Free’s work as one of the Slow Mo Guys will be completely unsurprised to find that the use of slow motion is both abundant and beautiful in Lazer Team. Throughout the entire film, the cinematography is very impressive. The shots always successfully emphasize the tone of the current scene to tremendous effect. The best example of this is the first time Herman attempts to use his boots in earnest and the rapid shift from a dynamic and beautiful shot to an unflattering and straight-faced shot is simply brilliant. In a finding-the-Holy-Grail-level miracle, Lazer Team ultimately feels like a 102 minute RT short, without ever feeling like it should have been a YouTube video (looking at you, Smosh: The Movie). This is in large part thanks to Hullum’s excellent directing that combines the technical skill of an experienced director with the smart, focused direction that he has perfected over more than a decade with RT. The absolute only other weak points on a technical level are a couple of overly cheesy moments, like one moment in which a character deliberately stares down the camera, that really took me away from the experience. The level of care that is immediately apparent in all of these elements is what has always set RT in a league apart from many other entertainment companies rising in the age of YouTube, and once again, they do not disappoint. TL;DR A welcome relief from the constant slice-of-life comedies that have been inundating the box office for so long, Lazer Team focuses heavily on its sci-fi elements without ever sacrificing the chance to make a joke, while still crafting a plot that will keep you guessing. It’s a brilliant freshman effort by Rooster Teeth Productions and, for a movie operating at about 2% the budget of its triple-a competitors, Lazer Team genuinely earns its place on the silver screen, and is bound to become a cult classic in its own right. +Laugh-out-loud funny throughout +Beautiful camera work +Surprisingly engaging story +Accessible to all audiences +Brief cameo by The Joy of Painting +Great chemistry between actors and characters -Aside from a few brief moments, very little emotional depth -CG lacks weight in some instances -A few overly cheesy moments Originally posted on January 25, 2016
by Byte's Editorial Board It's the end of 2015, which means it's time to select the best games of the year. To celebrate, members of Byte's editorial board picked their favorite games to highlight. The games below are the favorites of CJ Streetman (@GalledGiatric), Byte's Reviews Editor. 5. Life Is Strange "You are all that matters to me." Life is Strange is the single best version of the overused episodic point-and-click genre. Despite some hello-my-fellow-teens-esque dialogue, the story focuses so acutely on the protagonist pair that it overcomes the problem of your choices not seeming to matter. The game culminates in a single decision that overrides all the rest, but it is a decision that is so morally grey on both sides that to this day I keep flipping sides on what I believe is the best choice. It is a narrative experience that relies more on how you as a player will feel than what your characters will experience as consequences. It’s a fresh take on a genre that’s quickly becoming very old. 4. Destiny Year 2 "Huddled at the mountain’s base, we had no choice but to beat our ploughshares into swords once more.” There was a serious discussion about whether I could put this game on my list, due to Destiny 1.0 releasing over a year ago. However, anyone can go back and look at my own review of the vanilla game to see how what I thought of the initial release. Destiny has, more than any other game in my opinion, improved dramatically since launch, to the point where I do consider Year 2 Destiny a completely different game. It’s terribly important to have others to play with, however. Get a clan (I personally recommend either the Dames of Destiny or the Safe Gamers), pick up a weapon, and go fight the Darkness. 3. Spooky's House of Jumpscares "Or are there even a thousand rooms? Cuz I really don't know." Spooky’s is a charming, horrifying, hilarious juxtaposition of straight-faced seriousness and mockery of the horror genre. It draws you into a false sense of security and slowly – very slowly – reveals that you have been tricked. In most games, the joke would end here, but Spooky’s goes the extra mile, bringing you into the joke, letting you live it just a bit longer before finally delivering a punchline that every single room has been building toward. 2. Her Story "Oh, the wind and the rain." Her Story is unlike anything else that has come out in a decade. It is the prime example of how to bring back a genre. More importantly, however, the vast majority of the experience, the mystery, the search, the unraveling of an out-of-order story told through lies, is mostly optional. The game encourages you to quit when you feel that you’re done. This, combined with the game never confirming a truth, means that any player can have an entirely different conclusion about the events of the game. It’s a truly masterful, and intriguing, mystery. 1. The Beginner's Guide “To play this game properly, you must keep your eyes closed.” This is the game of the year. This is the single most important and brilliantly executed game of the year. This is the game that made me experience the widest breadth of emotion of anything out there. This is the game that anyone who cares about games and how they’re made need to play. There’s not a lot to say that won’t spoil the experience, as it is a short journey. Simply, The Beginner’s Guide is a masterpiece.
5. Dark Souls II I hate Dark Souls II. I hate it so much. But I just keep playing it. I’m probably going to buy the current-gen re-release, too. The moment-to-moment gameplay is much more fun than that of Dark Souls, but many more aspects also simply feel more unfair. Honestly, I can’t explain it. With four complete playthroughs and a character up to NG+++, there’s clearly something there. 4. Shovel Knight The Mega Man series, with its classic platforming, absurd difficulty, and wide variety of bosses, has always been one of my favorites. Unfortunately, this style of game is entirely under-represented in modern gaming, and even less represented on modern handhelds, where I think they’re best played. Luckily, Shovel Knight comes to the rescue with its quirky sense of humor, dynamite soundtrack, and all the classic gameplay my little nostalgic heart can handle. It’s also a huge bonus for me when a handheld game can actually be played in short bursts, and, with each level only being about 10 minutes long, Shovel Knight is just excellent. 3. Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls First off, I love Diablo 3. I’ve spent well over 100 hours in it, and even before the expansion, I kept coming back. Reaper of Souls just adds in another act, one that’s even better than the other four, and then a host of new content like a new class, Nephalem Rifts and Seasons. Additionally, the auction house was finally removed and loot drops were increased, making this feel more like a classic Diablo game. This added dozens more hours to the already delightful dungeon-crawler, and what’s not to love there?
By CJ Streetman Devolver Digital is never boring. They really burst onto the scene with the incredibly difficult and ultra-violent Hotline Miami. Hotline was a tense and fast-paced puzzler with a heavy element of social commentary. On what can be considered the opposite of the gaming spectrum, Devolver then worked on the post-apocalyptic pigeon dating sim, Hatoful Boyfriend. Devolver also worked on the very well-received Luftrausers, an airplance-based shoot ‘em up that featured full 360-degree movement. Despite the success that all three of these games attained, Devolver’s masterpiece might be the less-known Gods Will be Watching. Gods Will be Watching is a brutal sci-fi puzzler with a heavy emphasis on sheer luck. From the very first scene, a hostage situation where you are holding the hostages, it’s clear that this will not be an easy game: both emotionally and in terms of challenge. It took me about 70 tries on normal difficulty to even complete the first of the eight total levels. Often times, this was tinged with frustration, but an overwhelming desire to succeed. Very few games have ever made me work so hard to do things that are so morally questionable. The story is a masterpiece of a tragedy, as each success just begets an even greater failure. Every decision was just a matter of choosing between terrible and slightly less terrible. The player, by controlling a variety of characters, is constantly flailing to make the best of some truly terrible situations. None too subtly, the main player-controlled character of this constant decline is named Sergeant Burden. Burden’s status as a double agent infiltrator in a terrorist organization constantly places him in situations where every decision means the difference between life and death, whether on an individual level or on the scale of millions. Though the game can very rarely be called fun, success is so incredibly rewarding that it absolutely makes up for it. Each puzzle is a matter of optimizing your methods, multi-tasking, spending time wisely, and careful thinking. For example, in the hostage situation, you have to monitor your teammates hacking efforts, maintain security, keeping the hostages under control through threats and reassurances, and pushing back the advances of the hostile guards. Spending too much time trying to hack the computers will result in a revolt by the prisoners or the guards breaching the room. Spending too much time managing your prisoners means a slower hacking process. Just focusing on the guards will accomplish nothing. The game is a constant balancing act between actually pursuing your goals and holding off the factors that will result in catastrophic failure. If the challenge isn’t for you, or you dislike the element of luck, Gods Will be Watching features a variety of different modes that remove luck and make the game a few degrees easier. Regardless of what mode you play it on, Gods Will be Watching is not a game you’ll be forgetting any time soon. Image: USGamer
By CJ Streetman Evolve just might be the best multiplayer experience I’ve ever had, but only when everyone who is playing is on the same page. My very first match, I played as the Goliath. It’s an experience unlike any other to go from the tense feeling of stalking through the jungle, feeding and evolving, and then going through moments of pure terror as you hear a hunter shout out “I see him!” Even better is the adrenaline rush of the final confrontation. The monster reaching its final evolution, the hunters retreating back into a defensible position, waiting for the monster to make its move, and then the sheer chaos of the monster launching its assault was one of the most tense and exciting finales I have ever experienced in gaming. When the match ended, my hands were shaking and I had a smile on my face. The whole match lasted a mere 15 minutes, but the thrills made it feel like an hour. Unfortunately, matches were completed in less than 5 minutes more often than not. Oftentimes, the monster was found, tranquilized, and trapped in a fight less than one minute after the hunters had their boots on the ground. In every instance that this happened, the monster was killed before ever becoming a serious threat. This issue will likely work itself out as players get more experience with each role, but it does present a potential, chronic problem. Quick matches wouldn't be such an issue if the load times weren't so long. In some instances they were longer than the matches themselves. Even though the game is only in alpha, there’s almost no frame rate drop and I never encountered a moment of lag which is impressive given that this is the first time they’ve had this many people on the servers. The character models and terrain are undoubtedly gorgeous. The world is a combination of lush, realistic jungles that are being intruded upon by harsh concrete structures. On the other hand, the character models are all varied enough in size, shape, and apparel that a mere glance is enough to tell which character and class they are. Evolve only works if all five players are filling their specific roles. The monster has to be constantly on the move and feeding. The assault has to draw fire and deal damage like any good tank. The medic needs to be constantly aware of their teammates’ health. The trapper needs to be ready at a moment’s notice to throw down the mobile arena, trapping the monster, and initiating what could be the final encounter. The support needs to keep an eye out to make sure none of their teammates are being eaten by one of the many plants or animals. If any of these roles aren’t fulfilling their duties, the game becomes far too easy for one side or the other, and it’s just a matter of waiting for the match to end. While that is a testament that Turtle Rock has balanced the cooperative and competitive gameplay elements, this also casts a shadow on random matchmaking, as one person not playing up to par can ruin the experience for everyone. However, with time, this should become less of an issue. Each of the classes is incredibly intuitive despite each one catering to a unique playstyle. Despite these missteps, the Evolve Big Alpha has absolutely sold me on the title, and I w ill certainly be picking it up come February. Images: GameBytez, Gadget Review, IGN
By CJ Streetman There simply aren’t enough games that are just silly fun. Sure, there are titles like Hatoful Boyfriend that take the quirky dial and turn it so hard that it breaks clean off and flies into space, but even those have some sort of narrative or endgame. There’s not enough games that are just toys. Turbo Dismount, by Secret Exit, is a toy. A delightful, addictive, outright silly toy. The game has an incredibly simple premise; you are a crash test dummy. Your only goal is to make as large of a crash as possible through a multitude of fun decisions. While the game does have a scoring system, and a very well-made leaderboard system, most of the fun can be found in simply pulling out the game for a few moments to try something you’ve not yet tried. Your attempts can be varied by having different vehicles, choosing a different route, and reorienting your dummy’s position. The last option generally means very silly positions like straddling the grill of a semi-trailer truck. The biggest variable element, however, is the array of 15 different obstacles that can be placed in set locations on each map. The obstacles include, but are not limited to ramps, turbo pads, bowling pins and minefields. All of them can have huge effects on how an attempt plays out. Turbo Dismount is available for $10 on Steam and comes with all vehicles and maps. It is also available for free on mobile devices, but only contains a few of the vehicles and maps. The remainder of the vehicles and maps can be bought for $7 or, in a rather brilliant advertising scheme, rented for 3 attempts by watching paid ads. Even if you don’t want to buy the full version of Turbo Dismount, you can have tons of fun picking it up for just a few minutes at a time.
By CJ Streetman A roguelike is a game that features perma-death, procedurally generated environments, and generally focuses on the gathering of gear rather than the act of levelling and, in recent years, there has been an upsurge of this style of game being developed, especially by indie developers. With such a competitive market, a new roguelike must have some aspect that really stands out, and Crypt of the Necrodancer has two. Crypt of the Necrodancer isn’t just a dungeon-crawler, it’s also a rhythm game. The main mechanic allows the player to make every action to the beat of the game’s music, or risk wasting a move. Enemies move on the same beats, and each have their own movement patterns and attack patterns, making Crypt of the Necrodancer more of a puzzle game than an action game like The Binding of Isaac. This sounds rather unintuitive, but it very quickly becomes natural. There’s also a very creative local co-op mode. Co-op, or multiplayer of any kind, is a very rare thing to see in a roguelike, but Crypt of the Necrodancer finds a way to make it work, provided your partner isn’t rhythmically challenged. There’s no special aspect of the co-op mode. Another character is simply dropped into the dungeon to help you survive the hordes of undead. Both single and multiplayer are made infinitely more fun by the music. The game’s standard music is excellent and does a great job of setting the tone for each level. The most impressive thing about the music in Crypt of the Necrodancer, however, is that you can import your own music into the game and it will work out the beats so that you can play normally. In an oversaturated market, Crypt of the Necrodancer manages to stay fresh and new without deviating too far from the tried-and-true roguelike style. Despite being in alpha, v0.375 to be exact, Crypt of the Necrodancer already feels like a full game, and makes a great addition to anyone’s game library. Image: Slick Entertainment
By CJ Streetman Cost: $1.79 and 8 hours Dragons are pretty cool. Everyone’s thought “I wish I could ride a dragon” at one point or another, and this classic fantasy is what the developers at Factor 5 were banking on when they released Lair. When the game released in 2007 it was met with a lukewarm reception. Seven years later and selling at 3% of the original price, is it worth your time and money? Lair was the first game to genuinely force players to use the Dualshock 3’s Sixaxis motion controls. This has widely been considered a huge mistake, as the controls are not as responsive as an air-combat simulator needs. The game is made up of a series of missions requiring the player to destroy various air and ground forces atop the back of various dragons. In the smaller, air-to-ground conflicts, this can actually be rather fun. The feeling of swooping low and fast over a horde of enemy troops and breathing fire is exactly as cool as it sounds. The game falls apart, however, when you’re required to destroy specific targets in large crowds of enemies. This is due to imprecise controls and grossly inaccurate lock-on system. Far too often I would be looking directly at an enemy, press the lock on button, and the camera would suddenly whip around, targeting an arbitrary enemy dragon in the corner of the screen. Since release, there has been a patch allowing for traditional stick controls, but the primary control scheme is still based around the Sixaxis. Dragon-on-dragon combat is a muddled affair. You’re either grappling another dragon mid-air and mashing face buttons in hopes that the game will decide that you’ve won or zooming onto another dragon’s back swinging your arms around in hopes that the Sixaxis recognizes some form of movement and flings the other dragon and rider to the ground. Lair really shows its age graphically, but in a very strange way. The game is beautiful, but only when everything is perfectly still. It’s like the game was made specifically for screenshots. When everything starts moving, like they do when you’re actually playing the game, it falls apart. The texture pop-in is just obnoxious and enemies who are far away have lowered frame-rate that really draws your eye. The one exception to the game being less beautiful in motion is in the pre-rendered cutscenes. These cutscenes are beautifully animated, with realistic looking characters and above-par voice acting. All of the flaws make me wish that the game was just entirely bad, so it would be easy to write the game off, but Lair really succeeds in two important areas: music and story. The story seems almost aggressively stereotypical to start, but it quickly becomes clear that there is more at play than it initially seemed. The music is suitably epic for a game about people riding dragons. An orchestral score sounds behind each of the major battles and cinematics that fosters a much more powerful investment in every moment. Lair is absolutely worth your time for the story and its occasionally epic moments, especially given that it will only run you two dollars. Having muddled through the less epic moments, I would recommend grabbing a friend and taking turns being the one who actually has to play the game. Images: Front Towards Gamer, 99 Lives
by CJ Streetman Cost: $1.79 and 6 hours In 2005, when the Xbox 360 launched, Quake 4 was meant to be one of the major system sellers. The Quake series has long been the leader in the twitch shooter market, and has arguably influenced more than half of the first-person shooters to be released since then. Coming from a series of prestigious pedigree, much was expected of Quake 4, and many will say that it met every expectation. Nine years later and $58 cheaper, is it still a worthwhile purchase? Quake has long been the go-to title for arena-based, twitch shooters. Its multiplayer focus is so strong that Quake 3 all but removed the single player component. Quake 4, on the other hand, went the complete opposite direction, and that probably paid off in the long run. It features a six to eight hour campaign that follows much more in the vein of Id’s other title, Doom 3, than its predecessor, Quake 3. The story is still on par with a lot of the shooters that are coming out, but that has never been the real draw of the series. The single player experience was still fun, but some technical limitations really bogged it down. The first of these limitations is in the enemy AI. Until late in the game, the most enemies will do is simply bum rush you, or shuffle side to side while shooting. This kind of AI is unacceptable given that games like Halo, which released 4 years prior, featured enemies that would flank and use cover. When enemies just run out into view and then dead stop, it makes for a much less strategically engaging game. It’s far too reminiscent of a light-gun shooter to be a truly great FPS. The second major limitation is that the frame rate is incredibly inconsistent. It runs as high as 60frames per second if you’re doing nothing at staring at a wall, but, in combat, if can drop well under 10 FPS. This wouldn’t have been that bad in 2005, but having seen what the same console can do in 2014, it’s a bit aggravating. It also suffers from some questionable design decisions, primarily, the lack of local multiplayer. The decision is probably based on the series’ PC history, where LAN parties were common, but this doesn’t really translate well to console. It’s much less likely for gamers to get together with a collection of consoles and televisions. This lack of local multiplayer is emphasized by the now completely empty online servers, which have been empty since about two years after the release. The one match that I was able to get into was rather enjoyable, but it felt like it was just a map pack for Quake 3. After waiting for 35 minutes, I was dropped into a match with three other players, who I believe were in a party with each other. The map that we were playing was a remake of the Quake 3 map “The Longest Yard,” which is my personal favorite map from Quake 3. After trouncing me for the remainder of a match, the three dropped out, presumably to play a private match. I waited around for another match for another hour to no avail. On a related note, anyone seeking to achieve perfect games should avoid this title entirely, as it is a nearly impossible 1000 points. This is due to a large number of the achievements being multiplayer-based, featuring gems such as “Achieve the number one rank in the All Gametypes leaderboard.” Anyone familiar with Mike Kroon’s quest for 1000 points in Quake 4 will know all about this. To be honest, Quake 4 would absolutely be a worthwhile purchase if there was local multiplayer, but the single player and the ghost town multiplayer is just not worth the time it takes to play them. If you want to play a better version of the single player, pick up Doom 3. On the other hand, if you are now waxing nostalgic for the good ol’ days of multiplayer twitch shooters, play Quake Live, which is now free on Steam.
by CJ Streetman Ray Rice, the now former Baltimore Ravens running back, is disappearing. Rice was indicted for third-degree aggravated assault following an incident where he cold-cocked his then fiancé, now wife. Despite an initially dubious response—a mere two game suspension—the NFL has been forced to save face by indefinitely suspending Rice following TMZ’s release of the video of the incident to the public. In layman’s terms, Rice is gone and not coming back, and the NFL is better for it. Now, given that Rice has become an image for all things domestic abuse, it would seem that no one wants him representing their products. All Rice-related items have been removed from the NFL store, Nike has terminated its contract with the player, Dick’s and Modell’s are pulling Rice-themed jerseys from their shelves, Vertimax has dumped Rice, and, as of the Friday update, Rice has been removed from the Roster of “Madden 2015.” Rice is merely the latest in a string of athletes to be removed from video games, following the likes of Aaron Hernandez in Madden 25 and Alex Rodriguez in MLB: The Show ’14. However, I’d really like to hope that this is the start of a trend, because there’s something different about this incident compared to the others. Aaron Hernandez was removed following his indictment for the murder of Odin Lloyd and the double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado. This event happened of the free will of the NFL looking to separate itself from a source of bad reputation. Alex Rodriguez was removed after he sued the MLB following a suspension on doping charges. Once again, an action of free will on the part of the MLB. Something different happened with Ray Rice’s investigation. The NFL made no effort to find out the truth of what happened that night in February, calling the footage from the outside of the elevator of Janay Palmer being dragged out of the elevator “ambiguous,” while not contacting the casino at which the event occurred for the footage from inside the elevator. The incident had been successfully swept under the rug until TMZ Sports decided to do some digging. Monday morning, TMZ released footage from inside the elevator that showed Rice punching Palmer in the head hard enough to knock her out cold. Here’s where the difference really begins. People were furious. Fans have been vocal about how unacceptable this kind of behavior is, and have caused the NFL to indefinitely suspend the athlete. This is the setting of a precedent. The public has made it known that they will not support misogyny and domestic violence. The reactions of EA, Dick’s, Modell’s and many other organizations show that this message has been received. What this hopefully means is that the NFL, and other such sports organizations, will err on the side of caution in future situations like this, and, at the very least, investigate the incidents. This could be an important step in creating a more inclusive and safe American sports community.