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2014-01-17
Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag is currently on sale through Amazon for $30, or half-off the game's normal $60 asking price. The deal is valid for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and PC versions, not the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 iterations, however. It appears GameStop wants in on the action as well, as the retailer announced a special weekend sales promotion good January 17-19 led by Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag for $30. Just like Amazon, this deal is good only for the Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and PC versions. Other notable software offers in GameStop's weekend sale include: Batman Arkham Origins - $49.99 (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U) Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate - $29.99 (PS Vita, 3DS) Just Dance 2014 - $29.99 (PS3, X360, Wii) Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition - $49.99 (PS4, PS3, X360) Lego: Marvel Superheroes - $29.99 (Reg. $39.99- PS Vita, 3DS) On the hardware sale, GameStop is offering the following deals through February 2: Get a preowned 250GB Xbox 360, wireless controller, and preowned game under $20 for $250. Get a preowned 160GB (or greater) PS3, DualShock 3 controller, and preowned game under $20 for $250. Get a preowned original model PS3, DualShock 3 controller, and preowned game under $20 for $220. Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
Microsoft's rumored Siri-like voice search program, believed to be called Cortana, will be voiced by none other than Cortana voice actor Jen Taylor. That's according to prominent Microsoft insider MSFTNerd who blogged today about Microsoft's plans for voice search.Cortana is, of course, the name of the artificial intelligence character from the Halo series who appears in holographic form throughout the franchise.He says Cortana will launch through a beta offered on Lumia devices this April for developers in the United States, before coming to the Bing app for iPhone in the US this fall.After that, the "underlying technology" behind Cortana will be available for US Xbox One consoles and Windows PCs in 2015 alongside the rumored Threshold operating system.Availability for additional English-speaking markets will be added later in 2015 and throughout 2016, he said. GameSpot sister site ZDNet reported in September 2013 that Cortana has been in the works at Microsoft for years now and will be a revolutionary product when released."Cortana will be more than just an app that lets users interact with their phones more naturally using voice commands. Cortana is core to the makeover of the entire 'shell'--the core services and experience--of the future versions of Windows Phone, Windows, and the Xbox One operating systems, from what I've heard from my contacts," the site said at the time.The Cortana technology will reportedly allow users to ask questions and see results in real-time. In an Xbox context, players could ask, "What are my friends playing?" and their friends list would appear. Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
  The overwhelming success of games like DayZ and Rust on Steam's Early Access platform appears to have caught the attention of AAA publishers. Ubisoft announced this week that it will bring its free-to-play shooter Ghost Recon Online to the service worldwide later this year. In fact, the game is currently available in Canada through Steam Early Access, while the worldwide rollout is scheduled for sometime in spring 2014. According to Ubisoft producer Corey Facteau, bringing Ghost Recon Online to Steam has been the company's goal since the game's inception, and its release on Early Access will help the studio "fine tune" the experience, he said. Ghost Recon Online originally launched in 2012 through a beta and development on the title at Ubisoft Singapore is ongoing. You can play the game today by signing up at its website. Developers have made the argument that releasing unfinished games through Steam Early Access allows them to be more transparent in the development process and better incorporate feedback into the final product. The contrarian opinion, however, points out that it could be perceived as problematic for developers to make money from potentially half-finished games. What do you think? Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
Welcome to the Social Share. We're sure that most of you already have a twitter account and are following us, but for those of you who aren't a part of the Twitter-verse we're here to share some of the bright little tidbits tweeted from the GameSpot staff so you can see what they're chatting about this week. Also, don't forget to follow GameSpot on twitter! Danny O'Dwyer - @dannyodwyer Last week on GTA Diaries, Danny and Rob showed off their best C.O.P.S. impression as they attempted to "clean the streets" of Los Santos. In the show's latest episode, Shaun is back as Danny's right hand man and at it again. If this tweet is any indication, things are going to get weird and fast. Shaun McInnis - @smcinnis It seems like quite a bit came out of the Steam Developer Days this week, Valve replaced their Steam Machine controller design, Steam Greenlight may be sunsetting sooner than we thought, and Gabe... well Gabe was flat out ignored on Reddit. Here is Shaun's favorite thing about the Steam Dev Days. Chris Watters - CTWatters Who doesn't love a good fun filled day of spelunking? For the past few days in a row, Chris and the GameSpot crew has gathered in huddled confusion as they take on the Spelunky Daily Challenges (usually this airs at 4:00pm PST on twitch.tv, you should subscribe!) This week however, the GameSpot Splunkers shared a moment of triumph despite obvious desires to troll. Jess McDonell - @JessMcDonell Jess McDonell has been taking suggestions for her show The Gist (on every Monday at 12:00pm PST). As you can see she's still taking suggestions from her fans, just another reason why Jess is the hostess with the most-ess. Martin Gaston - @squidmania Namco Bandai Games released a new Dark Souls II trailer titled simply “Curse”. Also this week, Titanfall announced that they were going to have a special edition controller. With these two news pieced combined, Martin Gaston decided that clearly the PS3 needed an exclusive Dark Souls II controller, here's what he came up with. That's all for this weeks Social Share, make sure you're following us on Twitter and Facebook. Remember for neat custom gif's we're also on Tumblr.   Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
  Assassin's Creed publisher Ubisoft and The Tetris Company today announced a partnership to create a new Tetris game for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to be released digitally. The Tetris franchise marks its 30th anniversary in 2014, though the press release announcing the news made no mention of a release date for the new Ubisoft game. Tetris is one of the most iconic and memorable franchises in gaming, having sold hundreds of millions of units worldwide across more than 50 different platforms since it began in 1984. It's not clear what form the new Tetris game from Ubisoft will take, but CEO Yves Guillemot commented that the titles will make use of "all the capabilities" of the Xbox One and PS4. Last summer, Ubisoft signed a deal with Hasbro to develop and games based on board game franchises like Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, Battleship, and Cranium. Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
  Independent developer Jason Rohrer believes game sales are bad for players and developers alike. In a lengthy and detailed blog post concerning his new game The Castle Doctrine, Rohrer outlined his thinking and explained why he plans to increasingly charge more for his latest game. "To put it bluntly: sales screw your fans," Rohrer said. "Your fans love your games and eagerly await your next release. They want to get your game as soon as it comes out, at full price. But they are foolish to do that, because a sale is right around the corner." Rohrer explained that sales can create a scenario where players who just paid full price for a game might feel like they've been taken for a ride. He further argues that because sales have become so commonplace (Valve itself runs five sales annually), the gaming community is now encouraged to hold off on their purchase until a sale pops up. "This waiting game is likely decimating your player base and critical mass at launch by spreading new players out over time," Rohrer said. "And your fans, who are silly enough to buy the game at launch and waste money, get to participate in a weaker, smaller player community." In addition, a culture of frequent sales can lead to a no-win situation for developers, he argued. Although developers can choose whether or not to put their game on sale, when so many other creators discount their games, you have to do the same to compete, he said. Rohrer's own game, The Castle Doctrine, will employ an "ever rising" pricing model inspired by Minecraft, which increased in price throughout its transition from beta to full game. You can buy the game today, in its alpha state, for $8. During launch week on Steam you can get the game for $12, and after that, you'll pay the full $16 for the game. "The rising price model is really just an inversion of the sales model," Rohrer said. "You get revenue spikes later in the life of the game, right before announced price hikes, which are very similar to the spikes induced by putting a game on sale. But there are no surprises, so no one feels screwed by the process." "Anyone feel burned by that plan?"   Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
  Titanfall developer Respawn Entertainment today confirmed that it has invited a small number of players into a "limited technical test" for the much-anticipated Xbox and PC exclusive. According to emails going out to Origin users, the testing period is being held on Xbox One. "As some of you are asking, we are doing a limited technical test. It is not a beta, and we don't have any beta news at the moment," Respawn said on Twitter. Don't expect to see video or written coverage of the alpha period, as participants are forbidden from sharing their opinions publicly. "Strictly not sharable," the studio added. Of course, that does not necessarily mean coverage won't show up anyway. Respawn's comments today do not rule out a future public beta for Titanfall, but the clock is ticking, as the game's release March 2014 release date is now under two months away. Studio cofounder Vince Zampella said last month that the company is "definitely" thinking about holding a beta. Titanfall launches on March 11, 2014 exclusively for Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC. The game is never coming to PlayStation or Nintendo platforms, but sequels could. Earlier this week, Respawn addressed criticism about the game's 6v6 player cap and revealed a $65 Xbox One Titanfall-theme controller. Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
The Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences today announced the nominees for the 17th annual D.I.C.E. Awards, with Naughty Dog's acclaimed PlayStation 3 game The Last of Us leading the way with 13 nominations, including a nod for overall Game of the Year. Also up for Game of the Year is Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, BioShock Infinite, Grand Theft Auto V, and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. The Last of Us also led the pack for the 2014 Game Developers Choice Awards with five nominations. "Floored and deeply honored that The Last of Us has been nominated for 13 awards this year. So exciting," Naughty Dog said on Twitter. The D.I.C.E. Awards ceremony will be held Thursday, February 6 at the the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas as part of the 2014 D.I.C.E. Summit. A live-stream will be available beginning that night at 7:30 PDT. In addition to handing out awards for individual games, the 17th annual D.I.C.E. Awards will honor Defender and Robotron: 2084 designer Eugene Jarvis as its Pioneer Award recipient. Titles nominated for awards this year were played and evaluated by members of the Academy's Peers Panel. The Academy's 22,000+ members will now vote to determine the final winners to be announced the evening of the show. The full list of Awards categories and nominees is below. Game of the Year Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag BioShock Infinite Grand Theft Auto 5 The Last of Us The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition Beyond: Two Souls BioShock Infinite Puppeteer rain Rayman Legends Outstanding Achievement in Sound Design Battlefield 4 BioShock Infinite God of War: Ascension Grand Theft Auto V The Last of Us Outstanding Achievement in Story Beyond: Two Souls BioShock Infinite The Last of Us The Novelist Tomb Raider Outstanding Character Performance Grand Theft Auto V --Trevor Ryse -- Marius Titus The Last of Us -- Ellie The Last of Us -- Joel The Stanley Parable -- Narrator Downloadable Game of the Year Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Gone Home Papers, Please The Stanley Parable Casual Game of the Year Candy Box Peggle 2 Plants vs. Zombies 2 Rayman Fiesta Run Ridiculous Fishing - A Tale of Redemption Role-Playing/Massively Multiplayer Game of the Year Diablo III Dota 2 Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch Pokémon X and Y Outstanding Innovation in Gaming Grand Theft Auto V Papers, Please Tearaway The Last of Us The Stanley Parable Sports Game of the Year FIFA 14 Madden NFL 25 MLB 13 The Show NBA 2K14 NHL 14 Racing Game of the Year Forza Motorsport 5 Gran Turismo 6 Grid 2 Need for Speed Rivals Real Racing 3 Fighting Game of the Year DiveKick Injustice: Gods Among Us Killer Instinct Strategy/Simulation Game of the Year Europa Universalis 4 Fire Emblem: Awakening Sid Meier's Civilization V: Brave New World StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm XCOM: Enemy Within Family Game of the Year Disney Infinity Lego Marvel Super Heroes Rayman Legends Skylanders Swap Force Super Mario 3D World Mobile Game of the Year Fetch Flick Kick Football Legends Plants vs. Zombies 2 Ridiculous Fishing - A Tale of Redemption The Wolf Among Us Handheld Game of the Year Fire Emblem: Awakening Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon Pokémon X and Y Tearaway The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Adventure Game of the Year Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Tearaway The Last of Us The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds Tomb Raider Online Game of the Year Battlefield 4 Borderlands 2 Diablo III The Last of Us World of Tanks Action Game of the Year Battlefield 4 BioShock Infinite Dead Rising 3 DmC: Devil May Cry Resogun Outstanding Achievement in Animation Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Beyond: Two Souls Puppeteer Rayman Legends The Last of Us Outstanding Achievement in Art Direction BioShock Infinite Puppeteer Rayman Legends Tearaway The Last of Us Outstanding Achievement in Visual Engineering Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Battlefield 4 Grand Theft Auto V Ryse The Last of Us Outstanding Achievement in Gameplay Engineering Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag Forza Motorsport 5 Grand Theft Auto V Super Mario 3D World The Last of Us Outstanding Achievement in Game Direction Brothers - A Tale of Two Sons Grand Theft Auto V Papers, Please Tearaway The Last of Us Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
Alongside NPD US sales data released today, Microsoft issued a statement saying the Xbox one was the top-selling US console for December, selling 908,000 units. The Xbox 360 came in third place with 643,000 consoles sold, thus leading "last-gen hardware" according to the Microsoft statement. The NPD clarifies that the Nintendo 3DS "topped overall hardware sales for December 2013 and for 2013 as a whole; however, with its $499.99 price point, the Xbox One led annual hardware sales on a dollars basis." Altogether, Microsoft claimed "50 percent of the combined software, hardware, and accessories spend in the U.S," with $1.39 billion raised between the Xbox One and Xbox 360. Total US consumer spend in December, according to the NPD, was "just under $2.4 billion." The NPD clarifies that, "Xbox One led console sales in December, while PS4's two-month total makes it the best selling console during the two-month launch window." In total worldwide sales, the PlayStation is also currently outselling the Xbox one with 4.2 PlayStation 4s sold compared to 3 million Xbox Ones. As editor Martin Gaston explores in his editorial, those sales numbers don't tell the whole story. Nintendo, in addition to the successful performance of the 3DS, also had a positive month for the Wii U. The NPD says, that December was the "highest month for unit sales" so far. Altogether, with positive growth across the industry, December was a bullish month for gaming as a whole. Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
If Valve hoped to resolve questions surrounding its Steam box initiative during the Consumer Electronics Show last week, showcasing prototypes from 13 manufacturers was an odd way to go about it. Taking in everything at the event, I had no idea what I was really looking at other than a random mix of PCs that, at the bare minimum, supported Linux and included a graphics processor--two criteria that apply to almost every modern computer, expensive and cheap alike. The confusing array of Steam machines is, as we found out, a product of Valve's hands-off partnerships with Steam machine builders. At the moment, the only imposition from Valve seems to be the need for a proprietary internal radio that's used to communicate with its prototype Steam machine controller, though even that won't likely persist for long. According to a representative that we spoke with from Origin PC, designer of the Chronos Steam machine, Valve hasn't even approached the team to discuss licensing of the Steam machine name. Valve's laissez-faire attitude toward the identity of the Steam machine brand is apparent and will inevitably be problematic for consumers, but it's the manufacturers that are currently carrying the burden of standing out in the chaos of the incoming Steam machine flood. There are small, underpowered devices running on mobile and integrated GPUs, and full-blown hardware spectacles packing the best, and most expensive, graphics cards on the market, along with plenty of others that fall somewhere in the middle. At the end of the day, a PC is a PC, and a Steam machine is just a PC by another name. Evidently, there's no consensus among third parties as to what a Steam machine should be. Some of the system builders present at the event see it as a chance to remodel PC gaming for a new generation, while others are simply trying to coax current PC users into the living room. iBuyPower: "For our approach with our PC, we wanted to create something that was unlike a PC. Otherwise, you could just build one or game on the one you already have. We already offer a small form-factor gaming PC called Revolt. If all we wanted was a PC that we installed SteamOS on, we would have been perfectly happy taking that unit, putting SteamOS on it, and calling it a 'Steam machine.' We saw the opportunity to expand into the console marketplace." Digital Storm: "We wanted to offer a unit that's still powerful enough to drive future 4K gaming, and we wanted to make it a hybrid unit so we can run both Windows and Linux." Alienware: "We are aiming to be very competitive with next-generation consoles, but don't have prices to share at this time." Origin: "We are not going to build something that's $500 that's trying to compete with the Xbox One or PlayStation 4. It's going to be hard to do that. We don't want to water down the PC experience. When someone buys one of those $399 boxes, how good is it actually going to run those games?" Every one of these system builders has a product that appeals to someone, somewhere, but with such a confusing swath of concepts to wade through, it won't be long before the Steam machine moniker loses some of its appeal. Knowledgeable consumers will buy or build a PC and attach an aftermarket Steam controller; thrifty but eager PC gaming amateurs will be disappointed by cheap, underwhelming devices; and the hyped, care-free spender will drop a pretty penny on a Steam machine, only to find out that it's no different from the boutique, full-tower PC they spent $4,000 on a year prior. For the Steam machine brand to avoid becoming a cloudy watered-down mess, Valve needs to identify and support a singular distinct product or a unified range of products. The sheer number of options in PC hardware is one of the reasons some people still view PC gaming as a mysterious, complex endeavor. At least when you buy a PlayStation 4, average consumers know what they're getting. At the moment, the opposite is true for PCs and Steam machines alike. Even though Valve is risking the short-term strength of its Steam brand, it's smart of the company to offload market research to willing third parties given the unexplored territory of mass-market, consolized gaming PCs. With a brand that has as strong of a reputation as Steam does, it's not surprising that so many hardware teams are readily jumping into the fray. After all, the only companies putting money on the line are those with propriety Steam machine cases, such as iBuyPower, which has to invest in costly production molds. System builders using off-the-shelf parts, or those that are merely rebranding preexisting systems, have almost everything to gain by jumping on the Steam train. Who doesn't like free publicity, especially when it's riding on the coattails of one of the most beloved brands in gaming? "Valve's laissez-faire attitude toward the identity of the Steam machine brand is apparent and will inevitably be problematic for consumers..." Where does this leave an internally developed, official Steam machine from Valve? There's the perception that because Valve's running a hardware beta program, it's likely that it will release a Steam machine of its own. I'd say there's a strong chance that this isn't the case. In 2012, Gabe Newell stated that Valve will sell hardware if it "has to." Then, at CES last week, Newell publicly renewed his lack of interest in a mass-produced Steam machine from Valve: "We really view our role in this as enabling. We'll do whatever is going to be helpful to other hardware manufacturers, whether that's with controller design or building specific kinds of boxes." Since Valve doesn't need to make Steam machines, but it needs a new controller and user interface to distinguish a Steam machine from a PC, it's more than likely that the Steam machine beta hardware program exists solely to test Valve's controller and operating system. It has put systems in people's hands because it's important for Valve to define a controlled platform for testing. Valve doesn't need to benchmark the familiar Intel CPU and Nvidia GPU inside these prototypes; it's simply crowd-sourcing quality assurance testing on its new controller and OS. If and when a clear victor emerges from the pack of Steam machine manufacturers, it wouldn't be surprising to see Valve align with one of the system builders in question, perhaps similarly to the way Google endorses an individual Nexus phone and tablet amidst the legion of Android devices. It's a simple thing, endorsing one product with the gift of a special name, and it helps consumers identify a standard to compare similar devices to. Best of all: it doesn't prevent other Android products from existing. A company like Alienware, which is owned by Dell Computing, has the right consumer awareness to capture people's attention and an infrastructure capable of facilitating mass production. With a level playing field, where all Steam machine builders are sourcing parts from the same catalog, those are the qualities that will attract Valve's attention if it ever has to support a flagship Steam machine. But until they do, the phrase "Steam machine" will continue to be a nebulous designation that offers little help--or hope--to consumers. Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
The NPD released December sales data on both the top-selling games for December 2013 in the US and overall for 2013 in the US: December 2013 Top 10 Games (New Physical Retail only; across all platforms including PC) Call Of Duty: Ghosts (360, PS3, XBO, PS4, NWU, PC)** -- Activision Blizzard Battlefield 4 (360, XBO, PS4, PS3, PC) -- Electronic Arts Just Dance 2014 (WII, 360, NWU, XBO, PS3, PS4)** -- Ubisoft Madden NFL 25 (360, XBO, PS3, PS4) -- Electronic Arts NBA 2K14 (360, PS3, PS4, XBO, PC)** -- Take 2 Interactive Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (360, PS3, PS4, XBO, NWU, PC)** -- Ubisoft Grand Theft Auto V (360, PS3)** -- Take 2 Interactive Lego Marvel Super Heroes (360, PS3, 3DS, XBO, PS4, NWU, PSV, PC) -- Warner Bros. Interactive FIFA 14 (360, PS4, XBO, PS3, PSV) -- Electronic Arts Skylanders SWAP Force (WII, 360, PS3, NWU, 3DS, XBO, PS4)** -- Activision Blizzard Annual 2013 Top 10 Games (New Physical Retail only; across all platforms including PC) Grand Theft Auto V (360, PS3)** -- Take 2 Interactive Call Of Duty: Ghosts (360, PS3, XBO, PS4, PC, NWU)** -- Activision Blizzard Madden NFL 25 (360, PS3, PS4, XBO) -- Electronic Arts Battlefield 4 (360, PS3, XBO, PS4, PC) -- Electronic Arts Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (360, PS3, PS4, XBO, NWU, PC)** -- Ubisoft NBA 2K14 (360, PS3, PS4, XBO, PC)** -- Take 2 Interactive Call of Duty: Black Ops II (360, PS3, NWU, PC)** -- Activision Blizzard Just Dance 2014 (WII, 360, NWU, XBO, PS3, PS4)** -- Ubisoft Minecraft (360) -- Microsoft Disney Infinity (360, WII, PS3, NWU, 3DS) -- Disney Interactive Studios **(includes CE, GOTY editions, bundles, etc. but not those bundled with hardware) Console hardware sales are up 50% over December 2012; the Xbox One sold the most home consoles overall in December, as reported earlier today, but the PlayStation 4 sold more cumulatively during Microsoft and Sony's launch period. Video game software sales for the year are down 17% percent primarily because of "the poor performance of November launches in December 2013," according to the NPD report. Take 2 Interactive was the top game publisher in 2013, because of the success of Grand Theft Auto V, BioShock Infinite, and the NBA 2K franchise. The NPD writes, "Grand Theft Auto V ranked as the top game in 2013 (based on units sold), and after four months of sales is within striking distance of surpassing Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as the highest selling game within the Grand Theft Auto franchise." The NPD also stated that, "For the fifth year in a row, the standard 360 version of Call of Duty was the top-selling [version of that game] for December." The absence of best-sellers like Pokemon X/Y and The Last of Us is attributed to those games' platform exclusivity; it's worth noting that Pokemon X and Pokemon Y are distinguished as separate games by the NPD. Game controllers, point/subscription cards, and "interactive gaming toys" were "the top 3 accessory types in 2013 based on revenue" according to the NPD. And despite competition from Disney Infinity, December 2013 was the best month ever for Skylanders Interactive Gaming Toy sales on a dollar basis.” Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
The distinguishing feature of a desert isn't sand, or heat, but absence. It's one of those fussy middle school factoids that's only good for annoying others; nobody wants to hear your protestations about Antarctica's low annual precipitation at Pub Trivia Tuesday. But it comes to mind when roaming through Amorra, the setting of the real-time strategy game Frozen Hearth. Like the Antarctic, Amorra is an iced-over desert of absence. But where one lacks rainfall, the other is found wanting for other qualities. Like originality. Or creativity. Or technical competence. Or the artistic panache expected of a finished product. To play Frozen Hearth is to self-deprive, to go without the basic components of a healthy game ecosystem. To be fair, desolation is central to Frozen Hearth's premise. The land of Amorra is besieged by the Shangur, a horde of demons not unlike Starcraft's Zerg race with an ice-themed makeover. The Shangur set about coating the realm in a deadly cold-creep, but an assemblage of feuding human clans set aside their differences to better oppose their shared foe. As one of the Avatars, tribal warriors who stand about twice as tall as an average person (eat your heart out, James Cameron), you lead the tattered remnants of humankind into desperate battle against the premature winter. Shangur units have the advantage on ice, where other units are slowed. Frozen Hearth is a direct fusion of a traditional real-time strategy game and a multiplayer online battle arena of Dota's ilk. Armies are raised and trained, and directed across the hills and plains of miniaturized battlefields from on high. The goal is to destroy the enemy's stronghold--the base occupying the opposite corner of the symmetrical field of play. Avatars, for their part, function as the hero characters of Frozen Hearth's MOBA half, imbued with greater strength than a run-of-the-mill unit and a host of spells and abilities that can turn the tide of a skirmish. Avatars can gain experience and level up, unlocking or improving their abilities to heal or buff their allies, or attack or stun their foes. Stripped-down versions of base building and resource gathering round out the tactical provisions. Bases are limited to a single structure, divided into partitions for specialized renovations. Nodes that dot the map provide a steady drip of materials for units and upgrades, and a strategic objective for you skirmish over. Another bit of middle school pedantry is the difference between "simple" and "simplistic"--one agnostic, the other damning. Games have long struggled to land on the proper side of that dividing line; sadly, Frozen Hearth veers in the wrong direction. It begins with a low-grade simulacra of other medieval fantasy strategy games, and only removes elements from the formula. Take the paring-down of traditional base-building mechanics, for example. It certainly simplifies the RTS, but it's also simplistic. There are only a few rote renovations that can be made, to be slotted into the preordained spaces of the larger structure. Without any territorial expansion, there's little reason to divide forces, save to briefly distract enemy forces. Nothing upends the core gameplay loop of spamming units and pointing them toward the nearest contested resources. Avatars, for their part, function as the hero characters of Frozen Hearth's MOBA half, imbued with greater strength than a run-of-the-mill unit and a host of spells and abilities that can turn the tide of a skirmish. The stronghold serves as command center, garrison, and training ground for new units. It's here that I'd hypothetically point to the hybridization of the RTS and the MOBA as Frozen Hearth's finest touch. As the game's closest thing to an original offering, it's burdened with the responsibility of shoring up the otherwise dull experience. And perhaps it might have, were it not undermined by Frozen Hearth's variety of technical woes. The game is unusually taxing on a fairly robust system, regularly experiencing frame rate dips, screen tears, and janky miscellanea on medium settings. Unusual, because the game isn't much of a looker even when the graphics are turned up to eleven. The rudimentary units become indistinguishable when the action heats up, and the Avatars run the gamut from garden-variety shirtless warrior to humdrum hooded priest.   Units move over the terrain in a preternatural, detached glide--that is, when they're not vibrating ineffectually against each other like electronic football pieces. Sic too many on one foe, and the rest mill about absentmindedly when they can't find room to attack. Unchaperoned units wander off into enemy formations, seemingly on a whim. Pathfinding is unreliable; two adjacent units with the same destination often take different routes. There's no attack-move command, so should your units come under attack in the midst of their travels, they'll plod along heedlessly until they're killed. Many a campaign match is lost because a hero or a unit gets tragically separated from the group during a few seconds that it's unattended, usually a long way into a tedious, multistage battle of attrition that needs to be repeated in full should you fail in the home stretch. The unreliable mechanics suppress your ability to play the mind games that run astride better strategy titles; any time you lift your head up to survey the field, something goes wrong. Intermittently it feels as if Frozen Hearth were conceived as a challenge to see which side could better shepherd its particular herd of cats. Or click on a singular desired unit out of a shapeless mass of like bodies. Or trick the artificial intelligence into a lapse of logic while the other side is preoccupied fighting against the unergonomic user interface or the uncomfortably close camera angle. It's a challenge, to be sure, but so is crossing the Sahara. The desert might even give more back.   Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
I have had an interesting relationship with Dr. Mario since its birth on the NES more than two decades ago. It was one of a very, very few games everyone in our humble Midwestern house was keen to play: my mom, my sister, me, and even my dad, who has barely picked up a controller in his life. There was something magical about the game among the Kemps family, but as years passed and new games and consoles came into the house, less and less time was spent with visits to the good doctor. Dr. Mario has made reappearances on consoles since, of course, and I went back and played these incarnations, remembering the good times I had both alone and with my kin. But something had changed. I'd played games like Puyo Pop, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, and Magical Drop in the meantime--games designed to make you both think and move quickly in a competitive environment. When I would return to Dr. Mario, something was off. It felt slow-paced and sluggish, with more tension coming from a heavily virus-filled playfield than from trying to outwit and react to your opponents and their setups. I wondered if, perhaps, Dr. Mario had lost some of its luster due to the genre's evolution. After having played Dr. Luigi, I'm now pretty confident that this is the case. Togetherness is the best medicine. Dr. Luigi is essentially an upgrade of 2008's Dr. Mario Online RX; it's made by the same developer, Arika, and reuses many of its graphical and sound assets. Mario has bequeathed his practice to his younger brother, Luigi, who seems to have his hands full with a new batch of alien-virus creatures to systematically eliminate. The basic gameplay is the same; two-colored pills fall onto a playing field littered with viruses, and you must line up four or more of the same colors vertically or horizontally to eliminate both pill pieces and viruses in the stack. Set up chains that eliminate several viruses at once to either earn a score boost or cause a headache for your opponent. Kill all the viruses, and it's on to the next stage (or match, if you're playing versus). But since a straight rerelease of Dr. Mario with some altered visuals and sound wouldn't cut it in today's market, Dr. Luigi offers some variants on the formula. Some of these have appeared before: Virus Buster, first seen in Brain Age 2 and reintroduced in Dr. Mario Online RX, gives you a smaller playfield where you use the stylus and the Wii U GamePad to place pills. It's a nice improvement from the clumsy Wii Remote controls the previous game used, and the ability to play in vertical or horizontal gamepad orientation is a plus. Another semi-new mode is a versus variant called Flash, again from Online RX. The goal in Flash isn't to eliminate all the viruses in the bottle before your opponent, but rather to off a few specific flashing viruses. Online mode is just that: the ability to play Dr. Mario against anyone on earth minus that pesky restriction of needing to be in the same room. Given his predilection for writing prescriptions without a full case evaluation, Luigi may not, in fact, be an accredited physician. Unique to Dr. Luigi is Operation L mode. Instead of the megavitamins every Dr. Mario player is familiar with, you get two such pills frankensteined together in an L shape. It sounds mildly interesting on paper, but in practice, Operation L is a disappointment. Skilled Dr. Mario play involves your ability to carefully maneuver pills into hard-to-reach places. The big, clunky L pills are so large and unwieldy that advanced placement becomes impossible. When you're aiming to eliminate all the viruses on the field in single or versus play, which is already pretty slow going, Operation L limits your options instead of adding depth or complexity. Beyond the selection of different play types--Operation L, Virus Buster, and so forth--there are a handful of settings you can adjust: starting stage, speed, and music. If you were hoping for things like precrafted puzzle challenges to test your pill-placing prowess or a story mode, features popularized by many modern puzzle games, you'll be disappointed to find that there isn't much beyond the options offered 24 years ago. When you're aiming to eliminate all the viruses on the field in single or versus play, which is already pretty slow going, Operation L limits your options instead of adding depth or complexity. Versus mode options are basic as well, which makes the tendency for games to turn into drawn-out, slow-speed races to kill every virus on your screen all the more aggravating. Forget the momentum-shifting opponent punishments of games like Puyo Pop and Puzzle Fighter; your reward for setting up impressive combos in Dr. Luigi is a few piddly pill bits dropping in. (In Operation L mode, you change your opponent's next piece into something else--usually a color jumble that's near impossible to place--which is infuriating to the recipient but lacks the smug satisfaction of a screen full of slop piling down on your foe.) Flash is considerably more fun, challenging you to find the fastest way possible to eliminate specific viruses before your foe does, a process that involves some clever thinking and careful movements. In case of overdose, take more pills. Online play, meanwhile, is functional but extremely bare-bones. Dr. Luigi features basic two-player lobbies and a ranked mode, which rarely puts you up against equally skilled opponents. Want to change the type of game you're playing? You need to step out, re-create the room, and hope your buddy rejoins. Don't expect anything like tournament modes or even the best-three-out-of-five battles the original NES version offered, either; after one round, you're kicked back to the continue-or-quit screen. In the end, Dr. Luigi feels like Dr. Mario Online RX all over again, with a few spruced-up elements and a not-well-thought-out extra mode. That alone would be enough to make you wary of dropping the full $14.99 asking price on this. But in the end, the most disappointing part of Dr. Luigi is that it doesn't give the Dr. Mario formula that shot in the arm it needs to feel magical again. Arika is the mind behind the amazing Tetris: The Grand Master series of arcade games, and I'm disappointed that it can't bring a similar thrill and exhilaration to this classic series. But it could well be that Dr. Mario's pacing and mechanics are relics of its era that would be difficult to bring up to modern standards. Dr. Luigi provides some shallow entertainment, but it's not exactly what the doctor ordered. Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-17
A swarm of agitated frogs. Tentacles that sprout from the earth. Poisonous mushrooms. Winter's frosty embrace. Rotten food. Giant cyclops birds. The darkness. Rampaging subterranean bunny things. Packs of hellhounds. Your own slithering hallucinations. Starvation. The laundry list of things that can kill you in the eerie world of Don't Starve is as excessive as it is intriguing. I've succumbed to just about every ill-fated demise imaginable in this brutal but addictive indie survival sim. Despite the frustration that comes from dying and losing everything--a common occurrence in this unforgiving and mysterious realm--it's hard to pull away once the engrossing cycle of exploration, crafting, and survival grabs hold. A hasty introduction to Don't Starve's vast danger-filled realm leaves little time to consider the particulars of why you've been summoned out into the middle of nowhere by a mysterious demonic gentleman. As Wilson, a scientist-turned-survivalist, you're plunked down into this randomly generated world and left to figure everything out on your own. Outside of some light questing and very minimal story elements, the emphasis is placed on your survival. Rather than being a detriment, the hands-off direction paves the way for the world's grim Tim Burton-esque vibe and entrancing visual design to unfurl, telling its own harrowing tales as you struggle to stave off death. When it comes to figuring out how to stay alive, there's precious little handholding here. The lack of any tutorial means that every resource, creature, and curiosity you encounter poses a two-pronged question: how can I use this to my advantage, and will messing with it somehow result in getting killed? Considering that many vital resources can be perilous to acquire or have an ill effect if used improperly, each choice you make at any given moment has the potential to usher in your own doom. This trial-and-error nature is a real pressure cooker at moments, since even a simple slipup like overharvesting a scarce material can send you into a downward spiral. The constant tension that builds as important supplies dwindle ratchets up the stressfulness of each dire situation, but it makes each victory, however small, feel like a major achievement. It's an unpredictability that also adds to the thrill of your survival. The hands-off direction paves the way for the world's grim Tim Burton-esque vibe and entrancing visual design to unfurl. As you explore, gathering food, material resources, and fuel for a steady campfire is critical. Whether you scavenge berries and vegetables or kill and cook wildlife to consume, keeping a supply of edibles on hand staves off hunger that can sap your meager health if left unchecked. A steady day-night cycle weaves several more layers of complexity into the mix. You can freely explore during the daytime, but nightfall ushers in a new threat: get caught in the dark for more than a few seconds without a light source, and the darkness itself consumes you. Spending too much time out in the dark, even by torchlight, saps your mental health as well. Activities like eating flowers, resting, and tinkering away restore your sanity. Let it deplete too far, however, and the increasingly hallucinatory visual effects that warp the gameworld onscreen spawn imaginary nightmare creatures that attack. Really, you never feel truly safe. Ever. That's not a bad thing though. Don't Starve smartly entwines all this danger and tension with a well-designed crafting system that provides the real hook for risking life and limb to push onward. The raw materials you harvest on your travels let you cobble together crude implements to help you survive, which is your sole means of gaining ground in your pitched struggle. Mundane materials like wood, flint, grass, and rope can be forged into axes, spears, torches, and more. Your collecting and tinkering thankfully don't end there. With depth and complexity that rival similar survival-centric offerings like Minecraft and Terraria, the expansive crafting system really kicks into high gear once you develop alchemy and science stations to boost your options. This guy's attitude is as icy as his surroundings. The jump to the PlayStation 4 brings a welcome speed and fluidity to the tasks of gathering, exploring, and crafting, thanks to thoughtful use of the DualShock 4's control scheme. Simple updates, such as the ability to hold down the action button to automatically harvest whatever is on the ground nearby or to interact with nearby objects, have a big impact. The dual thumbsticks make quick work of juggling inventory items too, and the overall scheme is a comfortable improvement for crafting. If you've played the PC version, it takes some time to adjust to using a controller, but even as an avid PC gamer, I just can't go back to using a mouse and keyboard after playing on the PS4. Don't Starve's console port remains largely in line with the latest PC version, including all of the updated content like subterranean caves and a new Default Plus mode, which offers a steeper challenge but gives you a bunch of goodies from the get-go to help more-seasoned players motor through the sluggish stretches of a new game. Aside from the lack of mod support, one notable difference is the reduced control for fine-tuning custom games in the console version. There's some wiggle room to toggle the frequency of individual creatures and elements, but it's scaled back here. That's a minor concession, since the core game is well done and is a great fit on the PS4. The flames of change are roaring. Even so, some of the underlying problems still linger. Don't Starve's roguelike aspect is utterly grueling in the way it doles out punishment. While there are a few means to prolong your life beyond the grave, most games that end with you dying wipe out your progress completely, leaving you agonizing over the numerous hours you just spent chipping away to gain a foothold in this harsh world. Your experience carries over and goes toward unlocking new characters with special perks to play as, so it's not a total loss, but this doesn't negate the agony of having to grind through from the beginning after getting killed in a later-game run. If you're up to the challenge and precariousness of exploring this stark landscape bristling with danger, Don't Starve delivers unique charm, exhaustive depth, and brutal punishment. On the PS4, it remains a frustrating, fascinating, and beautifully grim experience that controls nicely and packs the same absorbing punch as the original. Info from Gamespot.com
2014-01-16
  Today is your last chance to download a free copy of Square Enix's open-world action game Sleeping Dogs from Xbox Live, provided you're a Gold subscriber. The game has been available as a free download to keep for Gold subscribers since January 1. Tomorrow, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light will be free for the duration of the month. Microsoft has not yet announced February's free games. Past freebies from Microsoft's Games with Gold promotion for Xbox 360 have included Halo 3, Assassin's Creed II, and Crackdown, among others. An Xbox Live Gold subscription is $10/month or $60/year. The Games with Gold promotion is available only on Xbox 360, not Xbox One.   Info from Gamespot.com


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