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PAX Prime 2012: Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion
by Andrew Testerman

Licensed games are often cash-in bits of shovelware that aren’t worth the discs they’re pressed on, but there was a time when this wasn’t always so.

Back during the 8- and 16-bit era, Disney Interactive made a name for itself with top-shelf platformers based on Disney's stable of popular film and television characters, including Ducktales, Chip and Dale, and Mickey Mouse. Developer DreamRift is hoping to remind gamers of happier times with Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, a 3DS platformer starring Walt's most famous creation.

The Disney Epic Mickey series usually has Mickey exploring forgotten realms of the Disney canon, but in Power of Illusion Mickey treks through recognizable properties like Beauty and the Beast and Tangled. Think Kingdom Hearts with less Final Fantasy characters and you’re on the right track. The section of game I played was Peter Pan-themed, and took me from the Darling house to the deck of Captain Hook’s ship.

Gameplay in Power of Illusion is a direct homage to 1990's Castle of Illusion: Starring Mickey Mouse, though prior experience with the series isn't necessary. Like Castle of Illusion and other other Capcom-developed Disney games from the 16-bit era, Mickey hops and bops his way from left to right through various 2D side-scrolling stages. Jumping is a bit floaty but for the most part Mickey controls well, and gamers disappointed by New Super Mario Bros. 2's willingness to retread old ideas will appreciate Power of Illusion's solid mechanics and unique feel compared to other platformers on the 3DS.

Look for cameos from loads of Disney characters throughout.

Power of Illusion isn’t merely a rehash of the mechanics from Castle of Illusion, though, and brings over the Paint and Thinner mechanics from the other Disney Epic Mickey games. During my playthrough, I came across several areas where Mickey could paint platforms into the environment—in this case, building blocks like the ones found in the Darling nursery. Simply trace the symbols across the bottom screen (the letters on the building blocks) and they appear. Conversely, some obstacles need to be cleared out of the way, and Mickey can get rid of them using Thinner and the bottom touchscreen. The demo started simply, only letting me clear one obstacle at a time, but one puzzle near the end had me dissolve a block to get to a cannon and then draw in a different block to act as my landing platform.

Mickey can also choose from three power-ups before the start of each level, and can activate them by drawing them on the bottom screen. One power-up summons a large block with Pete’s face to smash enemies, while another summons a cane-bouncing Uncle Scrooge from the NES Ducktales game. Power-ups aren’t required to finish levels—I completed two without using them once—but they make progressing past enemies and obstacles easier.

Power of Illusion’s art design looks similar to its 16-bit counterparts but with an added layer of polish, from character sprites moving in a more sophisticated manner than previous Disney platformers to gorgeous layered backgrounds. The 3D, however, is ignoble and unnecessary to enjoy Power of Illusion's presentation.

If you’ve been pining for a fresh, sprite-based platformer straight out of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis days, you’re in for a treat with Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion. True to its roots while still continuing to push the series forward, Power of Illusion will please platforming fans and Disney-philes alike. Look for Disney Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion in shops on November 18 in North America and November 23 in Europe.

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- Andrew Testerman
PAX Prime 2012 – Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance
by Andrew Testerman

Swords, not sneaking—that's the name of the game in Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

Longtime fans of Hideo Kojima's Tactical Espionage Action series may be shocked by the switch from subterfuge to swordplay, but there's a reason Konami dropped the "Solid" moniker. Rising: Revengeance—that name!—is a new take on the classic Metal Gear series, swapping careful infiltration for ninja acrobatics and dropping the old, familiar Metal Gear Solid tune in favour of some deep cuts.

The demo places Raiden in a virtual reality training environment, stepping him through the controls and letting players experiment with chopping everything around them into little bits, recalling the kitchen bit in the Metal Gear Solid 2 demo. Raiden fights his way through several waves of guards before the simulation sics a helicopter gunship on him. After fleeing from the helicopter across a crumbling bridge, Raiden fillets a few more guards and a small Gekko-like walker before bringing down the chopper, ending the demo.

Combat in Rising: Revengeance is pure Platinum, recalling fast, fluid stylish-action games like the studio's own Bayonetta. Raiden alternates between light/heavy attacks akin to games like Devil May Cry and free-form cutting for more finessed targeting. Activating the cutting mode causes everything to move in slow motion, letting plays use the analogue sticks to guide Raiden's blade. Some enemies carry blades of their own, though, and Raiden must weaken them with regular attacks before implementing any surgical strikes. Cutting drains Raiden's stock of energy, but he can recharge by slicing an enemy just right and performing an accompanying Quick-Time Event.

For players who still enjoy evading guards and staying undetected, Rising: Revengeance does allow for a modicum of sneaking. Raiden can catch enemies off-guard with stealth kills, recharging his ninja blade for more slow-motion cutting. Enemies have a cone of vision, letting players plan their approach like in past Metal Gear Solid games, and guards still emit their infamous klaxon—you know the one—upon spotting Raiden. Of course, once Raiden is spotted, he has much greater offensive capabilities, and I approached every conflict head-on and blade-out.

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance also brings a surprising level of gore to the series, as Raiden turns guards into finely-chopped bits of sashimi with blood gushing from every new cut. The demo mitigates this by informing Raiden that all of the enemy soldiers are "cyborgs," implying that no one has a cyborg spouse at home or any cyborg kids to pick up from cyborg soccer practice, but Rising: Revengeance's near-fetish level enthusiasm for seeing how many times you can bisect a soldier with a sword feels slightly icky. Still, the violence is so over-the-top it crosses into darkly comic territory, and fits with Platinum Games' huge, stylish motif.

I've never been a big fan of the Metal Gear Solid franchise, bad as I am at the stealth genre, and I was tepid towards Rising: Revengeance based on its trailer and development history. Ten minutes with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance changed my opinion completely, and I can't wait to get my hands on more. Look for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance to launch early next year in North America and Europe, and for a demo bundled with Zone of the Enders: HD Collection at the end of 2012.

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- Andrew Testerman
PAX Prime 2012: Dishonored
by Andrew Testerman


It’s the mainstay in most games published by Bethesda, and is one of the biggest, most defining elements of Dishonored. A product of French developer Arcane Studios, Dishonored gives players a deep suite of powers to wreak as much or as little havoc as they like in their quest to restore honour to their name.

The hour-long demo I played at Bethesda’s booth assigned me with infiltrating a party and assassinating one Lady Boyle, a member of the upper crust and financier for my enemies. The representative from Arkane Studios told me that it’s possible to finish the entire game without killing a single person, save for a handful of crucial encounters, and that all of my assassination targets can be dealt with non-lethally. I decided to take him at his word, having heard similar claims about the original Deus Ex, and chose a pacifist approach for the length of the demo.

I began my mission outside the Boyle estate, noting the regular patrols of guards and tripedal robots reminiscent of Half-Life 2’s Striders—no coincidence as both games share Viktor Antonov, art director on Half-Life 2 and design director on Dishonored. Rather than cutting a wide swath through the Boyle manor’s security detail, I possessed the body of a fish in the surrounding moat and swam through a gap in its drainage system, gaining entry via the mansion’s sewer access.

Dishonored allows for multiple approaches to its gameplay challenges.

Once inside, I discovered that the party was a masquerade ball, and that Lady Boyle’s two sisters were also in attendance and wearing similar costumes to my target. Needing more information about which Lady Boyle was my actual target, I chatted up the party attendees, hoping to learn all I could about my hostess and what she might be wearing.

In talking with Lady Boyle's party guests, I started to learn about Dishonored's setting, a sort of alternate universe Europe where the industrial revolution was sparked not by coal, but whale oil. The Arkane rep explained that the non-lethal approach requires players to scour their environment for information related to their target, often revealing more of Dishonored’s extensive world-building. For lore-nuts like me who love learning about a game's world in a natural way, playing Dishonored non-lethally might be the most rewarding way to go.

I eventually came across a gentleman who claimed he knew of my mission to end Lady Boyle's life and pleaded with me to let her live, saying he loved her and would whisk her away to a faraway island and she would be safe and sound. His earnest speech sounded creepy, given that Lady Boyle likely didn’t know of his existence, but it was a bloodless way to dispose of my future victim and I took the unrequited Casanova up on his offer, agreeing to bring Lady Boyle to the basement where he would meet me.

The art in Dishonored is grotesque, exaggerated, and compelling.

From there, I fetched a flirty party-goer a drink and she described the true Lady Boyle’s costume to me. I talked with the Lady and tried to get her to follow me, but she didn’t trust me and shoved me off. Not giving up, I waited until she was near the entrance and tapped into a few of my powers. First, I possessed her the way I had done with the fish earlier, then I froze time for a short period to move even closer, and finally I used an ability called Blink to teleport past security before I ran out of possession time. When I finally had her out of sight, I knocked her out and brought her down to where the would-be lover was supposed to meet me. Unfortunately, by that point I had run out of time, leaving me unable to see what the rest of the demo held.

The grand level of choice offered by games like Skyrim or Fallout 3 often leaves me paralyzed with indecision; when I’m given the ability to do everything, I often shut down and don’t want to do anything. Dishonored is different; it gives me one specific thing to do—get rid of this particular person—and a hundred different ways to do it. Dishonored’s focus on macro-level decisions rather than big ones results in a game that feels manageable while still offering variability of play style that all but guarantees repeated attempts and playthroughs. Dishonored sneaks onto European shelves on 11 October and North America on 9 October.

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- Andrew Testerman
Review: Diablo III
by Andrew Whipple III

Diablo III
Blizzard Entertainment
Activision Blizzard
Action, RPG, Hack n' Slash
It's been 12 years since Diablo II enveloped our world with its addictive gameplay and instilled its audience with an insatiable lust for more loot.

The impossibly anticipated follow-up, Diablo III, has finally arrived and successfully builds off of what made the franchise so great to begin with. However, while it does keep to its roots, Diablo III's streamlined nature, rocky launch and post-release patching have brought with it some very controversial changes that's made it very tough to love.

Diablo III video review

Depending on who you are, the story behind Diablo either interests you or it doesn't. Being a Diablo veteran, I found the narrative of the first two games, at the very least, interesting. There was enough mystery and sense of accomplishment involved that it helped me continue pushing forward. Diablo III attempts to follow in the same vein and delivers spectacular cut-scenes, but falls far from what its predecessors decidedly told.

I wasn't expecting the world's next greatest story, but I at least wanted to care about what I was doing. Diablo III conforms to the trend of trying to put too much into the game too quickly and introduces old and new characters in contrived fashion. The game is also incredibly predictable, which is another trend I've been witnessing in Blizzard games. As events unfold, it gets to the point where you already know what's going to occur hours before it finally happens and when it does, all you can do is roll your eyes.

Lasers usually take care of spider problems. Usually.

Unlike the narrative, the Diablo core gameplay you know and love largely remains untouched. Each stage is randomly generated with hordes of monsters to slay and loot to grab. Each of the five unique classes (Barbarian, Wizard, Demon Hunter, Monk and Witch Doctor) can equip a plethora of armor and weapons along with a profuse amount of abilities. What's neat this time around though, is that instead of the classic talent tree approach to upgrading skills, Diablo III allows you to switch out your abilities on the fly. Since there's no skill points, your powers can be augmented by runes, which change your ability depending on which one's selected.

The new skill system is sweet in that you aren't locked into any type of set path. If one ability isn't proving useful, you can change it via a rune to make it more effective or grab a new move entirely. What I dislike about the system is that there's a lot of runes that are pointless. Why grab the rune for Spectral Blades that inflicts a slow on the target when there's much better available? I get it's the option of choice, but this becomes a big problem later in the life of the game. Since players are now restricted to taking only six different spells with them, when you ascend to the higher difficulties more than half of your current ability set is rendered inefficient and is therefore useless.

The environments are done pretty well.

People complain about cookie-cutter builds in other games and, ostensibly, Diablo III was doing away with that by allowing the swapping of abilities whenever. Unfortunately, when you do get that high in the game, there's few moves that you'd ever bring with you; making set builds and such ever present. This is disappointing as most of the abilities look great, but just aren't reliable or good enough later on. Did you ever think Whirlwind for the Barbarian would be considered a terrible skill? It is in Diablo III.

Your character role is also completely set in stone since attribute points, which were manually distributed in the first two Diablo games, are automatically allocated now. The absence of attribute points means less involvement with your character, but at the same time that means the requirements on items have been streamlined. Instead of having a strength or dexterity requirement, class and level are the only two deciding factors now. I can't blame everything on the points, but they most certainly do play a role.

For instance, a Wizard can carry a shield on his/her off-hand making you believe you could mold a character into a high vitality, tanky Wizard, right? Wrong. There's no point in trying to build that way since there's no benefits for doing so when you eventually get to Inferno; Diablo III's newest difficulty and also where the best loot drops. Try as you may, you're still going to be that glass cannon but, with that "build" you'd be lacking the cannon.

Destructible environments make you feel like a badass. That is, until a bee kills you.

Loot is still important as ever to Diablo III, but a couple major factors have changed the way loot works. For one, the implementation of an auction house (like World of Warcraft) has made it necessary for Blizzard to scale back the amount of great items people find. While they haven't said this, it only makes sense because there's both an in-game and real-world money auction house. Blizzard doesn't want people to get tons of amazing items and then sell them on the AH for tons of cash (they net a profit too), so finding cool weapons and such is a much rarer celebration in Diablo III.

The second issue with loot is that they majority of items downright suck. Legendary items (Diablo III's uniques) often are inferior to the game's yellows or rare items. Why? Instead of having set stats on a weapon that are random, every single state found is random. That means you can find a bow that as intelligence on it, which helps no one as opposed to in Diablo II, where the bow would always have dexterity on it, just a random amount.

To some, this might now sound like a big deal, but understand that this changes the whole flow of the game. Yes, Diablo is a dungeon crawler that focuses on farming, but in Diablo III you feel the farm. Its predecessors never had this issue because you'd actually get stuff you could use from time to time. If you were to just play the game to try and find items for yourself to use, you'd likely spend months just trying to find a decent replacement for one slot. This forces you to use the auction house, which is a shoddy way of going about business in Diablo.

You can leave global chat, but why not get some advertising while slaying demons?

Another major issue I have with Diablo III is how much it feels like an MMO. Times have changed, technology has evolved and the way we patch our games is different, but that doesn't mean every game needs to feel like an MMO. Every single time Blizzard patched Diablo III, something big was changed making it feel like WoW all over again - that isn't a good thing. Confusingly enough, Blizzard also made changes to make crates, pots and other random objects never drop items again. They even negated Magic Find having any effect on what's in chests whatsoever. Needless to say, the Diablo III slowly began to feel like anything but a Diablo game.

Despite my negativity toward the game, you can still spend a substantial amount of time with Diablo III before fatigue sets in. Playing with friends is fun, but even that can grow into an annoyance since your buddies can skip dialogue and cut-scenes that you might have wanted to see. Add all these issues on top of a rocky launch and you have Blizzard's latest gem. For a game that's been in development for over a decade, I expected Diablo III to be so much more than what we received. Hands down, this has to be one of the biggest disappointments of all-time.

6/10 [?]

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- Andrew Whipple III
Mass Effect 3: Indoctrination Theories, Epilogue DLC and... Gears of War?
by Andrew Whipple III

When it released last March, the controversy surrounding Mass Effect 3's endings were a focus of intense discussion.

Some vehemently opposed the way BioWare choose to end the trilogy, accusing the developer of cutting corners allowing for a lethargic, albeit confusing ending. Other players believed there was much deeper meaning to the mystery of the conclusion. We've been waiting for the Extended Cut DLC to clear everything up and now that the wait is over, we're both ecstatic and disappointed at what BioWare has wrought.

Editor's Note: This article contains spoilers regarding Mass Effect 3 and the Gears of War franchise. If you intend to play the games and/or don't want the endings ruined, then progress no further.

If you haven't seen the endings yet, check out all of them on GamesRadar.

Andrew's argument for botching an opportunity

A while back, I wrote an article stating my horror as to how fast people jumped on the 'hate BioWare' bandwagon. To me the conclusion of ME3 was more ambiguous than anything. As soon as Harbinger's beam smoked you, that was when I noticed everything around Shepard seemed... different. From the control the Illusive Man had over Anderson to the way Shepard cringed when the Reaper noises echoed across the screen, there was too much that materialized at the end for me to consider it a simple mistake; a failure at elaboration.

Obviously a great deal of people felt the same way which is what gave rise to the Indoctrination Theory. Simply put, people thought the entire final sequence was really Shepard going through the Indoctrination process; attempting to stave it off. Certain videos gave immense evidence to this claim and it honestly seemed like such an intelligent way to leave the series in suspension. However, after the Extended Cut DLC dropped, this theory was immediately dis-proven.

Didn't you know? These guys could be helping you out soon!

Saying all of that, I personally would like to apologize for my stance on the matter. Maybe it was just the sequence of events and the missing pieces that made this whole Indoctrination Theory plausible, but I'll be damned if I couldn't say it was convincing. The new endings are extremely well done, and provide ample information that satisfies my lingering questions. The Catalyst now elaborates on its history, new cut-scenes show Hackett finding out someone got to the Citadel and even how your team gets off world. Most importantly though, the new endings show a very different, yet similar conclusion that feels much better than the original ones ever could. Though, now that we know this was the way BioWare wanted to tread all along and not the way of Indoctrination, I feel a bit dismayed.

BioWare should be commended for going the extra mile for not only acknowledging the fans disproval, but for following it up with a free piece of DLC that clears up any previous issues. There are few companies that would go this far and for that, BioWare, I applaud thee. However, now that we know the truth about the ending, it pains me to realise that either ME3 was rushed out the door at the last minute, or somebody gave the green light to ship the game despite the unfinished ending. We can speculate that it's 'all EA's fault' but that's an unfair accusation as we know nothing of the game's final days of development.

Anderson dying was still a strong sequence.

Regardless of the answer to why the game shipped the way it did, the fact of the matter is that it did ship that way. Akin to Mortal Kombat's horrific online multiplayer and Dark Souls' downright broken multiplayer component, this is something that just cannot be looked over when judging the entirety of the game. What were they thinking? ME3 was incredibly detailed thoroughly and then the end just throws a bunch of janky situations together and we were supposed to be pleased with the outcome? Again, that's why I thought something greater was at hand and this brings up a whole different issue I have with story-writers.

The Indoctrination Theory was an very intelligent take on how ME3 ended and I think if BioWare made it work then we'd be talking about how revolutionary this kind of narrative was instead of, you know, how bastardized it became. Could you imagine if after playing through the game you found out the final choices you were given were a ploy? What if Shepard was tricked into allowing the Reapers to live, forever sealing the fate of the galaxy? The thought of this kind of decision making lifts my gaming soul to untold heights, but alas, this was not the case at all with ME3. It might sound odd, but this reminds me of Epic Games' missed opportunity for the Gears of War franchise.

Even Shepard wanted to see what happened next.

Stay with me here; Gears is something people look at and only think of thick dudes, chainsaws, cover and guns. Well, it didn't use to be like that and if you were there with me during the first Gears, you know exactly what I mean. The Locust were an unknown enemy, one that just emerged and slaughtered humanity by the billions and nobody knew why. Hostages were not taken, communication was impossible, making the situation as dire as possible. As you progressed through the game, the precious resource known as Imulsion was introduced to the player and some of the history of Sera was told.

The rush for the revolutionary resource orchestrated the Pendulum Wars, a 79-year civil war. It all seemed so clear to me and a few other websites that, perhaps, the Locust were the good guys in this matter. I mean, maybe the humans were killing the planet or hurting the Locust by siphoning so much Imulsion, forcing the hand of the Locust. Be honest; how amazing would that have been? Over what we got, I feel this was a completely wasted opportunity to blow away gamers of all kinds. Instead, Gears will still be known for its hardcore action and its lackluster narrative. BioWare has followed in the exact same footsteps and disappointed fans with their decision making process.

I'm a massive fan of both franchises, but I can't sit back and accept the fact that there just wasn't opportunities to make better decisions. Both trilogies are now over, but with Judgment coming and more DLC for ME3 to come, you can bet we haven't seen the last of any of these franchises. I just hope this time around, we don't run into the same circumstances.

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- Andrew Whipple III
Spec Ops: The Line (with video review)
by Andrew Whipple III

Spec Ops: The Line
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Reviewed on
Xbox 360
Third-Person Shooter, Military
If you're looking for a new game to sate your thirst for something seminal, you'd surely laugh at the notion of a third-person military shooter being pushed toward you - I know I would.

Yager Development's Spec Ops: The Line is a game that looks and feels like the competition, but instead of following the safe and derivative path that's usually carved out for the genre, forges its own dark and gritty route that contemporary games hardly use. If, by year's end, people still aren't talking about the narrative this game yields, some of the magic of the gaming industry will have surely faded.

Video review

It's tough to advertise, let alone sell someone on a game that puts 'military' and 'shooter' in today's market. Literally polluted with a deluge of games sharing the same ideas and gameplay, gamer's like myself turn a blind-eye to these games without giving it a second thought. It's this reason that I fear Spec Ops won't get the attention it deserves and, I assure you, it definitely warrants some attention.

By skipping out on this game, you're missing one of the single most important tales a game has told since the original Half-Life. Bold as that statement may be, it's as real as it can get. Half-Life's opening scenes were revolutionary and turned the gaming world on its head. Spec Ops won't have that same effect as a whole since the industry has evolved, but the narrative it weaves is one that simply has not been done nor explored by anybody. Over the course of the game you'll ask yourself what you're doing, maybe even why and then when you approach the game's conclusion you'll be simply blown away.

Yager was nice enough to include me in the game! Wait...

To give it a premise, you control Captain Martin Walker of Delta Force with his two comrades-in-arms, Sergeant Lugo and Lieutenant Adams. The trio has been tasked with tracking down Colonel John Konrad of the 33rd Infantry, whose last known location was the annihilated city of Dubai. Having volunteered the 33rd to evacuate the people from encroaching cataclysmic sandstorms, Konrad and company failed the evacuation process and have yet to be heard from. While you don't know what to expect from the decimated city, it's obvious that everything isn't as it seems.

Incredible and emotional as the story is, Spec Ops really shines by allowing the player to make moral decisions that aren't black and white, Paragon or Renegade, good or evil. Regardless of what you choose, somebody somewhere will be hurt by your choice and sometimes you might not even fully understand what's going on around you. While that might seem upsetting to some, having moral ambiguity in serious situations, especially while under duress, is refreshing and potent. Every situation where you're presented with a choice weighs heavy on the conscience, making it quite a memorable scenario.

This is a pretty spooky scene.

The situations where you have to make a choice are fantastic, but regardless of your decision, the game will still progress down the same road. You might get a semi-different cut-scene or skip an area that would normally be full of enemies, but that's the extent of differentiating factors within choice. While I agree that it would have been awesome to have more variety in the pathways, it still doesn't take anything away from the narrative or the emotion of the moment.

Speaking of emotion, the atmosphere Spec Ops provides is superb. Dubai is an original setting with flowing sands and bright colors that are all surrounded by the dilapidated structures of the once great city. It's all appealing to the eye, in a destroyed beauty kind of way and your squad-mates will let you know how they're feeling as well. It's not one of those contrived conversations that you feel forced into, but rather a more organic advance. Basically, as the game progresses and choices are made, Lugo and Adams will bicker, fight and even question your decision making process. It gets to the point where what they're saying can be straight up offensive, but the delivery is so genuine it hits you hard.

The environments are refreshing to behold. Also, sand.

Gamers familiar with the Gears of War series will find Spec Ops combat system familiar and satisfying. Unlike Gears, Walker can only take a few hits before he bites the big one, making cover play a bigger role in every fight and often a requirement. The cover system works well, but it'll take some getting used to since the melee button is tied to the vault button. Sometimes you might find yourself taking a swing at that cement wall instead of jumping it, but with a small amount of time you shouldn't have any further issues.

Being in the desert, sand plays a significant role in combat. Throwing grenades kicks up a dust cloud that gives you some extra cover and shooting certain areas reveal billions of tons of sand that can either aid you into getting to the next area, or smothering your enemies. Weapons feel great to fire and give off some very satisfying sounds when they hit home. There's a good variety of different weapons to choose from and they all come equipped with a unique secondary fire, such as the M4A1 which sports a silencer for a less noisy solution.

They might not seem like much, but you'll become attached to these dudes by game end.

The melee attacks are especially vicious, more so when you hit an enemy so hard, his helmet flies off as he goes airborne. You can also execute enemies who are bleeding out with an assortment of brutal moves and that's actually something else Spec Ops does very well. To tie in with the emotion the game is trying to convey, oftentimes when you shoot an enemy they won't die immediately. They'll crawl around begging for help or groaning in immense pain as the last breaths of life leave their body. While it doesn't affect the overall game or the choices you're presented with, it's almost like a soft-choice; what kind of monster are you?

Something I found woefully absent was the usual feature of co-op. Being a three-man squad, I couldn't help but think Spec Ops would be that much better with two of your good friends helping you unravel Dubai's mysteries. I spoke to Cory Davis about why they omitted co-operative play at E3 and it makes sense, but I still feel that option should have been there. At least a co-operative, prequel-esque mode is in the works and will be available free to those who bought the game very soon.

You'll be seeing a lot of this.

To compensate for the lack of a buddy helping out, you can control Lugo and Adams in a simplified manner. By tapping or holding a button, both your dudes will focus on a target and pay attention to the situation they're in. That means if someone's extremely far away, Lugo sets up his sniper and goes to town while Adams is more close-ranged and might chuck a grenade in for style-points. They'll even attack two different targets if two are in the vicinity or even attach silencers to their weapons if the situation calls for it. It's nice to have decent AI, but I still would've had a friend with me in the trenches.

Once you're done with the story, multiplayer does allow for some extra fun, but it's definitely not the main focus of Spec Ops. There's some cool ideas nestled within, but for a game that's so original it's surprising to see the multiplayer fall right into the conventional multiplayer mechanics we always see. Perks, loadouts all that stuff you can liken to Call of Duty is present, but multiplayer still has some charm to it with Battlefield-esque team abilities and some modes that are better than the usual team deathmatch. It's not great, but it can provide a decent distraction if you really need it.

The atmosphere is incredible.

Spec Ops is one of those games that's going to fly under the radar of most gamers and that's not acceptable. While it ostensibly appears to be your typical generic military shooter, within a short period of time it becomes much, much more than that. The single-player will take you around eight hours to complete, but it's an experience you won't soon forget. The events that unfold in Spec Ops are horrifyingly fantastic and if you care about originality within a genre full of trite and predictable material, you'll help by giving it a chance.

8/10 [?]

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- Andrew Whipple III
Diablo III's failures and why Torchlight II can't come soon enough
by Andrew Whipple III

Over a month ago, this article would have read very differently. With Torchlight II on the horizon and Diablo III releasing to record-breaking sales, it seemed obvious that Runic Games missed the proverbial train and gamers, like myself, were insulted they'd go up against the behemoth that is Diablo.

However, after a botched launch, questionable updates and a significant amount of time spent in Sanctuary, I find myself looking forward to Torchlight II more than ever before. It's not because D3 is a bad game, it's just a perfect example of how time can change even the most primal aspects of game design.

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you haven't played D3 yet and you're concerned with spoilers, please don't read any further.

Andrew Whipple III discussing why Diablo III was a disappointment

Before we get into the controversial details, understand that Diablo is a franchise I've loved since the original and poured more hours into than I'd like to admit. The original Torchlight was a fun distraction with some amazing ideas that D3 intelligently absorbed, but it was also a game I never finished because I simply wasn't compelled to. D3, on the other hand is a game I've 'finished' multiple times but, to my dismay, still find myself unsatisfied with.

Blizzard has its hands full right now with a community that's in full riot-mode and we'll get into that soon, but first I'd like to talk about the pieces of the game that I feel have held D3 back from true greatness. I can't think of a title that was more anticipated than D3 that wasn't StarCraft II, which dropped two years ago. Gamers have been waiting 12 solid years for this game (much like StarCraft) and some of my close friends even took a week of vacation to do nothing but play D3. Saying that, the foundation for a successful community and game were already present long before the game released. Despite this 'guaranteed success,' D3 still manages to feel like a game that hasn't seen a proper development cycle.

Starting with its launch on May 15th, players ready for demon-slaying at midnight had to wait as servers were hours late coming online. Players then experienced difficulty logging in, game-breaking bugs and then had to deal with servers that constantly went on and offline throughout the course of the day. Some players lost progress in the game and even lost certain achievements permanently. Blizzard knew they were at fault and publicly apologized as Community Manager, Bashiok commented on the matter:

"As many of you are aware, technical issues occurring within hours after the game's launch led to players experiencing error messages and difficulty logging in. These issues cropped up again last night for the Americas and Europe servers. Despite very aggressive projections, our preparations for the launch of the game did not go far enough."

Great as it was for Blizzard to send its apologies, it still baffles me as to how they couldn't have seen this issue coming. It's been 12 years since the last Diablo and they knew how many people were excited for this game. It's not like this is Blizzard's first huge launch either. Back in 2004 when World of Warcraft first launched, they also experienced huge amounts of server traffic which led to many of the same issues we saw with D3's launch. Being their first MMO, those issues were understandable, but three expansions later and still holding the crown with 11 million subscribers and you'd think they'd be ready for something like this. Sure, D3 now retains the record for day-one PC sales but that's still no excuse for botching the launch of such an anticipated title.

Say what you want, as someone who is a dedicated PC gamer, being restricted to playing online only is sometimes a hassle. Some companies, like Ubisoft, have taken this direction (Assassin's Creed) and I just can't agree with that decision or even the often overlooked omission of LAN support. Diablo has always been a game you can choose to play with or without friends, and while you can still do this, having the requirement of always being on is, quite frankly, stupid. For the players that have an unstable connection, you'll never be able to play D3 and that infuriates me.

Bad as the initial taste was for the game, when everything became relatively smooth D3 became a very fun experience. Great as it was for a time, as I got deeper into the mix I began to feel... estranged. If you've never played the previous entries in the series then the feeling will be hard to describe, but let's start with some of the core mechanics changed specifically for D3.

Diablo has always been about crawling through dungeons and looking for gear with your buddies. With several classes and different ways to build your characters, finding that unique piece of armor or weapon was a satisfying feeling - one that no longer exists in D3. One of the major reasons this empty feeling occurs is because the loot table is too diverse. What I mean is, in the first two games, you can play completely alone and within an ample period of time find a multitude of upgrades off of the random drops that don't feel trivial. In D3 this just doesn't happen. At first I thought it was me, but after talking with fellow players, friends and playing more I discovered I wasn't alone on the matter.

No longer can you just play and earn your upgrades by wading through thousands of demons. Technically you still can do that, but finding the items you need will honestly take months and that isn't even for the top-end gear. We're talking just a decent upgrade and you'll be lucky if you find that. Entering Hell, I still hadn't found an acceptable upgrade to my weapon, boots, chest, shoulders or a good ring and I hit a brick wall. Rather than farm mindlessly for eternity, situations like this forces players to use the new auction house. The auction house is a great idea on paper, but it eliminates the satisfaction of finding your own items. By spending a small amount of gold, you can get everything you need and finish an entire act without finding a single upgrade, because you no longer need it.

I have a real issue with this because discovery was always such a big part of Diablo II. Sure, sometimes you had to go back and look for some items, but you were still somewhat effective. By implementing so many useless items, Blizzard has effectively slowed the game down or, in my opinion, MMO-ified the game by superficially increasing the amount of time you need to play to find something worthwhile.

A great example of how anemic items are in D3 is found within the new Legendary weapons (D3's take on uniques). Take, for instance, D2's unique crossbow called the Buriza-Do Kyanon and I'll try and make this as clear as possible. In D2, this crossbow comes with set stats that, in itself, are random. That means you'll always see that enhanced, cold and maximum damage along with some other stats. However, while those stats will always be on the item, each of their properties is completely random. So you might find a Buriza with 200% Enhanced Damage while your friend finds one with 160% Enhanced Damage. This made items worth vastly different amounts when trading in D2 and for a good reason. In D3, every single statistic is completely random on the items, even if it was 'made' for your character.

For the sake of clarity, say you found a new crossbow for your Demon Hunter and it was a Legendary. You'd probably get all excited right? Let's go a step further and say that the crossbow can only be wielded by a Demon Hunter but it had no dexterity on it, which is the Demon Hunter's primary attribute. Even if the crossbow boosted specific skills for the class, having things like intelligence and strength on the item do almost nothing for it. The weapon is for absolutely no one and while there will certainly be trash loot, as there always is, these random stats happening on Legendary items is downright stupid. A friend of mine freaked out when he opened a small chest early on in the game and found his first Legendary in D3's take on the awesome Frostburn Gauntlets of D2. Unfortunately his excitement was dashed when he noticed it literally had every primary stat in the game on it, making it worthless to sell and useless to him. How disappointing.

It's pretty sad when a yellow (rare) is just that much better than a Legendary of the same item level. What's even worse is that picking up all the trash loot and breaking it down in D3's new crafting system is pointless. Having consistently upgraded the blacksmith and broken down practically everything on my way to Hell, a friend of mine asked me why I was bothering. I told him I was building it up to get see about getting some useful gear. Come to find out, D3 doesn't work like that. As a matter of fact, the only equipment in the game that's worth crafting is found off of schematics that drop off of monsters - akin to WoW's system and that's not a good thing.

The last thing I want to do is spend my time creating the same piece of armor over and over in hopes that it'll generate intelligence, vitality and some other useful stats for my Wizard. Why couldn't Blizzard at least make the crafting useful at the earlier stages in the game instead of following the standard MMO approach of making a horde of iron daggers until it doesn't help you anymore? You're better off selling everything to the merchant for gold so you can just use the auction house to buy something worthwhile. Simply put, D3's crafting system is terrible.

Something else that's drastically changed is the leveling and skill system. Usually when you leveled in D2, you'd be given a set amount of points you could distribute between your primary attributes. After reaching a certain threshold, these different attributes allowed you to wield specific armors or weapons. This restriction is gone in D3 as the game allows you to wield any and all types of armors and weapons so long as it isn't class specific. It's a nice touch, but by automatically increasing your innate stats, personal character customization is gone since the only thing players need to worry about is their one primary statistic.

For instance, the Wizard's primary stat is intelligence. Strength and Dexterity are something you completely ignore and I'd go so far as to say that vitality isn't even that important for that class either. On Inferno, D3's new ultra-difficulty level beyond Hell, you pretty much get one-shot no matter what. Doing what I usually do and try to build against the typical style, I tried to build a tanky Wizard that had loads of life and more close-ranged focus, but at that stage in the game it just doesn't matter. So ostensibly you can build your guy in a specific way, but in the end, all Wizards are going to end up playing in a similar fashion. Mass damage, glass-cannon style.

I liked having that option to wield the Skullder's Ire in D2, which was one of the best Magic Find items in the game. By building up to it, my Sorceress was different than others and that's something you won't really see in D3. More specifically, the skill tree in D2 set classes far and away from one another. Two Necromancers could be completely different by going down the Summoning tree while the other one focused on specialized Curses. Some would argue that you can do this in D3 as well, and early on that's definitely true. In order to have success later on in the game though, you're going to have to forgo the majority of your abilities to find the 'cookie cutter' ones that effectively keep you out of trouble while dishing out the most damage.

I'm not against D3's skill system, which is an evolution off of D2's traditional skill tree. What was hard about D2's version was that every little thing was permanent, mistake or not. Late into the game's life, they integrated a skill reset, but D3 doesn't require one. At any time you can switch your abilities and even augment them with a set of runes that make the moves even more unique. A standard meteor can become several waves of tiny meteorites, a ball of frost or even infused with arcane power. As you level up, more and more skills and runes will become available to you adding to your already diverse set of moves. Great as this sounds, it becomes a huge disappointment later on the in the game when you discover that the majority of runes for your abilities are laughable. Just like your abilities, there's really only a few runes that are acceptable, making the rest completely ignorable.

As far as the story goes, I really don't know what happened to the storytelling over at Blizzard. The original Diablo games and even StarCraft wove tales of intrigue with complicated characters that are full of life and mystery. When StarCraft II came out, I was completely underwhelmed by its predictable narrative and safe direction. D3 follows in the same light by resurrecting characters we haven't seen since the original game and treads across an embarrassingly predictable path. Even more insulting is that Deckard Cain, an iconic character to the series, dies in the opening act and doesn't even get his own cinematic death scene. Instead, his death takes place within an in-game cut-scene devoid of any emotion whatsoever. Awesome.

There's a lot of little things that make D3 feel unfamiliar and I still attribute that feeling directly to being too close to an MMO - specifically WoW. Jay Wilson, D3's director, came from working on WoW, making it further evident that the changes I've discussed have that MMO influence. You've always been that super overpowered character in the Diablo universe, cutting down all obstructing your path, and again, D3 feels like you're moving in slow motion - like an MMO. Loot is less rewarding, enemies take longer to kill, everything is given to you in a drip and that's because Blizzard wants you to commit more time to D3. D2 never felt superficially enhanced like this and that truly makes me sad.

I think the worst part about it is that Blizzard's style of 'enhancing' a game is exactly like patching an MMO. Constant changes to classes, buffs, nerfs, people saying this class is too powerful, now this one's too good, it's annoying. D2 definitely received its share of augmentations but it never felt like this. I get that technology evolves and with it the way developers patch their games, but if you need to see how not to do it go ahead and check out D3's latest patch notes. I can sum it all up in a single sentence:

"Weapon racks will no longer drop weapons 100% of the time."

I don't think I need to proclaim how stupid that statement sounds but it just gets worse with a few other changes:

"Destructible objects no longer have a chance to drop items, and will only have a small chance to drop gold when destroyed."

Apparently Blizzard is so worried about people finding good items that they needed to remove the timeless RPG affair of smashing an inordinate about of pots. Terrible as all this sounds, the number one change people are complaining about is the reduction of all attack speed items by 50%. Think of all your damage and the attacks you dish out, now cut all of that in half. Once again, Blizzard has slowed the game down further making D3 even more of a noticeable grind than before. If you need proof to see how upset the community is about this, look no further than the official Diablo forums. it's a mess over there but I can't blame the crowd.

For all of its faults, and there's a lot more of them, D3 has done a lot right. It's still an enjoyable experience but I remind you that we waited 12 years for this. A 12 year development cycle is insane as most triple-A titles out there don't see more than three. D3 feels like a game that's been rewashed again and again until the color has most assuredly faded from its once bright and illustrious form. Torchlight II, would you hurry up and release already?

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- Andrew Whipple III
E3 2012: Pid interview
by Andrew Whipple III

E3 is all about big games, flashy booths and news that gets everybody jumping around the showroom floor. However, some games showing incredible promise are often overlooked and overshadowed by these multi-million dollar titles.

Quirky, colorful, enigmatic but above all else a platformer, Might and Delight's Pid is one of those games you instantly know you'll love as soon as you glance at the screen. Fortunately, I was exposed to its genius and I'm here to tell the tale.

Pid interview

The narrative of Pid is one surrounded in mystery. What we do know is that the protagonist, Kurt, a young boy on his way home via a space bus, is accidentally beamed down to an unknown world. Stranded on this planet, Kurt must deal with the game's bizarre environments and creatures to find his way back to the bus, which will take him home.

Where'd he get that gem anyway?

Drawing inspiration directly from Mega Man, Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario Bros., Pid is a true platformer at heart and promises to challenge those who relish in old-school game design. One of the core mechanics behind Pid is the distribution of light beams. By throwing a gem down you can place a beam that will interact with the environment. For instance, by throwing a gem on the side of a wall, the beam of light will carry you over the treacherous pit of doom. A simple mechanic, but Might and Delight promises that the puzzles and scenarios you'll run into will get more complex as the game progresses.

Ostensibly, Pid sports a unique art style that some might call childish, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The game's aesthetics mix with the atmosphere and with that, help set the mood of the game. Of course, the mood is always better with a friend and if things are getting too hairy for you, Pid does feature a co-operative mode where Kurt calls in his friend Audrey for assistance.

Manipulating blocks is key. Well, key to not dying.

What I treasure most about Pid is its roots. While I strongly consider Mega Man and the Donkey Kong Country games (at least one and two) some of my most treasured titles, it's amazing to see a new game build upon their foundation. Pid is a platformer that promises complexity and that adaptive nature you had to have to get anywhere in old school games. It won't be an overwhelming difficulty, but small touches like one-hit kills and holding down jump to go a little bit higher make me smile.

A release date hasn't been set in stone yet, but expect to see Pid before the end of the Summer on Xbox Live, PSN and PC. I can't stress enough that this is a title for absolutely everybody and if you're a retro gamer who immediately lights up when you hear the word 'platformer,' then this game is especially for you.

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- Andrew Whipple III
E3 2012: Neverwinter interview
by Andrew Whipple III

The Forgotten Realms have always been a location writhing with great stories to tell and horrid monsters to slay.

We've enjoyed a multitude of games taking place in this world, but we have yet to enter that defining massively multiplayer game taking place in that environment. Neverwinter, Perfect World and Cryptic Studios' take on the famed Jewel of the North could very well be that title.

Neverwinter interview

MMORPGs are something I've been conflicted about for some time now. The last MMO I sunk an untold amount of time into was, of course, World of Warcraft but that's a relationship that's been done for over three years now. Since my detachment, games like The Old Republic seemed to be the way of re-entering the fold, but the more I played the more I realized it was the same thing but with a new coat of paint. After basically giving up my search, Neverwinter came along and literally shocked me.

Neverwinter E3 cinematic trailer

Taking place 100 years after something called the Spellplague devastated the land, a massive call is put forth asking all able-bodied men and women to help rebuild the great city of Neverwinter. It's a typical premise for an MMO nowadays but this is Dungeons & Dragons we're talking about, so all is definitely not what it seems.

We took a look at Neverwinter back at PAX East and, as we expected, a whole lot has changed. For those that aren't aware, Neverwinter is a free-to-play action-based MMO which means you're going to be actually using your skills to fight your way to victory - not tab-targeting and auto-attacking all day. Akin to what some may have seen in TERA, Neverwinter's combat system is a testament to the gameplay and what Cryptic wants for its players; complete control. If you're expecting to hit a monster with your moves, you better be aiming that spell at them. If an enemy is getting ready to unleash a cataclysmic strike, you best be paying attention and roll out of the way. Clearly, Neverwinter is a game that wants every situation to matter, which is all the more reason why having 100% control means so much.

Ahem, this guy is actually a merchant. Nice guy. Really.

Getting some hands-on time with the game, I can definitely say that Neverwinter is just as responsive as any third-person action game, and it needs to be. With all of the traps and strikes your enemies will be throwing at you, paying attention will be the key to victory. One element I found most refreshing was that Neverwinter doesn't support regenerating health. You heard me right. That means if you're not paying attention, you could find yourself out of health potions, your healer's reserves emptied and your luck completely dried out. Each character has various escape possibilities, but when you can't run, Cryptic's excellent combat system comes to aid you.

Playing as the Control Mage, I found myself in a couple of situations where my group wasn't retaining control of the situation to my liking. Since control is in my name, I was able to pick out individual targets that were causing the issues and disable them enough for my team to get their senses together. If you're a sensible player, every class will have something similar and if that fails, you can always use the environment to your advantage. Playing much like an action-game, I noticed some enemies were dangerously close to a ridge. Generating an ice storm that knocks enemies back, I was able to quell the threat by literally pushing my foes into the chasm. Yeah, it was pretty awesome.

If you fail to evade here you can tell all your friends what lightning tastes like.

Great as the combat is, you can expect to see a huge focus on the typical MMO mechanics that make a game, well... an MMO. Instances will be very group dependent, but will also drop the best loot, trading systems, skills trees, it's all present in Neverwinter, but the game does bring something particularly exciting to the table.

User generated content is a focus of Neverwinter. While I don't know exactly how it works, players will be able to create their own dungeons to share with their friends and more importantly, the world. I can't wait to see how this mechanic is going to work within the game and hopefully we won't have to wait too much longer. Neverwinter is slated to go into beta sometime soon and should come out before the end of 2012. Hopefully that timetable is spot on because with this kind of quality behind a free-to-play game , I can't wait to see if it holds up in the final release.

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- Andrew Whipple III
E3 2012: Double Dragon: Neon interview and gameplay
by Andrew Whipple III

Double Dragon has always been one of my most treasured vintage franchises. While never finding a successful way to extend its legendary reach this generation, Majesco and Way Forward might have finally discovered it.

Combining everything Double Dragon with contemporary visuals, auditory style and bucket loads of exaggeration, Double Dragon: Neon is basically The Expendables of video games. With that said, if there's one arcade game you should be excited for, it's undoubtedly this one.

Double Dragon: Neon interview

We covered a bit of Neon back at PAX East in April and a lot has changed since then. In our hands-on demo, the always classy Pete Rosky showed us some of the new mechanics. But before we get too deep into that, I feel it's necessary to state that Neon is a full re-imagining of Double Dragon. It's a proverbial love letter to Double Dragon and the 80's so expect to see everything you loved about the old school games, but also expect to see them refined and fully exaggerated. Perhaps that might put some people off since it isn't a 'pure' remake of the game, but I implore you to stay with me here.

There's always time for a high-five.

The original levels and moves are exactly how you remember them, but with more flair and less flak. For example, controls have been smoothed out and modernized. Instead of pressing two buttons to jump and hoping it works, you can tap one button like a normal game. The first level still begins with Marian getting brutally gut-punched and ends with you blasting off into... space. So that space part wasn't there before, but the humour injected is priceless. Once again, expect everything from the original game but better. Billy and Jimmy Lee go into space, man. Seriously, just take my money.

Gameplay lost in time.

Back to the mechanics. So Neon follows an upgrade system focused on what's called the mixtape. Like the times of old, each tape has two sides; A and B. The 'A' side is your physical abilities like grenades, fireballs and that classic elbow everyone loves. Side 'B' is all about passive moves that can increase your health, speed or even abilities on the 'A' side. As you progress through the game, you'll find new tapes and cash you can use to augment your dudes at the Tapesmith. Yes, the Tapesmith. Actually, tapes play such a major role in the game that if you're playing with a friend and he goes down, you can revive him by reeling back the mixtape. Maybe some of you young 'ins don't get it, but someone like me who actually remembers those things should find it rather hilarious.

Double Dragon: Neon gameplay

All joking aside, the combat is incredibly solid in Neon. It's still the same 2D sidescrolling beat 'em up you loved and the system still remains fun. Of course, the best bet is to play the game with a buddy and there will be multiplayer over the internet as well as local. Going with the exaggerated theme though, expect to find crazy weapons like a cattle prod, a ninja sai and even a hair comb. You can even give your buddy a high-five to split your health if someone is running low, or to slam the enemies around you to the ground who witness the pure masculinity of the moment. Clearly Way Forward is having a blast making this game and Pete Rosky had this to say about it:

"Imagine you got the opportunity to take your favorite parts of the Double Dragon franchise and make your own game. That's exactly what Way Forward did here."

Any self-proclaiming Double Dragon fan needs Neon and while it's definitely different, the experience in the package is solid to recommend it to practically anybody. Unfortunately there still isn't a release date on the game, but we do know it'll be out before the Summer ends. Expect it to be around the $10-15 mark or 800 to 1200 Microsoft Astral Pennies.

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- Andrew Whipple III
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