Roundabout Review

Being a limousine driver isn’t an easy gig. You’ve always got to worry about people running in the street, cars falling from the sky and, of course, what hat you’re going to put on your vehicle. But most importantly, how do you differentiate yourself? Georgio Ramos decided to make her mark on the exciting world of limo driving by becoming the world’s foremost revolving chauffeur. But the colorful action game Roundabout isn’t just about her journey to fame. It’s a story in which love, drugs, revenge, anarchy and more all come together to form one of the most delightfully absurd games in recent memory.

If you really want to boil it down, Roundabout is what you get when you throw Crazy Taxi, Tony Hawk, Kuru Kuru Kururin, and an amateur filmmaker with a camera and a love for cheesy full-motion video games into a pot. As Georgio, you control an always-rotating limousine through the open streets of Roundabout city. You can’t control the speed of the rotation, and you can only rarely affect its direction, so maneuvering around the streets requires precise timing.

I know I’m spinning my car around with no concern for the safety of others, but come on, dude. That’s not how you park.

As you move through the game’s open world, you accept missions by picking up passengers. Every time you pick someone up you are treated to a unique and cheesy full-motion video sequence that contributes to the game’s story. The sequences encapsulate Roundabout’s tone: They’re ridiculous, they don’t take themselves seriously, and they look like they could have been made in a garage. The acting in each is deliberately amateur, rather than an attempt to meet big Hollywood’s exacting standards. Such scenes are what might result from a group of friends getting together to make a dumb and campy film with a 1970s feel. Google the actors’ names, and you find that the actors mostly a bunch of video game industry acquaintances, which might explain the clips’ goofy and good-natured tone.

Even if you were to find these videos grating, they are easily skipped at the tap of a button. But to do so would be a mistake, as the scenes contain not only a lot of humor, but a lot of heart. Each character’s story arc guarantees at least a chuckle or two. Even Georgio, who never utters a word, conveys a lot of emotion each time she looks over her shoulder to the person in the back seat of her limo.

Love, drugs, revenge, anarchy and more all come together to form one of the most delightfully absurd games in recent memory.

As you pick up passengers and take them where they need to go, you must carefully weave your way through obstacles like cars, street lamps, fences and, of course, roundabouts. Most objects in the environment are indestructible, and colliding with them causes damage to your limo. It’s important to learn how to slide yourself into gaps as you spin, which allows you to navigate turns and avoid other drivers, who would be easily missable if you were driving like a normal person instead of a spinning maniac. Getting the hang of moving with the limo’s rotation requires you to twist your brain a bit, but deftly sliding through obstacles is eminently satisfying. You often have to be quick, though, or you’ll spin right into a tree (or worse). Hit enough obstacles, and your limo blows up in spectacular fashion, but don’t worry: you won’t lose too much in terms of progress.

You can get some help moving through town by equipping different power-ups, including one that allows you to slow down time while you move through obstacles, and another that helps you pinpoint hidden collectibles. Eventually, the story also grants you the ability to jump, which opens up even more paths and shortcuts.

This isn’t even the weirdest thing that happens in Roundabout.

It’s impossible to fail a mission in Roundabout, but you can complete it poorly. You might fail to meet optional challenges, such as completing a mission without hitting anything, or finishing within a certain time limit, and your time is added to a global leaderboard on which you are told how you rank against your friends. If you’re more concerned with earning money, you’ll want to keep your combo multiplier going by collecting objects quickly and not hitting obstacles along the way. Need to keep up a combo but see no nearby pickups? Just run over some pedestrians. Surely there’s no harm in that at all.

One of Roundabout’s few flaws is the lack of a quick restart option while in the middle of a task. You can retry a mission upon completing it, but if you get halfway through and want to restart for any reason you must ditch your passenger via the pause menu. This stops the mission, but it doesn’t take you back to the beginning, forcing you to make that trek yourself. Similarly, there is no easy way to see your score or completion percentage on missions you are not currently engaged with, and there’s no way to quickly travel to them either. This isn’t much of an issue when playing through the story for the first time, but it makes going back for 100-percent completion more painful than it needs to be.

Click above for more Roundabout images.

Roundabout is short, but sweet. If you just blaze through the story you can be done in a couple hours or less. Those hours are kept fresh with a handful of challenges that break up the pure driving (such as a destruction derby event and a mission to bounce a soccer ball on your limo repeatedly), which can be replayed for higher leaderboard scores. You’re also encouraged to dive back into the world of Roundabout to find all its collectibles, finish each mission’s goals, or play through the entire game in an “eSports” speedrun mode that eliminates the FMV stuff.

But even without the incentives to keep playing after the credits roll, Roundabout works well as a short chunk of oddbeat humor and arcade-like gameplay. It’s unapologetic in its goofiness, and it tells a fun story on top of its relatively unique gameplay. Sure, you can draw comparisons to the games that inspired it, but when was the last time you played an absurdist 1970s limousine game that was this much fun?

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Super Smash Bros. 3DS Review

Smash Bros. has always felt like Nintendo’s real “tentpole” game to me, more so even than the core Mario series. That’s probably because, as a child of the ’90s, I grew up with it. With Super Smash Bros. for 3DS, I feel like I can visit different eras from my history. In the trophies for characters like Pac-Man and Mega Man, I’ve found trivia for games that were simply before my time. In the renewed emphasis on competitive modes and global rankings, I feel a connection to my competitive past. In the soundtrack, I’ve tapped not just a nostalgia for Zelda and Pokémon, but for the whole Smash Bros. franchise. It’s good to be back.

The basic premise of a Super Smash Bros. match is simple. Each player picks his or her favorite character before squaring off on any of one of a couple dozen stages. Unlike most fighting games, Smash has no life bars and does not emphasize extensive button combinations. Each character’s attacks are easy to learn, and the goal is to rack up damage to knock your opponent further and further away. Eventually, you’ll be able to knock your foe clear off the stage, where they’ll then fall to their death. It’s somewhat like a trumped up, glitzy version of sumo wrestling, and it’s absolutely brilliant.Damage directly effects how far any given character will fly after being struck, but if you’re skilled or lucky enough, you can stay on a stage even after taking more than your fair share of hits. This adds a layer of tension to most matches, as dealing the most damage doesn’t always guarantee a win. Similarly, if you’re doing well but slip up and fall off the stage without taking even the slightest jab, the failure stings just a bit more. That variability lies at the heart of Smash Bros. It’s why the game is so approachable to new players and why competitive players are still discovering new techniques in Super Smash Bros. Melee, 13 years after its release. The 3DS game lacks some widely panned mechanics from Brawl, particularly the random tripping that would cause characters to simply fall over face first as well as the general feeling of a low-gravity floatiness. In their stead are a bevy of subtle new additions aimed at both casual players and the core crowd. The result feels more honest and broadly appealing than any previous iteration. The items that drop in the middle of battles are weirder than ever and have a wider variety of effects. There are a few that can deliver one-hit-KOs, and one that will give you an extra life, and they help boost the tension and excitement of an anarchic free-for-all bout. If you play competitively, you may note that Nintendo has made tweaks to almost every area, from grabs to ledge guarding. Even classic Smash Bros. concepts like directional influence have been overhauled. Now, instead of having some control over the exact angle your character will fly when hit, you have the ability to modify the strength of the effect through a mechanic that players have called “vectoring.” Characters can now be customized to increase their speed, defense, or attack at the cost of another stat. You can import Miis, give them one of three fighting styles, and micromanage some of their attacks. The main cast of characters has ballooned to 49, which is a huge increase from the 12 found in the original Nintendo 64 release. Almost all of the characters play differently. For the purposes of this review, I spent at least 10 minutes playing with each fighter (over eight hours of simply sampling the roster) so that I could figure out which ones I liked and which I thought didn’t match my play style.

The characters I found myself gravitating towards were those that felt quick and light and could chain lots of attacks together. Pac-Man, for example, is incredible at this. While running, he can use an attack that hits three separate times while he continues to move forward. That can lead straight into one of his special moves, which lets you trace a short line and rocket towards an enemy. Greninja felt just as smooth, focusing as he does on light attacks and quick movement. All of the characters are extremely tight and responsive, and made me feel like I had total control over the field. Even older characters notorious for their sluggishness have been given a boost. Bowser is much, much faster for example, even though he’s still a heavier character. It’s impossible to say this early on whether all of these fighters will turn out to be as balanced as they seem to be, but for now at least, they feel closer than they’ve ever felt to being on equal footing.

Stages are similarly varied and have a wide range of hazards and tricks to keep players engaged and constantly moving. Having them on a handheld system with limited graphical power has led to smaller stages overall. Smash Bros. 3DS aptly balances that with characters that are generally tougher to kill and small arenas packed with inventive ideas. One of my favorites, Gerudo Valley, pulls its inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. A wooden bridge runs through the center of the map, and if you’re not careful, a stray attack could break it, causing you to fall into a chasm below. If you do fall, you can still fight your way back up, but other players will have the advantage of higher ground. From time to time, a pair of witches will show up and blast the canyon with spells, coating the sides in either vicious flames or pillars of ice. Smash Bros. stages have always been incredibly diverse, and it’s great to see that the imaginative levels haven’t been lost in the transition from living room console to handheld. Playing the game on the 3DS, however, did cause some problems for my hands and wrists. There’s a distinctly different design philosophy for console controllers which are engineered to be extremely comfortable to use for hours on end, and portable game systems which need to be small enough to fit into a pocket. As an adult male, my hands aren’t terribly small, but the 3DS I used for the first few days of this review was. Besides taking some time to get used to the relatively cramped buttons, I also noticed a shooting pain and intermittent numbness in my wrist. I switched and started to play to a larger 3DS XL, and felt quite a bit better. I’ve played quite a few games in my time, and spent countless hours with Pokémon, Zelda, and more on the 3DS, and never had these kinds of issues. While everyone’s hands are different, I feel that given the severity of my symptoms, it’s worth mentioning that if you’re going to be picking this game up, you might want to try the demo a bit if you’re using one of the smaller 3DS models. Beyond physical complaints, I had no technical problems whatsoever, even when playing with people in Japan and Europe to test out the online features (even though there have been some early reports of lag in multiplayer matches).Smash Bros. 3DS has two online modes to choose from: For Fun and For Glory. The former has the full standard list of stages available, and signature Smash Bros. items like the Beam Sword and Home Run Bat will appear regularly. In the latter, every stage is a variant of the Final Destination location, meaning it’s completely flat and has no special characteristics. Items are banned from these matches in an effort to more closely mimic the kind of competitive environment that has grown up around the series. Nintendo’s clearly trying to appease as many fans as possible, and that’s not a bad thing. You can also play with friends only, and that opens up a few more options; namely, using your custom Mii Fighters, which aren’t allowed in bouts with strangers.

Unless you’re playing with your friends, you won’t be able to play anything but two-minute timed matches, but even those are great. They are short enough that the pain is over quickly if you’re getting knocked around by someone much better than you, and because you don’t have long to get invested in the results, each match leaves a sweet aftertaste. Because I played before the US release, the majority of my games were with folks in Japan, and I had a great time. Everything felt fair, and I was always matched with people who were close enough to my skill level that I was consistently challenged.

Single-player modes are pretty minimal on the 3DS, especially compared to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but what’s here is fantastic, and serves as both a great challenge to veteran players and a friendly romp for the less experienced. The Classic mode has existed in one form or another since the first Smash Bros., and while the 3DS version of it might seem a little bit shorter than before, it’s also by-far the best. Before each run, you’ll wager gold coins that you’ve earned by playing matches. The more you wager, the tougher the fights, but that also ups the rewards and collectibles you can earn. You’ll have five main fights to finish, followed by the perennial boss, the Master Hand. You can select different sub-routes along the way, with each of them being color-coordinated for difficulty and offering that same core trade-off between reward and challenge. At the end you’ll collect your winnings, possibly unlock a new character, or play through again. Which is what I did. A lot.

Betting in-game gold on myself pushed me to try harder and harder. And that actually means something for once, as previous Smash Bros. titles had comparatively easy single-player modes. Higher difficulty levels will also have different, multi-part end bosses that you’ll have to fight while saddled with a harsh time limit and limited lives. Losing causes the difficulty to drop down a notch, and you’ll lose a good chunk of cash. Seeing the piles fall away adds insult to injury, but also works as an excellent motivator.

Single-player modes are pretty minimal on the 3DS, especially compared to Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but what’s here is fantastic.

You can spend the gold you pick up in an in-game store to unlock new trophies, or you can play other modes like Trophy Rush, which costs a certain amount of gold per second of play. In all of these modes the goal is to unlock more of Smash Bros.’ many, many, many secrets. Hidden stages, characters, items to upgrade your Miis, and trophies all pull from the Nintendo pantheon, and are all meant to be something special to some fan somewhere. When you cut right down to it, that’s really what the whole series is for–fan service that allows you to find and unlock more fan service so that you can play with other fans and share in the fan experience.

I found so much raw joy in my time with Super Smash Bros. 3DS. And even though I played to the point where I was literally in pain, I didn’t have to keep playing Smash Bros. 3DS. I wanted to.

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Natural Doctrine Review

If patience is the cardinal virtue shared by all role players, then Natural Doctrine will be the game that turns a lot of saints into profanity-slinging, rage-quitting sinners. To some extent, this is what developer Kadokawa Games wants. Many of the game’s most sadistic battles are laid out with cruel intent, the designers beckoning you closer and closer to the evil jack-in-the-box waiting for you behind a rock wall, or sitting in a cave after you pull the wrong lever. Unfortunately, most of Natural Doctrine’s greatest challenges to your patience don’t arise from a fair and balanced battle system, but from the game’s failure to adhere to comprehensible logic.

In many ways, Natural Doctrine is a traditional turn-based role-playing game, but it’s one that finds a number of unique ways to annoy you. The fields of play are typically wide enough to allow breathing room, but Natural Doctrine still often funnels your party members down cramped corridors for fights, with occasional high grounds for riflemen to gain the advantage. The game screen is often absolutely choked with information, exacerbating the sense of claustrophobia. Button guides are at the bottom, the turn order is at the top, attacks options are on the left, information about them is underneath, and if you’ve switched the graphics style for the dialogue into full mode, character portraits often block the right half of the screen. Once you start arranging actions for your turn, the lines of attack look like Jackson Pollock’s interpretation of the New York Giants’ playbook. When the game is at its cluttered worst, you watch your characters move in a space the size of a Tetris block; at its best, the act of even seeing and targeting enemies is a kaiju-scale grappling match with the unwieldy camera, and that’s before you endure 10 minutes of watching enemies move into place and perform overelaborate attack animations.

And so we are all connected in the great circle of HUH?

This is the irony of Natural Doctrine: it overwhelms you with unnecessarily detailed data, but rarely communicates anything truly essential. There’s an extensive amount of voice acting and text dedicated to the game’s mawkish and inconsequential anime story, for instance, yet the tutorial leaves volumes to the imagination. In time, you learn that Natural Doctrine’s big gimmick is the link system, in which one character’s action can allow some or all of the others an additional crack at the enemy; furthermore, just the right positioning grants each attacker damage or defense bonuses for the entire turn. When the link system is at its best, your team of heroes circles three or four enemies, seeking just the right vantage point from which to do the most damage.

Should you perform this deathly dance properly, you may be able to completely shut the enemy down. Sadly, performing it correctly means devoting hour upon hour to trial and error, because the tutorial only teaches you a few scant basics. Learning how to guard allies, why you can’t open chests and doors on a linked turn, how to configure your party for maximum buffing, what your movement limitations are, how accurate your gun-wielders may or may not be–you must wing your way through these considerations and many more until the game forces you to figure them out in increasingly unforgiving ways. For what it’s worth, Natural Doctrine’s upgrade system is a fine one, allowing you to intuitively swap around skills and attributes at will until your characters play the way you need them to, but even so, you’re going to have to die, and die often, just to determine what each character’s particular strengths are.

Sadly, this scene does not end with the Orc King belting out Seek and Destroy.

Again, the patience of strategy role-playing veterans cannot be underestimated, so you may persevere. Even on easy mode, you may spend many an hour learning the game’s intricacies, replaying stages, practicing your favorite strategies on hordes of bad guys, and tweaking your preferred combat style. You will struggle, fight, die, and grind for experience for days, and a moment will come when you realize that your enemies are and will always be better at Natural Doctrine than you are.

Anyone who’s played a Souls game at this point will be used to the theory Natural Doctrine is trying to espouse here. Victory is paid for with trial and error, with heavy emphasis on the “error” part. But where Dark Souls and its brethren reward experimentation, improvisation, and just plain cunning, there is quite often only one viable solution to a problem in Natural Doctrine, and it’s your responsibility to find out what exactly that one solution is. The alternative is being stuck for 30 minutes on an encounter in which one false move results in the enemy linking dozens of attacks together in an unstoppable string of death. It’s not strategy: it’s Byzantine safe cracking. Many of the early battles involve getting to one specific room, being confronted with the possibility of a boss battle, and discovering that the conditions for victory involve escaping behind a closing door. That might have been acceptable if making a run for it didn’t take 30 minutes just to move two rooms away. See, you can link attacks and heal to your heart’s content, but escaping to a different area must be done one character at a time. You spend most of your time with Natural Doctrine restarting stages after spending close to an hour escaping an enemy you can’t even fight. That’s not “hard, but fair.” That’s suffering of the kind that’s legendary even in hell.

Made of a special steel from the faraway land of This Will Not Save You.

All of this is in aid to a watery thin story that mimics the plot of Attack on Titan, with generic World of Warcraft-style castoffs supplanting Titan’s creepy frozen-faced abominations. There’s the occasional twist, including an early one whose suddenness and brutality you will never see coming, but the story is otherwise a great nothing. The times when the game offers joy–typically, when you actually do figure out the perfect link to completely decimate your enemies–don’t outweigh the pervading sense of overwhelming frustration.

Despite the aggravation, there’s an audience for Natural Doctrine, a brand of uber-patient strategist who focuses with laser precision on how to manipulate the system and do his dirty deeds. The tools are there to do so, and with enough commitment and dedication, there’s a point in which the true joys of the game open up for you to see. With that same commitment of time and energy, however, you could also play a better role-playing game several times over.

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Neverwinter Updated Review

It wasn’t the promise of new lands to explore to dragons to slay that brought me back to Neverwinter; it wasn’t even (at first) the opportunity to try out new classes. No, after an absence of several months, it was the opportunity to use the race-changing feature to transform my humdrum human great weapon fighter into a gloriously-bearded dwarf that sent me back into the arms of developer Cryptic’s Dungeons & Dragons online role-playing game. And against all expectations, I embraced it, if only for a little while. Neverwinter’s combat still excels all these months later, and the time since launch has given it a semblance of an endgame it previous lacked.

Seconds in, I could see that Neverwinter’s combat had retained its sense of power and explosive immediacy. My great weapon fighter, newly shrunk to dwarven size, swung his blade with a flick of the left mouse button and exploded in a frenzy at a touch of the tab key. Neverwinter’s focus on action lacks the novelty it once commanded in the days before WildStar and Elder Scrolls Online stomped onto the scene, but few MMOGs do such a good job of capturing the experience of clobbering baddies with sharp, shiny blades. Somewhere, we’re led to believe, an adherence to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons serves as the foundation for all this, though that connection is a notable loose one. Consisting mainly of three action bars and two daily skills, the combat system provides the kind of fun that could catch on well when Neverwinter makes its jump to the Xbox One later this year.

The lore here is weak, but the world at least captures the “feel” of D&D. The combat holds up so well, in fact, that my time “sampling” the newish hunter ranger introduced last December turned into a leveling extravaganza that had me pushing to the level cap in just a few days. For leveling, it’s probably a personal record. The absence of this staple fantasy class stung at launch, but it seems that slight wait wasn’t for naught. There’s a pleasing Legolas-style quality about the class: hit tab, and the iconic bow is switched out for a hotbar dedicated to finishing off enemies with a pair of lengthy daggers; hit shift, and he darts out of harm’s way in an explosion of leaves.I also found some of that excitement in the new scourge warlock class. I only toyed with it across 10 or so levels, but that was enough time for the class to attract me more than similar classes in games such as World of Warcraft or Guild Wars 2. Here again, the focus is on movement. Press shift, and the warlock hovers across the landscape towards the next target, occasionally blasting foes with flames that cause them to rise from the dead as minions. She provides healing energy with the damage she deals, and her fluid attack animations make her great fun to play. With the hunter ranger and the scourge warlock, Cryptic proves that good new classes will bring back players who have left for other (presumably greener) pastures.The downside of my fling with the hunter ranger was that I had to experience the 12-50 leveling content all over again. Little has changed in this regard. As it was at launch, the core levels all feel as though Cryptic studied plumbing schematics for the leveling system, with the heroes themselves acting as Drano as they clear out the gunk on the way to the boss at the end. Sometimes you’ll stop to pick up quests from non-player characters who spout stories that are never interesting enough to stick around listening to, and sometimes you must flip a switch instead of ram a sword through a goblin’s heart. Neverwinter is beautiful at times, particularly in the forests of the Blackdagger Ruins and in the snow-capped mountains of Icespire Peak, but it never quite manages to rise above generic fantasy and assume an identity of its own.A dragon. In a dungeon. How appropriate! That identity is what made past Dungeons & Dragons games like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights so memorable. If you find a trace of that spirit here, it’s in the user-made quests found within the foundry. Cryptic may withhold key features such as loot distribution from player designers in the creation interface, but the scenarios themselves are filled with old pen-and-paper D&D scenarios come to digital life. Some are episodic, and thus provide a reason to venture back to Neverwinter when Cryptic itself is in a content drought. If the content stumbles, it’s only because the rating system doesn’t rotate out new entries as much as it probably should. One entertaining foundry mission called “Tired of Being the Hero” has barely budged from its top spot since the days shortly after launch.But where do other people fit into all this? Neverwinter is curiously asocial for an MMORPG, even in the cooperative dungeons that usually form the foundation of long-lasting friendships in many of its competitors. They excel in visual appeal but fall short of any real challenge; most of the time, you’re fine just chopping through foes and bosses as long as your healer isn’t asleep. Healers don’t even need to pay that much attention. The AI-controlled companions that heal you and aid your damage in the basic level content are allowed to follow you in, leaving Neverwinter’s challenges just a notch about knowing when to stay out of the fire.And if you talk? Humorously enough, Neverwinter’s popularity across multiple countries means it’s not terribly uncommon to save the world in groups of four people who don’t understand a word you’re saying. There’s a nice “citizen of the world” vibe about its community, sure, and it serves as a nice break from the name-calling and petty arguments you find elsewhere. It’s not good, however, for forming the social bonds that games like this thrive on for longevity.Neverwinter’s combat may be fun, but its quests are as bland as they come. For the MMO connoisseur who’s more interested in wrecking his or her fellow players rather than working with them, Neverwinter also has a fun multiplayer component, but its battlegrounds are a mass of imbalances until you get to 50. Reaching the level cap unlocks the dwarven fortress of Gauntlgrym, however, and there’s some fun in its 20-versus-20 battles that capture the thrill of sieges while demanding a modicum of strategy.Most of these options existed before. The succeeding months have brought an identifiable endgame to Neverwinter that adds vitality to the game apart from the tired imperative to level an alt. These are Neverwinter’s campaigns, which shuttle you off to familiar locales like Icewind Dale for the promise of sweet loot if you can stomach the unyielding repetition of daily quests. In their favor, most of these manage to escape the tube-like progression of the core zones, opting instead to dole out quests from a central location that sends you to victory among various points of the compass.Taken together, Neverwinter’s design would fall flat in a traditional subscription MMORPG, but it doesn’t rank far below Path of Exile in terms of providing so much great content for so little. It also isn’t as insistent on robbing you as the bandits who prowl its sewers; indeed, it’s quite possible to reach the level cap without any assistance from the cash shop. Neverwinter seems to want to be the type of game that you can drop into with few complications after an absence of a few weeks or months, and it does this well.The downside of all this is that the items you can buy are a bit on the pricey side, as if to make up for its otherwise liberal model. That’s always been the case, but this tendency was most egregiously emphasized when Cryptic recently listed the price for the new Dragonborn race at $75. That borders on farcical; Skyrim sold for less when it launched. And as cool as they look, I’m not sure I could ever shake off the fear of what other players would think about my spending habits as I hulk about with my spiffy tail and scaly skin.It’s hard to hold this against Cryptic, however, since the studio gives away so much for free. Tossing money at Cryptic for lesser purchases, such as accelerators for training minions or finishing crafting tasks, certainly makes life easier, but I accomplished my recent race to 60 with my Hunter Ranger without once spending a penny. I felt a little ashamed, in fact, as though I were pirating.But that frantic, free run up to the level cap says much about Neverwinter; in spite of its many flaws, it always manages to entertain with its movement-based combat and unrelenting action. Lose yourself in its trance, and it achieves and maintains a level of addictiveness that flags all too soon in other free-to-play MMORPGs like TERA: Rising. In a genre that’s increasingly overcrowded, Neverwinter manages to establish itself as a game that’s never fully boring, never too eager to rifle your pockets, and, well, never quite fun enough to stick around in for too long.

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Azure Striker: Gunvolt Review

In Azure Striker: Gunvolt, you charge through a series of missions in the order of your choosing within a colorful 2D world, contending with pitfalls and robo-fodder until you engage in a boss battle confined to a single screen arena, and if you’re successful, you’re rewarded with a new type of gun. So, yes, it shares a few things in common with Mega Man. But, what I’ve just described is in effect an armature, a skeleton, and the game that’s designed around it, which forms its own identity through experimental mechanics and an electric, eye-catching presentation, is a fast-paced ride and a fantastic side-scrolling action experience. Although the main mission path isn’t difficult to finish, completing Gunvolt’s optional trials and seeing everything through to the end will challenge and please even the most hardened veteran looking for a fresh, Mega Man-like experience.

The story behind young Gunvolt’s charge takes cues from X-Men’s cautionary tale of mutant discrimination and Final Fantasy VII’s energy-monopolizing megacorporation, Shinra Electric Power Company. Sumeragi, an ancient order that’s seized control of the world’s energy supply, is using captive adepts–people with special powers who were once feared by humanity–to control its slice of the economy. Gunvolt’s an adept with the ability to control electricity, and before being rescued and initiated the ranks of the resistance group, QUILL, he was one of Sumeragi’s prisoners. The story definitely takes a backseat to the action, but with self-aware writing and an array of strong personalities, you’ll get a kick out of the game’s story sequences even if it doesn’t grip you on an emotional level.

Gunvolt comes from Inti Creates, a team with twelve years of Mega Man games under its belt, so it’s not surprising that a gun is central to the action in Gunvolt. Thankfully, the flow of action deviates from your traditional run-and-gun side-scroller, which is a pleasant surprise given that you still, for the most part, run to the right while firing a pistol. Rather than firing bullets in the traditional sense, your sidearm shoots metallic tags that allow the lightning from Gunvolt’s spherical Flashfield to arc across the screen and inflict damage. Since you’ll drain your fuel reserves–known as EP–after a few seconds, you can’t keep it activated indefinitely. Deplete your EP meter and you’ll overheat, which delays the amount of time before the auto-recharge effect kicks in. You have the ability to recharge it on the fly by double tapping the directional pad, but only if the field is disabled and you haven’t already overheated. During a frantic barrage of incoming fire, this is easier said than done.Quickly and cleanly soaring through missions while managing your EP levels is a dance that takes time to master, but every little bit of progress pays off in the rankings and rewards you receive at the end of each mission. The ranking you receive, in addition to the number of collectible medallions you find during each mission, give you chances to reveal squares on a grid representing different materials at the end of a level, though you only get to walk away with one per mission. These materials are used to synthesize new equipment that alter Gunvolt’s movement abilities and EP expenditure, and as you progress, taking advantage of these possibilities make Gunvolt a more adept soldier, and the hunt for higher rankings that much more enjoyable.
Quickly and cleanly soaring through missions while managing your EP levels is a dance that takes time to master…

Though you earn a new type of pistol for each boss you defeat, new weapons simply introduce new paths for your tag bullets or increase the number of tags that you can interact with at a given time. There’s room to master the intricacies of each, but you’re better off focusing on improving the speed of your game and the destructiveness of your Flashfield. By stringing together consecutive attacks on enemies without taking damage, the amount of experience you earn increases. The faster you level up, the sooner you unlock new offensive or recovery skills that become critical tools during more challenging boss battles. They’re often powerful, with some capable of fully recharging your health or cutting a boss’s health in half, but with only three, slowly recharging skill points to spend at any given time, it’s impossible to abuse the more powerful skills that eat up two points at once. If you need some extra help, however, there’s an optional roll-of-the-dice that you can initiate between levels that gives you the chance for a one time revival upon death during your next outing, which also gives Gunvolt an EP meter that never drains and a mid-air jump that never tires.Gunvolt can be challenging at times, but these moments are limited to endgame boss battles and optional skill trials, the latter of which are necessary for obtaining some of the rarer synth materials. Some early trials are a walk in the park, but the challenges that follow are incredibly demanding, and one slip up can make the difference between a successful or failed attempt. Playing with the equipment and crafting system can make things easier, but you quickly find that completing challenges, more than the main mission path, is the ultimate sign of mastering Gunvolt’s abilities.

It’s enjoyable to be able to breeze through the main game while learning how to wield Gunvolt’s abilities with newfound confidence, but considering that most levels can be completed in about ten minutes, and there are just over ten to explore, it’s also a bit deflating when the game runs out of new things for you to see. The challenges and the hunt for hidden items are worthwhile endeavors that will encourage you to play for a few additional hours, but you’re still repeatedly retracing your steps, and this is Gunvolt’s only downfall. That’s not to say you won’t find yourself going back in for just one more run, but this take on the core Mega Man formula ultimately runs out of new scenarios quicker than it deserves to given how exciting and fun it is to play.

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Rust Creator on Minecraft Sale: “I’d Have Done the Same Thing”

In the wake of Mojang’s sale to Microsoft for $2.5 billion, some have criticized Minecraft creator Markus “Notch” Persson for “selling out.” Facepunch Studios founder Garry Newman says he would have done the same thing in that position, and not just because it would mean becoming fabulously rich.

“Once you start hiring people your whole attitude changes,” reads a blog post by Newman, who is best known for Rust and Garry’s Mod. “You’re not just fing about with your life anymore.. you’re fing about with other people’s lives–and the lives of their families. You can’t just sell out and f*** everyone over.”

“… it really isn’t in [Microsoft's] favor to pay a sload of money for it and then completely f it up” — Garry Newman

“Companies like Blitz that go bust, don’t pay people what they were owed, let 175 staff go, then started up under another name almost straight away,” he continued, referencing last year’s closure of Blitz Games Studios. “Those are the guys you don’t want to be. I am sure more than the top guys at Mojang became very financially rich due to this deal and that’s something that should be admired–not seen as a bad thing.”Were Newman put in the same position as Persson, things wouldn’t have gone differently. “Long story short. I’d have done the same thing,” Newman said. “The money is enough to very much take care of all the staff. The game is in relatively safe hands. Mojang’s legacy is as a huge success story instead of a one-hit wonder. Everyone wins. Can you seriously say you’d have done it differently?”In addition to the criticism over Persson’s decision, some have openly wondered whether Microsoft is poised to now ruin Minecraft. Newman says this is “debatable,” making a salient point: “I’m sure Microsoft didn’t just buy it because they’re struggling desperately to stay relevant and some of their kids play it a lot. But even if they did it really isn’t in their favor to pay a sload of money for it and then completely f it up. That wouldn’t make any sense.”We don’t yet know exactly what Microsoft’s plans for Minecraft are, though we do know it doesn’t plan on pulling it from competing platforms like iOS and PlayStation.Yesterday’s news that Microsoft was acquiring Mojang sparked a great deal of discussion in the games industry, some of which we’ve collected for you here. For more, check out GameSpot editor Rob Crossley’s thoughts on the deal.For all of GameSpot’s news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.comFiled under:Minecraft Written By

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Xbox One Exclusive Scalebound Is Unlike Anything the Bayonetta Studio Has Made Before

Scalebound, the upcoming Xbox One exclusive from Bayonetta and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance developer Platinum Games, is unlike anything the studio has made before. That’s according to director Hideki Kamiya, who says in a new interview that the game aims to “create new gameplay,” among other things.

“The one thing that I will say is that up until this point in my career, and up until this point in Platinum Games’ history, we’ve never made a game like Scalebound,” Kamiya told IGN. “What I’m trying to do with Scalebound is create a very different kind of game than what I’ve created up until this point. We’re trying to create new gameplay, and that is a challenge for me personally.” Scalebound was announced during Microsoft’s E3 press briefing in June as an exclusive game for Xbox One. Releasing for that console, compared to Xbox 360, will no doubt have its benefits in terms of the game’s visuals and performance, but Kamiya said, “It’s less about new hardware, and more about making something totally new.”Kamiya went on to say that the power of the Xbox One should help Platinum in its effort to make Scalebound a visually stunning game. “We’ve never tried to do something photo-real or something more realistic with that touch,” he said. “But it’s always been something I’ve wanted to try. Now having that opportunity has been both difficult but interesting. And the power of the machine is helping there. It’s definitely something Platinum Games has wanted to try, and now we’re getting our chance to do it, which is cool.”Regarding Platinum’s alignment with Microsoft for Scalebound, creative producer JP Kellams added that it was an “important step” in Platinum’s legacy to work with a Western publisher such as Microsoft. He went on to say that Microsoft believes in Platinum’s vision for Scalebound, and that the companies have a “really open relationship.”Finally, Platinum and Microsoft working together on Scalebound might mean that gamers get to play the title sooner than expected. “Microsoft is very hands-on and they check everything while you’re working together,” Kamiya said. “One of the things we’ve noticed, because they keep you honest, is that we’ve been making this game faster than we normally would.”Official details for Scalebound are scarce. The only piece of media released to date for the game is the gorgeous CG trailer you see above. In it, we see a sword-wielding player squaring off against various dragons and even fiercer foes. The player is also able to cover his body in scales, in a way becoming dragon-like himself. No release date has been announced for Scalebound, but it’s a safe bet we won’t see it this year.

Platinum is also currently working on Wii U exclusive Bayonetta 2, as well as a multiplatform Legend of Korra game, based on the Nickelodeon TV show. Both are due this year.

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch

For all of GameSpot’s news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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The Evil Within: Fear the Freaks in This New Trailer

Publisher Bethesda has released a new trailer for its upcoming survival horror title, The Evil Within.

The footage (above) showcases the deranged miseries that veteran police detective Sebastian Castellanos encounters throughout the game.

It’s a nicely assembled trailer, not intended to show gameplay but instead showcase the general abhorrence of your foes. If you prefer in-game footage, GameSpot has about sixty minutes of that here.

The Evil Within has been developed at Shinji Mikami’s Tokyo studio, Tango Gameworks, which was acquired by Bethesda in 2010. Mikami has a famed history of developing survival horror games, having been instrumental in the development of the Resident Evil series.

The game has been developed for five platforms: PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 3. It’s due for release across Europe and the US on Tuesday October 14.

Rob Crossley is GameSpot’s UK News Editor – you can follow him on Twitter hereFiled under:The Evil Within Written By

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Space Sim Elite: Dangerous Reveals Price and Preorder Edition

Elite: Dangerous will cost $60 when it’s released on PC, but you can preorder the game’s Mercenary Edition right now for $50 and some extra rewards, developer Frontier Developments has announced.

If you preorder the Mercenary Edition, you’ll get a digital download of the game, an Eagle fighter ship docked in a secondary location in the game, and an exclusive pack of ship paint jobs. You’ll also get a digital players guide, a “day one” ship decal, a digital concept art book, and more digital rewards to be announced over the coming weeks. If you’ve already preordered the game, don’t worry. You’ll receive everything that’s included in the Mercenary Edition too.

Frontier Developments have yet to announce when exactly it will release this year, but you can start playing the game right now by buying your way into the beta for $75, which will get you the Mercenary edition as well. Frontier Developments CEO David Braben also recently said that the game could come to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. For more on Elite: Dangerous, check out GameSpot’s previous coverage.

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Resident Evil: Revelations 2 Will Be Released Episodically

Capcom announced today that upcoming zombie-themed game Resident Evil: Revelations 2 will be released episodically, somewhat like Telltale Games’ popular Walking Dead series.

Building on the way in which the original Resident Evil: Revelations told its story across TV-like episodes, the sequel takes things further. The game is composed of four main chapters, each of which will be released as individual episodes–one per week. Episodes will sell for $6 each, or you can buy the “Complete Season” for $25. If you bought every episode individually, it would cost $24. So what does spending the extra dollar get you?This bundle includes the four chapters and some “additional game content,” which will be announced later. Once the four episodes are released, Capcom will launch a disc-based version of Revelations 2, featuring the four chapters and additional content, for $40.Capcom adds that the retail disc version of Revelations 2 will include “further gameplay content” on top of the additional content included with the Complete Season.Revelations 2 aims to keep you hooked like a TV show, in that each weekly episode will end on a cliffhanger. This should “spur further conversation and speculation,” Capcom says.The game is coming to Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and PC. As was previously rumored, the game follows Claire Redfield and Barry Burton’s daughter, Moira Burton. Here is how Capcom sets up the story for the first episode:

“The party is crashed, Claire and Moira are knocked unconscious and taken to a mysterious detention center located on an island. They soon encounter demented, writhing enemies called Afflicted roaming the halls of this abandoned facility, and have to team up to survive. The real question is, who brought them here? And… why?”

Eddie Makuch is a news editor at GameSpot, and you can follow him on Twitter @EddieMakuch

For all of GameSpot’s news coverage, check out our hub. Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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