METRO REDUX REVIEW


Deep in the tunnels of Moscow’s Metro, a mother tells her child that life wasn’t always confined to an endless stretch of cement and darkness. People used to live on the surface. But you’ve just come back from that place; beneath ever-present clouds sits the empty husk of a decimated civilization, every inch of which is enveloped in radiation. If that doesn’t kill you, the mutants probably will. The world above is terrifying, but the sad truth is it’s not much worse than life below. Warring political factions have splintered what remains of the human race. Mankind may have survived a nuclear holocaust, but it’s trying its damnedest to snuff itself out.

Both Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light paint a hopelessly bleak picture with their fantastic, almost tangible portrayal of a post-apocalyptic world. Every radiation-made monster wants you for dinner; every human being has a secret, selfish agenda; and your only reprieve from the deadly wasteland above or tunnels below are makeshift Metro towns in which people sob aloud as they eat pasty-looking mushroom soup for the hundredth night in a row. It’s all terribly harrowing, and prettier than ever thanks to Metro Redux’s glorious visual facelift.

As a young man named Artyom, you’ll be sent on a series of high-profile missions, which will have you exploring rarely-traveled tunnels full of monsters, bandits, and other unsavory characters, in addition to the hostile world above. All of these places are rife with environmental storytelling cues, and you’ll really get a great sense of the struggles and dangers that come with living in a post-nuclear world. Exploring some areas can be a bit confusing, though. While Metro 2033 and Last Light are far from being open world games, there’s no hand-holding compass to tell you where to go so you’ll have to spend a bit of time figuring out how to progress should you miss a lever or cleverly hidden passageway.

Still, the atmosphere here is of a caliber that many games fail to achieve, and its grim tones bleed into Redux’s every mechanic to create an incredibly immersive experience. Navigating a tunnel deep within the Metro network is excruciatingly isolating; the hairs will stand up on the back of your neck once your flashlight dies and you have to spend precious seconds manually recharging it with a crank as mutant spiders scurry about. You’ll feel a powerful sense of urgency whenever the filter on Artyom’s gas mask needs to be swapped out and you’re all out of spares, or when the mask’s visor cracks and there’s no replacement to be found. And you’ll feel the choking grip of panic when you’re surrounded by more hellish creatures than you have bullets to put down.

Even Artyom’s arsenal reflects the world in which he lives. Most firearms, for example, aren’t your standard shooter affair, but rather makeshift armaments built from scrap. Their inventive designs–like a shotgun that feeds shells to the chamber via a rotating cylinder, or a pneumatic gun that must be pumped Super Soaker-style to hurl metal spikes–not only make for interesting combat scenarios, but also drive home that humans have to make do with limited resources.

It’s hard to resist trying all the new guns as you find them, and eventually you’ll build a loadout of favorites that cater to your preferred playstyle: stealth, guns-blazing, or a mixture of both. It’s entirely possible to bypass most human enemies by staying hidden and taking advantage of vent shafts or maintenance corridors, and shooting out lights will help you remain undetected. It’s also extremely satisfying to mess with foes, as the AI reacts to your actions in a logical, lifelike way.

Taking one out from the shadows with a silenced weapon, for instance, will send the rest into panic mode as they begin searching for you. Likewise, initiating a firefight with a grenade will often cause enemies to raise an alarm or, in the case of an encounter that took place in some sort of engine room, seal all the doors and flood the area with a deadly gas, forcing you to equip a vision-obscuring gas mask. Every encounter, save for a few mediocre boss battles that are a relic of old shooter design, offers a wealth of strategic opportunity, which helps Last Light and its predecessor stand apart from the average shooter.

So, too, does its fantastic sense of pacing. There are plenty of moments where you’ll spend time in a Metro station taking in the sights before heading out to your next objective. Eavesdropping on the locals is a great way to hear some fascinating stories, and in one station you can even sit down and watch a 30-minute theater performance, an event that can be passed up entirely. It’s easy to lose an hour or two admiring the surprising level of detail packed into each location, and rushing through a non-combat zone to get back to the killing is a huge disservice to the subtle stories housed within the metro tunnels.

Indeed, subtlety is what makes Metro 2033 and Last Light such exceptionally immersive games. They nail the core tenets of a shooter, then force you to react to enemies in ways outside of simply taking cover. They plop you in a post-apocalyptic world, then fill it with tons of minor but substantial details, like the shadows of once-living people now permanently nuked into stone walls. They strip you of hope, only to dangle a tiny sliver of it ahead of you like a carrot on a stick. And once the credits roll, long after you’ve lost track of body counts and the volume of setpiece explosions, it’s the subtle things–like the mother explaining to her child that people used to live in houses instead of cement tunnels–that will stick with you the most.

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DIABLO 3: REAPER OF SOULS REVIEW


Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls feels less like the series finale of your favorite TV show and more like an exciting one-off episode. And as far as expansions go, that’s totally fine. If you’ve been playing D3 again in anticipation of all the new content, you might be left wanting. But for those who’ve lost touch with Diablo 3, Reaper of Souls polishes the gameplay to addictive kill-and-loot perfection, making this the most fun the game’s ever been.

Since you killed Diablo (yet again) at the end of Diablo 3, Reaper of Souls pits you against a new villain: Malthael, a fallen archangel who sees humanity as a scourge upon creation. As the Nephalem, aka the people’s champ, you’ve got to fight back against Malthael’s army of reapers and their raised minions in the added Act 5, starting with the burning city of Westmarch. While hacking and slashing your way through creepy cemeteries, overgrown swamplands, mystic ruins, and otherworldly battlefields, you’ll appreciate all the grisly little details (like alleyways overflowing with dead bodies) and the abnormal color palette of browns, purples, and deep blues. Act 5 may only have a handful of new environment types, but the majority of them feel markedly different from the Diablo 3 vistas you’ve no doubt played to death at this point.

 

 

If you’re looking for an epic tale concluding the war between angels and demons, Reaper of Souls’ plot will be a bit of a let-down. By chatting with your followers from the preceding game, you’ll gain access to nifty, Loyalty-style missions that further their subplots. Unfortunately, these feel annoyingly unresolved, even if they do offer a welcome bit of backstory. The overarching plot about Malthael feels similarly serialized: you get some interesting insight into the Angel of Death’s mentality, but Act 5’s ending comes off as abrupt and inconclusive. With all the cliffhangers, it feels like no attempts were made to hide the fact that–if everything goes according to plan–this expansion is just one of many. Hey, at least there’s a boss fight against a bazooka-wielding fallen angel along the way.

While the additional Act is entertaining enough, the new Crusader class is easily Reaper of Soul’s biggest strength. This platemail-clad knight engages hellspawn from melee or mid-range–but whichever you choose, the Crusader’s focus is always on fighting huge groups of enemies at once, soaking up damage with your shield before using sweeping AoE abilities to annihilate your foes. Smiting demons with the Fist of the Heavens or clearing out a room with Blessed Hammers made from holy energy looks and feels righteous, and the Crusader’s combination of tanky fortitude, utility spells, and ally-saving abilities make it a nice addition to Diablo 3’s roster.

On top of the Crusader’s emboldening playstyle, they’re also some of the most well-written characters in the game. Both the female and male Crusader voice actors are superb, portraying warriors with a deep-set loyalty to a religious faith without being overzealous or fanatical. They’re empathetic without feeling soft, and have a penchant for making witty observations that genuinely made me laugh. Listening to the Crusader’s dialogue across all the Acts (yes, it’s more than just Act 5) is a treat, and their savvy remarks sound decidedly more self-aware and relatable than the borderline-ridiculous seething of the Demon Hunter or the Wizard’s haughty quips.

Once you’ve conquered Act 5’s six hours of story content, the newfangled Adventure Mode is there to prolong your enjoyment of Diablo 3’s incredibly fun core gameplay. Instead of sending you down a linear, plot-driven path, Adventure Mode cuts out nearly every story aspect and assigns you with Den of Evil-esque quests, encouraging you to jump around the environments and kill monsters however you so choose. To spice things up, you’ll encounter Cursed Chests, timed mini-challenges that provide a nice spike in difficulty apart from all the elite monster packs. Between the reworked difficulty system (a game-changing improvement that we discussed in our updated Diablo 3 review) and high density of enemies in Adventure Mode, there’s never a dull moment.

Topping off Adventure Mode are the Nephalem Rifts, randomized gauntlets that crank the chaos meter all the way up (in a good way). These dungeons provide a kind of exhilarating, unpredictable fun, where daunting challenge (an assortment of crazy hard bosses and elite packs) mixes with thrilling empowerment (new Pylon shrines that provide absurd temporary buffs like max movespeed or 400 percent damage). As a whole, Adventure Mode feels like the perfect facilitator of Diablo’s addictive brand of action: getting loot so you can kill monsters quicker so you can get more cool loot.

And there’s cool loot aplenty. The Loot 2.0 system (which affects both Diablo 3 and Reaper of Souls) is worlds better than the previous arrangement. Every drop feels worthwhile, from the formerly crappy grey and white weapons that now serve as basic crafting materials to the exhilarating new Legendary items, which come packed with some build-changing buffs. Upgrades come along at a much better cadence; you’re given just enough time to get attached to your best items before finding even better loot, so you won’t suffer from new gear fatigue. It’s astounding how much this relatively small change enhances Diablo 3, so that playing at any level always feels rewarding and engaging. Less game-changing–but still appreciated–is Myriam, the new Mystic crafter who ensures you can enjoy your gear to the fullest, letting you tweak some stats or alter its appearance to something that fits with whatever outfit ensemble you’ve got going on.

Attributing a score to Reaper of Souls is tricky. It’s a game that I’d highly recommend to anyone, but from a cost analysis perspective, it feels like some of the expansion’s standout aspects (Loot 2.0, rejiggered difficulty, and the axing of the auction house) are already available to those that own the base game. That said, I put around 30 hours into the game on Blizzard’s test servers, knowing full well all my progress would be wiped–and I’m still psyched to level a Crusader all over again when the expansion goes live. No, Reaper of Souls doesn’t deliver the finality that Diablo 2: Lords of Destruction did–but when Diablo 3 is this fun to play, more content automatically becomes a good thing.

 

LucasArts closed, Star Wars: 1313 cancelled – Radar Reacts


LucasArts’ more than thirty years as a publisher and developer are over. Disney has shuttered the branch and laid off the majority of its employees, according to a statement given to Game Informer.

“After evaluating our position in the games market, we’ve decided to shift LucasArts from an internal development to a licensing model, minimizing the company’s risk while achieving a broader portfolio of quality Star Wars games. As a result of this change, we’ve had layoffs across the organization. We are incredibly appreciative and proud of the talented teams who have been developing our new titles.”

The sad news has loomed for months–since Disney bought all of the Lucas properties in October of last year, only rumors of stunted projects and cancellations have emerged from the once-prominent publisher.

We don’t know what this means for the future of games like Star Wars 1313, though we wouldn’t hold our breath for Disney to shop out what remains to external developers.

The company that shipped The Secret of Monkey Island, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic fumbled its share of projects, but it’s still surreal to see LucasArts and its employees go. We wish them the best.

Company of Heroes 2 closed beta dated, detailed


 

Sega will launch a Company of Heroes 2closed beta on April 2, showcasing the strategy title’s competitive multiplayer and skirmish gameplay. Players will be able to test out six maps, 1v1, 2v2, 3v3 and 4v4 competitive matches. They’ll also be able to play alone or with friends against the AI and have access to the first 40 levels of progression.

Set to be hosted on Steam, the beta will initially only be open to eligible pre-order customers, although a second phase will welcome more players “in the coming weeks”. Company of Heroes 2 producer Greg Wilson said: “We invite our fans to help us test and balance the game prior to launch, as well as see the changes we’ve already made since the Alpha test in December.”

Sega recently delayed the Company of Heroes 2 release date from this month to June 25, 2013 in North America and Europe. The publisher acquired Relic and the Company of Heroes franchise from THQ for $26 million in January.

Get our hands-on impressions of the game’s online component in this Company of Heroes 2 multiplayer preview. We also said of the title’s campaign in this Company of Heroes 2 preview: “CoH2 feels like the Company of Heroes you know and love, with more strategic wrinkles – like body temperature and cracking ice – to keep you on your toes.”

DuckTales Remastered coming this summer


Everyday WayForward’s out there remaking DuckTales, ohh-oh! That’s right, the NES classic from Capcom will reappear as DuckTales Remastered on PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360, via the developer of Mighty Switch Force and Shantae: Risky’s Revenge.

This is no port–the 1989 platformer has been remade from the ground up with hand-animated characters and 3D backgrounds. Remastered will hew close to the original game, with the same layout of treasure-laden levels from Transylvania to the Moon. A few new areas will bolster the selection, including Scrooge’s beloved money bin–you can, of course, jump in and roll around in it. You got served, Wario.

The remake will even feature much of the animated series’ voice talent, including Scrooge McDuck voice actor Alan Young. Clear out your summer calendar for life-threatening levels of nostalgia when this $15 downloadable title lands

New World of Warcraft, Magic: The Gathering Card Games Coming to iPad


At the games show PAX East in Boston, the names behind two of the most well-known fantasy series –World of Warcraft and Magic: the Gathering — announced plans to bring digital trading card games to the iPad this year.

The latest Magic game, Duels of the Planeswalkers 2014, will also support Android tablets for the first time, albeit with limited online multiplayer. It and Blizzard’s Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraftfree-to-play card game will also be available on Windows PCs, while Hearthstone also supports the Mac OS and Magic will also be on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 game consoles. Both will be available this summer.

Collect them all

There’s no shortage of digital card games already, on the iPad and Android tablets like the Nexus 7. They regularly make lists of highest grossing apps, such as Google Play’s, because they tend to combine free-to-play downloads with pay-to-unlock packs of cards. Many are from relatively unknown developers, however. This is the first time an actual World of Warcraft game (not just the Armory utility) has come to the iPad, and only the second time (out of four total) a Duels of the Planeswalkers game will be in the App Store.

“Small in scope, but epic in gameplay”

That’s how Rob Pardo, Blizzard’s Chief Creative Officer, described Hearthstone in a video produced by the company. As its name suggests, the game is meant to take place inside of the World of Warcraft, played around the hearth of one of its many inns. While it doesn’t seem to affect the actual World of Warcraft game any (unlike the way CCP’s DUST 514 and EVE Online games integrate), the atmosphere is meant to feel cozy and inviting like WoW’s inns themselves, and the game simulates a one on one duel between WoW characters. It will be free to play with buyable (and winnable) random card packs, and will also let players create their own cards similar to WoW’s crafting systems. It will not use the same rules as the physical World of Warcraft trading card game.

A new take on an old game

While the physical Magic: the Gathering card game relies heavily on players’ ability to collect rare cards and assemble decks, the Duels of the Planeswalkers series gives players a selection of premade decks, and lets them unlock new decks and new cards through winning matches. It has an extensive solo campaign mode, as well as online multiplayer features.

Pay to win?

None of the Duels of the Planeswalkers titles to date have been free to play, although they have had “deck packs” and “foil conversions” available for sale as DLC (downloadable content). These unlock dozens of cards without your having to play the game dozens of times, or convert a deck’s cards into shiny “foil” versions.

Next Xbox leak points to always online requirement


Screengrabs seemingly taken from the Durango Xbox Development Kit describe Microsoft’s upcoming console as an always online device, as has previously been rumoured.

Posted on VGLeaks, one of the more reliable sources of next-gen information in the run up to the PS4 reveal last month, the documentation has been described as “entirely legitimate” by anEdge source, although it was said to have been provided to developers working with the console last year.

The “hardware overview” documentation states: “The console will be ready instantly when users want to play, and will always maintain a network connection so that console software and games are always current. With this “Always On, Always Connected” design, users will quickly and easily enjoy their connected entertainment experiences, with no waiting for the console to restart or install games.

“Every Durango console will have a hard drive, although its exact capacity has not been chosen. It will be large enough, however, to hold a large number of games. All games will be installed on the hard drive. Play from the optical disc will not be supported.

“Durango consoles will have a Blu-ray disc drive. Disc media will be used for distribution, but during gameplay, games will not use content from the optical disc. An installation system is being designed that will allow gamers to begin playing while the game is being installed on the hard drive rather than waiting until installation is complete.

“Every Durango console will be sold with a new high-fidelity Kinect sensor, which will be required for the system to operate,” it also says, latter adding: “The Durango controller will make the best-in-class Xbox 360 controller even better. It will have low-latency wireless connectivity to the console, and improved ergonomics. System interactions that use the controller will be simplified to make them easier for noncore gamers.”

Last month, Edge reported that games designed for the next Xbox “will require an internet connection in order to function”, and that all disc-based titles will include online activation codes with no value beyond their initial use, effectively eliminating the ability to play used games on the system.

It has been heavily rumoured that Microsoft will announce its next Xbox in late April. For more on the console, check out our Xbox 720 rumour round-up.