XCOM 2 Review

Lieutenant Vaclev Skorski is stood atop the burning ruins of an alien warehouse. He’s wounded and down to the last shot of his sniper rifle. Ahead of him, crouched behind the low cover of a clump of rocks, is his squadmate – the last remnant of what had been a five man team. Bearing down on his comrade, who is making a final dash for the evac zone, are a hulking robotic walker and an alien assault trooper. Skorski is the last thing between the success of the mission and a slaughter. He takes aim, knowing that, with enemy reinforcements inbound, covering for his teammate means certain death for himself.

Such moments are scattered throughout XCOM 2, the sequel to 2K and Firaxis Games’ squad-based tactics game XCOM: Enemy Unknown from 2012. There are very few games that can be punctuated with snapshots of pure emotion, drama and, at times, rage while leaving the player wanting so much more. XCOM 2 is one of those games.

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In Enemy Unknown the player is tasked with defending Earth from an unknown alien threat, using the might of the world’s combined nations to be a bulwark against the extraterrestrial menace. XCOM 2 reveals just how fruitless that effort was. 20 years on the aliens have almost totally subjugated Earth’s population, installing themselves as governors, overlords and even deities under the umbrella name of the ADVENT. Only a few still try to fight back against these outer-space oppressors, and it’s up to you to lead them from scattered bands of fugitives to a full-fledged rebellion.

Read the rest of this review at GameGrin

Mordheim: City of the Damned Review

If you ever want to feel like you’ve been hit over the head with a rulebook then look no further than Mordheim: City of the Damned. Based on a Warhammer Fantasy Battles tabletop game from 1999, Mordheim is a love-letter to its board game roots and retains multiple features and quirks that can easily be seen to hark back to that original source material.

The game centres on the titular city which, during a period of civil war, becomes a hub of corruption, sin and vice. Ill omens appear in the skies and a great flaming comet predicts the doom of mankind. Instead of flying across the heavens like a celestial warning, however, the comet slams into Mordheim.

The comet’s impact coincides with the appearance of a magical substance called Wyrdstone, coveted by the Skaven rat-men that dwell under the city and by greedy mercenaries. In the game it’s your job to lead a band of these mercenaries into the city and secure cartloads of this precious resource before the whole city is swallowed by daemons, rats and other foul creatures.

Your gametime in Mordheim is split between recruiting, equipping and upgrading a warband of mercenaries and sending them out to do battle in the ruins of the city. Your band can fit up to ten adventurers in its midst and each successful battle gains them experience, loot and stat bonuses. Every battle is also a risk, however: injured troops will be left crippled, dangerously ill or even dead. Mordheim is not a game that pulls punches when it comes to tearing away your carefully-levelled warriors.

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Read the rest of this review on GameGrin.com

The PC Gaming Master Race – Has it Gone Too Far?

(First published in XP Magazine – 15/08/13)

There was a time (which I now find hard to believe) when I did not own my own PC. At the tender age of 13 I made the discovery that certain video games would not run on my family computer, which, at 32MB of RAM, was even at that time horribly outdated. Until that point I had not really thought much about playing games on the computer. I had got along quite happily with my PS2 until that point. Once I had saved the pennies and bought my first gaming computer, the metaphorical slippery slope become a sheer cliff face comprised of banana skins.

I sit here, nine years later, in front of three monitors hooked up to something not unlike HAL 9000 from 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve built and customised three separate gaming computers, and have spent countless hours (and pounds) researching parts, combinations, framerates and benchmarks. Yet, at no point do I feel part of what, as a collective (and only half jokingly), the PC gaming community calls itself: “The Gaming Master Race”. Originating from a joke made by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw in his review of The Witcher in 2008, it has come to be used as a term for the PC community and its general dislike or disdain for “dirty console peasants”.

The evidence for superiority often cited by PC gamers is that of seamless online community interaction, enhanced graphical capability and, of course, the staying power of the PC as a machine. In some ways the arguments can be upheld. A large majority of PC games have modding communities that improve or fix things in games that otherwise may be overlooked by console developers or their patches. The thriving PC modding communities of the last three Elder Scrolls games are a great example of this. The keyboard and mouse can also be argued to be a better control method for some types of games (namely FPS and RTS). Moreover, the techno-race between AMD, Nvidea and Intel is light-years ahead of the one between Sony and Microsoft’s consoles.

This year, though, I have begun to notice a change. Usually the console-exclusivity policies of Microsoft and Sony rarely bothered the PC gaming community. Halo was, after all, a Microsoft produced series, and it stood to logic it would be available on PC. Likewise, Sony produced few games that were of great interest to PC gamers. One game released in 2013 has made this issue rear its ugly head: The Last of Us. As if suddenly spurned by the fact the for-certain game of the year would never grace their machines, PC gamers took to forums and webpages to vent their ire at other examples – Red Ded Redemption and GTAV being prominent. Suddenly they were not being considered the pinnacle of gaming any more, and this scared the PC “Master Race”.

There is much to be said about the often abrasive attitude PC gamers have towards console gamers, but there is also a case to made about the opposite. At times I have often been mocked as being part of the “Master Race” – usually when my friends are destroying me at console-based FPS games. The term has been embraced so fully by both sides that the fact that a gamer can posses both a console and a PC never really enters people’s minds. I own a gaming PC but also play my old PS2 and occasionally fire up the GameCube for parties. My parents, predictably, own a Wii, so I’m always having to play MiiGolf whenever I’m visiting home. Even on my mobile, I play TempleRun and Angry Birds.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is this: I am a PC gamer, but I am not a member of the “Master Race”. I am a console gamer, but not a fanboy. I play PS2 and GameCube, but I’m not a hipster. I play on my phone, but I’m not a filthy casual. We’re all gamers, wouldn’t it be nice if we just embraced that fact and leave something as ugly as segregation behind us?

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