This week in games: The first authentic Steam Machine, The Fast and the Furious goes 8-bit, and more

 

Fast and Furious 8-Bit

I’m feverishly counting down the days until Mortal Kombat X breaks up what should be a relatively light, boring April, but if you look hard enough at the tumbleweeds and some of them turn into actual news. Sort of.

This week, Pac-Man hits Google Maps, goldfish explode, Steam Machines get steamy, and The Fast and the Furious goes 8-bit(ish).

Pac-Mania

 

PacMan Google Maps

The power of science

 

Steam Machine Thinkgeek

“We love Steam so much, we had to be one of the companies who developed our own Steam Machine. But we wanted to make sure that our console was something special—something different,” writes ThinkGeek.

“The Steam-Powered Gaming Cabinet is a Video game console that is literally a steam machine. That is, it is steam powered! Using a patent-pending miniature boiler mechanism, a stationary steam engine produces all the electricity you need to play your games. Of course you’ll need to keep a close eye on the boiler pressure, stoke the fire, grease all internal lubrication points, and properly rectify the output voltage, but isn’t the enjoyment you’ll receive worth it?”

That was fast

I don’t want to read too much into sales prices, necessarily, but that seems awfully fast for a game of Hardline‘s size—considering it came out two weeks ago. I wonder how that game’s selling. Anecdotally, I can say there have been a lot of empty servers on the PC version this week every time I’ve gone to play, so…take that as you will.

In less-weird-but-still-sort-of-incredible sale news, Dragon Age: Inquisition is down to $30 this week.

Seriously

Did you know last year’s amazing puzzler The Talos Principle was made by the same studio that did the shooter series Serious Sam? Yeah, I know. Weird.

For April Fools’ Day Croteam created some new Talos Principle DLC that replaces the game’s narrator with the voice actor that did Serious Sam. From a press release: “The new Serious Sam voice pack replaces the godlike voice of Elohim with that of Serious Sam as voiced by longtime voice actor John J. Dick and includes a new Serious Sam player model for use in The Talos Principle.” Play here.

It’s free until April 7, if you’re interested. After that it’ll be $3.

Don’t mess with Tetris

Tetris Texas

And I thought that Atari news was going to be the weirdest use of a classic franchise this week.

Wrong. That honor goes to Texas, which—and I swear this is true—launched a “Don’t Mess With Tetris” lottery scratch-off this week. Fail to win money and you can still win Tetris-themed merchandise.

Thanks (I guess) to GameSpot for alerting me to this

Assassin's Creed Rogue review: The best Assassin's Creed you'll never need to play

Assassin's Creed Rogue

I talked a lot of trash about Assassin’s Creed: Unity this year. On release it was buggy and broken, sure, but it also just wasn’t much fun. Protagonist Arno was just a bland retread of series-favorite Ezio, the story managed to make even the French Revolution feel sort of boring, the overhauled free-running was too sticky and cumbersome, and I just overall felt it lacked the panache of the previous year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

There was another Assassin’s Creed game this year though—Assassin’s Creed Rogue, originally released for last-gen consoles and then recently brought over to PC. Knowing how I felt about Unity, this should be a pretty good endorsement for Rogue:

Assassin's Creed Rogue

Black Flag Pt. II

Assassin’s Creed Rogue is the best Assassin’s Creed game that you’re probably never going to play.

This is basically the second time Ubisoft has done this. With the exception of the first game, Ubisoft seems to want to position the Assassin’s Creed series as a chain of trilogies. We had the Assassin’s Creed II/Brotherhood/Revelations arc, wherein the first game was good, the second was great, and then Revelations was basically an inessential coda for long-time fans to say farewell to Ezio.

Assassin's Creed Rogue

The story takes place during the Seven Years War/French and Indian War, which spanned from 1754-1763. That puts Rogue right between Black Flag‘s piracy and ACIII‘s American Revolution. Rogue takes advantage of this by pulling in characters from both of the previous games, giving some closure to Black Flag characters like Adewale and some backstory to ACIII characters like Achilles and Haytham Kenway.

Assassin's Creed Rogue

It’s a fascinating structure, although it’s hampered by the fact that…well, Assassin’s Creed III wasn’t that good. It’s somewhat hard to care about the backstory of characters you didn’t necessarily care about to begin with.

Still, it’s oddly heartwarming to see some familiar faces in a series that seems content with ditching its entire cast every year. Over the course of the game you’re hit with cameo after cameo from an extensive B-tier cast that plays foil to the new protagonist, Shay Patrick Cormac.

I don’t know why Cormac’s story was wasted on Rogue. Here’s a guy who was brought up in the Assassins, turned traitor, and went to work for the Templars killing off his old friends. That’s a hell of a set-up, shedding more light on the relationship between the two factions than possibly any game in the series thus far and providing all sorts of opportunities for moral ambiguity. It’s certainly more interesting than Unity‘s story.

Assassin's Creed Rogue

And yet it’s given short shrift in Rogue, as a “budget” title. Rather than the dozen or so chapters of a normal Assassin’s Creed game, Cormac is given a scant six chapters of story to cover both his upbringing in the Assassins, his turn, and then the whole rest of the game.

It’s too fast. Cormac isn’t given nearly enough character development to handle all that weight, nor are the other characters given enough time for you to learn to care about them. It’s probably good that you’ll recognize most of the characters from previousAssassin’s Creed games because otherwise they’d just be nameless caricatures. Adewale, for instance, has probably two dozen lines in the entire game. That’s not enough to do anything meaningful.

I’m left with the impression that Rogue is the most ambitious Assassin’s Creed story—in terms of character, in terms of information on the two factions, in terms of First Civilization lore—but it just never clicks. There’s a guy working for Abstergo Industries in the modern-day part of the game who continually tells you that Shay Cormac is “the most important Assassin to ever live” or something along those lines, but at the end of the day…why? Because he killed some other Assassins?

Assassin's Creed Rogue

I don’t know. I just don’t buy it, and that’s a shame because I think in a full-fledged game Cormac could be that important. He just got screwed by playing B-side to Unity this year.

On the other hand, it plays like Black Flag: sail your ship around, listen to pirate shanties, discover little coastal towns, dig for treasure, beat people up in bars, blow up other ships. Rather than one large Caribbean map, the sailing section of the game is now split between the River Valley (a part of New York that looks strangely like a retextured Caribbean) and the North Atlantic up by Halifax (which also looks strangely similar to the Caribbean, albeit with snow and icebergs).

There’s also a third, fairly large New York City/Manhattan map repurposed fromAssassin’s Creed III. This map plays more like traditional Assassin’s Creed, with you running around and unlocking zones. It’s also the most boring of the areas, because there’s surprisingly little character to such a large city area. And the game seems aware of this, rarely bringing you back to Manhattan.

Assassin's Creed Rogue

In fact, the game is generally terrible about making you explore. Because the story is so condensed, missions only touch on a handful of locations. Your only impetus to go and discover the rest of the map is “I want to.”

And I mean, I did want to. I went to every location. I collected 100 percent of all the collectibles, because I really love sailing around. But Rogue never feels as tight or well-designed as Black Flag. There’s a lot of space here, between the three maps, and very little reason to engage with any of it

ET deals: Alienware Alpha consolized gaming PC $430

Alienware Alpha

PC gaming has really taken off in the last couple of years. With the combination of Steam and the increased controller support, it’s easy to see why. However, gaming PCs are stereotypically large and expensive. Who wants to drop a grand to play some games, right? Thankfully, the Alienware Alpha is defying those stereotypes. This tiny PC is small, easy to use, and shockingly affordable. Let’s take a look.

On the inside, this consolized PC sports a dual-core 2.9GHz Intel Core i3-4130T CPU, a discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M+ GPU with 2GB of GDDR5, 4GB of DDR3L RAM (1600MHz), a 500GB hard drive, Bluetooth 4.0, and 802.11b/g/n/ac WiFi support. It comes with a wireless Xbox 360 controller and a USB adaptor as well, so you can operate the entire box just like a console with Alienware’s custom 10-foot UI. You don’t even have to use a mouse and keyboard.

Dell Interface

Keep in mind, this gaming PC is really small. It’s 2.7-inches tall, 7.87-inches deep, 7.87-inches wide, and it weighs about four pounds. In comparison, the Xbox One is 3.1-inches tall, 10.8-inches deep, 13.1-inches wide, and weighs in at over seven pounds.

Generally, this configuration costs about $550, but Dell is selling it for $499.99. We can do a lot better than that, though. If you use the coupon code “CZVNPH5T$PR2F$” during your checkout, you’ll save an additional 70 bucks. And since shipping is free, you’ll only pay $429.99 for this powerful little gaming PC — only $30 more than a PS4.

  • Alienware Alpha consolized gaming PC for $429.99 (Market value: $549.99 —Coupon code: CZVNPH5T$PR2F$)

Check out these other outstanding deals:

  • Sennheiser Momentum on-ear headphones for $89.99 (Retail price: $259)
  • Canon EOS 70D DSLR camera with 18-55mm Lens for $799

Nintendo says game over to Super Mario 64 on the web

supermariohd

Mario just got crushed, but this time it wasn’t a barrel-throwing gorilla or an angry mushroom—instead, it was Nintendo that deal the death blow.

The video game maker recently issued a complaint notice against a website hosting an unlicensed recreation of a single level of Super Mario 64. Built by developer Roystan Ross, the demonstration game was a faithful recreation of the Bob-Omb Battlefield level of the 1996 hit for Nintendo 64 consoles.

Ross’ version was built using the Unity Game Engine, which meant it could be played as a desktop program or in a web browser. It also had gamepad and keyboard support and featured glorious high-definition visuals.

The story behind the story: Nintendo’s web takedown comes just as the company announced plans to unshackle its popular characters from Nintendo consoles. The company intends to produce original games for smartphones and tablets using Nintendo’s roster of famous characters, including Mario and Luigi, Donkey Kong, and Link. The first games are due out this fall. With an expansion beyond its own hardware, Nintendo is probably feeling more protective than usual over its intellectual property.

Slow burn

Super Mario 64 HD originally went live on March 12, but only caught the attention of the tech and gaming press late last week. N64 fans went wild when the game surfaced and within hours the web version was overloaded from traffic as were some of the direct downloads. Clearly, Ross’ creation scratched an itch to play a classic Nintendo game in a more modern setting–if only for a weekend.

Although the crowds loved it, Nintendo didn’t take too kindly to a third-party messing with its intellectual property and moved to kill the web version of the project. The person hosting the site quickly killed the game to avoid taking on Nintendo in court

Dead or Alive 5's Steam release proves terrible PC ports still exist

Dead or Alive 5 Last Round

Every time I think we’re out of the “insulting PC ports” era, some developer has to go and ruin it. Team Ninja released Dead or Alive 5 Last Round on Steam today, and while I admittedly don’t even care about this game in the least, the quality of the PC version ispretty damn egregious for those who do.

The PC version of the game was already delayed from a February 17 release date to March 30. However, the game still launched without online multiplayer today—a feature that the Steam page says “will be added in a patch within 3 months of release.” So between now and…the end of June.

Dead or Alive 5 Last Round

There’s also a weird stipulation in the features section that says “Effects: Equivalent to PS3 version” even though the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game are already released. Players have also noted that the other major feature from those PS4/Xbox One versions—the “Soft Engine,” used to make skin look softer (or however you say that without sounding creepy)—is missing too.

And it’s also missing the PS4/Xbox One version’s new stages, there’s no keyboard remapping, and all settings configuration has to be done outside the app.

There’s even been speculation on Reddit that work wasn’t even done to port the PS4/Xbox One versions at all. Instead, some players think Koei Tecmo took the arcade version of the game and just spruced it up a bit, which would explain why so many features and the new levels are missing.

The one bone Koei Tecmo tossed PC users is 4K resolution support, but otherwise this looks like a slapdash release you should avoid at all costs—if not because it’s totally broken, to at least to stick it to companies who release half-assed garbage on the PC and leave it to modders to fix. I don’t know whether the Steam version is gimped because of incompetence (a la Dark Souls) or because nobody cared about this release, but either way you should probably save your money

This week in games: 3 reasons why mods are the best part of being a PC gamer

Flight Cimulator Primary

Short week for me, thanks to a phenomenal amount of jet lag coming home from Iceland last week and then…something like 40 hours of Pillars of Eternity.

But the news keeps coming! This week we’ve got Halo on a PC, broken NDAs, and three major reasons why developers should build mod support into their games. Seriously, every game should have mod support. It’s the best part of gaming on a PC.

I mean, did you ever think you’d see a flight simulator built into a city-builder? Because that’s what happened this week. Read on for more.

Fly like an eagle

Feeling nostalgic for Microsoft Flight Simulator? Why not try this on for size:

flight cimulator.

Halo on PC…sort of

It’s been a long time since a proper Halo game made its way over to PC, and it doesn’t look like that streak will end anytime soon (unless you count Microsoft’s Xbox-to-PC streaming).

But PCs will get free-to-play shooter Halo Online later this year. Or, at least, Russian PCs will. The game, which is currently slated to release only in Russia, is apparently running a modified version of the Halo 3 engine, and is limited only to multiplayer (albeit with maps we haven’t seen before).

“While there’s no campaign mode, Halo Online is set on a secret UNSC space installation called Anvil, where Spartan-IV soldiers train together in war exercises to sharpen their battle skills and test experimental technology,” wrote 343 in the official announcement.

Here’s a teaser to whet your appetite, though it might just be salt in your wounds what with Microsoft not committing to a US/Europe release.

Ages in between

Double Fine’s finally tacked a release date onto Broken Age Act 2: April 28. ConsideringBroken Age is the game that kicked off the whole Kickstarter craze, I can’t say I’ve been super impressed with the way it’s turned out—either in terms of the quality of part one or the year we’ve waited to play the second half.

But hopefully Double Fine’s taken the time it needs to deliver a decent conclusion.

Get funky

Speaking of crowdfunding, that new Toejam and Earl game hit its $400,000 Kickstarter target mere days before its campaign concluded. Take me down to Funkytown, Toejam.

Breaking those NDAs

The alpha for Rainbow Six: Siege opened recently, and somebody already decided to break the NDA and throw footage out on the web, which shows a multiplayer match taking place on a jet airplane. The original YouTube video has already been taken down, but I’m sure if you dig hard enough you can find it somewhere.

Evolve is evolving

Are you still hunting monsters (or trappers) in Evolve? I’m honestly curious. The game only came out a month and a half ago and…well, I feel like I don’t hear much.

But the beginnings of Turtle Rock’s massive DLC plan is set to roll out, with a new monster and four new hunters due to release on March 31. Also, there are two more maps—but they won’t release on PC until April 30, thanks to a “COMING FIRST TO XBOX ONE” deal that’s in place.

Here’s a look at the new monster, Behemoth.

Meet me in Seyda Neen

In case you need a refresher: Oblivion is okay. Skyrim is good. Morrowind is fantastic. That’s the official hierarchy of Elder Scrolls rankings at PCWorld, and you can either get on board or ignore this as the ramblings of an old fuddy-duddy who still uses words like fuddy-duddy

Steam Now Allows Refunds for EU Users, Demands Disclosure of Paid User Promotions

steam_logo_valve.jpg

Digital distribution service Steam has updated its subscriber agreement for European users. Now, if you purchase games on Steam and are in the European Union, there’s a 14-day period within which you can obtain a refund on what you bought.

“If you are an EU subscriber, you have the right to withdraw from a purchase transaction for digital content without charge and without giving any reason for a duration of fourteen days or until Valve’s performance of its obligations has begun with your prior express consent and your acknowledgement that you thereby lose your right of withdrawal, whichever happens sooner. Therefore, you will be informed during the checkout process when out performance starts and asked to provide your prior express content to the purchase being final,” the subscriber agreement reads.

For other territories like India, Steam’s policies for refunds are to dole them out on a case by case basis. If you have pre-ordered a game, you can cancel your pre-order automatically and receive the refund in your Steam wallet. Or if an already released game is subject to community ire and the developers agree to it, refunds may be granted post-release as in the case with Ubisoft’s From Dust.

In other Steam-related news, the service now requires public disclosure in the event users are compensated for a review, forum post, broadcast curation, or uprooting a game on Greenlight.

“If you use Steam services (e.g. the Steam Curators’ Lists or the Steam Broadcasting service) to promote or endorse a product, service or event in return for any kind of consideration from a third party (including non-monetary rewards such as free games), you must clearly indicate the source of such consideration to your audience,” the addition to the subscriber agreement states.

Microsoft to Bring League of Legends MOBA to Windows 10

league_of_legends_riot.jpg

In a move that helps solidify Microsoft’s attempt at being taken seriously by PC gamers, the company is partnering with Tencent to bring popular multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) game League of Legends (LoL) to the Windows 10 store. This was announced on the company’s blog.

“Tencent, the leading social networking and gaming services company in China, announced it will offer Windows 10 as a free upgrade to its customers on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 in China, and include QQ, Tencent Video and Tencent PC Manager in the Windows 10 free upgrade pack. Tencent will create a Windows 10 universal app for their flagship QQ app, which has over 800 million customers in China, and bring their most popular PC games, such as League of Legends, Cross Fire and Dungeon & Fighter to Windows 10 and the new Windows store,” the blog post reads.

Windows 8 never released in China and LoL is one of the most popular if not the most popular game in China. It makes perfect sense for the company to partner Tencent in an attempt to gain traction.

Along with LoL, the ability to promote Minecraft (Microsoft last year acquired Mojang, the studio responsible for it) on the same platform is a pretty big deal. Will these two be able to buoy an ecosystem that faces a stiff challenge in the face of Steam? It remains to be seen but it’s nice to see the Redmond-based company put up a fight.

Turn Your Android Phone Into a Tennis Racquet with Motion Tennis Cast

motion_tennis_cast_rolomotion_rolocule.jpg

Fresh from its efforts on iOS with the surprisingly good Bowling Central, Rolocule Games has announced that its latest game, Motion Tennis Cast, has been launched for Android devices. It is meant to be played on an HDTV via Chromecast or other screen mirroring options.

The company is known for its efforts in bringing Nintendo’s motion control fad – brought about with the once popular Wii console – to iOS and now Android, winning the prestigious Edison Award in San Francisco for innovation in the entertainment industry.

“We are really excited to bring Motion Tennis Cast on Android. Not only does it bring the most intuitive tennis experience to Android, it showcases the power of Google ecosystem.” said Rohit Gupta, CEO of Rolocule Games. “Pretty soon users will be able to use their Android Wear for playing games or staying fit using our award winning motion tracking technology – rolomotion – Motion Tennis Cast is a step in that direction.”

In order to mimic the real life tennis experience with Android devices as motion controllers, there’s support for a host of shot types. These include drop and lob shots as well as a choice of courts to play on. Multiplayer is included too. There’s Google Play achievements, and in a welcome move, the company has announced support for Android Wear devices as motion controllers is also coming soon. The game will also calculate the number of calories burnt by the user while playing.

Like most mobile games nowadays, Motion Tennis Cast is free to play. You’ll need an Android phone with Jelly Bean (Android 4.2.2) or above along with screen mirroring via Chromecast, Miracast, or AllShareCast-enabled Smart TVs. It also works with Google’s Chrome browser.

You can download the game for your Android device right now.

Angry Birds Maker Bets on Animated Movie as Profit Drops

angry_birds_products_reuters.jpg

Finnish mobile games maker Rovio pinned its hopes on Thursday on a costly 3D movie project helping it return to growth, after a 73 percent profit drop gave the latest sign its mainstay Angry Birds brand is losing appeal.

A decline in its business licensing the Angry Birds brand on toys, clothing and sweets is adding to the problems of Rovio, which has yet to repeat the success of its original slingshot-based game which became the No.1 paid mobile app of all time after its launch in 2009.

Rovio said total sales fell 9 percent last year to 158.3 million euros ($169 million), although revenue from mobile games grew 16 percent to 110.7 million on the back of new offerings.

Operating profit slumped to 10 million euros from 36.5 million.

“As (Rovio’s) franchise begins to falter, the question of whether it is a one-hit wonder rears up again,” said Steve Bailey, games analyst at IHS Technology.

He noted that while competition intensifies in mobile games, Rovio’s toy business also faces big competition from a new category of physical toys that connect into virtual games, such as Nintendo amiibo and Disney Infinity.

“Angry Birds as a game isn’t sufficiently advanced to make a ‘smart toy’ yet… As a player, you just don’t have a longer-term relationship with it.”

Rovio, whose aim is to become an entertainment brand on a par with Walt Disney, has also expanded Angry Birds into a spin-off TV series and is backing an animated movie set to premiere in May 2016.

Rantala said the production cost of the Angry Birds movie will be about $80 million, and marketing costs, which will be partly paid by Sony Entertainment, would total more than the production budget.

“The movie will help us get the licensing business back to growth,” he said. “Pretty soon we will be able to publish new major partnership deals.”

Meanwhile, the company is striving to build new characters to be expanded into new games, consumer products and animations, Rantala said.

Analysts said Rovio has been slow to respond to a shift to freely available mobile games, where revenue comes from in-game purchases and advertising.

“We are still in transition, we have launched free-to-play games but there is room to improve the monetizing in this area,” Rantala said.

Analyst Bailey noted that movies and merchandise sales are dependent on sustaining interest in the core game business.

“The performance of the movie will be very telling about where the franchise can go next and how much life it has left in it.”