Early Eyes on ‘Battleborn’ – Gearbox’s Cosmic-Shooter Mash-up

What do day dreaming samurais on Tatooine, the Pirates of Dark Water, Cybermen, Gambit, Alex Rodriguez, Musashi, Kinopio, woodland elves and Dick Cheney all have in common? Absolutely nothing to the average focus group. But to Gearbox Software, those fun-loving dreamers behind Borderlands, it’s the makings of a new shooter mash-up, entitled Battleborn. We got a chance to get an early view of this game in pre-alpha.

Battleborn is designed as a cooperative and competitive shooter, complete with pirates, swordsmen, elves, steroid freaks, mushroom killers and piss-on-the-poor, upper class assassins. The goal is to take just about every character class and archetype from fantasy, sci-fi, steampunk fiction or otherwise and put them all together in a universe where it makes sense for them to coexist – even if it’s in disharmony with one another.

Of course, under-the-hood of every multiplayer shooter, there’s a little story behind the magic curtain to give you a reason to lay waste to a fresh-new, diabolical villain. In Battleborn several factions take refuge on the last star of the Solus system.

Like any dystopian future, survivors start going at each other’s throats instead of hugging out their problems in an effort to control resources. Unfortunately, somebody’s got to wrangle these heroic miscreants together before the viscous Varlesi destroy the entire universe. Eat your heart out Cobra Commander.

That’s where you and your esteemed crew comes in to play. The game breaks down its characters into different factions. It’s like Dungeons and Dragons, which has its adventurers, alchemist, fighter, thieves and assassins guilds.

In Battleborn, there are imperialists, who are basically the Empire from Star Wars. Then there are the draconian peace keepers, who are like a bunch of over-zealous “do as we say, not as we do” bullies. Next, we have the Eldrid, who preserve the natural order of the universe (aka Pure Bloods from Harry Potter). There’s a rogues group that does whatever it is they feel like, thank you very much. And finally, there’s the aptly named, LLC. These guys have bourgeoisie robotic snipers on their side and speak to the dreaded one percent.

Now, like all cooperative shooters, you’re guessing that this game is built around the standard roster of all-around solider, heavy gunner, medic and possibly some kind of engineer or spell caster character classes.

Yes, those archetypes are all there. However, Gearbox is aiming to add several layers of depth to these classic roles so that no two characters are ever the same. More on that in a bit. Just expect to download new characters and/or faction types for several months following the game’s 2015 (expected) release.

Why should you be excited about this game?

Well, for starters its got the same CG, fantastical visual style of Borderlands. It may be a first-person shooter, but there are several close-quarters, fighting elements inside this bad boy. One character, named Rath, uses swords as his main weapon. Now, any FPS fan who loves melee combat knows that their targets usually hate fighting up close. There are a few moves that we saw that give the melee fighters a chance to engage in pseudo-third person attacks. For instance, Rath has a spinning dash move where he rips through his enemies like a wheel on fire.

Even though the game was in pre-alpha, we saw the kind of carnage that Rath’s attack yielded. Heaps of shredded-robot scraps littered the floor. This is a vital part of carnage that was missing in last gen games, but is now present on the PS4 and Xbox One. We’d like to see more of this damage as the game progresses in development. In this pre-alpha build, several guns seemed to do the same type of damage to the enemy. I’d like the carnage that a gun yields to be as diverse as the guns. The damage from Oscar Mike’s automatic weapons should look different from the damage Montana’s steroid guns delivers. By the same token, Thorn’s elvish arrows should also deliver a visual injury that varies from Marquis’ ever-so distinguished, robotic sniper fire.

The interface for upgrades was also pretty cool. Instead of your those trite row-column setups, that feel like an Excel spreadsheet (yuck), the upgrade window looks like a DNA double helix. Although Gearbox said that this interface could still change, we’re hoping it stays the same. It’s in this upgrade screen where you’ll get the chance to start to blend those traditional team roles. Of course, we all know how upgrading is. If you don’t stick to one path, you end up with several mediocre abilities. I’m still kicking myself for Knights of the Old Republic. Why oh why didn’t I just go dark side one-hundred percent?

The game will utilize shorter scenarios, much like Activision’s recently released shooter, Destiny. So no more worrying about taking two hours to finish a map. And if you do take two-hours to finish a scenario, you really should drop the difficulty.

Battleborn will utilize two leveling systems. At the start of every scenario, everyone will start off on equal footing so that one character isn’t dominating. However, you will also have cumulative levels so that you’re rewarded for playing more.

What are we still waiting on?

Loot. Damn straight. Gearbox President Randy Pitchford promised loot as the game progresses and after scenarios. After building up our addiction to loot in Borderlands, it will be hard to digest anything less – especially since this game totes such a similar visual style.

Team attacks. Remember when Billy Lee and Jimmy Lee did the Cyclone kick in Double Dragon III. I’m still waiting for a shooter that changes the genre with some kind of combo attack. I don’t just want to get a few extra points for an assist. I want to set up the assist like Jason Kidd or John Stockton.

Friendly fire on or off? The Gearbox team is still considering whether to go with friendly fire on or off. We’re pulling for off, or at least a setting that can be toggled off.

We’d like to see more with the Rogue faction. How does lock picking or thievery factor into an attack? How can that be shown visually and not just with a few extra loot drops displayed on the HUD.

Since Battleborn is cooperative multiplayer like Destiny, we hope it isn’t designed like Destiny. We DO NOT want it to require a always-online connection to the internet. That would suck for those who just want to play the campaign. Nuff said.

Click thumbnails to enlarge:

PAX East 2014: Evolve Hands-on Impressions

Evolve focuses on two gameplay styles that gamers can appreciate – as a team and solo, beast, strong monster dude. The highlight at PAX East was a mode where four players take control of a team of shooters and one player plays as a monster. As a team, players can band together to take down a monster that is progressively getting stronger, meaner and badder in order to even the odds. The four members of the team known so far and playable throughout the weekend were the Assault, Medic, Trapper and Support characters. Teamwork is highly encouraged as each team member plays vastly different and killing the monster is nearly impossible to achieve without it.

The Assault character is the heavy damage dealer and should be the one to be on the forefront when it comes to attacking. He can throw mines, shoot bullets long-range and use electricity at close-range. The Medic can do what the title implies and can heal team mates from a far range, which comes in real handy in situations such as when the Assault player is involved in a heated battle against the monster. If the healer is knocked out early, consider your chances of taking down the monster significantly lowered.

In my opinion, the most useful character of the bunch known so far is the Trapper. He can shoot a harpoon to force the monster from escaping and this trap can only be broken if the monster directs its attack on the Trapper. Also strategically useful is the mobile arena skill – it can create a dome around the monster if used successfully and it, again, forces the monster to battle. Lastly, the Support class can help increase the damage of others. He also possesses a weapon that can dish out good damage and also mark the monsters for others to have its location known.

After an intense session, I can safely say that balancing was not a noticeable issue in a game where balancing would make or break the game. The monster is powerful enough to be able to fight off four different players and my session came down to the wire for both sides. A session is also paced out nicely with battles and hunting sprinkled throughout. A match would typically start with a manhunt (or monsterhunt) with the monster getting a headstart to work on its gameplan. The monster will try to find time by itself to work on evolving by feasting on smaller creatures. This gives the monster strength and new abilities, such as tossing giant boulders against the opposing team. So, anytime a battle takes place, the team will chip away at the giant health bar and the monster will try to find an escape route in order to beef up again.

Instead of going straight after killing all four team members, the monster can work on winning through other objectives, such as destroying generators or killing off hostages. It gives the monster alternatives and also keeps teams on their toes to adjust their strategy accordingly. With games like Left 4 Dead doing similar stuff with the four-player co-op experience, it’s a whole different experience when the enemy on the other end is human controlled.

Evolve releases later this close to the fall months on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

Hot New Games Aug 20: Saints Row IV, Splinter Cell: Blacklist, The Bureau

September comes a little early for core gamers. In one of the most packed August gaming weeks in history, we have three awesome titles that will keep you locked-and-loaded right into the Fall gaming season.

From Volition and Deep Silver, we have Saints Row IV. I can’t think of another time where I have had so much fun playing a game. Between an awesome sound track (complete with “You Got the Touch” from the original 1986 Transformers: The Movie) to the wild superhero escapades, this game will keep you engrossed and laughing hysterically.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist will surely grab the pure shooter fans out there who want a strong combination of stealth and action. Oh, and the multiplayer is ridiculously sick too. So if you’ve been holding out for Call of Duty: Ghosts to get back into your multiplayer festivities, then definitely consider jumping into some Blacklist to keep you locked-in til dog-meets-man action hits the street.

If you played XCOM: Enemy Unknown, then consider picking up The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. This tactical shooter offers a frenetic, third-person shooter take on the turn-based XCOM action you adore.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified – Jumping the Tactical Shark Never Felt so Good

This summer, XCOM makes the jump from tactical role-playing game to third-person shooter, in The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.

When 2K Games initially made the announcement that XCOM was turning into a shooter, purists screamed balderdash (and probably a few colorful four letter words – I know I did). There are some things you just don’t do. You don’t cross the streams in Ghostbusters, unless you’re taking down Gozer of course, and you don’t screw with XCOM.

Here’s the thing. When a developer rips the characters out of a shooter or RPG franchise and thrusts them into a tactical game, I’m usually all on board. Give me Final Fantasy Tactics any day of the week, and I’ll have a Kool-Aid smile from ear-to-ear. Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars was one of my favorite 3DS launch titles (yeah, I said it). And, don’t get me going about how awesome Project X Zone is – a game that threw together a myriad of vintage characters (over 200 – it’s a freakish abundance I know) from Namco Bandai, Sega and Capcom to create one wholly, rad game.

But, to go the other way just sounds like bad vibes. How do you warp a tactical game into a shooter?

Do you turn it into Call of Duty: XCOM or Halo 6: Return of the Unknown Enemy? It sounds like a backwards concept orchestrated by Superman’s wacked-out nemesis, Bizarro.

Perhaps, you just leave it as XCOM. Take all the great strategic elements found in XCOM’s turn-based combat and turn it into a real-time shooter. And, that’s exactly what the developers at 2K Marin did.

Playing through the first four hours of XCOM was nothing short of cathartic. The developers managed to create the same intensity of XCOM, wrapped around the singular story of special agent William Carter. The story takes place during the 1962 Cold War panic, but instead of Russians, you’re fighting Sectoids and all those other aliens you’ve come love-hate in XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Carter may not die during the course of the narrative, but everyone else on your squad is expendable. Unfortunately, they’re not really expendable since you’ll still spend time leveling them up – only to see them die if you don’t manage your team correctly. Then, it’s back to the drawing board – new troops to train, when the luxury of actual training time doesn’t exist. So, yes, XCOM still hates you – . And, that’s why we love it. Much like Dark Souls, it’s sadistic pleasure.

The real-time action in The Bureau is more frenetic than you’d expect. Making the mental jump from turn-based action to real time commands takes a lot of juggling. Players will have to train their brains to think faster than an ordinary shooter game. The Bureau doesn’t employ the shallow team-based commands you’d find in your standard squad shooter. Players don’t simply tell their team to rush in or stand their ground. Instead, you command your squad’s every action – directing their movements, picking their targets and deciding how best each character will support the team.

Using the weapons and ability wheel, you can quickly issue precision commands. Just remember, the combat doesn’t stop. In the first few hours, one of the characters that I built up and had come to rely on bit the big one. Yes, it was my fault. I blame myself. But those darned aliens had me surrounded with attackers swarming in on land and air.

The Bureau: XCOM Declassified gives us one thing that Enemy Unknown was short on… a wealth of truly great, memorable environments. Top-down environments are rarely as satisfying as an environment you can walk through in third or first person. The 1962 exteriors are alive, the tension is high and the combat is intense. There’s nothing like a period game that really takes you back in time with smart set pieces, before throwing everything on its back with aliens. You get a full sense of the cover system, as objects are blown away and the alien invaders close in.

While the combat and tactics exceed expectations, development inside felt shallower than that of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I still had the ability to make weapons modifications and manage soldier specializations, but the strategic “game within a game” aspect of the base was lost in this third-person world.

Fans of XCOM or just shooter fans in general should definitely take a look at The Bureau: XCOM Declassified. This game is going to force other team-based shooters and established franchises to step their “game” up and stop with the “weak-sauce-edness” … I’m especially looking at you SOCOM (that’s if you ever decide to get your act together and get back to SOCOM 2).

Bioshock Infinite: Exploring the World of Exterior Beauty & Rotted Content

Note: This article contains minor story spoilers

I recently completed the stellar adventure found within Irrational Games’ Bioshock Infinite. It was one of the most memorable gaming journeys that I have experienced, and is easily an early candidate for game of the year. The game was filled with intense combat, memorable characters, a wonderful and unique take on music, some incredible vistas and easily one of the most interesting and creative worlds we’ve seen in recent times. In Bioshock Infinite, Irrational Games created one of the most unique cities I’ve ever visited, in that it was one I admired for its exterior beauty, and hated for its rotted contents.

Columbia was such a beautifully realized city. There is a definite sense of wonder before the chaos begins. You leave from a droll, rainy world of Earth and literally take a rocket ship to another place. The rocket sequence is influenced not only by early pulp science fiction, but also (quite deliberately) by the opening sequence of the first Bioshock.

Where the rocket lands is almost equally as eerie as the original bathysphere opening sequence in Bioshock. The rocket touches down in a dark, candle-lit church or all places. The church has the same kind of quiet eeriness that a lot of the original game had, and this was helped by the fact that the floor was covered in a thin layer of water, reminiscent of the floods of Rapture.

However, upon leaving the church, we are greeted by a world that was nothing like Bioshock’s faded utopia-turned-dystopia. The player leaves and finds themselves in a beautiful, sunlit park, filled with peaceful pilgrims in white, flowers, and a gigantic, overwhelming statue of three founding fathers, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The statue, and the text surrounding it, seems to deify the figures. It is the first hint at the extreme nationalism that has gripped Columbia.

Past that odd statue, or even in spite of it, there really is nothing to separate the park from one that might be found in a church garden in our world. As you leave the church grounds, you’re greeted by happy people on a sort of main street. You can get hot dogs from a street vendor, eavesdrop on a few conversations about a festival, watch a small parade or see a barbershop quartet singing a Beach Boys song. The Beach Boys song should stand out, as the game takes place close to 60 years before the game came out, but it fits with the festive atmosphere of Columbia.

The streets of Columbia are beautiful. The use of yellow cobblestones gives them the appearance that they are literally paved in gold. One of the most striking things about the earliest part of the game was that, after the opening of the lighthouse, the rocket ship and the priest, the player does not feel like chaos is about to break loose. We know it must, as this is a game, and conflict is at the center of most games, but Columbia, for that first half hour or so past leaving the church actually seems peaceful. I took my time to explore, and never felt harried after exiting the church.

Rapture was a city long since declined, merely clinging to the last threads of its tragic existence. Columbia on the other hand is a golden city in the sky, one in its prime. While I loved the art deco style that marked Rapture, Columbia’s simple, brick and mortar buildings almost made you forget that the city was floating through the air on 1912 alternate universe technology. It was eerie, but surprisingly not unsettling. Upon making my way to the fair and the raffle, I did notice one thing. The city was white washed. While the rocket took off from Maine, the people in Columbia seemed almost like the stereotype of well-mannered, early 1900’s southerners. They were perfectly nice to your face, but you could almost hear the criticism behind your back. In spite of the warm-yet-cold reception from the people, Columbia was still a stunning place to visit, especially when you could see far off destinations.

Of course, once you hit the fair and raffle, you are reminded of the times you exist in. Upon winning the raffle, you are presented with a couple in rags, a black woman and a white man. Suddenly, the world makes a lot more sense, and as you are encouraged by the host to throw a baseball at the couple, you get a clear view of the ugly side of Columbia.

With Rapture, we were presented with the consequences of vanity. Immediately after the magical opening in the bathysphere, you are presented with a rotting city, and you don’t actually meet anyone sane. Columbia contrasts this by hinting at something sinister, but first showing you a golden city, full of life. The people here, in spite of their prejudices and fervor, are still people, and not crazed genetic mutants.
In spite of itself, the vast majority of what we get to see of Columbia is beautiful. You pass through high end apartments and restaurants, and short of one house filled with a printing press and African-America’s sleeping on small cots, Columbia again seems to be a paradise that you are fighting through. As a player of games, it is easy to not be fooled by the glamour of Columbia’s life, but in spite of itself, the city, at least aesthetically, remains beautiful.

We know the people, at least in the upper city, are bullheaded, spiteful, petty, and even perhaps brainwashed by the jingoistic propaganda, but this can be dismissed as part of the times. That doesn’t make it any less awful of a place. The unique nature of Columbia is a large part of what makes Bioshock Infinite so enthralling. It is a place that is incredibly beautiful on the surface, yet just behind the scenes lurks the awfulness of early 1900’s inhumanity towards other races.

This incredible contrast is most apparent in back corridors of the stunning Battleship Bay boardwalk or the downtrodden streets and docks of Fink Manufacturing’s area. In Battleship Bay, you wash up on a pristine beach. This is already odd because you’re floating through the sky, but the beach is really not all that different from those in our world. The atmosphere is brilliant, with dancing, a boardwalk and bright, vibrant colors. It’s a nice break from the early action, until you get to the back corridors and see the disgusting, ramshackle bathrooms for “colored” and “Irish” people, and the downtrodden people who actually seem to maintain the brilliant exterior. They seem a bleak contrast to all the happiness of the happy citizens surrounding them, and act almost resigned to their fates as near slaves surrounded by a paradise they themselves can’t reach.

Fink’s is similar, with people bidding time for jobs, and slaving over the docks under the watchful eye of Columbia’s police. We get to see that they live in squalor, under the watchful eye of a massive, gilded, industrial clock, reminiscent of Metropolis. It is nothing short of unsettling to watch the blue-collar workers of Columbia clamor for these awful jobs as it hints that the city has grown too fast. Even without Booker’s intervention in the downfall of Columbia, the city appears on the brink of economic collapse. The obvious sign is the burgeoning revolution, but even without that, the city is clearly exhausting its limited resources and heading towards a societal collapse.

The strangest part of the game is that people that you would expect to sympathize with, the revolutionaries, are revealed to be just as awful as those they fight. Their reasons may be better, but their revolution really turns things for the worse. There is an ironic twist to their revolution as well. While these people are clearly second class citizens in their city, as they take over, they appear to harbor similar hatreds and equivalent morals. Anti-Semitic graffiti, civilian casualties, and even the attempted murder of a child do much to make the downtrodden of Columbia almost as detestable as those they rally against. This doesn’t even begin the betrayal of their own chosen martyr for their ‘narrative.’

It’s all brilliant in a way. Irrational Games does an incredible job with Columbia to reveal a striking society. One ostensibly built on the backs of science, progress and pride that reveals itself to be more concerned with vanity, hatred, paranoia and jingoism. The actual soldiers you fight merely want an honorable death in combat as a way out, but almost everyone else you meet is so wrapped up in their own selfishness that the glamour of their beautiful accomplishment is completely eradicated. The best people in the game were Elizabeth, who was so far removed from the society, and the Lutece “twins,” who managed to escape Columbia and become the catalyst for its downfall.

Never before had I played a game where I both loved the location and found myself detesting it at the same time. I wanted to explore every nook and cranny of Columbia’s beauty, while completely avoiding the paranoia and hatred that nearly every citizen exhibited. There were a few apparently good souls in and around the city, but these few were drowned out by the warped jingoism of the majority of the upper class and the faux-revolutionary appeal of the lower. The chaotic nature of the last hour and a half of the game’s narration certainly fits the evolution of the city’s mental state, and only served to enrich the conflicted way I felt about Columbia. At its heart, the game is almost about the downfall of a disguised dystopia as it is about Booker and Elizabeth. Bioshock Infinite is worth playing through almost solely to experience this wonderfully chaotic society trapped in what should have been a paradise, and I for one can’t wait to revisit Columbia again when the DLC is released.

BioShock Infinite: Strong narrative will leave you speechless

Graphical power and an engaging narrative isn’t as hard to come by in gaming today as it was 5 years or so ago. They’ve become very common and it has come to the point where an 8-10 hour campaign comes off as an afterthought or incomplete without a complementary multiplayer aspect. For a game that has no extra bells and whistles and has no multiplayer whatsoever, it has to be something truly special to set the game apart from the pack. Well, BioShock Infinite is that special game and it has nothing to do with anything groundbreaking, but its perfection of established standards other games have set. Seamless storytelling, clever but simple gameplay and emotionally invested characters are all fleshed out to make it a very worthwhile experience.

Taking control of ex-Pinkerton National Detective Agency agent, Booker DeWitt, the story begins as you are taken into a hyper-religious city with the mission to “retrieve the girl and wipe away the debt.” Things get uncomfortable early as you are required to go through a religious baptism to enter the city. From there, you get the chance to explore the city and get the hang of some controls, such as weapon handling, through cleverly implemented carnival games. These carnival games further reiterate the fact that something isn’t right with this city as these “family friendly” carnival games have some religious and serious connotations attached to them. One of the games is named “Cast Out the Devil” and Irrational Games really did a brilliant job having something like this play double duty as a tutorial of sorts while also telling a story through its environment. It’s an example of how much the game seamlessly does this throughout the game.

Infinite takes place in a city named “Columbia” and it isn’t your typical fictional setting based on something in real life. It is a city suspended in the sky and it is presented as beautifully as you’d imagine a city in the clouds would be. It’s hard not to believe in the living and breathing world the team over at Irrational Games has created. You can understand the history and culture by hearing the conversation of the residents or by observing the monuments erected. Later on in the game, the behavior of enemies also exemplify the brainwashed, cult-like city you assume from the beginning. One moment they could be attacking you and the next they’re seen praying as if nothing of significance is happening. Father Comstock is the faux Jesus of Columbia and he goes up against you with his army of puppets every step of the way.

Once the initial feeling that this place is too good to be true has settled in, the game quickly slaps you in the face with a dark turn for the worst that confirms all the discomfort you had in the first 30 or so minutes of the game. When that moment comes, Infinite never looks back. For the sake of providing zero spoiler content, let’s just say that things get very bloody quite suddenly. Your first weapon is a Skyhook, which can be used to mash enemies in the face as well as the practical use of magnetizing to rails and other hooks.

A range of weapons are introduced at a fast pace and skills that come in the form of Vigors come even faster. Although the game isn’t as challenging as it could have been if the Vigors were paced out a bit better, the feeling of having multiple skills at your disposal early on is a good feeling to have. Attacking enemies with crows or possessing enemies to work on your side for a little while are just a couple of the 8 total. Eventually, the novelty of some of these skills wear off and you’ll end up using two or three for the rest of the game.

When you finally meet the girl you’re supposed to rescue, Elizabeth, you’ll learn to love everything about her. Not only because she’s reminiscent of every pretty princess from those classic Disney movies, but she’s likable, not annoying with cries of “help!” and she actually helps you. Elizabeth has the skill to rip open dimension tears, which comes in handy when she can pull in weapons and health packs in the middle of battle. She also picks up money and ammo for you, tosses everything to you with an amazing throwing arm and picks locks to open up rooms of goodies. Yep, what’s not to like?

Aside from the help provided by Elizabeth, you also get assistance from purchasable weapon and Vigor upgrades. Upgrading your pistol, shotgun or any other gun comes at a hefty price and currency is found throughout the game by looting enemies or mostly by searching the trash. This aspect of the game slows things down very much, because you’re constantly scavenging for coins in order to afford weapon upgrades. And the same goes for upgrading Vigors too. By the time the game ends, you’re lucky if you see at least half of your arsenal upgraded. Health, Shield and Salt (Infinite‘s equivalent to Mana or MP) upgrades are also hidden away looking to be discovered and they can be applied to whichever meter you choose. You can play the entire game while only upgrading your health bar or be more conservative and balance everything out. It’s a simple system that isn’t as deep as having a skill tree or weapon creation system seen in other games, but it’s fun and effective nonetheless.

Voice acting is of the highest quality and every actor’s performance is very believable. Having an emotional investment can only happen if the characters’ emotions are portrayed correctly and it certainly is. Subtle facial expressions and breath-heavy monologues are noticeably strong tools that are used to get the storytelling across to the players. BioShock Infinite isn’t riddled with cutscenes followed by gameplay like most other games of the genre as you’re playing 99% of the time. Loading times are longer than desired, but they only occur when moving on from one main area to another. Besides that, the game is as smooth as can be.

As cliché as it may sound, BioShock is a rollercoaster ride that does not let up until the end. And by then, you are left speechless by the strong narrative you’ve just experienced. Like I mentioned earlier, it takes something special to rely solely on story and gameplay to sell copies of the game and BioShock Infinite hits all of its intended targets. Other games can be played for weeks or months before the next game comes around and steals its thunder, but BioShock Infinite is an 10 hour experience that will be remembered and referenced as a storytelling standard for years to come.

BioShock Infinite
Genre: Shooter
Platform: Reviewed on Xbox 360 (also available on PS3 and PC)
Publisher: 2K Games
Developer: Irrational Games
Release Date: March 26, 2013

Rating:

9.0 / 10

BioShock Infinite: A different kind of scary

While many other games get their shock value from over-the-top violence or from behind the back “boo’s!”, BioShock Infinite does all this and much more. Infinite has its fair share of gruesome moments, but what’s more scary are the chords it strikes to touch on some of our deepest fears: the ones that can actually be real.

What’s cool about playing through BioShock Infinite and the city of Columbia is that you get the perspective of someone living in a normal society. When you see the faux perfect lives of the inhabitants, you wish you could tell them about the corruption behind it all. Below are three of them that will surely make you uncomfortable:

Brainwashing and cults

BioShock Infinite takes place in an alternate American history in the year 1912 on a city built in the sky called Columbia. Its leader, Father Comstock has control of the city and one of the first things that happens to you while playing as Booker DeWitt is a baptism by this creepy and eerie cult. Afterwards, you see things such as church-like glass windows and bible-like verses on walls, such as “The false shepherd seeks only to lead our lambs astray.” You also hear familiar sounding rearrangements of popular hymns and the bizarrely pleasant conversations of folks in the street.

This aspect of fear really hits home when you’re battling against hostiles and then shortly after they are seen praying and continue to pray even if you’re hacking and shooting them to death. The sense of fear is similar to the feeling Resident Evil 4 evoked when the Spaniard cult members dropped everything during an intense battle as soon as they heard the church bell ringing.

Name calling propaganda

When you see propaganda that is rhyming “slanted eyes” with “wicked lies” to describe the “evil Chinese” during real-life event, the Boxer Rebellion, you not only see, but feel that something is seriously wrong. This is the kind of distorted messaging seen when exploring “The Hall of Heroes” museum in the city of Columbia. Its politically-driven slander is fed to the people of “The City in the Sky” regularly and they don’t even know it. Just another instance where you clearly see their “perfect” lives are based on layers upon layers of lies.

Alternate U.S. history

Much like graphic novel, Watchmen, the source of a the darkness surrounding BioShock Infinite is the fact that the game takes place during an alternate timeline of the United States. The country has severed ties with the floating city and now it wanders as a heavily armed airship. On the ship, there are statues of dead presidents wielding weapons and most outlandish is the presence of a John Wilkes Booth monument. How can a group of people idolize and look up to the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln? It’s a group I don’t want to ever be a part of.

Firaxis on Shanghai ‘flavor’ in XCOM Slingshot DLC

In this interview, we speak with Pete Murray of Firaxis Games on the upcoming Slingshot DLC for XCOM: Enemy Unknown.

Murray, Associate Producer and Level Designer on Enemy Unknown, discusses Council missions, the alien battleship, enemy adjustments and new localized content based on China, as well as fan reception to multiplayer.

EDITOR’S PICK: XCOM is a soldier’s tale, where dying is a good thing

The new Slingshot DLC will be available on Dec. 4th.

New XCOM Slingshot DLC promises more death – Yay! Hands-on Preview

XCOM Slingshot

Thanks to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, gamers have become accustomed to reveling in the masochistic ecstasy of watching their soldiers die – over and over. The alien invasion strategy game forced players to make difficult decisions, which often involved sacrificing their best soldiers.

Now, XCOM is getting its first DLC pack since its release nearly two months ago. Entitled Slingshot, the DLC pack will come with 3 new missions: Friends in Low Places, Confounding Light and Gangplank.

Didn’t beat the game? Don’t worry. Firaxis was kind enough to let players indulge in the deaths of more troops without needing to beat the game (but shame on you anyway if you didn’t finish it). Gamers will also get a few new hair styles (new helmets and wooly hats) customize their team. However, there won’t be any core changes to your base.

Word comes in from command – you’ve got a new mission, overseas. Friends in Low Places and Confounding Light will take place in China, with aesthetics and environments tailored to look as though you’re battling in areas of said country. Firaxis modeled train stations and other picturesque locals after actual places in China. It makes these maps stand out a little more from those we encountered in the retail game. While the map layouts changed in the retail release, regional differentiation between countries was slim. Alien attacks in Asia often looked the same as attacks in Africa or Europe.

EDITOR’S PICK: XCOM is a soldier’s tale, where dying is a good thing

XCOM Slingshot

Friends in Low Places is an escort mission that will require players to protect VIP and Triad Operative, Zhang. Gamers will get to maneuver through a cemetery, using tombstones as their primary cover option. Afterward, Zhang will join the XCOM team as a heavy class character with above average stats. Sorry folks, Zhang isn’t one of those delightful Assault Class characters who get the job done – quick and dirty – with the coveted shotgun.

Confounding Light takes place in a Chinese subway station and is a timed, bomb squad type mission. Your best strategy here is to weave through the train station, finding cover behind benches and in the tracks. The things you do to save the world. Nothing is worse that getting caught by one of those pesky Outsiders or a Cyberdisc unaware. On this map, I found the giant air conditioners on top of the train cars to be a good place to position my snipers. It worked – sometimes.

Lastly, on Gangplank, gamers board the UFO hovering over Asia. It’s your final showdown against the aliens (until the next DLC) as you destroy various tactical points to save the day. This will prove to be the most challenging of the 3 missions. Did you assemble the right team? Did you pick your upgrades wisely? Did Zhang survive? Gangplank will test your team’s durability as you fight to take over the massive alien ship.

The Slingshot Content Pack will be available on December 4th, 2012 for $6.99 (PSN) / 560 Microsoft Points (Xbox Live) / $6.99 (PC). Time to carve out some more space on the Memorial wall. Yay.

Available Now: Borderlands Legends brings the Wasteland to iOS – expect less gore

Action-RPG and strategy combine to give iOS gamers a new Wasteland experience in Borderlands Legends on iPhone and iPad.

But if you were one of the “few and proud” who bellyached over less-gore in Borderlands 2, don’t be surprised by Legends‘ less than gory take on the Wasteland. The top-down view gives little room for the gore buckets of blood and decapitation you witnessed in the first Borderlands. However, there’s still some great cartoony blood to be found in this iOS adventure, plus all the leveling and loot hording you crave.

Borderlands Legends on iOS through the Apple App Store
Borderlands Legends - 2K Games

View the Borderlands Legends trailer: