War. War never changes. But since its inception almost 20 years ago, the post-apocalyptic action-adventure RPG series Fallout sure has. When Fallout 3 was released in 2008, it dazzled players with its enormous, dangerous open world of mystery, mutants, and radiation poisoning, and in the years since, Vault Dwellers have been champing at the bit to get back into it, even after a very successful and engaging entry from Obsidian in the form of Fallout: New Vegas. And now? Fallout 4 has finally arrived, and despite some puzzling changes in design and new mechanics, it's still the same massive, post-apocalyptic open-world action RPG you remember, though I've already taken several mushrooms off its rating for refusing to let the decrepit detective robot be my husband.
October 2015: Dust: An Elysian Tail is now available on iOS!
In a perfect world, I would just tell you to go buy and play Humble Hearts' indie action adventure Dust: An Elysian Tail, also for iOS, Playstation 4, and XBbox360, and you would so I could get back to playing it myself. In this visually stunning and captivating Metroidvania-esque platforming RPG, originally an XBLA exclusive, you control Dust, a mysterious warrior who awakens deep in the forest with no memory of who he is. Fortunately for him, the mysterious talking sword known as the Blade of Ahrah has awakened and been drawn to him... even if he has no idea why. Together with the sword's unlikely guardian, the excitable flying Fidget, Dust sets out on an epic journey of self-discovery, never suspecting that his true destiny might be bigger than anyone ever imagined. Enormously impressive and stylish with a loveable cast, exciting combat, and a beautiful world to explore, Dust: An Elysian Tail is a game that deserves your attention immediately.
Elena Elkhorn's father is missing, and she knows it's got something to do with the strange, isolated mansion he was working at as a groundskeeper. She's been having strange dreams about him trapped inside, and unable to bear it any longer, she grabs the amulet he gave her and sets out to investigate herself. What she never expected was to find the tormented spirits haunting the grounds, or that her heritage was so... otherworldly. In Night Light Interactive's indie horror adventure Whispering Willows, also available for iOS and Android as well as Playstation 4, the XBOX One, and the Wii U, Elena discovers her ancestral amulet glows in the presence of spirits, and can be used to enhance her shamanic powers and leave her body. Scary? Sure, but she's going to need all the help she can get to find her father, especially since she's trapped on the mansion's grounds herself, and she'll need to uncover its unhappy history in the process. Use [WASD] or the [arrow] keys to move around, the [spacebar] to interact, and [E] to open or close your inventory. Pressing [Q] will allow Elena to exit her body, which means she can converse with spirits, slip through cracks (no, she can't just pass through whatever she wants), and possess and manipulate glowing objects. She can't venture too far from her body, however, and in her physical form Elena is vulnerable to certain dangers. Though short and potentially too easy for some, Whispering Willows is still a gorgeous piece of spooky storytelling to see you through an evening.
On the gritty, rain-soaked cobbles of Victorian London all is not well. Scotland Yard is preparing to activate a staggering and monstrous breakthrough in artificial intelligence codenamed the Basilisk. With nothing beyond its total surveillance capabilities, crime will become a thing of thing of the past — and so will your career as a master catburglar. Your only chance is to steal the Basilisk itself before it can become active, stealthily amassing a small fortune with which to augment your capabilities in daring midnight raids. But you only have a hundred days until the Basilisk goes active... and this is not your grandfather's Victorian England. Steam-powered uniformed security automatons clank as they trundle their masses of tarnished brass along punchcard-coded patrol routes. Whirling gyrocopter surveillance drones hover unsteadily about, searching for any trace of intruders and prepared to electrocute them without compunction. Centrally-networked panopticon lenses swivel their gaze across the room, and lethal 'hacker mines' lace the floor. Size Five Games' unique and eagerly-awaited indie stealth action steampunk-meets-cyberpunk hybrid The Swindle, the stakes couldn't be any higher and danger lurks around every corner. This compelling dystopian wonderland features the artistic talents of Michael Firman, the suspenseful musical stylings of Tobey Evans, and coding by Louise James, Tom Boot and Sophie Humphries of Clockwork Cuckoo.
Please be aware that this game contains graphic, heavy violence, as well as sexual violence some players may find upsetting.
Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number opens with a tutorial were you brutally slaughter everyone inside a house in the most graphic fashion possible and then assault a woman. If any part of that sentence made you wince, Devolver Digital and Dennation Games' follow-up to their 2012 ultra-violent, ultra-challenging indie action game probably isn't for you. That the whole scene turns out to be part of a movie's filming doesn't necessarily lessen the blow when the rest of the game is every bit as gut-wrenchingly gory, with all of it wrought by your own hands. In every level you're bashing, blasting, slicing, or otherwise decimating your way through places filled with people armed to the teeth, and even a single hit will take you down, forcing you to move fast and react faster. Kick the door down to knock the man behind it to the floor, grab his gun and blow away his partner and the reinforcements who come bursting in while dodging to the side to avoid the gunfire through the windows and then take out the first guy before he gets to his feet and comes after you. Fail, and you'll have to try, try again, and all of it happens in the space of a breath. It's fast, stressful, and, yes, incredibly, lavishly, unstoppably violent, but it's packaged around a challenging and rewarding combat system, and one of the trippiest stories, soundtracks, and visual styles you could ever encounter. Despite significantly increasing the premise and complexity of its story as you play multiple different characters over the course of the game, a significantly more structured approach to the way levels are designed removes enough of the need for quick-thinking versatility to make the game something more of an action-based puzzler... with levels of violence that might make Tarantino raise an eyebrow.
[Please note that Tales from the Borderlands is an episodic series. Purchasing the game grants you access to all episodes as they become available. Currently only the first and second episodes have been released.]
While I play and love a lot of video games, it's rare that I replay one, let alone several times in a five month period, so let that show you how much I loved TellTale Games' first installment of Tales from the Borderlands, which I played twice by myself and then again, forcing my husband to watch, so I would, theoretically, stop quoting it at him. (Without context, anyway.) Based on the wildly popular ultra-violent and ultra-hilarious shooter from Gearbox Software, the series follows Rhys, an employee for the villainous company Hyperion who gets tired of being jerked around but bites off more than he can chew when he tries to pull a fast one, and Fiona, a conwoman who's just trying to get by on the planet Hyperion has been ruining by taking care of her family the only way she knows how. As the series opens, we found Rhys and Fiona prisoners, each blaming the other, and we've since been treated to some very conflicting stories of who-ruined-everything-for-who as they recount the events leading them to now. At the start of the first episode, Rhys finds himself saddled with an apparently permanent new friend who has his own plans, while Fiona, after performing some experimental surgery, discovers something called the Gortys Project could mean big things for everyone... too bad she doesn't know what it is. With some of the funniest pitch-black humour around and exciting action sequences, Episode Two: Atlas Mugged breathes new life and depth into old characters and places, and delivers one of the best adventures around.
Awooga! Awooga! The Escapists has finally emerged for Windows and XBox One users in a full release version of this beloved and quirky prison break simulation role-playing game. Mouldy Toof and Team 17 Digital bring on the cheeky pixelated 8-bit goodness as you go through the motions of being a model inmate while slyly hatching your plans to make it home free. It's a unique and eerily unsettling feeling if you're one of the teeming multitudes who've played Minecraft and built massive structures of stone to now find yourself having to stealthily escape from them, but there's plenty of wry humor and action in this crisp and colorful just-one-more-day release to make it an insatiable compulsion.
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Please note that this game deals with themes some may find upsetting. Please see my comment below the review if you need further details to make an informed decision about whether to play.
The first episode of Life is Strange, the new episodic action adventure from SquareEnix and DONTNOD Entertainment, starts off with a literal bang as our heroine, school student Max, wakes up on a dark and thunderous coast that's being ripped apart by a tornado that looks big enough to swallow the world. When she snaps to and finds herself in photography class moments later, she's more than a little rattled... she didn't fall asleep, after all, and that didn't feel like a dream, so maybe she's losing her mind? Or maybe she's just having trouble adjusting to prestigious private school Blackwell Academy, which hasn't turned out to be the glorious dream school she thought it would be... Max has never been comfortable around people, and the teasing of school snobs combined with her loads of homework and an unexpectedly sharp difficulty curve isn't making things any easier. Especially since Max grew up in the sleepy town of Arcadia Bay, and she's trying to work up the courage to speak to Chloe, the best friend she hasn't spoken to in the five years since she moved away. But there's something strange about Arcadia, like the missing girl everyone is talking about... and there's something strange happening with Max, too. She's just your average eighteen year old girl who discovers she has the ability to rewind time and change the past... something she can use to help people, but also, she thinks, make all the right decisions for her life. Guided by your choices, Life is Strange is a gorgeously rendered and acted tale about growing up, identity, power, and what you choose to do with it.
Long considered to be one of the greatest classic point-and-click adventure games ever created, LucasArts' Grim Fandango is the sort of funny, smart, wickedly creative game players deserve, though considering it was released in 1998 and often doesn't play nice with new systems, it's both difficult to track down and harder to play. Well, no longer! Thanks to Double Fine, Grim Fandango Remastered has arrived, with a new coat of polish and a lot more compatibility, allowing new players to experience the iconic hit for the first time, and old fans to revisit without the hassle. The game follows Manny Calavera, who's been stuck in his (literal) dead-end job trying to upsell travel packages to those who have just died and want to cross all the way over for quite some time. His boss wants him to sell more luxury packages, but it's not easy when he's constantly being outdone by his slimy coworker Domino Hurley. Manny used to be on top, but now he can barely keep himself from getting fired when he's stuck with crummy clients, and he can't even remember what sin he committed in life to find himself stuck in this afterlife holding zone. He thinks he's finally found his salvation when he winds up with a crack at a soul who should be bound for the greenest pastures possible, but something is rotten in the Land of the Dead. Will Manny ever get his final reward? Or has he stumbled across a mystery that could prove more dangerous than he ever imagined?
Techland's Dying Light combines everyone's two favourite things... zombies and intense physical activity. At the start of the game, you're air-dropped into what is essentially a war zone... an entire city under lockdown for months after the spread of a plague that turns people into the mindless undead. You're there trying to retrieve a stolen file and tracking down a rogue agent, but the survivors who save you from turning into zombie chow don't know that. To them you're just Crane, a guy trying to get by and willing to pull his weight by helping them survive. They've even set you up with some Antizin following an unfortunate bite... the only thing capable of staving off the zombification process. It's safe to say they might not be so friendly and sympathetic if they knew why you were really there... especially since their doctor is working on a cure that your superiors are very interested in. By day you'll spend your time helping the other people living in The Tower, while also trying to accomplish your own objectives, but when night falls, well, something else joins the hordes roaming the city streets, and not even the rooftops will keep you safe. Dying Light combines rooftop, wall-climbing, parkour action in this thriller, along with crafting, skill trees, and sidequests galore, not to mention a "be the zombie" multiplayer mode, for a surprisingly immersive and definitely gorgeous adventure in a sprawling, dangerous city, but clunky combat and (as of this writing) serious performance issues are as ugly as the zombies themselves at times.
If you're at all into Western RPGs, then Bioware is probably a name that makes your heart go pitty-pat. They've been behind some of the most (rightfully) highly praised RPGs of all time, from Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic to Baldur's Gate, and they're also responsible for two of the biggest RPG series in recent memories... Mass Effect, and Dragon Age. If you're a fantasy fan, it's the latter that held your heart, and Dragon Age: Inquisition has arrived to devour every scrap of your free time for the foreseeable future. As Inquisition begins, roughly ten years after Dragon Age: Origins, the world is already having its share of problems, when the mages, who have previously lived under lockdown, decide to buck the Templars' control. Things go from rocky to, well, apocalyptic when a massive rift opens in the sky and demons begin pouring out of it. In the middle of all that, literally, comes you. You appear out of nowhere, staggering out of a glowing portal, and suddenly you find yourself named the Herald of Andraste whether you like it or not. Admittedly, when you discover you've got the power to close the rifts opening up all over the realm, it does seem like you're destined for some pretty big things... too bad that means a lot of people want you dead, and you're suddenly saddled with the responsibility of leading the Inquisition to boot. Now you're leading an army, and all you have to do is close that enormous breach in the sky and everything will go back to normal... right? With a daunting amount of play time, huge, open maps filled with quests that span both Ferelden and Orlais, an epic quest with a diverse and fully realized cast, and a massive stronghold to oversee and grow, Dragon Age: Inquisition isn't without its flaws, but is formidable and fun in all the right ways.
Originally only available for Playstation 3 and now finally ported to PC, Sega's Valkyria Chronicles is a meaty turn-based strategy RPG that follows the brutal and bloody war between East Europan Imperial Alliance and the Empire, who have been clashing over the availability of a mineral called Ragnite, right before it involves the previously neutral Principality of Gallia. At the start of the game, a young man named Welkin is returning home to the tiny village of Bruhl in Gallia just as the Empire (it's always an evil empire) is about to declare war on Gallia to seize the Ragnite deposits. Neither Welkin nor his adoptive sister Isara are soldiers, despite both being descended from well-known war heroes, and new town watch captain Alicia has more experience baking bread than she does holding a rifle. They're about to learn, however, that sometimes you don't get to choose whether you get involved. Driven from their home and conscripted into the Gallian military, Welkin and his friends believe they'll be able to return home one day... but will they recognise the town or themselves when they do? With a deep story, likable, human characters, and compelling, challenging battles, Valkyria Chronicles is a cut above the rest in almost every conceivable way, with a PC port that doesn't cut corners. Also, I expect some sort of prize for going this entire review without once calling it Valkyrie Profile, which isn't easy to do when you're old. Where's my rocking chair? Get off my lawn!
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[Please note that Game of Thrones is an episodic series. Purchasing the game grants you access to all episodes as they become available. Currently only the first episode has been released.]
The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass... no, no. Wait. Sorry. Wrong epic. To say murder maestro George RR Martin's series of gritty fantasy books, A Song of Ice and Fire, have captivated their audience is a bit of an understatement. After all, while the success of the HBO show can't be denied, the books have been around for almost twenty years and aren't done yet. So who better to bring fans a taste of the intrigue, politics, dragons and murder than TellTale Games, and with the first installment of their episodic adventure series Game of Thrones - A TellTale Game Series now unleashed, it . Here, the story centers on the Forresters, a family who has been loyal to House Stark (central characters of the original books and show) for literally thousands of years, which means with the current war for the Iron Throne going on between all the would-be kings, the Forresters are obligated to rally. As the game opens on the eve of a, um, most joyous wedding, initially casting you in the shoes of squire and former pig farmer Gared Tuttle, who's about to see all his hard work for Gregor Forrester, Lord of Ironrath, pay off. At the same time, young Ethan Forrester suddenly finds himself the head of his House, struggling to measure up to the expectations of others who think he's too bookish and weak. In King's Landing, Ethan's sister Mira works as handmaiden to Margaery Tyrell, putting her in a unique position to help her family, but also in great danger when suspicion falls on anyone whose relatives raised the banner for Rob Stark. As the story moves through each character, they become more and more ensnared in the political manipulations and webs of deceit, because everyone has their own agenda, and you can never really be sure who you can trust.
[Please note that Tales from the Borderlands is an episodic series. Purchasing the game grants you access to all episodes as they become available. Currently only the first episode has been released.]
When I first heard TellTale Games were making an episodic adventure game based on Gearbox Software's beloved hyperviolent and totally cracked-in-the-head shooter series Borderlands, I was mildly concerned. Mainly because Borderlands is described by things like ramping a car that fires buzzsaws off a cliff into a group of bandits and guns that shoot bullets that are also on fire, while TellTale's adventure games are, um. Not. But surprise surprise, Tales from the Borderlands is here with its first installment, Zer0 Sum, and while you won't be running around shooting up the scenery, it's every bit as foul-mouthed, black-humoured, and perversely charismatic as the original games. Plus, Patrick Warburton is in it. What else do you want? If you haven't played Borderlands, Tales will get you up to speed on the basics at the beginning, which are fairly simple.Tales from the Borderlands takes place after the end of Borderlands 2 and follows Rhys and Fiona, not exactly your typical gun-toting heroes, who have very different motives. Rhys has been fighting tooth and nail for a promotion at super company Hyperion that his "nemesis" Vasquez has cheated him out of, while Fiona's out to pull one huge con that could set her, her little sister, and their surrogate father Felix up for life. To say not everything goes according to plan is an understatement, and Fiona and Rhys are going to have to work together to stay alive... even if each one blames the other for the whole mess. This first installment tells the story of how they wound up thrown together, though of course how they get there is mostly up to you. With excellent comedic timing, exciting action sequences, and all the perverse style and flair you expect from a Borderlands title, Tales from the Borderlands' first episode sets things off with a bang. Oh, and be prepared for a, um, special jump scare or two.
Edmund McMillen and Niclais Inc's The Binding of Isaac is a weird game to talk about in mixed company. Released in 2011, it's a top-down indie action roguelike packed with literally hundreds of hours of play, secrets, unlockables, and more across its randomly generated dungeons, but it's also (and here's the kicker) about a boy (Isaac) whose religious mother hears the voice of God telling her to kill him, and so Isaac flees into the depths of a labyrinthine basement to escape her, all while battling monstrous deformed entities with his tears, wading through poop, using pills, and finding special items like The Belt, which makes you run faster for fear of a beating. If that made you pull back, even a little, it definitely isn't the game for you, but that hasn't stopped others from embracing it. It's gross, gory to the extreme, and players loved it for its brand of dark humour, piles of secrets and replay value on top of a brutal difficulty, and now it's time to go back to the basement once more with The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth. It's not a sequel or an expansion. As the title implies, it's a complete overhaul of the original game (and the Wrath of Lamb expansion) that more than doubles all the content with tons of new enemies, items, surprises and more, on top of a graphical revamp and a new soundtrack.
Good fortune (and fun!) will come to those who dig through the archives.