Early start, lifelong unfairness

“The gender pay gap starts earlier than you think,” said Renee Morad in NBCNews.com. The first bosses who underpay girls? Their own parents. Boys earn twice as much for household jobs as girls do: Data from the household-chore app Busy Kid shows boys taking in $13.80 a week in allowance, compared with just $6.71 for girls. In one experiment, by researcher Yasemin Besen- Cassino, “when girls asked for a raise, they were less likely than boys to get one.” It’s the same pattern that other studies have shown with women in the grown-up work world. You can see the pay gap in early jobs outside the home too, with teens as young as 14. Often, “young girls stay in freelance positions, like  babysitting, and boys move into employee-type jobs, like working for a landscaping company.” Girls should learn early to negotiate for themselves, but employers—and parents—need to be aware of
their own biases.

Those kinds of biases are part of the reason the wage gap hasn’t really budged in a decade, said Jessica Dickler in CNBC.com. Despite increased attention paid to the issue, a woman still “makes about 80 cents for every dollar a man does.” The gap is smaller in tech fields, which have recently been under heavy scrutiny, with women earning 92 percent of their male counterparts salaries. But it’s worse in some of the highest-paid fields: In finance, women take home just 65 percent
of men’s pay, and female doctors and surgeons get only 71 percent. The difference even persists when
women set their own salaries, said Vanessa Fuhrmans in The Wall Street Journal. On average, in comparable companies, female founders/CEOs paid themselves an annual salary of
$179,444, while men gave themselves $232,659. Why? Women founders “often have less breathing room than male entrepreneurs.” Women get “substantially” less venture money than do men and face more pressure to not “come across to backers as extravagant.” The lifetime gap in earnings makes it harder for women to plan for retirement, said Angela Antonelli in MarketW atch.com. Women invest more in education, and “two-thirds of the more than $1.3 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt is owed by women.” They often end up behind on savings; nearly one-half of older unmarried women rely almost entirely on Social Security in retirement. Women who leave the workforce to care for
an ailing parent lose a startling average of $300,000 in wages and benefits. And, of course, women live longer. The earnings gap in younger years turns into a financial gap in old age that the U.S. has done little to address.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes: Universe in Peril
Loosely based on the 2013 PC/console game, the Android version drops the open world aspect and splits the levels into shorter stages to suit the mobile form. It’s still a huge download though, mainly due to the large number of cut-scenes featuring trademark LEGO humour. While the character roster isn’t as colossal as the original, you still get to play as over 91 characters.

Ranging from fan-favourite superheroes to minor characters, these are unlocked during play or earlier via IAP bundles. Naturally, they all bring their unique powers to the table and while the main character for each stage is preset, you get to choose a tag partner. During play you can switch characters at any point, or hit the tag button to use both Starting off with Iron Man and The Hulk, we soon got used to the touch controls, although there’s an option for on screen buttons as well. You simply drag your finger around to move, tap on enemies to attack, swipe to dodge and flick up with two fingers to fly. You can also throw heavy objects and once the super meter is charged, unleash a mega attack on your opposition.

Each of the 45 missions features ten special challenges, such as beating a time limit, collecting enough studs and defeating all enemies. There’s plenty of replay value here, particularly as some feats can only be achieved using certain characters, so you’ll need to return to stages later once they have been unlocked. Red bricks can also be found, or bought, to increase your powers and enable cheat modes during your gameplay.

LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is well presented, fun to play, features nice boss battles and offers plenty of content to keep you returning.

?Price ?3.30/$4.99 + IAPs
?Designed for Phone and tablet
?Requires Android 4.0.3

Land of the Pharaohs

Land of the Pharaohs
The start of the Assassins

2013 saw the release of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, and it brought a lot of freshness to the franchise. See, up until that point, Assassin’s Creed had started treading familiar territory a little too much. The original game was something of a breath of fresh air when it first arrived, despite complaints about repetitive game play.

The second game – arguably the best in the franchise – took the series to fantastic new heights, spawning two great expansions as well. But by the time the third title came out, things were feeling a little stale. It didn’t help that, until the release of Assassin’s Creed: Unity (with its many, many bugs and issues) Assassin’s Creed 3, despite a strong story and a whole new setting, was considered by a great many to be the series’ lowest point. It lacked the depth of the second game, and the uniqueness of the first.

So when Black Flag hit shelves and afforded players to take on the pirate life, it made something of a splash. The hero wasn’t the noble Assassin that we had seen three times before, and the focus of the game was somewhat different. It was something of a triumph for a franchise that was becoming long in the tooth far too quickly.

This was perhaps also due to the fact that Assassin’s Creed had become a regular feature in the video game calendar. Other than a gap between the first two games, released in 2007 and 2009 respectively, the series has seen a major release in every year. 2010 brought Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, 2011 Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, 2012 Assassin’s Creed III and 2013 Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. In fact, the trend continued after Black Flag, too; 2014 brought Assassin’s Creed: Rogue and the lamentable Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and 2015 Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate. And then, in a surprising move, Ubisoft announced that there would be no game in the franchise in 2016, opting rather to release a remastered version of Assassin’s Creed II.

That two year gap may be important, if trends are to be believed (and considering there was a two year gap before the release of the excellent Assassin’s Creed II). Because this year – two years after the release of Syndicate – Ubisoft have announced Assassin’s Creed: Origins.

Just before E3 2017, rumours started spreading about the game, and that it would be set in Ancient Egypt (a setting many fans have believed would be explored by the franchise sooner or later). And those rumours proved founded in truth - Assassin’s Creed: Origins will take place in Ptolemaic Egypt (a period that lasted from 323BC until 30BC). And it will also explore the origins of the shadowy Assassins, which there has been quite a bit of speculation about.

In Assassin’s Creed: Origins players will take on the role of Bayek, who is a Medjay (basically an Ancient Egyptian paramilitary force who had sweeping policing and protection duties). The players will use Bayek to protect his people from threats, although whether the Templars will be the main bad guys this time around (the order was established in 1129AD) remains to be seen. What we do know, however, is that taking out bad guys in Assassin’s Creed: Origins will be a little different.

Missions will build towards something that has been missing from the franchise – boss fights. And each boss fight will be different, forcing players to consider loadouts and tactics with each and every one, rather than just taking to the mission with their favourite kit. Additionally, mission completion will be freer than before… this time around, targets won’t just stroll around areas where players will expect to find them. Rather, they will have lives, meaning that they will travel between different locations at different times of day.

This means that the player will need to strategies and choose the best time to strike, adding a new level of freedom to mission completion. That, all on its own, is reason to get excited; this freedom will enable players to take advantage of differing conditions, and make each hit their own, rather than being shoe-horned into tighter situations.

Players will also be able to undertake missions at their own pace, which is a good thing when one considers that Assassin’s Creed: Origins offers an entire country to explore. There will be varied environments, ranging from lush, overgrown oases right through to desert landscapes. In addition, players will be able to discover and explore tombs and more, meaning that there is going to be a lot to do in Assassin’s Creed: Origins… just like there was in Black Flag.

And at the core of the action – in addition to great graphics and a number of expected new mechanics – will be an overhauled reactive combat system, as well as a host of new weapons that all have their own characteristics.

It is all rather exciting, particularly for fans of the franchise who have seen chinks appearing in its armour. But possibly one of the most exciting factors is one that is happening behind the scenes… and is the reason why Black Flag has been mentioned so often here. The team behind Assassin’s Creed: Origins is the same team that created Black Flag, an undeniable high point in the franchise’s history. That team brings with it not only the know-how that went into creating Black Flag, complete with its enormous playing area, but also the time that they have put in; Assassin’s Creed: Origins’ development started in 2014, not long after Black Flag was released.

Many Assassin’s Creed fans are suffering from “once bitten, twice shy”. The franchise’s misstep with Unity left a sour taste in many mouths, which many feel Syndicate did not do enough to change. But initial reports for Assassin’s Creed: Origins seem hopeful that the franchise will be aking a long overdue return to the heights achieved by Assassin’s Creed II and Black Flag… all we can do is hope that our upcoming adventures in Ancient Egypt will be what the franchise needs to return to its former glories.


The first game announced was a new franchise from Sony Japan Studio called Knack. Set in a colourful, cartoony world where goblins and humans are at war, players control the titular robot who is capable of exponentially growing in size by absorbing matter around him. He starts off as a cute little guy who couldn’t threaten our nans, but give him the opportunity and suddenly he’s bigger than a house and punching you in the face. The little gameplay we’ve seen looks to be standard actionplatformer fare in a Skylanders vein, strolling through bright levels and smashing up the hordes of goblins in your path. The Pixar-style graphics look wonderful, with some of the animation in cutscenes perfectly mimicking the kind of thing you see in blockbuster CGI films. Along with SCE Japan, famed developer Mark Cerny, who had a hand in such PlayStation hits as Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Uncharted, is directing and designing Knack. If it can evoke the same simple wonder that first exploring Crash Bandicoot can, we might be onto a winner with Knack. It might not appeal to everyone, but kids, and adults who never really grew up (that includes us here at Play) should have a ton of fun.




BioShock Infinite

BioShock Infinite

Announced in late 2010, it’s been a long wait for BioShock Infinite, but finally the fruits of Irrational Games’ labours are about to be released for sampling, and Play sat down to experience a morsel. It’s been a long hard road, but where we’re going, we don’t need roads. BioShock Infinite starts off familiar enough. Though it’s not quite as explosive as the first few moments of the original, there are parallels. Your character finds himself being escorted by two unnamed comrades in fetching yellow parkas, in the middle of a raging sea. You’re handed a box, and immediately your character grunts ‘What’s this?’ Your character’s name is on the front. You’re not some unnamed unfortunate anymore like you were in the original; your character is his own man. A man by the name of Booker DeWitt.

A former agent, it’s clear from the contents of the box that he’s on some kind of mission. A pistol, a picture of a missing woman, and a host of other scraps indicate that Booker’s about to have a hard time of things. A giant lighthouse looms into view. Now we’re in familiar territory, a familiar nod to the BioShock faithful. The pair leave Booker by the lighthouse and row off into the briny abyss, leaving him on his own. The first thing he does upon entering the building is gaze at his reflection in
a bowl of water. Not only does he have a name, but his own face too. It’s highly doubtful he’ll be coerced into lodging a golf club into someone’s cranium at this stage.

He explores the lighthouse some more, rings some bells which herald a chorus of terrifying apocalyptic lights and horns in response, before being beckoned into a chair. After a tentative few moments, the chair straps him in and things start to go haywire. DeWitt starts losing it completely, the fear taking him over as he struggles and yelps. He loses his pistol (don’t worry he’ll find another later on), and he sees rocket engines starting up below him. A few minutes later, he’s somewhere very very new, with stunning skylines and airships (again, it’s all incredibly reminiscent of seeing Rapture through the Bathysphere for the first time), introducing him and us to an entirely new world.
It’d be hard to top the opener of the original BioShock. After all, it was a graphical revelation at the time, an introduction dripping (see what we did there?) with atmosphere and the promise of a completely new type of experience.

Infinite doesn’t evoke the same ‘Oh my god’ factor, but it at least ensures you’re not about to miss Rapture. Columbia, the cloud city that’ll be your new playground for an undisclosed number of hours, is a far cry from the broken down, libertarian utopia gone wrong of BioShock. For one thing, it’s still thriving, and there are no splicers out to carve you up. Not initially anyway. It’s all incredibly pleasant, a population living a serene, communal existence among the clouds. However, no one buys
BioShock games for the chat, and it’s not long before things are going belly up. It all starts when Booker takes part in a carnival show, presided over by a chap with a similar look and charisma to Daniel Day Lewis’ Bill the Butcher character from Gangs Of New York.

Booker’s tasked with throwing a ball at a couple of slaves, instantly dispelling the idyllic atmosphere of the town. You can choose whether to target the slaves, or chuck one in the face of Daniel Day Lewis’ doppelganger. Choice will once again play a huge part in BioShock, although how big a part it
plays remains to be seen. Once you finally get to let rip with the combat, it’s immediately apparent that it’s a whole heap better than the original. For all the good it did, BioShock’s combat felt like an afterthought, lacking impact and feeling altogether quite woolly.

Infinite’s weapons are more entertaining to use, and it’s a lot more fun mowing down allcomers with a meaty shotgun than the outlandish, slightly rubbish weapons of the first game. It’s immediately apparent too, just how much more violent Infinite is. The first two BioShock games had some devastating weaponry, but you never felt they did sufficient enough damage to the splicers. Yes they’d die, but they’d just flop around after being administered the coup de grace. Infinite ups the ante with popping heads and dismemberment. Though gore doesn’t make a game (and there’s an option to turn it off, in case any sensitive souls are watching), it’s nice to see for once that the damage meted out in a BioShock game has an appropriate aesthetic response. An early kill with the skyhook
– Booker’s melee weapon and means of transport – sees him brutally lopping the head off some poor sod likely just doing his job.

It’s a new thing for BioShock, and one that’ll have people fond of copious head detonations (these things are important to some) salivating but one thing that isn’t new is the use of ‘vigors’ which we all knew as plasmids in BioShock. It wouldn’t be an Irrational game without some entertaining unnatural way of turning the tide, and Infinite delivers. They work the same way as plasmids, triggered by the left bumper, exploding, killing and manipulating in a litany of entertaining ways. You pick up a fire one pretty early, along with a hacking one, so there’s no more tedious art deco pipemania in order to get a machine to do your bidding. In a later segment, you could even fire crows at people, which is wildly entertaining for some reason, and makes you feel like a Metal Gear
Solid boss.

It’s only in a later section that’s set a few hours later, where we see just how much more dynamic the game is than its predecessors. By this time you’ve met up with Elizabeth, the woman you were tasked with saving in the first place, and she’s right by you all the way. Yes we hear you groaning ‘Oh no,
not a bloody escort mission’, but wait! Elizabeth is from the same school of companionship as Farah (for all the foetuses out there she was in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, before Ubisoft seemingly forgot about that franchise), and isn’t an annoyance at all. In fact she’s pretty bloody essential to your

She can’t be killed, so you don’t have to worry about her like you did with the little sisters, and you’d be absolutely buggered without her, quite frankly. Elizabeth’s talents lie in creating rips in space/time, enabling her to phase in and out of reality so to speak, meaning she won’t get lost, and can follow DeWitt closely even when he’s speeding along on a sky-line. More importantly though, when you’re low on ammo (and this’ll happen, especially when you’re going up against a handyman, the Infinite
variation of the Big Daddy) she’ll phase out for a bit and return with supplies and replenishments.

What a nice lady. It’s during this later segment when we see just how much better Irrational are at combat than it was. In earlier BioShock games, there was always lingering dread about the next fracas, and not in a survival horror ‘Argh what’s around the next corner’ way. Each time you heard a Big Daddy stomping along, or a gaggle of splicers talking bollocks a palpable sense of ennui washed over you, as you realised you were about to spend the next few minutes in a fight trying to get to grips with some shonky-feeling weaponry. Not so in Infinite. You’re immediately more agile and handy with a weapon, especially in conjunction with Elizabeth. The big winner for you though is the use of the skyhook in conjunction with the sky-lines, and it adds a new level of excitement and depth to an already improved experience.

If things get hairy on one level, or Booker finds himself ambushed by a turret-spewing airship, he can leap off the edge (there’s no penalty for leaping off the edge and falling, as you’re immediately phased back into the action) connect with a skyline, and zoom off to another platform for a better chance at managing the situation. It’s a fun way to get the drop on your unsuspecting quarry, and it helps the game feel as frantic and exciting as the best shooters in the genre. In fact, the traversal feels
more like something from Crysis 2 than the original BioShock. That’s not to say that Crysis 2 is one of the best shooters around but the fact that a BioShock game can compare to a top tier firstperson
shooter in the first place surely speaks volumes.

You’ll need the extra mobility, as the Handymen are a lot more agile than the lunkheaded Big Daddies of yore. They’re incredibly fast, and can use the skylines too, meaning you’re constantly on your toes while you’re throwing everything in your arsenal at them, as you pray Elizabeth’ll make do on her promise to bring more ammunition.

The one handyman encountered was tough, but fair. With the Big Daddies there really wasn’t a lot of tension fighting them, owing to the fact that even after death and resurrection in the Vita Chamber, their health was still depleted from your last encounter, meaning you could constantly bash a Big Daddy with a spanner and die repeatedly, safe in the knowledge that the great metal brute would fall by your hand, no matter how utterly ineffective that hand was.

The Handymen are infinitely more fun to fight, and after your death, it seemed like they got some of their health back too, so there’s a lot more incentive to stay alive this time around. Once the moustachioed beast was felled (and it can be revealed that Play was the first publication in the UK to take out one of the bastards, so this issue should be framed or something), the playthrough was over, giving us but a cursory glimpse of the ultra-violent delights to be found in Infinite.

It’s been a long time coming, but BioShock Infinite is definitely shaping up very well indeed. It was
fraught with rumours of a troubled development cycle, as tales of Ken Levine’s perfectionism were revealed through interviews with ex-employees and others, but as per the old axiom, ‘If you’re not going to do something right, it’s not worth doing at all.’ Irrational have taken steps to avoid the flaws of its earlier games, providing a slick, fun experience. It’s a much better game than its predecessors, and also a step forward for the developers.

Columbia is a much more vibrant, alive place than Rapture, and it’s encouraging that in these days of rampant homogenisation and everyman shooters set in muddy brown warzones, we still have developers like Irrational Games willing to craft interesting new worlds and settings. Columbia is unlike the majority of we’ve seen in a game before, though it does bring to mind Arkane Studios’ seminal Dishonored, another first person narrative adventure with a vibrant, unique art style, though they’re completely different experiences.

Most encouragingly, there’s no arbitrary, tacked-on multiplayer to dilute the game. God knows how many games have been ruined by a feature doubtless pushed forward by some clueless moneyman, greedily eyeing the Call of Duty dollar, and there were rumours Infinite would have a few features like this, but thankfully (whether it’s through intention or not being able to implement these features properly no one knows) it’s single player only. Spec Ops: The Line was the most recent victim, the
seminal, forward-thinking shooter lumbered with multiplayer components that successfully negated the narrative intentions of the single-player.

BioShock Infinite is a game to be experienced as a single-player game, perhaps with a glass of wine and a roaring fire if you’re feeling particularly sophisticated. At no point would having a disgruntled, over-privileged teenager hurling homophobic epithets over the internet add to the experience. It’s a sprawling, stimulating game, full of character and allegory, that’ll doubtless find itself party to some
pretty rapturous (hohoho) praise upon its release in March




Assassin’s Creed Origins

Assassin’s Creed Origins
The reinvention the franchise desperately needed?

Change wasn’t just necessary, it was inevitable. After a decade of dutiful iteration, Ubisoft is finally taking its most influential and important series back to its roots. It’s an opportunity to establish the origins of the Brotherhood Of Assassins, leaving many of the organisation’s most laboured traditions and most frustrating concessions on the cutting room floor. Assassin’s Creed Origins isn’t a reboot per se, but it is a re-invention – that’s a distinction game director Ashraf Ismail is quick to make, but we are still eager to challenge. “Assassin’s Creed Origins is a re-invention of the foundations of the Assassin’s Creed franchise,” says Ismail, who also led the development team on Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. “A brand-new vision that further pushes exploration, narration, combat and progression.”

The ‘re-inventions’ in Origins range from incidental to game-changing, weaving through each and every one of Assassin’s Creed’s ageing core gameplay mechanics and systems – but the heart of it all is still there. It’s still a science-fiction game that uses history as its playground; while no confirmation could be made either way, it looks as if the ineffectual modern day storyline remains, but even that’s easy enough to stomach because, yes, both naval combat and tomb raiding are making a return. Ubisoft Montreal is caught here between wanting to offer something fresh and needing to deliver something familiar to the millions of fans that have had to wait an extra year to get their fill of assassin action.

The ‘fresh’ refers to a focus shift for the series, from action-adventure to action-RPG. With that conceit has come a radical redesign to combat, the intertwining of narrative and exploration and an alteration to the way in which you will interact with – and progress through – Assassin’s Creed’s new sprawling, exotic, Egyptian open world. Whether the studio wants to admit it or not, Origins feels like a very direct and confident response to the criticism that has been levied at the series across the years – which did, of course, spill over in a somewhat spectacular fashion following the release of the much-maligned Unity at the dawn of the generation.

Counteracting the rising tide of discontent with Origins has meant allowing for more incubation time than any Assassin’s Creed original game. Ubisoft Montreal has been hard at work on the title since early 2014, beginning shortly after the completion of Black Flag. It’s the sort of lead time that affords a development team some much-needed space for reflection. “Very early on we knew that to fill a world of this size and scope with meaningful life – narratively and in terms of gameplay – we had to approach the challenge from a new perspective,” continues Ismail, noting that everything, from the AI framework and NPC design, to its aspirations around mission design and combat mechanics, has been completely overhauled in an effort to support your newfound autonomy within this genuinely impressive landmass. “We wanted the freedom to tell many stories through memorable characters and to allow players the ability to engage in the intricacies of this world at their own pace.”

It’s here that one of the most welcomed changes rears its head. Origins is ditching the laboured, regimented mission design of old, opting instead for a quest-based structure to guide its narrative forward. “This means that players will pick up multiple quests, have them all be available simultaneously, and decide their order and priority. This gives autonomy to players while giving us an
opportunity to tell hundreds of Egypt’s stories.”

This is important, although not because the stories are necessarily more elaborate than what we’ve experienced in Assassin’s Creed before. What we’ve seen of the game in action so far seems to suggest that missions, while more open, are still variations on ‘locate a target and loot/kill it in a fashion that won’t see you desynchronised.’ But giving us the opportunity to pick and prioritise the missions we enjoy completing only serves the larger goal of Origins – giving us greater scope to revel in the world design. Ubisoft Montreal wants to give you more control over the Assassin’s Creed experience, breaking out of the formulaic designs of the past and letting you really live and breathe the experience of being an assassin.

Much of this is coming through in Assassin’s Creed’s embrace of the action-RPG model game. Combat (and everything that comes from it) is perhaps the biggest proof of this idea, with Ubisoft Montreal finally taking steps to answer the biggest piece of criticism levied against the series over the decade. “Based on this new action-RPG direction, we completely redesigned the combat system,” teases Ismail. “We changed the paradigm of combat, building from the ground up a new versatile, highly-reactive and fast-paced combat system that gives control, depth and freedom to players, bringing more challenges and thrill to combat,” he continues, noting that everything from the character’s positioning to the size and speed of their weapon, will factor into how successful you are in a scrap with the various enemies of Egypt circa 49BCE.

If that wasn’t enough, your enemy combatants will no longer sit back and wait to be countered into decapitation. Instead, you’ll find foes to be far more aggressive, eager to kill you as quickly as possible. You’ll actually need to engage in sword fighting; right bumper for a light attack and right trigger for heavy, with the left trigger pulling up your shield to block attack and deliver a well-timed parry. Combat is all hit-boxes and positioning now; there’s no warping to the feet of an enemy combatant with the tap of the X button, no more stilted animations or button mash tactics to engage in. Sword fighting feels like something the developer wants you to engage in, rather than it simply being a means to a bloody end.

UBISOFT HAS ALWAYS TRIED to make Assassin’s Creed’s locations, and the personnel that inhabit them, as historically accurate as possible. Obviously concessions have to be made, but for the most part the team treats its games as postcards from the past. Egypt presents something of a
problem, then, because, as Ismail tells it, so much of this era is simply unrecorded. “One of the other big differences from previous Assassin’s Creed games is that we go much further back in time than in previous instalments. So we had to work very closely with historians and Egyptian experts to help
us fill in the gaps of Egyptian life not easily found in history books.”

This means the Ubisoft Montreal team enjoys far more creative freedom with this locale, which it describes as “not only massive” but also “more diverse than any other setting we created in the past.” The results are stunning, but it’ll be interesting to see how the team handles an environment when it has license to go off-book. “For some elements, this lack of reference also challenged us to create and illustrate parts of Ancient Egypt,” continues Ismail, “rather than re-create known history as we did with past games. For this, we heavily relied on the amazing work done by our Art team to really capture the look and overall feel of what Ancient Egypt would have been like at the time.”

This new paradigm also translates to the RPG dimension of the experience,” Ismail continues, giving us a hint as to how the change to the combat system has bled out into other immediate areas of the game. “Not only do weapons differ in size and speed, they also come with their own specific statistics, attributes and rarity levels, from Common to Legendary. A Legendary Hunter Bow will be much deadlier than a common one and might have some special abilities, such as a better chance of critical hit. All those changes contribute to the same goal: to give players control, depth and freedom in the way they fight for a thrilling and challenging combat experience.”

“[The] action-RPG elements support finding weapons with different rarities, levels, stats and visuals, [ensuring] each unique weapon impacts gameplay appropriately. How your character’s overall level compares to the ones of enemies is a key factor in the experience. As a player, you now have to carefully consider and choose what are the abilities, gear and crafting decisions that define your Assassin.”

The studio might be increasing the complexity of the Assassin’s Creed experience, but it is doing so in an effort to give you more control – letting you build towards your own playstyle as opposed to wrestling with the game’s systems to actually play how you want to. Progression has been completely overhauled, impacting what missions you can take on and which enemies you can stand a chance of defeating – there are even legendary creatures and foes to find out in the world, such as giant snakes, guarding special loot should you be sufficiently geared.

“A player’s level and how it compares to the enemies’ one is fundamental in the experience, as it will be very difficult for players to kill opponents that are several levels above them. Levelling up not only makes your Assassin stronger, it also grants Ability points that can be spent to obtain a specific capacity, such as more precise aiming with their bow or being able to poison dead bodies,” Ismail says, noting that there are three main branches to the ability tree, and specialisation is integral to get the most out of stealth, melee combat and environmental mastery – though keeping on top of Origins’ full crafting system is also essential to survival and progression.

All this comes together to create an experience that feels classically Assassin’s Creed in spirit, but renewed at heart. It seems as if Ubisoft has finally looked outside of itself and taken note of the innovations made in the open world space by its most immediate competition. Whether this is doing enough to bring lapsed players back to the Animus remains to be seen, but given the spiralling trajectory the series has been on for some time now, Origins feels at very least like a bold step to restore some faith in the Brotherhood.




10 Indie games we want to see on PSN

10 Indie games we want to see on PSN

IT’S OBVIOUS, BUT obvious for a very good reason: Minecraft is excellent. If you haven’t played it, we’re just going to go ahead and tell you to pick it up, be it on PC or Xbox or whatever. It’s nearenough a life-changing experience. Build anything you want, or just dig, or just shear sheep, or just run away from creepers, or just... whatever you want, really. It’s simple and absolutely fantastic, and why it isn’t on PSN is something we don’t know for sure. We do know for sure that this hurts us.

It’s one of those days when only the blurb from the game’s website will do the thing any justice: “Jamestown is a neo-classical top-down shooter for up to four players set on 17th-century British
Colonial Mars.” Why in the name of everything the almighty Thor stands for would you not want to play that on your Vita while riding the train to Bognor Regis? It would make your life so much better than it currently is, you wouldn’t even mind that you’re going to Bognor Regis. Which is called Bognor Regis.

One day, many months ago, Play was doing its thing of being the best magazine around when suddenly we discovered this indie gem. This utterly terrifying indie gem. Play proceeded to spread Slender around the office, forcing people to play it, laughing as they jumped, howling with delight as they screamed and – in one particular instance – being unable to stop the mirthful tears as the member of Play’s digital team literally ran away from his desk rather than put up with the terror for one more second. Bliss.

If ever there was a game more suited to the Vita, it’s FTL. It’s basically every sci-finerd’s sex dream:
you’re the captain of a ship making a mad dash across the galaxy to deliver much-needed intel on the enemy rebel force. Along the way you will die, again and again, as you make what turn out to be terrible choices about what to do with scraps, hiring crew, exploration... And you’ll start again from scratch. And you’ll die. And you’ll repeat this process – and you’ll enjoy it every step of the way.

On the upper tier of indie games you get releases like Torchlight 2 – receiving much in the way of
column inches in many popular mags and websites even though it wasn’t a triple-A major league release. Why? Because the first game – also an indie release – was utterly brilliant. That’s about it.
It was unexpectedly fantastic (and cheap), sold by the ton and as a result saw its sequel become even more popular than the first. Still, though, we see no console version. SAD PANDA FACE.

A game that has the capacity to get people in trouble, merely because the description of the game is so utterly ludicrous-sounding it would sound like they’re taking the piss. But they wouldn’t be. It’s real. Frog Fractions is utterly ludicrous and to try and explain it is to do the game a massive disservice. If you’re turned off by intentionally ‘random’ experiences, then we apologise for you being totally devoid of any joy in your life. Oh, also you won’t get on with Frog Fractions.

A lazy comparison would be to say Isaac is like an old-school Zelda game, except an old-school Zelda game where you control a naked, crying baby trying to escape his mother who is trying to kill him (to prove her faith, naturally). The Binding Of Isaac encapsulates everything that sets indie development apart from the mainstream: it would never, not in a million years, be released as it was if it was backed by the likes of EA or Activision. And for that we only end up loving it more.

So putting two games with the input of one man on this list – Edmund McMillen – is a bit of a naughty on our part, but they’re both so excellent it’s impossible to ignore. Super Meat Boy is nearenough confirmed to never be coming to PSN, and that hurts us. It’s the Dark Souls of the platforming genre: a game that kills you hundreds of times but that you’ll start again on hundreds of times (and one more). It’s fantastic.

Damn those exclusivity agreements that we never get to see but assume are lucrative and fancy, we
want you to not exist. If you didn’t exist we would be able to have games like the absolutely fantastic
Mark Of The Ninja on PSN. Imagine sneaking and slashing and generally being a badass – but on Vita instead of the stupid, smelly 360. Man, that would be excellent. Instead we get a big fat pile of nothing and it makes us very sad

At least with this one we can almost say we might well be getting it, as Dennaton revealed a while ago it was having talks with Sony about porting the game to PSN. There’s been radio silence since then, mind you, and Dennaton has refused to clarify what’s going on. Still, none of this stops Hotline Miami from being an incredible experience mixing psychedelic Eighties lunacy with fast-paced, twitchy, strategic ultraviolence. There’s good, then there’s Hotline Miami good.




10 Best value DLC

10 Best value DLC
Point Lookout
There’s plenty of choice for Fallout 3 DLC – some better than others – but if you’re after something more like the main campaign of Fallout 3, then look no further than Point Lookout. It’s like a condensed version of the game, with new areas to explore and NPCs to meet. Though it doesn’t increase the level cap like Broken Steel does (you may want to pick that pack up as well, actually), it’s still a must-have download for anyone who has seen everything the original game has to offer.

Undead Nightmare Pack
We could compliment the wealth of content available in the Undead Nightmare Pack. We could celebrate the distinct variety that zombies in Red Dead Redemption’s world provide, or even the fantastic job Rockstar has done at making such an incongruent piece of content work in the Wild West. But none of this is quite as appealing as the fact that you can find, tame and ride a unicorn, thereby automatically making it the best piece of download content ever. Fact.

Premium Pack
Whether you get value for money from the hefty ?39.99 price tag will depend on just how much time you spend on Battlefield 3. If it’s your go-to multiplayer game and you’re still playing it now, then without a doubt it’d be worth getting. Each one is themed with a set of new maps, weapons and vehicles. Though they won’t all appeal to you – you’re either an infantry player or a vehicle player – they are all fantastic maps and great additions to an already jam-packed game.

Old World Blues
Old World Blues is to New Vegas as Point Lookout is to Fallout 3, but while this is a compact mini-campaign to work through it provides so much more. Humour being the primary feature: Old World Blues is genuinely funny and when that is added to a freeform and open area to explore – with 35 unique locations to visit – you could quite easily lose yourself in this content. Perhaps not as long-lasting as some of the others in this list, Old World Blues more than makes up for it with its originality.

Episodes From Liberty City
Considered the holy grail of DLC, the Episodes From Liberty City are almost entirely contained games by themselves. You don’t need GTA IV to play them, and not only does it give you a pair of new characters to play as and new missions to complete, but the entire sandbox of Liberty City – and its related multiplayer – is available for you to explore. Naturally the best part of this DLC is seeing how these two distinct storylines tie into the main game, but even alone these are better than most games.

Bit of a cheat this one since it’s more of a collection of DLC than any single pack, but at four quid per pack it’s impossible to deny the value of content here. There are parts that aren’t quite that special – Moxxi’s Underdome is a bit repetitive – but Borderlands fans nonetheless owe it to themselves to play each of these. More levels, more weapons, more quests, more midgets with shotguns: what else could you ask for from additional – and a good few hours worth of – Borderlands content.

Road To Devastation
If you haven’t yet played Housemarque’s superlative Dead Nation then go do it. As for this DLC addition, the nominal fee will gain you access to a new challenge mode. While it might sound kind of throwaway, fans of the game should trust us when we say it’s absolutely not. Though the objective is to see how far you can survive, there is a finite end and you won’t reach it until you’ve finally settled on the optimal route and best strategy. Try it on Grim for added longevity.

Metal Gear Solid Level Kit
Though this might seem a little outdated since the series has gone on to earn an improved sequel and the improved DLC to go with it, none of the content packs since then have been as revolutionary as the MGS Level Kit. The addition of the Paintinator and customisable enemy health bars was a revelation, bringing untold amounts of potential to the create-‘em-up. It’s a gamer’s right to shoot things to bits, and with this DLC it became considerably easier to do just that.

Artorias Of The Abyss
In true Dark Souls fashion, accessing this DLC is as hard as the content itself. But you forgive it because, for some reason, Dark Souls makes it okay to be a masochist. The fact that it ties so neatly into the main game should be complimented – even if it does mean that you’ll miss it entirely if you’ve played past a certain point – but the hours of trial and error you’ll get from hunting down Artorias is something that slots so neatly into the game it’s worth starting again just to experience it.

Not only is Awakening a good chunk of content to add to your Dragon Age: Origins playthrough, but with it tying into the story and lore of the world it’s practically a must-have for fans of the series. It continues on from the end of the game, but teases the introduction of Dragon Age 2 – but if that wasn’t enough, new abilities, five new characters and six possible specialisations make this one impossible to ignore. The rest of the Dragon Age: Origins DLC, however, is probably best to avoid entirely.




Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Of Slice And Zen

Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance Of Slice And Zen
This genre is changing. It might not seem like it at a glance, but whatever you call this brand of videogame, be it character action, brawler, hack-and-slash or anything else, there are subtle but significant changes afoot. And they’re definitely for the better. You see, games like Devil May Cry,
like Ninja Gaiden, have always been defined by two things – their precision, and their difficulty. These were wars of attrition, games to punish the weak; bastions for the strongwilled and patient. With Bayonetta, though, PlatinumGames changed that dynamic forever, and it’s a new tradition it is maintaining with the frankly wonderful Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

Neither Bayonetta, nor Rising, are hard. That’s not to say they’re not demanding, requiring extreme levels of concentration, aptitude and dexterity, but they don’t feel the need to kick you in the mouth constantly. Whereas games like Devil May Cry 3 and the wonderful God Hand frequently forced you
back to distant checkpoints upon death, these games do not. Where they forced the difficulty to extreme levels within minutes, these games don’t. They’re – for fear of alienating the supposed ‘hardcore’ – more accessible.

And the beauty of that, is, that you’re now given the time to learn the intricate, worldclass combat systems before you really do tackle the extremities of their harder difficulty modes. They’re just more palatable, aware of player’s time constraints, of the distractions of a gaming world that is inundated with other stuff to play and do. Metal Gear Rising will kick your arse, and take pleasure doing it, but it’ll then pick you up by the hand, nod its head, and ask you to fight again.

So, what exactly is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, apart from another genre entry from the masters of the art? Well, you probably know that you play as Raiden, aka Jack, the once-weedy second character from Metal Gear Solid 2 who forged a new role himself by kicking everything to death in Metal Gear 4. You’re still in the war-torn world of Metal Gears, but there’s no Solid Snake, Big Boss
or Otacon in sight. Instead, you’re teamed up with a PMC, and charged with looking after the president of Liberia.

Quickly, he’s kidnapped and murdered by a cybernetic group of terrorists, and you decide to give chase, uncovering all manner of conspiracies along the way. It’s a fun story, way less talky than most
Metal Gear games, but just as ponderous. It still rides the line between political soapboxing and anime-powered fantasy, and there are enough familiar names and nods that MGS-heads will feels satiated. It’s definitely a Metal Gear game. It just happens to be one with a tremendous, unprecedented level of destruction.

Raiden’s sword is capable of cutting through pretty much anything in the world, be it a hapless enemy, a stray car, or even the support pillar of an overhead highway. Along with his light and heavy attacks, he can activate ‘blade mode’ (with a jab of L1) at any time, putting you into an over-the shoulder cam where you can slice in any direction you choose to tilt the right stick. At first, this is a hilarious novelty, and you’ll likely spend as much time slicing weak baddies into little sushi chunks while marvelling at the ingenuity of such a system. Like everything in a Platinum game, though,
it soon becomes a crucial and integral part of the combat. Enemies become ‘sliceable’ when they emit an orange flash, and when you then activate blade mode, a small square will hover over their chest (or equivalent – there are a lot of weird robotic bad guys in Rising).

Slice through that square, and Raiden will yank out their cybernetic heart and squish it in the coolest way imaginable, which immediately replenishes his health and blade mode meters. It’s called a Zandatsu, it’s crucial to the game’s scoring system, and it’s astonishingly satisfying.

In fact, satisfying is probably the best word to describe all of Metal Gear Rising’s combat. Unlike almost any other entrant in this genre you care to think of, Raiden is not a counter-fighter. He doesn’t lay in wait like Ryu Hayabusa, or slip-and-rip like Bayonetta. He attacks. Constantly. Relentlessly. There is no block button in Metal Gear Rising, and until you go out of your way to buy it in the
upgrade menu, there is no dodge. There is, quite simply, only a parry. To execute this parry, you have to press the stick in the direction of your opponent and hit the light attack button as they’re hitting you. At first, it’s an utterly alien feeling.

We’re so used to hiding in our defensive shells in these sorts of games that the idea of using offence to defend is almost terrifying. Raiden doesn’t fight with lateral movement, though, he attacks in blitzes, charging through his opponents’ assaults, swatting them out of the way until he can sink his blade into their metallic flesh.

Enemies signify their attacks with a red cross – like a reflection from a car brake light – and it’s up to you to time your parry to stop them. It’s possible to spam the button somewhat and block the strike, but time it perfectly and you’ll be able to immediately set up a riposte and often decimate your foe in
seconds. Do that to three or four enemies in a row, and not only will you feel like the hardest person to have ever walked the earth, you’ll likely be rewarded with one of those elusive S ranks.

Despite the wide range of enemies, Raiden’s ability to destroy rarely falters. Whether you’re battling cyber soldiers, Gekkos, wolf robot things or even giant Metal Gears, you can always do damage with your sword, and there will always be an opportunity to slice and dice in free blade mode. This consistency frees up the combat system to concentrate on millisecond timing and devastating accuracy.

Being a Platinum game, too, there’s a tidy arsenal of secondary weapons that exponentially increase your attacking potential. For starters, Raiden can pick up rocket launchers and grenades on the
battlefield and use them just like Solid Snake would, although their actual usefulness is limited. Better, though, are the weapons you collect from the game’s startlingly brilliant boss battles.

There are four key encounters throughout the campaign that award you a new weapon, and while we won’t spoil the specifics, we will talk you through some of the gear. The first is a pole, made up from the arms of dwarf gekkos that acts as you might expect. You turn into some sort of cross between a helicopter blade and Kilik from Soul Calibur, basically. Beyond that, there’s a heavy two-handed sword that feels exactly as you’d imagine, and a tactical sai that doubles up as a DmC-style whip, so
you can pull yourself into distant opponents to set up attacks.

You don’t get to switch between these weapons on the fly, so it’s best to concentrate on one that you enjoy and level it up throughout your playthrough. The actual boss fights where you win them, though, are magical. This genre has been blighted with glowing hit-point powered nonsense forever,
and Platinum is quite simply not interested in any of that rubbish.

These are fights against enemies the same size of you and with equal levels of skill. To succeed, you need to concentrate, react and attack with unprecedented aggression and tact. One fight, in fact, could be the best boss battle of all time, from a purely mechanical point of view. And the beauty of them is that you could play them all and not even work out which one we mean.

So good are they, that it comes as quite a shock that the final battle is a bit of a letdown. It’s not a disaster by any means, but lacks the fine-tuned mastery of the other scraps. In a game that’s so well-balanced, it’s a shame that it finishes in a furnace of frustration. Perhaps he’ll make more sense on our second and third playthroughs.

Another aspect that doesn’t make much sense is the game’s fondness for stealth. Being a Metal Gear game, it’s fantastic to see question marks appearing over enemies heads, that familiar orchestral stab when they see you, and even a cardboard box to hide in. You can sneak up on enemies and slash them from behind, and the freedom of movement Raiden has means that it’s never slow. However, stealth is so antithetical to everything the game achieves that it seems mightily strange that the boys and girls at the other end of the codec are constantly encouraging you to either sneak by enemies or take them out unseen. Across the board, it’s more fun to just charge in and kick arse.

Perhaps it’s a narrative pull to make Raiden seem more rebellious, or perhaps it’s just a dissonance in tone. Thankfully, you’re never, ever punished for going loud, and the game never makes it too difficult to do so. There’s actually some fun to be had stealthing, too – even the larger enemies can be silently assassinated, and you can quickly switch to blade mode and hack them to shreds just as you would in a normal battle.

It’s a strangely inconsistent style, though. Atsushi Inaba, the game’s producer (and the man behind Okami among many other masterpieces) has defended the stealth by saying the game would be boring without it. He is very, very wrong. This is combat of the highest order, and we think he knows it. This feels like pandering to the fans of the series. Thankfully it doesn’t spoil a thing. Much like the
wildly inconsistent environments.

The game always looks great up close, and Raiden moves and attacks with beauty, but some of the places you fight through look like they’ve been knocked up in twenty minutes. An entire mission takes place in a sewer with repeating textures, and another in an airfield where every building is the
same. Presumably, a combination of time and budgetary constraints has led to this blandness, as there are sections which look fantastic and full of imagination. Compared to something as blisteringly imaginative as Bayonetta, or the constantly astonishing DmC, it does look bloody awful at times. Ultimately, though, the combat is so good that you could set the game in a white box and it wouldn’t matter.

In fact, that actually happens. Or a yellow box at least. There are over twenty VR missions to unlock throughout the campaign, and they distill the game’s stunning action down to its purest parts without any worries about backgrounds or buildings. The enemy design is brilliant, and the animation and
kinetic charge of the gameplay easily makes up for any starkness in the backgrounds. And we’re not talking God Hand levels of ropeyness here, just not the type of thing you typically see in triple-A gaming.

The real beauty of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, though, lies not in its looks but in its feel. Platinum (and Clover before it) has always excelled at making its games ‘feel’ good – even the sketchy Anarchy Reigns absolutely nails the crunch of smacking someone in the chops. In Metal Gear Rising you feel sharp and deadly and lightning-quick. The first playthrough feels like a warm-up, too, mere preparation for a run on Hard and eventually Revengeance modes.

It has to be noted, though, that Rising is not a long game. Our ‘normal’ playthrough clocked in at five and a half hours, which you can add 90 minutes of restarts to. Skip the cutscenes, though, and you can probably take them back off. And those cutscenes might be a bit much for people who are more used to action games than Metal Gear. It’s not as chatty as a Kojima game, but there are some truly awful actors tearing it up in there, and some lengthy talks about weird subjects. If you’re into that world, you’ll probably enjoy it as much as we didn’t, but be warned, if you just want action, you might be diving for the skip function with serious regularity.

For those prepared to look, though, the game is rammed with the types of gags, in-jokes and references that have always defined this series. Platinum has masterfully combined the MGS world, with its melons, codec chirps and porn mags with its own burgeoning universe. There are subtle references to Bayonetta, Okami, Viewtiful Joe, Godhand and even Anarchy Reigns in here, and a whole character who is pretty much a lift from Vanquish. Fan service doesn’t even cover it.

And it’s that commitment to its fans that really defines PlatinumGames. This is a team that has already shown its mastery and innovation within this genre, and once again it has hit a home run. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a true beast, a 60fps (bar the occasional dip) warrior that manages to straddle the line between its own genre and the lore of a beloved series with the sharpness of Raiden’s blade. This genre has changed, and Platinum is its master.
Jon Denton





Piranha Games is taking MechWarrior back to its roots

A kilometre from the harbour in Vancouver, on the second floor of a small shopping centre is the last bastion of the MechWarrior franchise. For six years, Piranha Games’ president Russ Bullock has kept the series alive with MechWarrior Online. But with MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries, he’s ushering in the dawning of a new era of mech warfare.

“There’s a huge contingent of fans that have been wanting a singleplayer MechWarrior 5 for years,” Bullock tells me as we walk through the Piranha Games office. “Of course we wanted to make one, but being a smaller developer we had say, ‘Okay first things first, we need to succeed with MechWarrior Online and that will allow us to make a singleplayer game.’ And it took a while – a lot longer than we thought – but we’re doing it.”

As we pass by the main hub that connects Piranha Games’ various workspaces, I spy a map of the Inner Sphere, the cluster of some 3,000 star systems that make up MechWarrior’s universe. Each one has a name and a history etched into the stone tablets of BattleTech lore. And for those who have grown up living in that universe, it’s these little details that matter. Fortunately, Russ Bullock is all about the little details.

When I first saw MechWarrior 5 announced at MechCon 2016, the trailer sent the fans roaring. But when a dropship descended from the sky they lost their damn minds. At the time, I was a little confused. Then Bullock explained how so much of MechWarrior was caged inside the imaginations of players. They freaked out because that was the first time they had seen a dropship landing in-game and not just in their imagination. Bullock is hoping to make MechWarrior 5 the catalyst that sets those two decades of MechWarrior fantasy free.

Mercenary culture
MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries isn’t just a sequel to MechWarrior 4. It’s a chance to reestablish the series and give its hordes of hardcore fans something that they’ve always wanted. “A significant part of our design philosophy is asking, ‘What have players always wanted to do in a MechWarrior game?’” Bullock tells me.

That’s why Piranha Games is starting with Mercenaries first rather than a straight numbered sequel. “Traditionally, you’d make MechWarrior and then you’d make the Mercenaries offshoot,” he explains. “The first one is a linear, story-heavy campaign and then Mercenaries is more like a sandbox. But players want to live out the BattleTech lore, and the best way to do that is to own your own mercenary unit, so we’re going with Mercenaries first.”

Instead of a series of linear missions, MechWarrior 5 puts you in command of a mercenary unit and gives you the freedom to either rise to mythic status or crash and burn along the way. Around 300 planets of the Inner Sphere will be open for business, letting you travel between the Great Houses while taking increasingly demanding contracts and building reputation with each faction as you also manage your lances of warriors and supporting technicians.

It’s one part MechWarrior and one part Football Manager, Russ tells me. Every bullet you fire and every mech you lose will have a cost, and it’ll be up to you to make sure you’re bringing in enough dough to keep your mercs on the payroll and their mechs in fighting condition. As you progress in prestige, the timeline also moves forward. Great Houses rise and fall according to the lore, new technologies are invented and sold, and eventually the ominous Clans come rampaging through the Inner Sphere like Genghis Khan and his Mongol horde.

Leveraging an ambitious dynamic free market economy, stunning destructibility, and the kind of freedom and scale that hasn’t been seen since the first MechWarrior in 1989, Bullock is working to make MechWarrior 5 the ultimate realisation of BattleTech lore.

the invisible hand
When you begin a new campaign, your mercenary company is in a sorry state. With only a weak mech at your disposal, you’ll be scraping by and taking low-level missions from the periphery states of the Great Houses to keep money coming in. Little by little your business will grow, but it will be up to you to decide how. “The free market is probably one of the biggest components of MechWarrior 5,”

Bullock tells me. Mechs, pilots, technicians, weapon systems – everything you need to form a mercenary unit will have to be purchased from MechWarrior 5’s market. “The market is totally dynamic based on what year it is. In the year 3015, for example, they didn’t have any pulse lasers or Ferro-Fibrous armour as all of that technology comes in later. And it’s also going to depend where you are in the Inner Sphere. If you are in one Great House’s space, you’ll see mechs common among that house. That’s going to provide a whole level of flavour to your play experience each time you start a new campaign.”

Unlike MechWarrior Online, where players can customise their mech chassis in a variety of ways, MechWarrior 5 will stick to the lore and force players to choose between strictly defined roles.

“It’s great for a PVP game because the level of customisation is huge,” Bullock tells me. “But if we allowed that in MechWarrior 5, you essentially negate the free market. There’s no need to keep your eyes peeled for that Jenner JR7-F that has Ferro-Fibrous armour if you take your JR7-D and just put Ferro-Fibrous armour on it.”

To that end, MechWarrior 5 will feature an unprecedented number of mechs to choose from. “Most Mechwarrior games have had maybe 12 to 15 different mech chassis,” Bullock explains. “We’re looking at having upwards of 60 chassis with 300 to 400 variants. You could probably play the game multiple times within just one Great House’s space and see different combinations on the free market.”

But mechs are only as good as the warriors piloting them. Players will also need to be mindful of their mercs and technicians, who each have their own skills and specialties. Likewise, different manufacturers will make variations of weapon systems, giving players granular control over every aspect of their mechs. Profits made from mercenary contracts will be quickly eaten away by repairs, resupply, and the ever-present cost of replacing slain comrades. It’s a huge amount of freedom but also an equally large responsibility if you’re reckless on the field of battle.

Mech on Mech
During my visit, I played an early build of MechWarrior 5. None of the overarching strategy of managing a mercenary outfit was available, but my demo did make it easy to see how the various systems will complement each other. Equally as important, I also got an intimate look at the technology Piranha Games is using to generate the hundreds of battlefields players will fight on.

From the very first blast of my torso-mounted lasers, it was clear that MechWarrior 5 benefits from Piranha Games’ extensive work on MechWarrior Online. I could immediately feel the heft as my 30-odd ton mech stomped through a forest, knocking trees down left and right like some mechanical Godzilla. Everything from the rhythmic thud of PPC cannons to the highly-specific location-based damage modelling feels fantastically heavy. But this isn’t just singleplayer MechWarrior Online, either. With the Unreal 4 engine under the hood, MechWarrior 5 has plenty more horsepower to put to work.

One thing MechWarrior fans will love is that damage modelling has been taken to a whole new level over MechWarrior Online. Each component now has multiple stages of disrepair, making brawls even more visceral as armour peels back after barrages to reveal the delicate mechanical skeletons underneath.

“Mechs aren’t just these paper tigers,” Bullock says. “You don’t just one-shot things. It’s all about a battle of attrition, of using the hills, rocks, and trees for cover and making sure that when you get your chance to shoot, you make it count. You manage your heat, your ammo, and your positioning and you win that battle.”

Enemy mechs won’t be the only thing melting under your alpha-strikes either. MechWarrior 5’s battles will feature combined arms of infantry, artillery, and both land and air vehicles. During my demo, flyers swarmed above me, whittling away my armour while I focused down the more dangerous mechs. Meanwhile stationary turrets tracked me as I trudged through a copse of trees, their shots quickly obliterating my cover with each salvo. When you consider that your own lance of mechs will accompany you into battle, I’m excited to see how MechWarrior 5’s missions will turn into frenetic firefights as both sides whittle away the other.

land grab
Any veteran MechWarrior player knows that it isn’t just about how well you’re able to shoot, but also how you use the terrain to your advantage. And with 300 planets, each needing their own battlefield that feels distinct, Bullock says finding a way to generate fun but unique terrain was easily one of Piranha Games’ biggest challenges. “We needed to create a level generator system that wouldn’t be overly complex,” Bullock explains, adding that since MW5’s announcement the team has dedicated much of its time to solving this one complex riddle.

What they devised is an elegant system that takes ingredients, like different military bases, and places them together with various groupings of terrain. It’s like playing an instrument: you have several notes to work with, but how you arrange them can create vastly different songs. After my demo, Piranha Games’ senior game designer David Forsey give me an opportunity to peek behind the curtain at the development back end of MechWarrior 5 to toy around with making different kinds of maps.

Similar to creating a new map in Civilization, MechWarrior 5’s map tool lets you dictate the density of foliage, terrain patterns, weather, time of day and more. Now, all of these might not sound like they matter, but in the brutally strategic world of MechWarrior, they absolutely do. Wind storms on a Mars-like planet might blind you, forcing you to rely purely on thermal vision to see enemy mechs through the tempest. Likewise, dense forests can now cover the battlefield since Piranha Games doesn’t have to account for all the challenges of syncing up 24 different players over the internet like in MechWarrior Online.

Another big feature that Bullock can’t wait for players to experience is the destructible environment. “Of course, plenty of games have had destructible environments,” he says. “But this is the first time it’ll be in a MechWarrior game, and that’s going to be awesome.” Players can stomp full speed into buildings and tear them down with all the force of a 35-ton walking tank. During my demo, it was so satisfying to cleave through walls and airplane hangars like they were butter.

“We really wanted players to walk anywhere they want,” Bullock elaborates, adding that destructible environments will also present new strategic options. “You can imagine plenty of scenarios where an enemy mech is hiding behind a building and you just take it down to get rid of their cover.”

back to the beginning
With such an emphasis on freedom, MechWarrior 5 is harkening back to the first MechWarrior, before the series became entrenched in the linear stories of Great Houses and their political games. But 15 years is a long time, and MechWarrior 5 will undoubtedly be many players’ first robot rodeo. “It’s important for us to try and be as mindful as we can about a new generation of PC gamers,” Bullock says. “But we understand who our community is and who we’re making the game for.”

Bullock says his hope is that by digging deeper into the series roots than ever before, newcomers will begin to understand why so many care so deeply for this universe – why the names of those 300 planets of the Inner Sphere matter. “This isn’t going to be some watered-down MechAssault made partially for consoles,” Bullock says. “It’s going to be the same kind of action simulator that people have been wanting for 15 years.”

That’s not just because Bullock thinks it’s what MechWarrior fans want, but because it’s what they deserve. “We’re dedicated to the core MechWarrior fanbase. They’re the ones that supported us with MechWarrior Online and now we’re making a game for them.”

Steven Messner

Why economies and stockmarkets do not always match up

Everybody knows Monty Python’s “cheese shop” sketch—everybody who is over 50 and a comedy nerd, that is. The shopkeeper, played by Michael Palin, asks a customer, played by John Cleese, what cheese he would like. Do you have Red Leicester? Sold out. Caerphilly? On order. Cheddar? Not much call for it. Each increasingly testy request for a different cheese (43 of them) is cheerfully met with a “no”, “sorry” or feeble excuse. Pressed to back up his claim to the best cheese shop around, the shopkeeper replies: “Well, it’s so clean, sir!”

This leads us, as smoothly as a Python segue, to a frequent complaint about the main stock index for investors in emerging markets. The opportunity is as clear as a sign saying “Cheese Shop”. Most of the growth in the world’s gdp over the next five years will be in developing countries, says the imf. You might like to buy a basket of stocks from a broad range of countries that taps into this growth. But the benchmark msci emergingmarket index does not really offer that.

It is light on exposure to the fastestgrowing bits of the world economy, notably in Africa. Instead it has a heavy tilt towards economies in the Asian supply chain to rich-world consumers. In short, it looks to some investors like a cheese shop that is so clean because it is uncontaminated by cheese. Yet the trouble lies not with the index compilers, but with the nature of public markets.

The matter turns on the different ways in which economies and markets are classified. With countries, it mostly comes down to income level: if gdp per person is above a certain threshold, an economy counts as developed. The criteria for financial-market development are different. Here, what matters is how easy it is for foreign investors to move large sums into and out of local stocks. That in turn depends on two things. The first is the stockmarket’s liquidity: the bigger the market, the better equipped it is to handle big purchases or sales of stock on any given day. The second is openness. A market with lots of biggish listed stocks, which trade frequently, might still fail to qualify for developedmarket status because it has limits on foreign ownership or other barriers to cross-border trading.

Take South Korea, for instance. Decades of sustained growth turned it into a rich country, with gdp per person of $31,000 at current exchange rates. Yet its currency can be bought and sold only in Korea, and only during local market hours. It cannot be traded offshore. That may seem like a minor matter. But index funds that move vast sums to and fro quickly like to do their currency trades in one go. Developed stockmarkets are defined by the absence of such frictions, says Sebastien Lieblich, of msci. Though Taiwan is richer than Portugal, and Korea’s gdp is bigger, they are both classified by msci as emerging markets. Together they account for a quarter of the index. Add in the 33% weight for Chinese stocks and its constituents lean heavily towards “Factory Asia”.

A stock index measures what is investable. If you are seeking exposure to broad-based economic development, you need to be creative. That means looking at smaller, less liquid stocks outside the index, or perhaps the shares of rich-world firms that earn the bulk of their revenue in developing countries. The alternative is to drop down a level in terms of liquidity and openness to “frontier  markets”, which include fast-growing economies in Asia, such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, but also in Africa. This is a much smaller universe of stocks. The market capitalisation of msci’s frontier-market index is around $120bn, compared with around $5trn for its emerging-market index. And it is also dominated by a few countries. Stocks listed in Kuwait, Vietnam and Argentina account for more than half of it.

Economies and stockmarkets do not match up well, even in rich countries. America accounts for 55% of msci’s world index but a much smaller share of the world economy. The size of its equity market relative to gdp is at one extreme (along with Britain and Switzerland), notes Victor Haghani of Elm Partners, with Germany and Italy at the other. The best reason for investing across borders is not to plug into faster gdp growth (for which you may overpay), but for diversification. By owning a broad range of stocks, investors leave themselves less exposed to specific company, industry or country risks. The best thing about indices of big, liquid stocks is that buying and selling them is cheaper. For the only thing that grates more than Parmesan is high-cost investing.


OutRun Game is known as one of the finest arcade racing games ever made. Created by Yu Suzuki and Sega-AM2, it utilizes the “super scaler“ technology seen in Hang-On, After Burner and Space Harrier. It runs on a board built specifically for the game called the Sega OutRun Hardware, which is based on the System 16 board. The blazing fast scaling of the sprites and slick 3D motion of the road created an experience far smoother than most other arcade titles around at the time.

According to Yu Suzuki, OutRun was inspired by the 1981 movie The Cannonball Run, which featured a huge race across Europe in a variety of fancy cars. In transferring that concept into a game, Suzuki put you in the seat of an expensive sports car, which looks suspiciously like a Ferrari Testarossa, as you speed through a variety of exotic locations. The race begins on the beach, but spreads to deserts, canyons, forests and a diverse selection of other scenic routes.

The game itself is uncomplicated – there are no laps around circuits, no sponsors, no pit stops, no ramming, and no high speed chases. Just weaving through turns, dodging cars, and shifting gears when appropriate. If you run off the road and hit an obstacle you may flip over, but within a few seconds you’re back on the road completely unharmed. The whole experience has a very laid back feeling; just cruising along, sunglasses on and hot blonde girlfriend by your side, relaxing, and looking forward to  whatever new sights the next stage will bring.

At the end of each stage the road forks in two directions, each leading to a different area. A single game from start to finish only comprises five stages, but with all of the branching paths, there are a total of 15 unique tracks. The map, laid out like a sideways pyramid, is displayed at the end of  the game and charts your progress. There are minor differences between the circuit layouts of the “Overseas“ and “Japanese“ versions.

The graphics have that fresh, clean and bright AM2 style, and the music tracks, supplied by Hiroshi Kawaguchi, are classics. There are three different in-game songs (“Magical Sound Shower“, “Splash Wave“ and “Passing Breeze“), selected via a radio at the start of the game, and each has a catchy Latin/Caribbean influenced melody. Each song also lasts approximately the duration of the entire game, about six minutes or so. Even the game over / high score theme, entitled “Last Wave“, relaxes you while you stare at thesunset and listen to the sound of waves breaking.

OutRun hit the arcades in 1986 in four different cabinets: two upright ones, a standard sitdown one, and a deluxe sit-down cabinet, the latter being equipped with hydraulics that move the seat to the sides when you turn. These cabinets are also equipped with force feedback motors which shake the steering wheel as you turn or crash.

System Ports
Since none of the 8- or 16-bit systems were as powerful as the arcade hardware, everything had to be scaled back. Some of the computer ports shipped with a soundtrack tape as a bonus. The Master System is of reasonable quality given the technical constraints. The scrolling is relatively good for an 8-bit system and the music sounds decent. Many of the roadside  details are missing, though, along  with the horizon backgrounds. Despite running on nearly identical hardware, the Game Gear version, ported by SIMS, is completely different from the Master System release. The sprites are smaller (and uglier) to compensate for the smaller screen, but some of the missing details have returned, like the backgrounds on the horizon and various other sprites. However, the roads feel cramped, and it’s more difficult. There’s also a versus mode where you can race against a CPU opponent or link up to another player with a Game Gear and copy of the game.

For a long time the Genesis version, ported by Hertz, was the best port of OutRun. The system still isn’t powerful enough to handle scaling, but it definitely looks much nicer than any previous version. It also has an exclusive fourth selectable song called “Step on Beat“. There’s an extra ending screen, as well as cameos from the After Burner and Galaxy Force ships, if you manage to meet certain conditions. The PC Engine version was only released in Japan, and was ported by NEC Avenue. It’s not as nice looking as the Genesis version, but it plays just fine.

US Gold published the ports for various home computers, and most were programmed by Probe Software. The Atari ST and Amiga ports are essentially identical, though the Amiga has the edge on music. The graphics are more colorful than the 8-bit ports, but they still look fairly bad, and the framerate is not very good. The Commodore 64 version, ported by Amazing Products, is a decent conversion, though the roads are the same color as the rest of the ground. It can’t handle the forked paths either, so instead you pick from one of five courses before you begin the game. The music is decent, but “Passing Breeze“ is missing. The IBM PC version was ported by Unlimited Software, and while it’s stuck with 16 color EGA graphics and PC speaker sound, it plays well.

The Amstrad version is terrible. Like the Commodore 64 version, the road is the same color as the rest of the ground, but it’s so incredibly slow that it’s a wonder anyone allowed it to be published. The ZX Spectrum version is only slightly better, in that the speed is slightly faster, though not by much. The MSX version is practically identical to the Spectrum port. An MSX2 version, released in Japan and ported by Pony Canyon, is roughly on par with the SMS version.

The first arcade perfect port arrived in 1996 on the Saturn as part of the Sega Ages collection (which was compiled with two other games and published by Working Designs in North America and Sega in Europe). Ported by Rutubo Games, it includes a hidden option to make the game run at 60 FPS (the arcade original only ran at 30 FPS). The Japanese version also has newly arranged tracks, but these were excised from the overseas releases. OutRun also appeared on the Dreamcast, compiled in the Yu Suzuki Game Works Vol. 1 disc, as well as appearing as playable minigames in both Shenmue titles. It runs at a higher resolution than the arcade game, so there is slightly more detail in the sprites, though it’s hard to tell. The music also sounds a little different. Perhaps there were also legal concerns at one point, because the car has been redrawn to look less like a Testarossa. It is also missing the niceties of the Saturn version. A straight emulation of the arcade game is available in the Xbox version of OutRun 2.

OutRun is also included in the Sega Arcade Gallery for the GBA, developed by Bits Studios. While most games on this compilation suffer from shoddy programming, OutRun turned out pretty well, with 60 FPS speed like the Saturn version, though the roadside objects are missing some details. Sega also released the game as part of their 3D Ages collection, redoing the entire game in 3D. While the gameplay feels faithful, the car is too large, and positioned too far up on the screen, making it difficult to see into the distance. Like many of the other Sega Ages titles, the graphics are ugly, with grainy textures and interlacing artifacts, though at least it runs at 60 FPS.

There’s a new “Arrange Mode“ which is almost a brand new game, adding in a whole bunch of new courses that take advantage of the shift to true 3D. Whereas the levels in the original OutRun were mostly flat with some hills and curves, this mode adds more mountainous terrain. The circuit layout is completely different, and there are now rival cars to beat. There are also more brand new remixes of the songs. This version made it to America and Europe on the Sega Classics Collection for the PS2.

The arcade version of Turbo OutRun was basically an upgrade kit; a set of stickers and decals for the old cabinet plus a circuit board that could be plugged into the expansion slot of the original 1986 OutRun, making it cheap and easy to install. It looks very similar to the original, although the graphics are brighter and it throws a lot more crazy visual effects at you. As the name suggests, Turbo OutRun comes with a new addition: a boost button that you can activate at practically any time, but overheats the engine if used too often. Cops will chase after you occasionally, although they don’t appear to have any interest in pulling you over, as they just try to knock you around a little bit. A white car will be your opponent to beat to the finish line, and at every checkpoint your girlfriend will leave you and hop into it if you fail to stay ahead.

Magical Shower
There are a few additions, such as dynamic weather conditions (rain, snow, and dust storms), and certain areas have puddles of water or ice-coated portions of the road that can make driving difficult. There are also oil slicks on the road that catch fire when the burning exhaust from the turbo boost touches them, in addition to obstacles like traffic barriers, all of which can slow you down. The car now looks more like an F40 than a Testarossa, and it also allows you to choose between manual or automatic transmission.

Turbo OutRun’s greatest flaw is that it ditches the multiple routes, so every time you play it’s the same trip across the United States over and over again. There are 16 stages, beginning in New York City and ending up in Los Angeles. Most of the locations have only tenuous relations to the area they’re based on, if at all – Atlanta is nothing but a bunch of sand dunes, and Pittsburgh is little more than a long, rainy field. At least there are a few cool levels, as you drive through the city streets of Chicago at night and the fields of Indianapolis at dusk. To break up the pace, there are three checkpoints, each appearing after four stages. Here, you get to tune up your car with either more turbo power, a more powerful engine, or high grip tires. It’s a nice touch but it tends to ruin both the pace and simplicity that the original is known for. You no longer get to choose your music, as instead it changes automatically after each checkpoint. The four tracks composed by Hiroshi Kawaguchi and Yasuhiro Takagi – “Rush A Difficulty“, “Keep Your Heart“, “Shake The Street“ and “Who Are You?“ – are decent, but they lack the smooth, laid-back feeling of the original music.

Turbo OutRun was ported to the Mega Drive. It’s fast and it plays well, but for some reason, looks much worse than the port of the original OutRun. Nearly all of the spiffy graphical effects from the arcade version have been wiped out entirely, and as a result, it doesn’t feel like there’s any difference between any of the levels other than palette swaps. Two new songs have been added, but overall the quality of the music has dropped even further. It’s a passable port, but not to the level it should be. This is one of the few Mega Drive games that was released in Japan and Europe, but not America.

The best port was released for the FM Towns, and was converted by CRI. Though it’s still missing some background details and it’s not quite as smooth as the best arcade game, it’s a big step up from the Mega Drive version. The brand new, redbook audio, arranged soundtrack is the best part of the package, greatly improving on the songs from the arcade original. US Gold once again published the computer ports, with Probe handling the Amiga, Atari ST and Commodore 64 versions. The quality of these are about the same as the conversions of the original game.

The Amiga and Atari ST releases are by far the nicest looking, keeping many of the background details that were missing in the Mega Drive and FM Towns ports, but the animation and speed is embarrassingly choppy. The Commodore 64 game isn’t as visually attractive as either of these, but it maintains a good sense of speed, the scrolling is far smoother and, overall, this version is the best of the computer ports. The IBM PC version has a large display window that takes up a sizeable chunk of the screen. It’s smooth but totally missing the speed of the other versions, plus there is no in-game music. The Amstrad and Spectrum versions are both slow and choppy to the point of being unplayable.

The Amiga, Atari ST, and Amstrad soundtracks have completely new music composed by David Lowe, which is generally pretty decent. The Commodore 64 soundtrack was composed by Jeroen Tel, whose work is a fantastic rendition of the original arcade songs. The title theme is a brand new piece of music which remixes parts of “Magical Sound Shower“ from the first OutRun, in a style consistent with his other excellent works found in Cybernoid. The shop theme from Fantasy Zone also appears during the tune-up sequences.

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