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By Jessica Brown On 3 Oct, 2017 At 07:26 PM | Categorized As Featured, PC Games, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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  • TITLE: Aporia: Beyond the Valley
  • DEVELOPER: Investigate North
  • PUBLISHER: Green Man Gaming
  • GENRE: Adventure
  • PLATFORM: PC (via Steam)
  • PRICE: $16.99 USD
  • RELEASE DATE: July 19, 2017

I first encountered Aporia: Beyond the Valley in 2015 as a free-to-play alpha demo. At the time, I was looking for some fun adventure and puzzle games, similar to those in the Myst franchise, and the game’s unique style drew me in. The game’s developer was very kind and worked with me to make my way through as much of the demo as I could and, even though it was a bit rough around the edges, I was looking forward to seeing where the game would eventually go. Yet, after that time, it was nearly two years until I heard anything more about this little gem. This past July, I happened to notice that the game was heading to Steam and I was quite surprised. I dug out the old email thread I had with the developer and got back in touch and they were very kind to provide me with a review code for the full version of the game.

One of the unique things about Aporia is that it’s a game with a compelling narrative and yet one completely free of dialogue of any kind. When you start a new game, you awaken from what appears to be suspended animation in a large cave-like chamber and you seem to be quite alone. In front of you, placed with purpose and awaiting your removal, is a glowing cylinder on a large platform that’s begging you to pick it up. While in this large cavernous space you’ll see five other suspension devices, some long empty and another that appears still occupied though is partially covered by large debris, large tapestries, and a pedestal that you can fit your newly-found glowing cylinder into. Doing so activates a sort of holographic stop-motion animated sequence that gives you a bit of backstory on the cylinder you now possess, showing its creation by a shaman as well as seemingly showing the group of people who appear to have been sealed in this chamber at some later point. If you pay attention closely to these individuals and compare their dress to the symbols in the room, you can figure out not only who was within each of the chambers in the room, but you can also figure out who you most likely are playing as.

What you encounter in the first few minutes of the game demonstrates how the game’s storyline will be delivered throughout the rest of your adventure. As you make your way out of the chamber, down the winding cliffside paths, and eventually into the titular valley itself, you’ll encounter various tapestries that relay pieces of the inhabitants’ past. Sometimes these are just benign bits of information, or perhaps a small story that serves as a warning about a certain environmental hazard (such as one group of tapestries that shows the drowning of a fisherman which warns you about the strong currents in the nearby river), but others warn you about more ominous threats. You will also periodically find more pedestals that you can insert your cylinder into and play more stop-motion animation sequences that will continue to shed more light on the larger history of the valley and the individuals who lead them (including yourself).


The cylinder you possess ends up being a key component to exploring the valley and unlocking its secrets. In the chamber you awaken in, you’ll be shown how you can use the cylinder in certain types of pedestals to drain a bit of its glowing essence and direct it to power certain objects or open locked doors. Sometimes you’ll have to direct energy through multiple pedestals in an energy relay of sorts or use multiple pedestals to power a single doorway. However, each time you use the cylinder to do a task like this it will drain a bit of its power. Once the cylinder is empty you won’t be able to use it until you replenish its resources. Thankfully this isn’t too difficult in most cases unless you went out of your way to waste its power because you’ll generally find various jugs containing the glowing liquid you’ll need scattered around the environment. Each jug fills about a quarter of the cylinder’s energy, though, so you will want to make judicious use of your resources. As you press on further along your adventure, you’ll also discover a few other uses for your device. For starters, if you take it out while in a dark area such as a building or cave, the glowing liquid will serve as a flashlight for you. The light from the cylinder can also cause special flowers to bloom on demand and consuming them will replenish some of your health should you need it. You’ll also be able to use it to cause other types of plants to grow, creating bridges and ladders out of vines that will allow you to access areas you previously couldn’t.

Although the game focuses a great deal on exploration on your journey to uncover the mystery of what happened to the great civilization that once inhabited the valley, the game also presents you with various puzzles that you will need to solve along the way. While these do take a good deal of thought to figure out, most of the time the methodology behind them makes sense and the puzzles don’t feel unfair. In this regard, the developer seems to have struck a solid balance between difficulty and fun. Also, as you make your way into the main valley itself you also will begin to encounter a supernatural shadow-like entity whose existence will have been somewhat hinted at in various tapestries you previously encountered. Being in its presence will begin to slowly drain away your health, so you’ll want to shine your cylinder at it to make it leave you alone or quickly get away from it. Because you’ve been allowed to explore unimpeded prior to this point, the entity’s presence is alarming. Thankfully, its menace is at first merely startling and then annoying and it won’t pose much of a threat to you until you’re a bit further along in your journey.

Visually, Aporia is a pretty impressive experience. The environments are well-detailed and feel very much alive and the environmental effects like low-lying fog are done well. The game also does a great job with its lighting effects. Everything looks fantastic while playing on a large 4K HDR display and the game is incredibly immersive.

Unfortunately, despite all of this there are a few graphical bugs that I encountered during my exploration. In a few spots, when taking a closer look at the ground it’s quite apparent that the grass, weeks, and pebbles are actually being rendered floating slightly above the actual terrain. The lighting also acts strangely when you transition an exterior area to an interior one or vice-versa. Also, the way water flows across the environment can appear awkward in a few spots and in a couple areas the water textures appear glitchy. There were also a couple instances of environmental objects not rendering incorrectly when loading a save file. However, rather than existing as invisible textures, these objects didn’t load in at all, meaning that where once a bridge or dock should have existed there was nothing. The only way to force them to load in was to walk away far enough for them to debuff and then return, hoping they spawned correctly that time. This was particularly unfortunate though when the game had been saved while standing on one of these objects, causing me to immediately fall into the rushing river below when loading my save file.

Jumping into the river caused me to get dragged along a bit until I got stuck on the environment. At this point, I wasn’t drowning but I was also unable to get away from the strong currents. Eventually, I managed to do some tricky maneuvers and break free, but had I been unable to do so I would have had no choice but to reload a previous save file. There was also one instance where the game completely froze up on me and I never could figure out exactly what caused this to happen.

Ultimately, I feel like Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a mysterious, intriguing, and beautifully-puzzling adventure game that will draw people in with its unique story and presentation. There’s a lot to love with this one, even if it’s true that the game could have used a bit more polish before being released. I feel like Aporia is a very good game in its current form, but with a bit more work it could have been an excellent game. Still, the core beauty of the game itself and the world it presents manages to shine through, keeping any one individual bug from marring an otherwise lovely experience.

Aporia: Beyond the Valley is a solid adventure that would make an excellent addition to any PC gamer’s library, particularly if they enjoy Myst-like experiences!

ADDITIONAL SCREENSHOTS (Click for 4K):

By Jessica Brown On 1 Oct, 2017 At 01:17 PM | Categorized As Best Game Ever, Editorials, NINTENDO | With 2 Comments

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Let’s face it: when The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess made its debut back in November 2006 it had some really big shoes to fill. In terms of major console releases, it was following in the footsteps of some popular pedigrees: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (one of the most highly-regarded games of all time), its 2000 sequel Majora’s Mask, and the expansive, high-seas adventure that was The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker on the GameCube. The years 2001 to 2005 also marked an explosion of very popular entries on the Game Boy and Game Boy Advance that despite their small size were very much full-on epic adventures.

When I played through Wind Waker, I couldn’t help but wonder what was next for the franchise. In some ways, the game had an air of finality to it. Hyrule had been washed away deep beneath the waves and Ganondorf had been delivered a final death blow with the Master Sword, leaving both he and it sealed beneath the oceans covering what used to be Hyrule. If anything in the series had ever felt like a final moment in the timeline, this was it. Yet, as we came to discover, Nintendo was using the time-bending elements of Ocarina of Time as an excuse to split the timeline into separate branches. Wind Waker, it turned out, was just one of the possible outcomes.

With this in mind, Twilight Princess is set many years after the ending of Ocarina of Time. In this game’s backstory, when Link returns to the time period he was initially from, he warns Princess Zelda of Ganondorf’s plans for the future. The two then convince Zelda’s father, the King of Hyrule, that Ganondorf must be punished lest Hyrule face its eventual destruction, so the King has him executed. Only…Something doesn’t quite go right, and instead of killing him they end up having to seal him within the Twilight Realm. This fact plays an important role later in the game, when we finally come to understand why the Twilight Realm is imposing itself on Hyrule, and who is ultimately motivating its de facto leader, Zant.

I’ll be honest: when it comes to my active play-time with any of the Zelda games out there, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess takes the cake. While I’m sure that I’ll eventually sink in a lot more time with Breath of the Wild on the Switch once I properly dig deep into it, at present no other game comes close to Twilight Princess in terms of time invested into it. At the time, Twilight Princess felt like a large world with a ton of things to see and do. Certainly, it was much larger than Ocarina of Time and perhaps Wind Waker as well (since a lot of that game consisted of open seas). Yet, what caused me to spend more time with this game than any that came before it was the sheer amount of collectibles and upgrades you could get. Gaining all 20 heart containers was no easy feat in itself as there were many sub-quests you had to do in order to get all of them. Also, special upgrades like larger quivers or the magical armor that would make you invincible at the expense of a constant draining of your rupees also necessitated a fairly large investment of your time. But, despite all of this, I had a lot of fun trying to fully complete the game and I have no regrets for the time spent with it.

The dungeons in Twilight Princess are both well thought-out and massive. They are also quite memorable too. The Lakebed Temple and City in the Sky were particularly challenging and interesting to explore. Also, the boss fights were both intense and enjoyable. The boss of the City in the Sky, Argorok, was perhaps the most annoying and difficult boss in the game for me. I’d even go as far as to say defeating it was more laborious than taking down Ganon in the final battle!

One of the things that I remember sticking out to me when I first played Twilight Princess was the fact that the Twilight Realm mechanic felt like it was paying homage to the Dark World from Zelda: A Link to the Past. It was interesting to me to see how the pervading twilight managed to twist and corrupt the things that it came in touch with. I also recall finding it quite refreshing that the game felt more like an epic. In some games, it felt like Link was primarily alone on his quest to save Hyrule, but here you had people that were genuinely aware of what was going on and in some cases people who were ready and willing to help. In fact, there was an entire resistance of able-bodied adults who were with him at major points in the game, even helping storm Hyrule Castle in the game’s penultimate confrontation.

It also had an ending that was a bit of an emotional ride. By the adventure’s end, it was clear that Midna, revealed to be the rightful ruler of the Twilight Realm, had feelings for Link, yet in the game’s final moments when it feels she is about to reveal these feelings to the young hero, she destroys the mirror that connects their two worlds completely. I remember being very angry with that, feeling that she owed to both Link and herself, to be honest about her feelings, and yet she went as far as to destroy any hope they ever had of seeing each other again. It was quite powerful.

While I’ll admit that I haven’t played Twilight Princess HD on the Wii U before, but the 2016 remaster does indeed look quite gorgeous! It even has some nice easter eggs and special content that was added to it to make it stand out a bit more. Obviously, it was sort of a lead-in to this year’s Zelda: Breath of the Wild (which is also available on the Wii U in addition to the Switch), but I’d certainly love to see both this one and Wind Waker HD eventually get ported to the Nintendo Switch.

Ultimately, I think that Twilight Princess managed to pay homage to Ocarina of Time in quite a meaningful way, but it also built off of the successes of that game and created a large world that actually felt alive, begging to be explored. Because of this, 2011’s The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword felt like a step back in some ways. The way that the overworld had to be explored felt a lot more closed off and a bit less inviting. Thankfully, Nintendo seemed to listen to its fans and critics and took Breath of the Wild in a completely different direction.

So much of Twilight Princess can be seen in Breath of the Wild that I feel like we owe a bit of thanks to this entry in the long-running franchise. If Twilight Princess was born out of a question of “Where will this series possibly go next? ” I can’t help but think that Breath of the Wild will ultimately yield some of the same questions. Perhaps, though, that will mean that it will eventually yield another amazing follow-up, just as Twilight Princess managed to successfully follow both Ocarina of Time and Wind Waker. If that pattern is to be followed once more, then I can’t help but think that we are in for yet another treat in the hopefully not-too-distant future!

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If you’ve never played The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (or even if you have!), I hope this article gave you a taste of what made it a fantastic adventure that absorbed so much of my time when it first came out. This article is part of a larger series explores the history of the series and its major entries. Be sure to check out the hub article at NekoJonez’s Arpegi for links to all the great articles and retrospectives on this epic series.

(Image courtesy of ZoeF on DeviantArt)

By Jessica Brown On 23 Sep, 2017 At 10:08 PM | Categorized As Featured, PC Games, PlayStation, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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  • TITLE: XING: The Land Beyond
  • DEVELOPER: White Lotus Interactive
  • PUBLISHER: White Lotus Interactive
  • GENRE: Adventure
  • PLATFORM: PC (Steam); Also on PS4
  • RELEASE DATE: September 21, 2017

XING: The Land Beyond is a first-person, VR-compatible adventure game from White Lotus Interactive available for the PC and PlayStation 4. It’s a non-combat, exploration-focused game that also features various puzzles that will need to be overcome.

XING (pronounced “Zing” according to the developer) puts players in the role of a character as they enter the afterlife. Entering a realm somewhere between life and death, the player will help the Guardian free the spirits of those souls who are trapped and unable to fully move on. Along the way, they will find clues about themselves, hopefully discover who they are and why they are here.

The journey begins with what seems to be your death, dropping you in a bright white space between realms. Venturing through the open door before you will take you to a hub area – a rocky, forested island floating high above the clouds. Here you’ll meet a guardian spirit who says it is the only true living entity in this realm and who sends you on your way. From here, you’ll venture to other realms that were once home to spirits who now need your help in setting them free. While you will be mostly on your own in these different areas, the spirits will guide you with cryptic clues and bits of wisdom and you’ll encounter their story told through pieces of scattered poetry.

In XING, the game is all about the journey, and it’s a journey that you can enjoy at your own pace. There are no entities that are out to destroy you and there isn’t anything that you’ll need to kill along the way. Also, since you are already dead, death is no longer an obstacle. Even if you miss a precise jump that you need to make, you’ll simply phase out and reappear near where you failed, free to try again as many times as you need. This doesn’t mean that the game is easy though, but what it does succeed in doing is taking away any sense of immediacy that might otherwise cause you stress. Rather than having to worry about reaching a certain goal within a set amount of time, you’ll instead be able to take your time seeing the sights, exploring every nook and cranny, and solving a few puzzles along the way. Exploration is certainly rewarded and is also highly enjoyable.

While I certainly do enjoy puzzle games, I do worry about games reaching a point where their puzzles become too cryptic and frustrating to solve. For me, it’s all about balance: I love having a solid level of difficulty when it comes to figuring things out, but I don’t want something to become so difficult as to be angering and off-putting. There’s always that “A-ha!” moment that should come with solving a particularly stumping situation and the hope is that that moment and feeling will pay off in the end. White Lotus Interactive seems to be very keen on my type of perspective because they ultimately have done a good job making the puzzles approachable while not holding your hand much along the way.

In the island realm, there’s a puzzle near the end of your journey that involves a deep canyon that will need to be crossed at various points that has a rotating mechanism at its center with clock hands serving as a metallic bridge. Various switch pedestals are at different spots around the canyon and the key lies in using them to rotate the hands to certain positions. By itself, this would take a little bit of doing, but XING adds a deeper mechanic into the mix: some switches only affect the clock hands during the day while others don’t take effect until nighttime. In order to get to certain locations, you’ll have to figure out which switches to activate for the day as well as the night and then make use of a special ability to change the time of day (which can only be done at certain locations). In short, you’ll have to mentally plan out your journey a couple steps ahead of time in order to take into account the positions the hands will be at during the day and the night as well as where you will be when you can toggle the time of day. The final problem the game will face you with in this area is that the door you’ll need to open at the end can only be opened during the night.

If you haven’t guessed it yet, the aforementioned realm has a theme to it: time. In this case, the theme is presented through an ability to change between day and night – an ability you’ll have to master in order to solve problems and make your way around the island. Some platforms or objects will only appear during the day or night and certain doors can also only be opened at certain times. The island’s final puzzle takes everything you’ve learned up until that point and combines it into a new challenge. Along the way, you learn the story of the spirit associated with the island and her journey through isolation and self-affirmation.

Each realm you visit contains a similar thematic approach. Along your journey you’ll come to master time, the elements, and much more. All of these things will have to be harnessed to solve a variety of unique puzzles and explore mysterious, breathtaking worlds.

It’s apparent that White Lotus Interactive has taken a good deal of inspiration from the much-loved Myst series, and XING: The Land Beyond feels like a carefully-crafted love letter to the franchise. However, XING may take some inspirations from Myst, but it most certainly is a worthy title in its own right. The story is extremely unique, yet equally as mysterious. The settings are breathtaking and beg to be explored. And the journey itself is one that will draw you in and keep you wanting more.

The game is aesthetically beautiful and yet it performs quite well. There are a variety of settings that you can toy with in the PC version to tailor the experience to your system’s specific capabilities. For me, playing the game at 4K, everything was beautiful and handled well. Yet, for a game of this nature, I find that ambiance and sound-quality are just as important as visuals, and thankfully this game delivers not just in the quality of its environmental sounds but also in its voice-acting (narrated by the various spirits you’re trying to free) as well as its exceptional soundtrack. I sincerely hope the game’s OST is made available as a separate, reasonable purchase sometime in the near future.

My copy of XING is for the PC, yet I have no doubt that the game will be a very positive experience on the PlayStation 4 as well. With the game also being VR-compatible, it should also make for a fun, immersive journey for those that wish to play it that way.

In the end, XING: The Land Beyond is an exceptional, beautiful adventure game that will draw you in and stay with you for quite some time.

ADDITIONAL SCREENS (Click for 4K):

By Jessica Brown On 19 Sep, 2017 At 05:14 PM | Categorized As Featured, PC Games, Reviews | With 0 Comments

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  • TITLE: “Evil Genome”
  • DEVELOPER: Crystal Depths Studio
  • PUBLISHER: Crystal Depths Studio
  • GENRE: Metroidvania Action-RPG
  • PLATFORM: PC (Steam)
  • RELEASE DATE: August 7, 2017
  • PRICE: $14.99 USD

Evil Genome is an action-RPG from Chinese developer Crystal Depths Studio. The game is styled as a “Metroidvania” action-RPG by the developers, and for the most part, this is a fair assessment. The game has a lot of depth and some fun gameplay, but is it ultimately worth your time and the $14.99 asking price?

The game is set in a seemingly post-apocalyptic future, where Lachesis, who is about to rendezvous with a nearby base, has her ship shot down in a sudden missile attack. Waking up at the wreck in the middle of the desert, she seems to be lacking any real memories of who she is or what she was doing and, unfortunately for her, the AI system that accompanies her cannot provide her with any classified (in this case, non-combat) information without Lachesis’s memory core being restored. From this beginning, it’s all about exploration and combat while trying to figure out what the heck is actually going on.

Gameplay is presented with horizontal movement in a 3D playing field. The graphics are for the most part well-developed and provide a lot of depth for the environments while there are plenty of things for the player to do in the foreground. Various items and upgrades can be found in chests and crates hidden (or not hidden) throughout the environment and, as you might expect, be looted from defeated enemies. Like any good action-RPG, there is an experience system that provides players with a skill tree to progress through each time they level up, giving them the ability to customize Lachesis’s play style to their own personal preferences and strengths. Meanwhile, the game gives players a Metroidvania style map that updates as they explore, and players will have various main missions and side-quests they can complete as they go.

While I really wanted to enjoy Evil Genome, I found that it was ultimately held back on several fronts.

For starters, while I do recognize that the game was developed by a Chinese studio (presumably for whom English was not their first language), the game’s English translation is rife with spelling and grammatical errors. What’s worse, the grammar errors actually spill over into the game’s spoken, voice-acted dialogue, making it extremely awkward at times. The voice work, outside of perhaps the main character, is also exceptionally sub-par throughout the experience. What dialogue is delivered without any grammatical problems is very flat and lacks any sort of emotion. Some characters seem to change their voice and how they speak during the game, sometimes even during the same segment of dialogue! Another problem with the grammar flaws is that they also make the menus rather difficult to deal with, sometimes leaving you guessing at what something (such as a skill description) actually means.

There are also quite a few bugs present too. Some of these are benign, such as the screen fading in an odd way while the dialogue is being delivered, but others are a bit more egregious. There are several times when aspects of the environment flicker or otherwise exhibit artifacts, the fact that you seemingly cannot climb or go down a ladder without jumping towards it (which is particularly weird when you want to descend it!), enemies that glitch out and seem to be invulnerable, and also issues with performance. The game suffers some choppiness due to frame-rate issues in a few spots, even while playing on a high-end system with a GTX 1080 Ti. Changing settings like turning off V-Sync seem to do nothing to resolve the issue (and in fact may even make performance even worse!).

To me, Evil Genome feels like one of those games that was rushed out and needed a lot more polish. It’s almost as if we are playing a test build of the game, something that might not even have been ready for Steam’s Early Access status. It’s frustrating, though, because it feels like this game has a lot of potential and a few things that it’s begging us to love about it. The gameplay, honestly, beyond some of the buggy behavior is actually pretty fun, and even though the story is quite vague I do wonder where it’s ultimately going. But beyond that, though, I find myself having trouble actually recommending the purchase.

Ultimately, I’d say that Evil Genome is a below-average game that needs a lot of work before I’d say it was worth the investment. Maybe if it was on sale at a deep discount or as part of a larger bundle it would be worth it, but as it stands now I’d recommend passing on it. Hopefully, Crystal Depths will take a look at the criticisms offered by reviewers and Steam users and look into cleaning up the game because, if they did, I think they’d have a fun adventure title on their hands.

By Jessica Brown On 14 Sep, 2017 At 08:06 PM | Categorized As Featured, PC Games, Reviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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  • Title:  “Ancient Frontier”
  • Developer: Fair Weather Studios, LLC
  • Publisher: Fair Weather Studios, LLC
  • Genre: Sci-Fi Turn-Based Strategy
  • Platform: PC (Steam)
  • Release Date: September 21, 2017

I’m going to be very honest: turn-based strategy games, while enjoyable, are not my main area of expertise. While I certainly enjoy strategy games from time to time, they just aren’t games that I often gravitate towards and so it’s been a fair bit of time since I’ve delved deeply into one. Perhaps that’s a good thing, though, because in the case of this game it allows me to offer a pretty objective review.

At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of Ancient Frontier. I knew absolutely nothing about it and at first, when hearing the title, I thought this was going to be some sort of medieval fantasy strategy title. Well, it turns out I was quite wrong, though I think this was a very pleasant surprise.

Ancient Frontier is a science-fiction turn-based strategy title from indie developer Fair Weather Studios and is a sequel to their 2016 arcade shooter Bladestar. The game is set sometime in the distant future, long after humans managed to colonize Mars and Earth has since been lost to a catastrophic destruction (the nature of which I’ve yet to discover so far). Humans have colonized many different worlds and star systems by the time the game takes place, though the events focus on a distant region of space known primarily as “the Frontier.” This region lacks any inhabitable planets or moons but is sustained by many different starbases and mining colonies that have come out there to mine its rich mineral and energy deposits. At the offset of their campaign, players will have to choose whether they want to play as an officer in the Federation Navy or as a member of the Alliance with the story and available ships varying considerably.

The core game consists of a cinematic story (with enjoyable voice acting) presented a series of missions that the player will need to complete. Missions are divided into three types: Story, Bounty, and Simulator Missions. Story missions are, of course, the way to progress through the main events of the game. However, between each of the major story missions, you’ll have the opportunity to participate in either Bounties or Simulator runs. Bounties are essentially side-stories where you’ll participate in one of a variety of scenarios with the ability to gain experience and various resources that you’ll need to purchase or upgrade existing ships as well as research new utilities or abilities. Simulator runs will only gain your units (crew) experience points but won’t yield any resources. On the other hand, though, simulator missions don’t present any true risk (units lost during these runs will return during normal play). Bounties, though, will result in permanent loss of any units that get destroyed during them (depending on your chosen difficulty setting).

Each mission will have a different goal in mind but ultimately is presented in a uniform fashion. Players will have their units placed on a large grid that consists of hexagonal spaces. Your movement does, of course, depend on unit type. Some units will only get one move (though they may be able to traverse several spaces at once) while others may get several. The “fog of war” prevents you from seeing too far into the distance at first as well, but this is remedied through mapping out each area. The “fog” is explained as being the limit of your current long-range sensors, so you’re forced to press into an area to map it, reveal hidden resources or anomalies, and discover enemy units. The sensor range, like most other stats of a unit, can be improved with utilities you can research and purchase with resources (or salvage from destroyed enemies).

Overall, success will heavily depend on pacing as in most turn-based titles. Since each unit will get a certain number of turns as well as a certain number of actions (attack or skills), careful planning needs to go into whether you’ll want to go on an all-out assault against an enemy unit or do a hit-and-run type of maneuver (keeping in mind that debris fields and other similar things provide cover during combat). Obstacles also exist that can turn a battle very quickly, such as minefields on some maps that will cause incredible damage to any unit that ends their turn on an adjacent hex space. Optional objectives are present on each map too that will yield additional rewards if they are completed before the main objective.

The game has a fairly high level of difficulty, even if played on the Normal setting. Under normal conditions, units that are destroyed during a mission will be permanently lost, which adds to the immediacy of using effective strategies. Since resources are finite (you only have a certain number of optional deployments you can embark on), suffering too many lost units will eventually leave you with a fleet that won’t be sufficient for advancing the story. Thankfully, if that level of hardcore realism isn’t quite your thing, you can play on an easier setting that will keep the mission difficulty intact while allowing defeated units to return after completion (though any unit defeated in combat won’t gain any experience). This will allow more casual players to be able to enjoy the game without having to feel like they won’t be able to enjoy the story progression due to failed mission attempts.

Visually, the game looks quite nice. Although it typically is viewed from a rather zoomed-out perspective, you can easily rotate the camera and zoom in a decent amount to see the details in the environment and on your (and enemy) ships. As mentioned earlier, the voice-acting in the game is actually quite enjoyable, though I did find that the written dialogue could have used a little more polish (which may be addressed by the time of release). However, one thing I was really impressed with was the game’s soundtrack. There are several memorable tunes (I particularly liked the song that plays in between missions) and I really hope the developer makes the OST available as an optional purchase on Steam.

Overall, if you’re a fan of turn-based strategy titles or if you enjoy a good sci-fi narrative, Ancient Frontier is certainly worth giving a good, hard look. While it may not initially appeal to everyone (especially if you’re not generally into strategy games), I found the game to be very approachable. Once I gave it a chance I easily found myself spending two solid hours in a sitting digging deep into the game, wanting to shore up my fleet and press on in the main campaign to see where the story was going. That, I think, is a solid indicator that a game is a worthwhile investment.

ADDITIONAL SCREENSHOTS (Click for 4K):

 

A review key was provided by the developer.

By Jessica Brown On 10 Sep, 2017 At 09:12 PM | Categorized As PC Games, ROG News, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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For quite some time, “wait for Vega” was the rallying cry of many AMD fans. After the R9 300 series of cards (with the 390X and the Fury cards offering quite a punch) in 2015, AMD backed off of the high-end market for a while. In 2016 they released their Polaris architecture under the RX 400 product line with the RX 480 capping things off for a very reasonable $250 USD. Having had a 290/X and a 390/X in the previous generations, many fans were wondering what AMD had in store for the unannounced RX 490 card. Was this the mysterious, high-end Vega architecture that would replace the year-old R9 Fury cards? As the months wore on, AMD remained mum on the topic and by the end of 2016 it became pretty clear that Vega would not be released as part of the 400 series of products. April of this year saw the release of the RX 500 cards (a modest refresh of the Polaris architecture), but once again there was no RX 590 offering in sight. Soon, though, AMD made it clear that Vega would be released as its own product category.

As far back as mid-2016, fans were saying that Vega would be the card to finally put NVIDIA in its place. Rumors were running wild about supposed specs for this next-generation card. It was clear that the card would make use of the next-generation High Bandwidth Memory 2 interface, but how much memory would be present and at what speed the GPU would be clocked to were all pure speculation at best. The Polaris cards, while great for the money, were designed to appeal to mainstream PC gamers wanting to play at a solid 1080p or dip into 1440p a bit, but these GPUs were not meant to trade blows with the higher-end Pascal cards. Even the RX 580, which was marginally better than the R9 390X (though, to be fair, coming out almost two years later), would only compete with a GTX 1060. “Don’t worry,” fans said, “Vega will stomp the 1080. Vega will be a Titan-killer!” The problem was, though, that when Vega was finally on the horizon this year, its performance claims were pitting it against cards that were nearly a year old, taking some of the wind out of their sails. Even though NVIDIA did refresh Pascal a bit this year with a faster GTX 1080 (featuring 11Gbps GDDR5X), Vega’s performance claims would pit it against the architecture from the previous production cycle.

But now that Vega has actually been released, how does it hold up against its main competition?

Honestly, things aren’t looking that great for Vega. As the release of the consumer RX Vega cards was getting close, performance showcases showed that Vega would trade blows with the GTX 1080. Knowing that more than one flavor of Vega would be released, it was unclear which version this was that was being shown. Some held out hope that it was more of a mid-tier Vega, with the “full Vega” being able to go toe-to-toe with the GTX 1080 Ti, but ultimately this turned out not to be the case. As it stands, the “full Vega” (referred to as RX Vega 64) was designed to compete with the GTX 1080, while the more cut down RX Vega 56 was designed as a GTX 1070 competitor. On paper, things actually looked pretty good. RX Vega 64 promised an MSRP of just $499 USD, meaning it would compete with a card that was $50 to $100 more than it, giving gamers some strong performance for their money (which has always been one of AMD’s goals). In the case of Vega 56, it would mean a $399 alternative to the GTX 1070 (which is a monster in the 1080p, 1440p, and VR markets) with a faster HBM2 memory interface as opposed to GDDR5. Unfortunately, though, on paper is where everything ends.

Ultimately, RX Vega 64 does trade blows quite nicely with the GTX 1080, overall across several benchmarks, even though the RX Vega 64 has many individual games where it can be a GTX 1080, it also has a few where it comes in a good bit slower. Overall, it seems like the GTX 1080 is around 10% faster on average than the RX Vega. “But hey, that’s not too bad – GTX 1080 performance for less money!” This statement may seem like a valid response, but once you factor in the next two things, it’s really not. First, there’s the obviously higher power-draw of the RX Vega 64 versus the GTX 1080. Vega 64 has a TDP of 295W while the GTX 1080 comes in at just 180W. That’s a pretty significant difference, especially when you consider the fact that it’ll draw a lot more power than that if you attempt to overclock it. To drive this fact home, PC Gamer concluded that you could run two GTX 1080 cards in SLI and draw less power than RX Vega 64 under heavy loads.

Then there’s the unavoidable fact that you can’t find Vega at anywhere close to its promised retail price. Vega production was exceptionally limited (something we knew would happen given the limited stock of HBM2 modules) and what few cards could be purchased at launch were immediately snapped up by cryptocurrency miners and after-market resellers. On NewEgg, it’s possible to snag an RX Vega 64 as part of the “Radeon Black Pack” that comes with a few extra goodies (intended to cut down on purchase from miners who didn’t care about gaming), but even this costs a minimum of $679.99 as opposed to the $599 MSRP suggested by Radeon.

Ultimately, it comes down to the question of whether or not you need to upgrade your GPU right now. If you already have a GTX 1070 or 1080 (or beyond), you’re good to go: no reason to think about upgrades right now. If you’re dealing with older architecture (a GTX 900 series card, or an older AMD model) it may be a different story. Also, if you own an RX 480 and want to jump into the realm of higher resolutions, you may find yourself shopping around for a new card.

At the end of the day, though, if you have nearly $700 to spend on a graphics card, RX Vega 64 doesn’t really offer a compelling reason to purchase it. You can get a GTX 1080 card for around $549 and not only will it draw much less power than the Vega 64, it’ll also outperform it around 10% of the time. If you are truly willing to spend $700 and think that you can stretch your budget a bit more, you may want to consider getting a GTX 1080 Ti – Vega 64 can’t even touch the performance of the Ti, and the Ti still consumes less power than the Vega!

Still, as disappointing as Vega is in many ways, it’s kind of par for the course for AMD lately. The R9 290/X and 390/X were rather power-hungry cards, yet they had the advantage at least of being priced competitively with NVIDIA cards while offering some very solid performance. In this way, Vega feels like a bit of a step in the wrong direction even despite some of its more advanced technology that’s powering it.

On the plus side, though, AMD has shaken up the CPU market with its Ryzen processors and in that case, if nothing else, it should make pricing more competitive for those wanting to pick up a new CPU in the near future!

By Jessica Brown On 10 Sep, 2017 At 08:44 PM | Categorized As Featured, PC Games, ROG News, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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The GeForce GTX 10 Series is still going strong, even 16 months after its release. In May of 2016, NVIDIA released the first cards of its newest consumer GPU line built around its Pascal microarchitecture. Pascal was a pretty solid leap for the company, making use of a 16nm fabrication process, lower power consumption, improved memory performance, and exceptionally-high clock speeds. The high end GTX 1080 and Titan X (Pascal) cards also made use of a new memory format known as GDDR5X, which allowed for a faster memory interface compared to “regular” GDDR5 while being comparable to, yet cheaper than, High Bandwidth Memory (featured in AMD’s R9 Fury cards and now HBM2 in the Vega cards). This year, NVIDIA rounded off the top-end of the Pascal product line with the ultra-enthusiast GTX 1080 Ti and the new Titan Xp, the fastest consumer GPUs ever produced to date.

While some people suggested that there would be an intermediate refresh of the Pascal cards under a new numbering system prior to the release of the next major architecture, this turned out not to be the case. NVIDIA did, however, refresh their GTX 1080 cards with newer 2017 models that featured faster GDDR5X, clocked in at 11 Gbps.

The bottom line is, though, that with the newly refreshed GTX 1080 cards and the flagship GTX 1080 Ti and Titan Xp (both of which also feature 11 Gbps GDDR5X), NVIDIA has had no reason to push out an intermediate line of cards. Pascal still remains the best choice when it comes to raw power and energy efficiency and AMD’s lackluster release of their new RX Vega cards only served to reinforce this fact. The RX Vega 64 (AMD’s current top offering in the gaming space) manages to trade blows with the GTX 1080 quite well, but overall falls about 10% short of the GTX 1080 in terms of overall performance. Additionally, Vega 64 has a TDP of 295 watts, which is considerably more than the 180 watts of the GTX 1080. Round that all off with a higher asking price since Vega can only be bought from after-market sellers now and the picture for AMD in the enthusiast space looks pretty grim.

While rumors suggested at one point that NVIDIA’s newest architecture, referred to as Volta, might make a late-2017 debut, NVIDIA CEO Jensen Huang has said that gamers shouldn’t expect to see Volta-based GTX cards this year. It’s possible that rumors of a late-2017 NVIDIA launch were based on the assumption that RX Vega would offer a strong enough competition to force NVIDIA’s hand. Ultimately, this just wasn’t the case. Pascal is still going strong and does incredibly well in the high-end space.

No release date for Volta gaming cards has been announced yet, but if I had to guess I’d say we might see them sometime around March of 2018 (given that the GTX 1080 Ti, the penultimate GTX 10 Series card, made its debut in March of 2017). These new cards might be called the GTX 20 Series (e.g. GTX 2080), to show more of a major generational improvement rather than a smaller, incremental one which might be implied if they kept with the current numbering scheme and called them the GTX 11 Series (e.g. GTX 1180). Ultimately, that’s up to the marketing team, so there’s really no reason to speculate on that.

At any rate, if you’re looking to pick up a new GPU, don’t play the waiting game or you’ll always be waiting for the next big thing. NVIDIA has some great offerings on the high end starting with the GTX 1070, but if you’re wanting something a bit more mainstream, AMD’s RX 580 and 570 offer plenty of performance for your money in the 1080p to 1440p space!

By Jessica Brown On 25 Aug, 2017 At 01:48 PM | Categorized As Featured, NINTENDO, Nintendo Switch, PC Games, Reviews, Reviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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  • TITLE: forma.8
  • DEVELOPER: MixedBag
  • PUBLISHER: MixedBag
  • GENRE: Action-Adventure/Metroidvania
  • PLATFORM: Nintendo Switch
  • ALSO ON: PS4, XB1, Wii U, iOS, Android, & PC
  • RELEASE DATE: August 24, 2017
  • PRICE: $9.99 US (eShop)

forma.8 made its way onto a whole slew of platforms earlier this year, but until receiving a copy of the game to cover for the Nintendo Switch it was a title I’d never heard of. In large part, that’s because forma.8 made its debut at a time when I was large “AFK” from the gaming space for various reasons. However, now that I am aware of this game, I have to say that I wish I had known about it sooner!

At first glance, the game would have seemed somewhat forgettable to me. The title is certainly strange and glancing at the title screen really didn’t tell me that much about the game. It’s one of those situations, though, where it’s best not to judge a book by its cover. With forma.8, it’s best to just fire it up and give it a shot because, most likely, within the first 5 or 10 minutes you’ll be captivated by its simple-yet-complex nature and feel compelled to push onwards into its strange world.

The game puts you in the role of a planetary exploration probe called “forma.8,” separated from your companions when you are shot onto the surface of an alien world. According to the game’s official description, you are searching for a powerful energy source of some kind, though this is not immediately apparent to you. In fact, there’s really not much in the way of backstory outside of a narrative-less opening cinematic, so for a while, it’s up to you to piece together what’s actually going on here.

Regardless, you start your journey with nothing more than the ability to fly around, yet as you push forward you will slowly find keys, special items, and new upgrades that are, rather cryptically, learned from the wrecked remains of some of your fallen allies. For instance, in the first couple of minutes of actual play, you’ll gain the ability to create an energy pulse that can help you interact with certain items as well as damage enemies that you’ll encounter. Not too long after that, you’ll also pick up an ability to drop a bomb that can destroy certain barriers, cause a lot more damage, and can even be directed at targets through the careful use of the pulse ability.

The game is certainly a unique take on the tried-and-true Metroidvania formula. While there are some areas that are fairly linear, the game presents you with several options of where you can go next, opening up even further to you once you possess certain key abilities, making backtracking all the more important later on. You have a basic grid-style map that will show you which “room” you are in and how that room connects with other nearby locations, though as is typical in the genre it’s up to you to remember what is in these different rooms and where you might need to return to later on.

Although the actual gameplay and controls feel relatively simplistic, there’s a lot of nuanced maneuvers you’ll have to master fairly quickly in the game. Also, there are some clever (and deadly!) enemies that you’ll have to face, some of which require some thought in how you can best defeat them. The massive plant boss that you face in the volcano area, for example, will quickly kill you unless you figure out how you can actually cause it harm (and the solution is quite clever too). The probe also has fairly limited health, so you’ll certainly want to take your time and be aware of your surroundings or else death will come quite swiftly to you.

Perhaps forma.8‘s charm lies in its deceitfully-simplistic style. The graphics and artwork are pretty minimalistic and the soundtrack also has a lot of simple background tunes. In a way, I find the music (other than the tense boss theme, which is really good though) to be best described as “chill,” because it’s very laid back and relaxing to listen to. Even if you are in an area that has a couple of tense moments to it, the music can often contrast fairly-starkly to it in a way that actually works. It helps keep you level-headed and in the moment, yet it encourages you to stop for a moment and take in the atmosphere around you.

One of the things that the Nintendo Switch always has going for it is its ability to be enjoyed both on your TV or on the go. When torn about which version of a game to pick up, this flexibility and ability to be enjoyed in multiple different locations can often serve as a tie-breaker. forma.8 does indeed look pretty on a large screen, but it’s also the type of game that would be fun to play on the couch, relaxing before bed, or taking it on a trip with you. Unlike some titles where the scope and cinematic feel may feel slightly lessened while in portable mode, forma.8 feels like it fits the bill of being excellent no matter which way you wish to enjoy it.

It’s also worth pointing out that although this is certainly a Metroidvania style game, casual players should not be put off from giving it a go. There are indeed some difficult sections of it, but it is a game that is fairly forgiving. Death is most certainly not permanent (and I’d argue that you’re expected to die many times before you complete the game) and in most cases only sets you back a couple of minutes. In my experience, death in forma.8 is mainly a learning experience and something that you grow from and improve your skills and knowledge with.

So, if you have a Nintendo Switch and are looking for some more enjoyable games to play while you wait for more major releases later this year (such as Super Mario Odyssey and the second round of DLC for Zelda: Breath of the Wild), forma.8 is definitely a title that you should consider picking up. Honestly, for just $9.99 USD on the eShop, you really can’t go wrong with this one. And, if you already own the title on the PC or another platform, the Switch version will have the ability to be played on the go, so picking up a second copy might not be a bad idea either!

*Review code provided by the publisher*

By Jessica Brown On 12 Jun, 2017 At 02:01 AM | Categorized As ROG News, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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The Radeon Vega GPU has been a rather mythical thing until the past couple of months, but we are finally approaching the new architecture’s release…Well, sort of.

The Vega graphics processor will be making its first public release on June 27 with the Radeon Vega Frontier Edition, a powerful professional-grade workstation GPU featuring 16 GB of HBM2. However, as noted, this card is aimed at professionals, game designers, and scientists and is not aimed at PC gamers. Enthusiast gamers will need to wait a little longer for the gaming-grade RX Vega card.

However, it appears that the RX Vega cards will not all be releasing at the same time. Right now, we know that the first RX Vega cards will be released around the time of SIGGRAPH 2017 (July 3 to August 3). Yet, it appears that this will be the release for the most powerful of the gaming grade cards, but those operating on more of a budget will have to wait later…Much later.

According to some sources, the “high end” (non-enthusiast) and mainstream cuts of the Vega architecture most likely won’t be available until early-2018. Until then, Radeon fans that aren’t wanting to push to the bleeding edge will want to check out the RX 500 series of cards that launched back in April.

Time will tell what AMD’s official Vega plans will be, but thankfully SIGGRAPH isn’t that far away now and we should have more concrete answers by then!

By Jessica Brown On 7 Jun, 2017 At 11:46 AM | Categorized As Editorials, Featured, Opinion, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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While the announcement of Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 only felt inevitable given the success of the first collection, this new package feels a bit incomplete to me. This time we are getting treated to Mega Man 7MM8MM9, and MM10, but where is Mega Man’s other 16-bit outing?

Mega Man & Bass (originally released in 1998 in Japan on the Super Famicom) takes place directly after the events of MM8 and gives players the ability to play as either of the two titular characters. Featuring some unique robot masters, 100 CDs to collect to unlock profiles on all of the characters in the franchise to date (since the game was released in honor of the series 10th/15th anniversary), a fantastic soundtrack, and a solid level of challenge, MM&B is perhaps one of the best entries in the classic series. Leaving it out seems like a big mistake.

However, we also know that at this time Capcom is passing on Nintendo platforms, so that feels like a bit of a double-whammy. Still, there’s always the possibility of MM&B appearing later on in another special collection of Mega Man titles.

Time will tell!

Mega Man Legacy Collection 2 is coming to the PS4, XBox One, and PC on August 8.