The week's highs and lows in PC gaming

XCOM 2 Base Scientist


Evan Lahti: Back in the bunker
The only explanation for how tailored XCOM 2 is to the collective wants of the XCOM community is that Firaxis must have access to some kind of alien telepathy to peer into players’ brains. XCOM 2 will be PC-exclusive for at least a little while. It’ll be quite moddable. Soldiers are significantly more detailed and customizable, as are their now individually upgradable weapons. Its maps are procedurally generated, but balanced by handcrafted elements. Based on recent video, the characters in your base are more fleshed out, but probably not at the expense of your self-authored storytelling (Dr. Shen’s daughter is an engineer, taking his place after his disappearance), and the base itself is more visually detailed. XCOM 2 will, more than XCOM, employ mechanics discouraging you from grinding alien encounters at your own pace—the aliens themselves will be playing a kind of concurrent game on the world map, racing against you in some regards. I’m unsure what else we could ask for.

Wes Fenlon: Intel says: gotta go fast
The most exciting thing to come out of Intel's Developer Forum this week was the news about its plans for a new 'Optane' line of SSDs coming in 2016. New SSDs, OK, big whoop, there are lots of those. Except Optane is ditching the NAND flash memory we've been using for the past few years in favor of 3D XPoint memory Intel's been developing, which is supposedly way faster than flash. How much faster? Well, Intel demoed an early Optane drive against its P3700 PCIe SSD, which can hit read speeds of 2700 MB/s, and Optane delivered seven times the IOPS (input output per second) performance.

So that's pretty fast. Expect this 'high' to turn into a 'low' next year when we find out how much they'll cost.

Satellite Reign Slide

Andy Kelly: Heavy Reign
I’ve been playing Satellite Reign this week, a Syndicate Wars-inspired cyberpunk strategy game, and I’ve fallen in love with its visuals. The rainy, neon city is derivative, but it looks fantastic. Floating above it, viewing the action from a satellite, you see giant video screens cycling futuristic advertisements, their reflections distorting in puddles on the street. Here’s an old tech demo showing off some of the effects the engine is capable of.

It’s what Blade Runner would have looked like if, for some reason, Ridley Scott decided to film it with a tilt-shift lens. The streets teem with traffic, pedestrians, and police drones shining their spotlights through the gloom. You can find out what I think of the game itself in my review, which should be up on the website and in the magazine soon, but if you love that particular kind of cyberpunk aesthetic, this is one of the best examples of it I’ve seen in ages.

Tom Senior: Besieging Bastogne
Like Andy, I’m bound from talking about Company of Heroes 2’s British Forces for review embargo reasons, but I CAN talk about Ardennes Assault, the standalone singleplayer campaign starring the US army set in the region near Bastogne. It revives an idea Relic experimented with in Dawn of War’s terrific Dark Crusade expansion, which gives you a planetary map with territories to conquer.

The idea harks way back to Dune 2, and has never been executed perfectly. Ardennes Assault’s take is pretty simplistic, and has a couple of problems, but I love that it lets you command three armies in the region that you can improve and personalise between battles. I think more and more about how context and a sense of incremental progress can mean the difference between a game I’ll play for an evening and a game I’ll play for months. I’d love to see more Ardennes-esque attempts to create that sense of progress in an RTS. As much as I adore linear story-driven campaigns such as Homeworld and World in Conflict, there must be a more dynamic solution out there that lets your tactical decision-making guide the campaign.

Hearthstone The Grand Tournament Slide

Tom Marks: The Grand Tournament is coming!
Hearthstone’s next expansion, The Grand Tournament, finally has a release date. And it’s very soon! And we can just ignore the fact that people deduced the August 24th release date pretty much immediately after the expansion was announced—with methods ranging from simply comparing the timing of past expansions and coming patches, to noticing (somewhat embarrassingly for Blizzard) that changing your computer’s date to the 24th made pre-purchased TGT packs appear openable. Why Blizzard waited until the week before to announce a date everyone knew was coming and they had seemingly already settled on, I have no idea.

But I digress, a card set is coming! The next few weeks are going to play host to my favorite period of time in Hearthstone; new cards are out and no one will have any idea what’s good anymore. The ranked ladder will turn into a castrophony of new decks and untested combo ideas. Sure you’ll still have the occasional person capitalizing on the still-unrefined decks by playing Face Hunter or whatever else they know will work, but not often enough to spoil the general atmosphere. There will be a blissful renaissance while no one knows what’s going on, where nothing you do is a wrong, no matter how silly it seems. 12 secret Paladin, here I come!

James Davenport: Metal Gear Solid High Five!
Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain comes out in just over one week. On PC. And to prepare, I, a grown adult, watched well over ten hours of MGS lore recap videos this week. I can’t say what I feel is shame, exactly. There’s some pride peppered in there, because, I mean, it wasn’t easy to watch over three-hours of Peacewalker—it basically amounts an extended expository recap of MGS3 with the best combination of words ever, “Mammal Pod,” thrown in every ten minutes or so. So I climbed a mountain, a tall, totally unnecessary mountain, but for Metal Gear Solid 5, I would do so much more.

I’ve been with the series as long as I’ve been playing games, so to not see it through, especially on my favorite platform, would be heresy. And how often does someone as bonkers-genius as Kojima get creative control over 28 years of such a huge franchise? Let’s ride this beautiful series out together, eh?


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