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Sea of Thieves closed Beta preview

The long awaited Sea of Thieves finally releases this March, and to tease us further- and presumably iron out some of the bugs – the closed Beta has kicked off. We were lucky enough to set sail and enjoy what’s on offer in the multiplayer focus pirate sim, and so far we’re impressed.

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Indeed, the beta is pretty bare bones but gives you a pleasant feel for the missions and multiplayer hijinks, both cooperatively and competitively. Three options are available in the lobby: solo players and two player crews receive a two gun, single mast sloop while four players receive an eight gun, three mast galleon. The experience of sailing each of the ships is significantly different; turning circles, sail positions, multiple decks, everything is scaled up and made that much more complex to meet larger player numbers. It’s great.

The sloop is small enough to manoeuvre quickly and allows the helmsman to see ahead of them without too much obstruction. Meanwhile, the sails of the galleon easily block the view of the helmsman, leaving you at the mercy of your crew to help navigate the high seas. However, even with good visibility, navigating to specific islands really requires two people, the aforementioned helmsman as well as someone reading the map in the captain’s quarters and shouting up compass headings. Additionally, the sails need raising and lowing to manage speed, as well as angling to best catch the wind. Then there’s the dropping and raising of the anchor to stop and start your vessel, the arming and firing of cannon, and the patching up of holes and bailing of water to keep you afloat. There’s plenty of jobs for the crew to get involved with, and after a little practice you can become a well-oiled machine of pirating.

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Managing your ship is but one aspect of the experience, combat with other vessels and island fortresses, as well as going ashore on islands to search for treasure are also present. Right now the treasure seeking is facilitated through missions – or voyages as they are known in Sea of Thieves. These can be purchased from a vendor at outposts then activated in the captain’s quarters. You’ll be given a map of an island which you need to find on the ship’s larger map, sail to the island, then dig at the red cross, or sometimes you’re offered a destination and a riddle to solve to determine the whereabouts of the treasure. These span different lengths of time, with half day voyages taking you to one destination and full day ones taking you to multiple.

Completing these voyages means finding treasure chests then bringing them back to an outpost to sell them, granting you gold you can use to purchase new items. Currently, at least two of the stores appear to be closed, a mystical shop and the blacksmiths, however several others offer new equipment to buy as well as cosmetic items. The missions can then be repeated but fortunately the island destinations are random so it’s not a matter of returning to the same old islands again and again. Still, it does get repetitive after a while.

Unfortunately, beyond these treasure seeking voyages the islands don’t currently hold any mysteries or treasures to entice you to explore. The teasers and trailers over the past two years promise much more than the beta offers, it’s just a shame we can’t experience any of it just yet. However, sunken treasure can be found from the ruins of ships, with some of these treasure chests inducing a status effect on you while you carry them, so exploring the oceans has at least some reward. And venturing into the depths and facing off again sharks is truly terrifying, despite the cartoon visuals.

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Speaking of visuals, Sea of Thieves looks stunning. The carton visuals are crisp and full of character, meanwhile, remarkably realistic lighting really bring everything to life. Add to that some of the best water visuals I’ve ever tipped my digital toe in, as well as excellent, thundering cannon and firearms sound effects and a varied assortment of pirate themed music you and your crew can play with the instruments you carry, and you have top notch presentation.

But of course, the true meat of the game is when you face off against other players. The complexity of efficiently managing a ship mixed with the intensity of player verse player combat results in some heart pounding and truly enjoyable competitive multiplayer. Meeting another vessel on the ocean and exchanging fire through cannons, pistols and the neat sniper rifles you also hold, proves to be thoroughly entertaining, especially as you patch up holes in your vessel and desperately bail out water to try and keep her afloat. Additionally, firing yourself or a crew mate via the cannons onto an enemy ship is hilarious each and every time.

You can get a small taste of the combat and hilarity that can ensue from a meeting of two player ships in our video below:

When you die it’s off to a wonderfully creepy ship of the damned while you wait for a door to open and bring you back to life, which only take a minutes or so. When back amongst the living you respawn on or near your ship, allowing you to get back into the fight very quickly. This is a blessing and a curse. For those that have died, it’s a relief to so quickly get back into the action, but for the victors it means respites are few and far between and stealing another crew’s vessel isn’t really viable. Stealing treasure chests, on the other hand, is absolutely possible, so some good old fashioned pirating can still be done without resorting to sinking your victim’s ship, although the temptation is mighty strong. And if your ship does go down, all the treasure chest aboard are lost but a merman appears to teleport you to an outpost where a new ship awaits. It all works together to make the action intense and satisfying yet the lull after the battle short enough so the defeated can get back to pirating before any frustration kicks in.

Right now, beyond the odd cannon emplacement firing at you from an island, a few skeletons rising from the earth, and those terrifying sharks, there’s not much to fear during exploration. We’re sure they’ll be more to come when Sea of Thieves launches in March, and we can’t wait to see it. Already we know islands will hold more mysteries to uncover and a Kraken lurks beneath the waves, what we hope to see are AI ships we can engage, more quest givers beyond the creepy chap in the tents at outposts, More ship variety supporting large groups of players or fleet support for multiple groups, but I guess time will tell as to what the full package contains. Certainly, from what we’ve seen so far, we’re impressed and excited for March.

Gigantic (Game Preview) review

There’s something highly compelling about Gigantic. Whether it’s tied to its unique take on the MOBA formula, its varied and well-balanced roster of heroes, its charming cartoon aesthetic, or perhaps a little bit from all columns, whatever it is we can’t seem to stop playing it.

Right now Gigantic’s Preview Program offering involves three maps and a rotating selection from the 16 available characters, that’s in its free version at least. Pay for the Founders pack however, and you’ll have access to the whole cast of quirky, anthropomorphised animal heroes. Trying it out then, is entirely free, and thanks to solid balancing between the heroes, and seemingly the matchmaking, whichever version you play there’s no obvious ‘pay to win’ shenanigans.

Of course, it’s early days but in our experience, things were fair between the competing sides despite the heroes selected. This felt largely due to the restriction of only one hero choice per team, and the free version’s roster including a well-sized selection of heroes to facilitate this. In the end, your five strong team naturally fulfils multiple roles: tank, DPS (Damage per Second) and support. The strategy is in the detail; are the DPS players ranged or melee, what’s the ratio of classes, and are individuals playing to the strengths of their character and class. And as long as the latter was true, matches were tense, action packed and closely fought battles.

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The aim of each match is very simple: deal three blows to the enemy’s guardian, a massive lion eagle thing for the good guys, and a dark snake thing for the bad guys. And in classic MOBA tradition, this means securing points within the map and defeating players and the creatures they summon. This generates energy orbs, and once you reach 100 your guardian dashes across the map and engages the enemy guardian, opening up an opportunity to strike and injure it. The other team’s amount of energy also then aids in their defence, with more granting them a higher chance of pushing back against the onslaught and saving their guardian from taking damage.

However, Gigantic follows less traditional MOBA design when it’s comes to its map layout. Lanes are less of a focus, in fact the maps are more arena shaped. Instead of minions and creatures roaming around and pushing forwards via lanes, the creatures you summon are static, remaining at the strategic points you capture within the map. Here they grant different bonuses, such as healing, defensive barriers, or offensive abilities. Therefore, another part of the overall strategy is figuring out where to put each kind of creature to best benefit your team.

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In truth, the strategy is fairly shallow, but this makes it far more intuitive to learn. With a little practice on each map you gain a good idea of the best strategic points to capture and what creature to put there, which makes for a player base that can pick up and play without having to worry about a steep or complex learning curve. The nuance comes in learning how the heroes work.

The 16 heroes offer a wide variety of move-sets to master, based around the aforementioned three classes of tank, DPS and support. A potion wielding mad scientist can buff the team with defence and attack enhancements, meanwhile, a robotic artillery piece can offer ranged DPS, and a hulking bull can charge on in, distract enemies and absorb its fair share of damage. Moreover, many characters can fulfil the role of two classes, depending on the upgrades you choose as that hero levels up within a match. Once a match is over, these upgrades are reset and you’re free to mix it up next time you jump into battle, changing your role and focus to meet the requirements of your team. There’s certainly characters that have some particularly devastating skills when in the right hands, but there’s always a character or strategy that can level the playing fields, it’s just a matter of finding it. However, the biggest threat your team will face comes from within.

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Teamwork is absolutely crucial to your success, and managing the strategic points, upgrading your characters, killing enemy players without falling yourself, and then attacking the enemy guardian when the time comes, is a lot to keep track of during a match. This is exacerbated by just how fast paced it all is. The maps are small enough, mostly, so a re-spawning enemy can get back into the fray quickly, movement is equally swift, especially in combat, and smooth, lightning framerates makes the whole experience a visual treat. Moreover, the cartoon aesthetic and bright colour pallet is stunning, almost distractingly so.

However, there’s always a ‘but’, or indeed a collection of ‘buts’, fortunately in this case they’re smalls ‘buts’, ones sure to get a good kicking during Gigantic’s time in the Preview Program. Matchmaking is a rather lengthy process, leaving you waiting at the title screen for several minutes. Meanwhile, when a match is found you need to confirm you still want to participate, which often resulted in matches not going ahead and the matchmaking starting from scratch. Hopefully this is more a limited player-base problem than an issue with the matchmaking itself, but that confirmation step really needs to go. One of the maps, Sanctum Falls, is also significantly larger than the others, and despite its attractive design, its size makes matches more drawn out and frustrating. Fortunately, Gigantic’s trick of reducing the map size when the guardians clash – triggered when a match is taking too long – works splendidly at hurrying up a prolonged competition.

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Gigantic also doesn’t feature any private match options or bot battles. A singleplayer tutorial helps you figure things out but the ability to play with and against friends with bots filling up the spare slots would go a long way to making the title more engaging to a larger audience, and aid in people’s quest to master the many characters and their unique upgrades trees and move-sets.

Gigantic is one of the most stable preview program titles on Xbox One, and offers highly compelling MOBA style battles with enough unique twists on the genre to make it stand out. It looks and runs terrifically, and has a wonderfully diverse set of quirky characters that’s hard not to fall in love with. We cannot wait for more maps to be added, in fact, add half a dozen more and we’d call it retail ready, fix our ‘buts’ and we could well be seeing a game of the year contender here.

Thanks to Xbox and Motiga for supporting TiX

What’s this new Xbox One update released today?

Our Xbox senses are tingling.

Today a 300 odd MB update rolled out for Xbox One. Now it could very well be a patch for the preview members testing the new dashboard, but we sense possible groundwork for something due to be announced in tomorrow’s Microsoft conference. Are we right? Are we crazy? Are we both? stay tuned for updates and we’ll let you know when we figure it out.

Subnautica preview

Survival games are ubiquitous at the moment and largely follow the same formula. Subnautica does things a little differently, with the clue being in the title. Indeed, the underwater nature of Subnautica is what makes it stand out from the crowd, and it’s all done so well it’s hard to put it down.

Having suffered a fatal malfunction with your spaceship, you launch an escape pod and splash down on an aquatic planet; you’re intact but severely damaged ship sticking out of the ocean a few hundred metres away. Here you quest for survival begins, encouraging you to search the ocean for materials to craft devices, supplies, submersibles, and habitats in order to keep you alive.

Playing through on survival mode subjects you to starvation and dehydration, making it imperative that you find sources of food and drinkable water amongst the usual building options and exploration. Here’s where Subnautica really shines, forcing you to explore further and further from your escape pod, and deeper and deeper into the ocean, in order to find what you need. This is a daunting and frightening endeavour. An ocean is a monumentally large place to forage within, full of fish and creatures, and not all of them friendly, but a planet sized alien ocean is a different matter altogether. Here the alien environment is so new that everything feels like a threat until you’ve investigated it, and venturing that little bit further from your escape pod taps into your fear of the unknown splendidly.

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Bobbing up and down on the surface you’ll be forgiven for thinking you’re on Earth, but the moment you go beneath the waves the alien ecosystem is clear to see. Brightly coloured fauna and flora litter the alien ocean, drawing you in with their strangeness and tapping into that explorer within us all. Scraps of metal from you ship can be found on the shallow bed, amongst all manner of materials that can be collected, identified and then put to use within your pod’s matter converter. Caves and coral formations entice you in, creatures dart by and encourage you to chase, then you see the shallow bed give way to darkness and the fear of the unknown drowns out that spark of exploration. However, eventually you’ll have to go down there, there might be stuff down there you need, and frightening as it may be, a part of you wants to go down there. A few enhanced oxygen tanks or a submersible later, and you can venture into the darkness and discover what else lurks beneath the waves.

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The ocean is superbly enticing and scary, and with hungry creatures looking to make a meal out of you it only gets scarier the deeper you go. But it’s also extremely rewarding. There’s a lot to see in the depths and building large habitats and slowly conquering this alien world alone is thoroughly entertaining. The day and night cycle brings with it visibility issues to challenge your engineering skills and fear tolerance, as well as stirring new sea life for you to witness, and the bioluminescent glow of the flora is especially attractive. The visual splendor does come at a cost, with the initial load taking several minutes, but fortunately death means an almost instantaneous respawn, and once the initial load is done Subnautica runs smooth and fast.

Indeed, Subnautica is shaping up to be one of the strongest survival games on the market, thanks largely to how spectacularly detailed, vast, rich and different its ocean environment is. Moreover, you can enjoy the alien ocean without the need to worry about food and drink thanks to a creation mode. And whilst the barrier for some will be the lack of handholding when it comes to figuring out how to construct things, this inherent aspect of the genre isn’t going to affect the enjoyment for survival game veteran at all.

Thanks to Xbox and Unknown Worlds and Grip Games for supporting TiX

Unbox Preview & Interview

I left my fortress of solitude (one bedroom flat) and ventured into the light and real world today. It was grey and drizzly and about as real as London gets, sweaty commuter tubes (that’s the underground train or ‘subway’ for anyone across the pond) and blank faces of people who are about as animated as an NPC from GTA 3. I’m making this journey because I have been invited up to town for a hands on with Unbox, the upcoming title from Prospect Games, and a chat with the lead developer Andrew Bennison.

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Unbox is a charming and fun little physics platformer (physics fun as described by Prospect games. In which you control a box. (that’s right, a box. trust me. its way more fun than it initially sounds) You’re a sentient box from GPS, the global post service, which has self delivering boxes. Except they’re all a bit dumb and so you are the first ‘smart’ sentient box being tested for delivery capabilites. Then off you tootle, rolling and bouncing off on your travels as the first of a new bread. Its an open world explorer with a story line through it. You get different things to deliver to different places and it has puzzles, challenges and collectables along the way. I didn’t get to do any of the story line really, (Andrew talked me through some of it as we played) but what I did do was immensely fun. Who knew? But bouncing a box around on a desert island making deliveries whilst occasionally shooting fireworks at other boxes is a lot of fun.

We sat down to play and I have to say I quite liked the game from the beginning, it reminded me of old classics like Kula world and Crash Bandicoot with very bright and colourful graphics. Its quite a simple game in premise and control, but has its challenges and was fun to play. Andrew talks of big boss fights to come at the end of each of the worlds through the story mode. As I go through the tutorial he guides me up over a hill that looks over the first game world, I was pleasantly surprised, the view from the top looked over a sprawling collection of islands all of which where part of the open world. Its the first world of four, set in an island paradise. He keeps a few details to his chest about the later worlds, only saying that the 2nd world is high up on the mountain tops. All in all its pretty good fun.

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We sat for around an hour, tinkering with the tutorials, bouncing around the beautiful island paradise with calypso music in the background. There are customisations for your box, hats and designs to add your own touch. As we played we talked over the game, where its been and where its going. Below is a breakdown of our conversation, put into order. My excitement in playing the game left me a bit all over the place with my questions, but we got the bases covered. When we finished he showed me a video of the multi-player to come (I was secretly hoping to play some of the multi-player, but I guess some things are better left to a touch of mystery) it looks like a great party game, one you can play with 4 people sat on a sofa, cursing each other out as you race and battle in game modes not too dissimilar from the likes of Mario Kart. Its clear the sort of game they are looking to emulate, in my opinion they have done a good job especially considering its still in its Alpha stages. I, for one, am excited to see the final result. Whilst hesitant to get nailed down to a release date or release quarter, the publicist seemed positive for a 2016 release.

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TIX – ‘Hi Andrew, thanks for meeting with Thisisxbox and giving us some hands on with your game Unbox. can you tell me about it and what we’re going to play today?’

Andrew – ‘Sure, Unbox is about the ultimate postal service, self delivering cardboard boxes, its a comedy physics game with a big single player component. A sort of ‘Mario’ style system. You’re jumping through worlds, beating enemies defeating bosses and then on the flip side, a local multi-player which is a sort of a throwback to nineties game-play, split screen where your battling each other and racing each other. We’re going to be focusing on the former today More of the single player worlds.’

Tix – ‘Sounds great, I noticed you made a point of saying local multi-player. With a major push towards on-line multi-player in most games was that a conscious decision?

Andrew – Yes, for several reasons really. The primary reason for us going into development was the fact that this is, kinda of, a love letter to all the games we played in the nineties. We wanted to make a local multi-player game because we noticed those experiences are slipping away. If you look on forums and read on line about the responses to certain games removing local multi-player it was negative. that’s where people are being pushed too. That’s where the mega money is. That leaves a space for us, we can’t do massive online multi-player. We can do local multi-player.

So, then we started to get the game out to more events we realised kids and familys became the core market. We’ve made this game originally for 25-35’s, because it reminds us of what we played when we were kids, but we realised kids today don’t know these kinds of games. There aren’t so many local multi-player games like this and they loved it. The parents loved it, playing together for fun. There’s no online leader boards. no connectivity with the outside world. When you play it, it’s just you and you’re friends. We just don’t think online is important for this game.

TIX – OK. The single player story, how long are we talking in terms of length?

Andrew – in terms of straight gameplay, 5-8 for the core storyline. but if you want to find the hours of extra content, thats something we leave the players up to. The idea is all the worlds are quite outlandish places where deliveries are difficult, testing the new box to see if it is up to the task. Whilst doing this you will come up against the ‘bad guys’ (styled like little greasers from the 50’s, but still animated boxes themselves) they have a big boss leader who you will fight in ‘boss fights’ each time you fight him he changes in his style. For example in the first world, it’s just him as a giant enemy, but in the second he has his own helicopter that he fly’s about in. There are loads of challenges, puzzles and collectables to go after and we are trying to hide stuff all over the place, I would love it if in twenty years, someone jumped up said ‘hey, I’ve found this thing hidden over here’

TIX – (laughs) you’ll do well to keep something hidden for twenty years. Sounds great fun. From what I’ve played so far it looks brilliant, what’s the game built on?

Andrew – The Unreal engine, which is a bit different in itself. Most people associate the unreal engine with twitch style shooters, online mulitplayer play and maybe more drab and dreary environments suited to those games. the first thing we did was turn up all the contrasts and colours making it as vibrant and colourful as possible. It’s been fun to use and we where all experienced with the engine anyway so it made sense to us.

TIX – on the development, have you seen many ups and downs with the production?

Andrew – I think, probably, the biggest down was that original single player, that we worked on for quite a while and it just didnt really captivate or engage we had to very rapidly change, In fact I basically had a eureka moment, in about June where it was like, wait! this game could be like a Mario world system and when we made that switch the whole team was asking ‘Andrew, do you really want to make that kind of switch this late in the game?’ I said yes, because its going to pay off. After two months of very very focused work we ended up at the bright colorful version we see now, instead of the drab grey box we started off with. So from a design standpoint that was a low point cause we didn’t know if it was going to work But we ended up being validated in our decision through the events we got to go to and show off the new design and changes. At minecon the story was getting 30 seconds of look in, at EGX people where playing it for an hour. so we got that ‘Yes, ok that was right’.

TIX – In today’s gaming industry we see a lot of DLC and micro-transactions, what’s the model your using for this when its released?

Andrew – Oh, very traditional, you buy the game, you get the content. simple as that. we had some discussions over maybe doing some accessory packs, as you’ve seen there are customisations for your box. But we have no grand plans. If people like it and are asking for multi-player maps over anything else, then we can build some. but we haven’t got anything worked on now that won’t be in the game at release its not a big overarching plan of development. if anything it’ll be reactive. if people want more hats will give them hats. (hats are on of the custom options for you box. I had a crown)

TIX – so I think I’ve run out of time now, but as one last question. If GPS was a real life postal service what would its tag lag line be.

Andrew – The best postal service in the world . . . .Mostly.

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So, that was my time with Unbox and chat with Andrew. He is keen and knowledgeable over his game and very passionate about it. That’s all very clear when he is talking about it, we discussed a lot more but I am limited by space so have left you with the core of the conversation. I genuinely liked his charming little game, I’ll be looking forward to more information on it and a potential release date, look out for Prospect Games and Unbox you can check out the game at the website http://www.unboxgame.com/  I’m back off to my dark dingy room to remould my ass grove on the chair, I’ve been out of it for at least three hours now and I’m getting too accustomed to actual reality.

Till the next time. Happy Gaming Everyone

Ark: Survival Evolved preview program review

Ark: Survival Evolved challenges you to survive in a harsh world of hungry dinosaurs and intractable human survivors, as you scrounge for food and resources to keep yourself fed, warm and safe from the many dangers lurking outside. It’s a wonderfully compelling experience, where survival is multifaceted, difficult and interesting, all thanks to a complex but intuitive environment and a community that’s engaged with the survival aspect of the title. It’s not without its issues but with a further five months until its official launch there’s plenty of time for the wrinkles to be ironed out.

Once you’ve built your character, morphing them into whatever humanoid shape you desire on the character creation screen, and woken dazed and confused in the world, it’s time to gather food, find or build somewhere warm, and survive the harsh wilderness and it’s fauna. You start off alone in this prehistoric environment – unless you’ve created your own multiplayer game – running alive with dinosaurs. Over 60 species of ancient beasts are wondering around, some of which are happy to ignore you unless you attack first, but many would like nothing more than to feast on your highly customisable form.

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Figuring out how to survive and what to do next is fairly intuitive, largely because it’s logical. Flint, stone, wood and fibre allows you to start building the most basic survival tools, including a fire to keep yourself warm and illuminate the world at night, and can be gathered by picking up objects on the ground, harvesting from nearby flora, or punching a tree Minecraft style. Beyond the basic, however, you’ll need to unlock engrams which act as blueprints for new craftable objects, including structures and weapons. These engrams can be unlocked when you level up, with experience earnt through practically any action you take. It doesn’t take long before you’re building multi-floored structures as well as deadly weapons and defences, and are pushing out further and further from the safety of your camp to discover what else this prehistoric land has to offer.

The most obvious thing to discover are the many dinosaurs. Hunting them is a difficult and adrenaline fuelled test of might that’s naturally highly compelling, but knocking them out, nursing them back to health and taming them so they can be ridden or form a defensive pack to defend your camp is the true challenge. This is the crux of the Ark experience and it’s absolutely incredible to ride around on a large beast, or better yet fly. However, surviving long enough to craft the equipment needed to claim dominion over these prehistoric beasts is very difficult, fortunately it’s made easier playing with others.

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Either by joining one of the servers filled with players, or by joining or hosting your own private game, you’ll be joined by other players looking to survive. Remarkably we found the community to be largely welcoming and engaged with the idea of surviving together and working towards the goal of building large, well-protected settlements, making the PvP (player verses player) aspect a nice addition to let off steam rather than the sole focus. This also made surviving against the powerful dinosaurs and the unforgiving environment more entertaining and less frustrating, accelerating the time it takes to build complex structures, which on your own are extremely slow and arduous and providing that all important backup when trying to capture the larger creatures roaming nearby.

However, that’s not to say Ark isn’t fun when you’re surviving alone, it may be harder but it’s hugely satisfying to make it alone in this hostile world. However, the multiplayer aspect is a very important part of the experience. The intractability of humans makes approaching another player an intense and scary experience, as you decide who you can trust, and if when two groups of players decide to wage war against each other, raiding settlements and causing havoc, the experience can shift to either fast paced team warfare or tactical hit and run. Indeed other players make the experience wonderfully varied and unpredictable, not to mention fun and engaging.

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However, we did encounter some limitations and bugs that caused some frustrations. Objects in the environment such as trees and rocks would occasionally spawn in the middle of structures and cause problems building things, whilst other times trees and rocks would regenerate but not be harvestable. Meanwhile, bodies of those you’ve slain or logged out team mates would also get in the way of building structures. Additionally combat is loose and inaccurate, Ark is very much focused on the survival aspect of the experience and not the combat and this focus will need to be balanced some more before the two meld properly. Furthermore, with a hosted session you’re restricted to moving within a certain radius of the host and this causes a significant restriction with what you can do within the game-world. Servers are also quite limited right now, making it difficult if not impossible to join and game with friends. Finally the UI retains its PC style and is unwieldy to use with a controller.

Ark: Survival Evolved is a compelling survival game that’s ideal for multiplayer hijinks, challenging but highly satisfying for solo survival, and interesting and fun regardless. Survival is the primary experience on offer, with the added fun of dinosaurs, but there’s a sci-fi story to discover as well, one that helps drive the experience forward when building and taming dinosaurs becomes a chore. However, in our experience the survival aspect never approached boring and easily entertained us with building, gathering and hunting. Roll on summer when this sees a full release and achievements are finally added.

Thanks to GamingPRbiz for their support

Dungeon of the Endless preview

Dungeon of the Endless brings together mechanics from RPGs, tower defence and survival games and ties them together with a Rogue-like knot. The result is a wonderfully compelling and a splendidly unique experience, one that’s made all the more appealing by its multiplayer component which allows up to four players to join in on the fun. It is, however, lousy with bugs, but with full release a good month away, hopefully the worst of them can be ironed out.

With this preview build we struggled through the bugs as they snatched victory away from us at the most heart-breaking moments and frequently threw up obstacles to impede our progress. We kept at it, though, never letting the bugs win, and a large part of why we kept playing was just how much fun we were having despite the setbacks.

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Having crash-landed on an alien planet and penetrating deep into a not-so-natural network of caves, you take control of a pair of survivors and must uncover the procedurally generated dungeon made up of rooms filled with mysterious architecture and technology, find the exit, grab your escape pod’s crystal and climb to the surface 12 floors up. But of course it’s not as easy as that, as each floor is also full of monsters. These beasts are discovered randomly as you unlock each door to each new section of the dungeon, and also have a chance to spawn in any discovered but unpowered rooms. In order to limit the monster spawns and protect your party of survivors and the escape pod’s crystal, you need to use your resources to power rooms and then build defences, support modules, and resource generating nodes in them.

On top of that you can also find items to equip that increase your attack power, defence, speed and wit, whilst also levelling up your survivors at the cost of resources. Other survivors can also be found within the dungeon, allowing you to recruit and switch out new members in your party, with each character sporting their own set of stats that make them more effective at certain things. Furthermore the nodes and modules you can build can be upgraded by finding a mysterious research crystal. Meanwhile, in singleplayer each character has their own personal story that’s gradually revealed between floors.

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It’s a complex set of mechanics that can easily overwhelm you in your initial few attempt to survive the dungeon, and whilst a tutorial is present, it’s hidden away behind in-game menus and is disappointingly text-based. However, once you do figure out how everything fits together it reveals itself to be magnificently conceived and well-balanced, as well as hugely compelling.

Different escape pods can be chosen at the start – once they’re unlocked – which modify the experience with additional challenges, and the characters offer a variety of different skills and stats to change things up, all this on top of the procedurally generated nature of the title and Dungeon of the Endless possesses oodles of longevity.

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The bugs truly are horrendous in this preview build, however. Research not completing, monsters that can’t be targeted, the level not ending once you reach the exit with the crystal, freezing on the transition screen between floors, and several more bugs hindered our progress over and over again. It remained fun but became frustrating, but as long as these bugs are quelled for release, then I’m certain when we come to review Dungeon of the Endless, the praise will be astronomical.

First Impressions Video: Giana Sisters Dream Runners

Black Forest Games’ upcoming multiplayer focused Giana Sisters: Dream Runners get the First Impressions treatment. As such, expect a mixture of funny and informative narration as our Video Editor, Greg Giddens, plays the Beta for the first time. Also expect some pretty strong language from the inevitable fails.

Giana Sisters: Dream Runners preview

Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams offered a superbly designed, and strikingly detailed platformer with thrilling acuity. The unique environment switching abilities of Giana produced visually stunning and fascinating vistas, and offered an immersive and challenging platforming adventure. Giana Sisters: Dream Runners means to take the series on a tangent, a four player foot racing competition across multiple maps inspired by Twisted Dreams. We were lucky enough to play the Beta for Dream Runner and see how things are shaping up.

Fortunately things are indeed looking good for this multiplayer project. It’s a little rough around the edges still, with the odd glitch and oddity, but it’s an otherwise stable and enjoyable platforming racer.

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It’s of the same ilk as Xbox 360 indie game – and currently early access PC game – SpeedRunners, where up to four players take to a level and race around it over multiple laps, with racers who fall off the edge of the screen being eliminated. Power-ups are strewn across the levels, offering temporary boosts to your character or a weapon to launch against your opponents, meanwhile, a refillable sprint can be charged by passing through certain sections.

It’s multiplayer focused and inherits a lot of fun simply because of it. Playing with others and competing for that precious first place and avoid elimination is intense and exciting, and Dream Runners captures that thrill brilliantly.

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The strategy comes in the form of choosing when to use collected power-ups and your sprint, and choosing which path to take as you’re dashing through the level. Weighing up the risk/reward factors of longer routes for potential power-ups and staying out-of-the-way of your opponents who may launch weapons at you requires quick thinking, making a run through a level a desperate and mistake heavy affair that helps intensify the competition even more so. Dream Runners adds its own additional unique challenge in the form of shifting environments.

Much like in Twisted Dreams, the environments can be altered dramatically, but instead of being able to change your surroundings at will, you need to run through specific switches scattered amongst the levels to change it. Doing so not only makes for a visually different aesthetic to the location, but also adds new hazards and obstacles. It’s terrific, and essentially turns the 9 maps into 18.

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Currently, however, on respawning after a character wins first place, the characters are pointed the wrong way, you’re also frequently respawned elsewhere to where the last point was won, adding to the confusion over direction. Helpful arrows are littered around each level to help you stay on course, but it’s so visually busy and fast paced it’s easy to miss them. These are almost certainly things that will be ironed out before release, however, so no need to fret just yet.

Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is looking like it’s going to be a terrific multiplayer title when it releases later this year. The level design for the 12 maps is superb, offering a challenging and diverse set of locations and obstacles that are enhanced even further by the environment switching mechanic. Meanwhile, playing with others is a blast. Solo play can get repetitive, the bane of all titles of this ilk, but an aggressively competitive AI makes for a more than worthy challenge to hone your skill for the next human opponent.

Giana Sisters: Dream Runners is due for release on Xbox One this Summer.

New Upcoming Xbox Dashboard To Feature Your Chosen Pinned Content

A recent push for the Xbox 360 Dashboard Beta Preview program was not all that long ago, and now many leaks are starting to trickle out where gamers aren’t abiding by their beta code of conduct. Naughty, naughty people! Here are some snippets of information for the upcoming un-dated dashboard update for non beta users. Continue reading New Upcoming Xbox Dashboard To Feature Your Chosen Pinned Content