Shoot Many Robots First Look Preview

GDC 2011: Robots abound in this run-and-gun shooter from developer Demiurge Studios.

With a name like Shoot Many Robots, the title says it all. It’s a game with lots of robots and lots of bullets, and when the two come together, it’s lots of fun. Developer Demiurge Studios, a Boston-based studio that has worked behind the scenes on such games as Borderlands and Mass Effect, is hoping to do for Metal Slug what Shadow Complex did for Castlevania. A faithful reimagining, a modern-day update…whatever you want to call it, we had a blast going hands on with it during this year’s Game Developers Conference.

Demiurge Studios’ Al Reed and Josh Glavine explain the fine art of robot shooting.

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In Shoot Many Robots, you take on the role of P. Walter Tugnut, a good ol’ boy living the simple life in his dilapidated, countryside RV. Not one for civilized society, Walter has found his life’s calling in the wake of a sudden robot apocalypse. He is every action movie hero you’ve ever seen, armed to the teeth with an extensive gun collection and an eclectic wardrobe. Our demonstration began here–in Mr. Tugnut’s mobile home.

One of Demiurge Studios’ development philosophies is that role-playing mechanics make everything better. To wit, our character could gain experience, level up, and define his role in the upcoming robot slaughter based on the equipment we brought along. These items included everything from football helmets to Viking shields, and each one conferred its own special ability, as well as altered the appearance of our character. It may have looked silly, but the boost to running speed and jump height from the pink tutu (part of the fairy princess item set) was impressive.

Our means for dispensing robot death came in an equally diverse assortment of flavors. Dozens of shotguns, rifles, machine guns, and more–each with unlimited ammo–were available as primary weapons. Our secondary choices, referred to as “Oh Snap!” weapons, ran the gamut from grenade launchers to Molotov cocktails. Once we had made our selection–stuntman helmet, jetpack, leather pants, machine gun, grenade launcher–we were prepared to face the horde (or have one wild weekend).

Walter's RV is more than just his funky home; it's also the hub screen where you can pick your next level.

Walter’s RV is more than just his funky home; it’s also the hub screen where you can pick your next level.

We were dropped into the Grain Processing level, which was an early farm/factory level far away from the epicenter of the robot outbreak. After blasting our way through this opening stage, we were most impressed with the pacing of the action. In a game where presentation is all about loud music, big guns, and lots of robots, it would have been easy to drown the player in a light show of explosions and enemies. Instead, during our brief time with the game, we felt empowered and in control. We didn’t get lost in the action, and there was always a creative way to dispatch any threat.

The flow of battle was held together with nuts. These metallic bits burst forth from robot corpses and act as both currency and a point multiplier. You’re going to need those points because Shoot Many Robots is all about the score chase. At the top of the screen, alongside your current score, the next highest score on your friends list is always displayed. If you beat his, it automatically updates to the next. After we finished, the two Demiurge staffers loaded up a cooperative game, which supports two-player local play and up to four players online. One decked himself out in heavy gear armed with a shotgun, while the other chose damage-boosting items and a high-powered, single-shot revolver. Together, the duo formed an unstoppable team that never stopped moving and quickly put our meager score to shame.

The tactical stance allows for a full 360 degrees of aiming to hit those hard-to-reach enemies.

The tactical stance allows for a full 360 degrees of aiming to hit those hard-to-reach enemies.

Our demo ended with us back in the driver’s seat going up against The Fat Man–a living, fire-breathing anthropomorphic bulldozer. The metal monstrosity would vomit puddles of oil on the ground before lighting them on fire and driving up our nation’s gas prices. Our jetpack was the real hero of the battle because it saved us from getting burned on numerous occasions. Once we emerged victorious, we were eager to jump back in for another round, but our time was up. We look forward to seeing more of the robot apocalypse though the eyes of Walter Tugnut on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC later this year.

By Maxwell McGee, Editor

Why It’s Not Too Early to Get Excited Over Forza Horizon

There aren’t a lot of concrete details about this Forza spin-off, but there are some strong reasons for optimism.

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The next game in the Forza franchise won’t be called Forza Motorsport 5. In fact, it won’t even be developed by Turn 10. It’s a spin-off arriving this fall by the name of Forza Horizon, and it’s the product of UK startup Playground Games. Now, if you’re a Forza purist who’s already prepared to write this game off, you might want to take a step back and rethink things. We don’t know much about it yet, but what we do know has us very, very intrigued.

The first thing you need to know about Forza Horizon is that the developer, Playground Games, has quite a racing pedigree. Originally started by a handful of Codemasters veterans, the studio has since found fortune in the wake of a few unfortunate studio closures. According to Turn 10′s Dan Greenawalt, Playground Games has built itself up with salvaged talent from both Bizarre Creations and Black Rock Studio–a pair of recently shuttered studios known for creating terrific racing games over the years.

So the pedigree is there. This is a shop that knows racing games, which certainly counts for a lot. But that brings up the question: What sort of racing game is Forza Horizon? Well, that’s where things get a little hazy. It sounds like Microsoft won’t be revealing too much about Horizon until the Electronic Entertainment Expo, but there’s room for speculation.

Take a look at that trailer up there. Now, ignore for a moment the dance rave scenes, which are almost certainly the product of some overzealous marketing team somewhere up in Redmond. What piques our interest are the wide stretches of open road in the desert. It doesn’t seem too far outside the realm of possibility that this could be a road trip game that has you chasing the horizon (see what we did there?) in a cross-country journey of some kind.

Tearing across open stretches of highway in a high-powered sports car is one of those deep-rooted fantasies that all car lovers share. It’s the reason Need for Speed: The Run had so many of us interested before it wound up being just sort of OK. There have been precious few truly great road trip games. If Forza Horizon does end up being that sort of game, you have to believe Playground Games’ pedigree gives it a good shot at succeeding.

That’s a bit of speculation on our part, but there’s not much to go on right now. Hopefully we’ll find out more about Forza Horizon in the near future. Stay tuned.

By Shaun McInnis

Section 8: Prejudice Hands-On – Multiplayer

Prejudice is calling down a ton of new content for this upcoming multiplayer shooter release.

Section 8: Prejudice, the follow-up to last year’s sci-fi multiplayer shooter, is upgrading several features players felt came up short. More guns, more gadgets, and a fully featured single-player campaign are all in the works, but what caught our eye was the new multiplayer mode: Swarm. Together with developer TimeGate Studios, we decided to hit the battlefield and check out this new mode, and the new game’s improvements.

The revamped mech suit is a force to reckoned with on the battlefield.

The revamped mech suit is a force to reckoned with on the battlefield.

Swarm is a cooperative multiplayer mode that pits you against three waves of enemies–not unlike Gears of War 2′s Horde mode–and tasks you with preventing these fiends from capturing a lone control point. The enemies in each wave are staggered, so you won’t be fighting them all at once, but if you’re not quick, your aggressors will completely overrun you with numbers. To help even the odds, each wave also has a time limit. Hold out until the end, and an airstrike is conveniently called down to clear out the remaining foes, buying you some time to regroup for the next wave. Hold out against all three, and you win.

While our first match across a frozen tundra ended in an icy grave, our second round, which was set in a dense jungle, sent a more favorable wind our way. At the start, we selected our weapon loadout and landing zone before being launched via drop pod to the jungle arena below. Upon landing, a quick appraisal of this compact battlefield showed that our control point was inside a small outpost with a commanding view of the battlefield. Once we were in position, the control point was activated and the match began.

In the skies above we spotted our foes making their descent. As they slammed into the battlefield, our superior positioning let us snipe with impunity. A few quick kills netted us enough requisition points to start purchasing defensive structures, such as antipersonnel machine gun turrets, long-range missile platforms, and medical stations. Halfway into the second wave, the game tossed a dynamic combat mission (DCM) our way to change things up. DCMs provide you with bonus combat objectives, in this case escorting a VIP unit from the far side of the map to our base. To help cover the gap, we called in a speedy hoverbike. While it can’t turn on a dime, the hoverbike packs plenty of firepower and was just what we need to get the job done. With the VIP secured, we now had a powerful ally and ultimately emerged victorious.

Flush with victory, we jumped into Prejudice’s second multiplayer game mode, Conquest–a carryover from the original Section 8. Conquest is all about amassing points, which you earn by holding control points and completing DCMs. The first side to reach a set number of points wins. Our arena, an expanded version of the jungle map we just left, provided us with enough room to take advantage of the improved tank and mech suit. The tank, a slow-moving death wagon built for two, is equipped with a devastating cannon for the driver and a machine gun turret for the copilot gunner. The personal mech suit is also armed with a deadly machine gun and can easily execute foes who fall into its robotic grip.

While neither is especially quick, both the tank and the mech suit felt very durable and easily traversed the terrain without getting snagged on the geometry. As the fight progressed, various DCMs were assigned to either side, forcing us to split our attention between capturing points, completing bonus objectives, and denying the enemy its bonuses. This three-way battle means there’s always a way to contribute to the fight outside of simply scoring kills. As the firefight came to a close, we scrambled to reach the score cap but ended up tasting bitter defeat for a second time at the hands of our AI aggressors.

Prejudice packs plenty of ways to cut your opponents down to size.

Prejudice packs plenty of ways to cut your opponents down to size.

Though we might not have won every battle, we can tell from the time we’ve spent with the game that the multiplayer in Prejudice will be fast, frantic, and always full of options. A constant string of upgrades and unlocks should keep you clamoring for seconds, while the persistent stat tracking and promised online clan management tools will be a boon to any multiplayer fanatic. And should you find yourself flying solo, AI bot support for both modes is there for you to test your mettle in the absence of human competition. Be sure to check out Xbox Live, PlayStation Network, Steam, and other digital outlets for Section 8: Prejudice early next year.

By Maxwell McGee, Editor

Dishonored: What Next From the Publishers of Skyrim?

Man-eating rats, prostitutes, and death by steaming. If only all stealth-action games were as exciting as Dishonored.

There’s often a correlation between the amount of fun you have in a game and the utter ridiculousness of its weapons. Saints Row: The Third has its dildo bat, BioShock has its swarm of bees, and Dishonored…well, Dishonored has rats. Lots and lots of terrifying, swarming, man-eating rats. There’s really no greater way to vanquish your enemies than to have them devoured alive by 50 rats like they’re giant, walking pieces of cheese. But maybe you don’t think so. Maybe you’d rather see your foes steamed, frozen, or skewered with a crossbow bolt. Maybe you’d rather not kill anyone at all.

Therein lies the beauty of Dishonored: the freedom to play as you see fit. Sure, you play as an all-powerful, supernatural assassin, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a mass murderer. How you take out each of your targets is entirely up to you. If you want to be merciful, knock someone out. If you want to be mean, throw someone off of a six-story building. If you want to be a sadistic bastard, shoot someone in the face at point-blank range with a crossbow. It’s your call.

There’s no in-your-face moral system to tell you whether your actions are good or evil. Instead, you’re left to your own devices and gently guided by the narrative. Your character is Corvo, an assassin tasked with protecting the empress of a stylized steampunk city known as Dunwall. Unfortunately for Corvo, he’s falsely accused of the empress’s murder and must clear his name by disposing of a number of targets throughout the city.

Between each mission, you’re dropped into a hub world where you can upgrade your equipment and powers. And boy, you can choose from a lot of powers. You can summon a plague of rats, teleport over short distances instantly, possess people and animals, slow down time Max Payne-style, and see through walls. You can also master a range of weapons, including a crossbow–complete with flaming fire arrows–a pistol, and the deliciously gory spring razor. This range of powers is combined with a level design that does its best not to restrict you in any way; if you see a great sniping spot on top of a roof or a distant vent that would simply be part of the scenery in a lesser game, chances are you can get there and use it.

This opens up a huge range of possibilities for a completing an objective. Your journey through the narrative might be mission based, but the missions themselves are their own individual sandboxes. One such mission takes place in the Golden Cat Ballroom: a burlesque house for the rich and powerful inhabitants of Dunwall. Corvo is tasked with taking out two brothers inside the ballroom, which is heavily guarded and full of potentially alarm-raising prostitutes.

You can enter by the front door, but that would be too obvious. Instead, how about possessing a nearby rat and using its smaller frame to sneak in through a nearby vent, past the armed guards at the entrance? Or you can use Corvo’s teleporting power, blink, to teleport up to the roof of the building, which gives you a great vantage point for silent sniping with the crossbow. The difficulty then is getting down again without fatally injuring yourself. But with an inventive use of Corvo’s talent for possession, it’s entirely possible. You can leap off the roof and possess a bystander at the bottom on the way down, letting you walk away unscathed and unnoticed.

Peekaboo!

Peekaboo!

Inside the building, nearby characters speak of one of the brothers enjoying a steam bath, while the other is enjoying a “private” visit from a female employee. This is a hint that it’s often wise to let enemies live, just so you can eavesdrop on their conversations and pick up clues. Once they’ve outlived their usefulness, though, you can use blink to quickly teleport behind them and deal a sharp blow to their heads, knocking them out silently and letting you drag their unconscious bodies to nearby rooms to avoid alerting passing guards.

Corvo’s dark vision proves useful for further stealth, letting you see through walls to discover nearby enemies and your targets. Indeed, you find one of the brothers lurking in a steam room by seeing through the wall. But a locked door prevents you from entering directly, at least without finding the key located in another room. A nearby fishpond holds a cleverer solution. By possessing the fish and swimming up through a set of pipes, you emerge in the steam control room, where–you guessed it–you can crank up the steam and boil your target alive.

There are multiple ways of taking out the other brother, too. When you find his room, you can possess his female companion, using her to distract him before you emerge to swiftly knife the target. Then again, you could possess the target himself, leading him outside to a quiet spot before finishing him off with a few shots of your pistol. Either way, your target is dead, and you haven’t raised the alarm. If nearby guards do happen to hear a noise or catch sight of you, then you have to go for the brute-force approach to escape the building.

Fortunately, this looks to be as much fun as the sneaking, thanks to a whole bunch of offensive powers. If you’re overwhelmed by attackers, you can freeze time, stopping them in their tracks and making them rather susceptible to being shattered with Corvo’s Shockwave power. Or you can set them all on fire. Or you can slow down time, dodge their bullets, and plant a bunch of spring razors in their path. Then, when time resumes at normal speed, they run straight into your traps and are turned into a neatly sliced pile of meat. Or, most sadistic of all, you can summon a swarm of rats to devour them alive. Even better, you can possess one of the rats afterward and use it to sneak out of the building unnoticed.

While there’s no overarching moral system in Dishonored, there is the chaos system, which works much like a behind-the-scenes AI director. Actions you take earlier in the game may have an impact later on, with different characters and enemies appearing or disappearing. It’s a neat touch that ensures there’s variation to each player’s experience without beating you around the head with supposed moral choices at every turn.

That's one way to get a haircut.

That’s one way to get a haircut.

So that’s man-eating rats, prostitutes, and death by steaming. Not bad for a game that’s as much about stealth as it is about combat. And we haven’t mentioned the hugely stylistic art style, based on 1600s London. That city has been transformed into a warped, steampunk version of itself, thanks to the efforts of former Half-Life 2 artist Viktor Antonov, and it looks fantastic, even at the game’s early stage in development.

Dishonored is due for release on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC later this year. Keep reading GameSpot for more soon.

By Mark Walton

Dungeon Defenders First Look Preview – Castle Crashing

We stave off a few waves of kobolds and orcs in this action role-playing/tower defense hybrid.

Similar in concept to Double Fine’s Trenched or Robot Entertainment’s upcoming Orcs Must Die, Trendy Entertainment’s Dungeon Defenders is a hybrid of the action role-playing and tower defense genres. You play as one of four characters, and your goal is to defend precious crystals against an onslaught of fantasy foes. And while there are a lot more of them than there are of you, fear not: that’s where the tower defense part comes in.

Maxwell McGee tries not to think too hard about toddlers in taverns in his overview of Dungeon Defenders.

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Each character has a special set of towers he or she can build to help repel the enemy waves. However, towers alone won’t win the day. Your characters will have to personally enter the fray and hack and slash their way to victory.

Any high-fantasy buff will already be familiar with the game’s four characters: the apprentice, squire, huntress, and monk. The first two were described as the basic classes, the apprentice being a long-range spellcaster specializing in offensive turrets, such as the magic missile turret, and the squire being a melee specialist who can build defensive structures, such as spike walls.

The huntress is another ranged class who, instead of building structures, can deploy traps, with each trap having a limited number of detonations before being exhausted. Finally, the monk just thought he was better than everyone else since he has both ranged and melee attacks. His structures are also a bit more abstract and come in the form of auras that enemies pass through and have bad things happen to them–such as a speed decrease.

Each level in Dungeon Defenders is broken up into two phases: the building phase and the combat phase. The building phase is where you plan out and construct your defenses, while the combat phase is where you get overrun by monsters and lose. OK, maybe you don’t always lose, but you do get overrun pretty frequently.

When a level ends all structures are sold and the mana is distributed evenly between players.

When a level ends all structures are sold and the mana is distributed evenly between players.

That’s when you have to start dividing your time between smacking around the latest goblin incursion and repairing, or upgrading, your defenses. That’s right, all the housekeeping you can do in the building phase you can do in the battle phase, though it will take longer, and you can be interrupted if you’re struck by an enemy.

We stave off a few waves of kobolds and orcs in this action role-playing/tower defense hybrid.

Once you complete a mission you’re transported back to your very own, personalized tavern. This is only a little inappropriate since you’re playing as a group of children, but we’re not complaining. Every player’s tavern is populated with banners and trophies reflecting their achievements in the game. There’s also your own personal item vendor whose stock–which includes weapons, armor, and pets–is randomized after each mission.

Items and pets can be upgraded to improve their stats by spending mana.

Items and pets can be upgraded to improve their stats by spending mana.

Everything in Dungeon Defenders is controlled by mana. It’s the currency for performing special attacks, purchasing or upgrading structures, and buying items. Thankfully, it’s also easy to come by via treasure chests that refill in between each enemy wave.

During our play session we teamed up with an apprentice and played a few rounds as a low-level squire. By fortifying stairways with spike walls and turrets, we were able to hold off the enemy’s advances. All of our construction abilities–buying, selling, upgrading–were handled with a few easy-to-understand radial menus, any of which you can map to the direction pad or keyboard. However, in combat, it was at times difficult to see who was attacking what given the sheer number of enemies and narrow arenas.

In a later level we switched over to a huntress. All characters in Dungeon Defenders are tied to a single profile and share the same items. That means if your squire happens to find a bow for your huntress, all you have to do is stick it in your backpack, and the next time your huntress is in play she can open up her inventory and find the bow waiting inside. You can also switch characters during the building phases in each mission.

However, if you’re planning to switch from a low-level character to a high-level one just to make things easier, know that the game drops loot based on the difficulty of the stage you’re playing, meaning that your high-level character probably won’t have much use for the early-game +2 Boots of Uselessness.

When you upgrade and item or pet to max level you can give it a custom name.

When you upgrade and item or pet to max level you can give it a custom name.

There’s still a lot more to discover in Dungeon Defenders, such as the PVP and item trading, than we can discuss here. And while it may not be available at launch, the team is planning to have cross-platform play between Android, iOS, PC, and PSN–sorry Xbox 360, apparently you’re not a team player. PC players can also look forward to mod tools postlaunch. Speaking of launch, Dungeon Defenders will be released on the PC and XBLA on October 19, with a PSN launch further down the line.

By Maxwell McGee

Does Close Quarters Constrain BF3 Too Much?

E3 2012: We jump into one of the maps featured in the Close Quarters DLC.

Fans were surprised at Operation Metro’s debut as the first map that anyone was allowed to play for Battlefield 3. It lacked the traditional strengths of the series–large maps, vehicles, and a level of strategy higher than just man-on-man gunfights. After getting in a good hour on Scrapmetal, the new Close Quarters map being shown at E3, it’s leaving me with the same level of disorientation.

Scrapmetal is a small map consisting of two warehouses linked by a series of enclosed walkways. Flag captures happen much faster than on larger maps, but players can only spawn on squadmates or randomly. I managed to get my hands on most of the new weapons, but the standouts seemed to be the SPAS-12 shotgun and the LSAT light machine gun. The inadequacy of other weapons on the roster became apparent after a few short rounds. The ranges at which firefights are taking place in CQ negate the design of most class-specific guns. Engineers are armed for medium range, assault for long range, support for camping, and recon for super long range.

The main idea of Battlefield 3 is that when any of these classes play outside their role, they are at a disadvantage. When you bring everything into CQB, all weapons do their maximum damage and suffer little from weaknesses like recoil. The result is that all classes are forced into using powerhouses, like shotguns, or weapons with high rates of fire. Having all classes play virtually the same way, instead of inside their individual roles, negates the reason fans chose this franchise over competitors. The new mode Gun Master even appears to be a direct lift of the Gun Game from COD.

I also had time to test HD destruction and was left feeling the claims to be exaggerated. Many strategically placed walls either were indestructible or left an impassable skeleton behind when blasted with C4. At one point I found a good overwatch position overlooking a flag on a walkway. The window available to fire through was too narrow, and I planted C4 to widen the hole. The C4 detonated uselessly, both doing me no good and attracting a lot of enemy attention.

It’s clear that Close Quarters has also affected the vanilla game in ways that might not make sense on larger maps. After an interview with developers, it became apparent that claymores were recently patched to no longer persist after death because it broke the balance of Close Quarters. Unfortunately, there are many larger maps where persistent claymores are both fair and useful.

Battlefield has always been a strategic game with a rock-paper-scissors approach, and Close Quarters seems to be making everyone use scissors. Ultimately the success of Close Quarters will come down to fans’ willingness to stop thinking so strategically and just shoot opponents. It could be fun, but there’s one big question: Is this Battlefield? Operation Metro eventually won over a large fan base, and there’s plenty of room in the game for people who might not like heavy strategy. We plan on getting into the other new maps next week to see if there are more elements in Ziba Tower or Donya Fortress that bring back the strengths of the Battlefield 3 franchise. At the end of the day, Close Quarters has a bit of an identity crisis. Is it actually Battlefield, or Battlefield chasing a competitor’s market share?

By Aaron Sampson

Winning in Crysis 3 Without Firing a Single Bullet

Crytek debuts a new multiplayer mode that puts an interesting twist on survival.

There’s a whole bunch of new Crysis 3 multiplayer on display here at Gamescom 2012, but what has caught our attention most is a new mode called Hunter. Why is this mode interesting? Well, the reason is simple: you can win the match without firing a single bullet.

Odd, right? That’s the thing about first-person shooters. You usually win by, you know, shooting at stuff. And that’s something you can certainly do in Hunter mode, but in our experience playing it, you can just as easily find success by taking your finger off the trigger and avoiding the action.

See, Hunter is a test of survival. The match begins with two players in ultrapowerful nanosuits who get to enjoy both (A) the benefits of an invisibility cloak and (B) sweet bows and arrows. The rest of the 12- or 16-person roster (depending on whether you’re playing on console or PC, respectively) is rounded out by guys called troopers, who are basically run-of-the-mill soldiers with decently powerful gear, but nothing on the order of what the hunters have.

As the two-minute rounds progress–matches last five rounds–any trooper killed by a hunter respawns and becomes a hunter. And, as you would expect, the guy who survives the longest tends to become the victor of the match.

The interesting bit about all this is the way playing as the plain ol’ trooper tends to make you avoid conflict at all costs. You’re constantly trying to get to where the hunters aren’t, using the screams and calls for help from fellow troopers as a road map revealing places best left alone. And because your enemies are cloaked, there’s this tension when you see things moving out of the corner of your eye, be they falling leaves or rippling water.

The whole thing feels a bit like the Predator movies. A group of tough guys going at it against much more powerful, much more invisible foes stalking them like prey. It helps that the Manhattan of Crysis 3 shows the city in a state of overgrowth, with vegetation taking over the city like a spiteful jungle invading the city.

All in all, we rather liked this new Hunter mode. The foundation is admittedly the same as various “infection” modes done in zombie games before, but it felt like a nice change of pace for Crysis 3. The tension and conflict avoidance let you appreciate the game’s environment that much more, taking in the world around you as you desperately try to avoid taking an arrow to the head.

By Shaun McInnis

E3 2011: Mercury Hg Hands-On Preview

We play around with volatile chemicals in this latest iteration of the Mercury series.

Any puzzle game fan worth his salt may recall the underrated Archer Maclean’s Mercury that was on the PSP. Recently during E3 2011, we managed to test out the PSN version of Mercury Hg, the latest in the Mercury series published by UTV Ignition Games.

For those not familiar with the 2005 title, you are given the task to move a blob of mercury to reach the finish line in the shortest amount of time possible while keeping the blob 100 percent intact. To do this, you have to tilt the board to move the blob around. You can also collect atoms on the way to unlock levels laid out like the periodic table of elements.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a challenge if there weren’t any obstacles to get in the way. Ridges and edges of a map can make the mercury blob split into tiny increments. Color-coded barriers require you to paint the blob to match the barrier’s color by passing under a paint shop. Some switches that create bridges out of thin air can be triggered only by painting the blob with a different color. You should also factor in hazards like splitters that split the mercury blob, magnetrons that pull a blob to its center, and anti-magnetrons that push it away. Later on, other levels forsake walls on the edges of the board, which means that you will have to be precise and gentle in tilting the board.

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A few other features creep into this sequel. You can press a button (in this case, the X button on the PSN version) that helps reemerge split blobs together at the cost of a few extra seconds on the clock. You can also line up a custom soundtrack from your respective console’s hard drive that reacts in sync with the backgrounds and floors. The reactive backgrounds add a sense of style while you’re navigating each different map, and the fact that you can listen to your own tracks adds a bit of variety to it.

While our initial playthrough of the first few levels was a breeze, we’d shudder to think how tricky the game could get with its level designs and hazards. The tougher ones required us to purposely split the mercury blob into two to activate certain switches simultaneously. Since the game is touted to have 60 new levels, there should not be any shortage of levels for puzzle fans to tinker and experiment with. Furthermore, you can race against your own ghost data with your previous best records, adding further incentives for replayability.

Fans of the first game will see this as a long-overdue return since its core gameplay is intact, and if you’re hankering for something akin to Sega’s Monkey Ball but with a science feel, you may want to keep an eye out for this puzzler. Mercury Hg will be out this August and will be available on XBLA and PSN.

By Jonathan Toyad, Associate Editor

Playing the Hunter and the Hunted in Assassin’s Creed III

E3 2012: You’re not the only predator in this stretch of wilderness.

One of the most impressive things about Assassin’s Creed III is that you immediately see the game’s hero as a product of his environment, a Native American raised far away from the Colonial cities of early America. Whether he’s stalking a target from high up in the trees or defending himself from the wild animals that roam the early American frontier, Connor comes across as an assassin who knows the wilderness inside and out.

A lot of that comes from how Connor moves through the world, or more specifically, his world. Assassin’s Creed III features Colonial versions of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, but it’s the game’s large tracts of wilderness where Connor seems most at home.

“We’ve gone from a very rigid environment made of buildings into a space that’s trees and slopes and cliffs, and all of them are organic, unusual shapes,” says creative director Alex Hutchinson. “It’s a different climbing puzzle for the player, a different combat puzzle for the player.”

An overhauled animation system gives the impression that Connor has spent plenty of time getting familiar with those puzzles. When he’s running up a steep hill, you see him lean forward slightly and keep his hands just above the ground lest he slip and fall. In the trees, he’s able to leap from branch to branch and quickly sidestep any thick trunks in his way. Connor just doesn’t seem bothered by what nature throws at him.

Other times, he uses those obstacles to his advantage. One mission in the game involves Connor sneaking into a British camp situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Rather than head right through the front door, Connor can explore the sides of the camp and discover a steep slope leading down to an unguarded rear entrance. He braces himself and slides through the dirt and snow, ready to quietly ambush a camp full of redcoats.

The way Connor exploits his surroundings isn’t always pretty. From up in the trees, Connor can throw a weapon that latches onto an enemy’s throat, and then instantly yank him upward so that his dangling body attracts the attention of those around him. At this point, you are ready to pounce on those remaining targets, tomahawk in hand.

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Watching Connor stalk his prey in the snowy frontier, you almost get the impression that he’s a little too talented at what he does. Where’s the challenge for the player? According to Ubisoft, there’s one simple answer to that: the frontier has plenty of predators not named Connor.

At various points throughout Connor’s journeys, he’ll encounter wild animals such as bears or wolves–each following different behavioral patterns. A pack of wolves, for example, might circle Connor, forcing you into a tense standoff where you’re eyeing the moving pack and trying to figure out who will be the first wolf to strike.

“We wanted you to feel as though it’s you versus the wilderness,” says Hutchinson. “So we worked a lot on how to make you feel that emotion. That included the behavior of the animals. Do you hear them before you see them? How do they attack you? What’s the player fantasy of that?”

For Ubisoft Montreal, it’s all about balance. Connor is a talented predator, using the contours of the rugged American frontier to his advantage as he seeks out enemies venturing outside cities and camps. Yet he’s hardly the only predator in the gameworld, so at any moment you need to be conscious of your place in the wilderness. A wolf or a bear doesn’t see a talented assassin with a hidden blade; it sees its next meal.

But don’t worry: not every animal in Assassin’s Creed III is a vicious killing machine. “We have a turkey in the game, and I think our turkey AI is phenomenal,” jokes Hutchinson. “I believe in our turkey when I look at it.”

By Shaun McInnis

Dead Space 2: Severed Preview

So long, Isaac. This downloadable content pack has a new hero.

While the PlayStation 3 version of Dead Space 2 included a free copy of the well-received spin-off Dead Space: Extraction, the first downloadable content for EA’s sci-fi horror sequel will forge an even tighter bond between the two stories. Dubbed Dead Space 2: Severed, this DLC tells the story of Gabe Weller, one of the central characters from Extraction, as he traverses through a variety of environments both brand new and familiar to those who’ve completed the Dead Space 2 story campaign. With the release slated for March 1, EA recently dropped by the GameSpot offices to give us a look at what’s in store.

Gabe Weller will be fighting creepy baby necromorphs this time around.

Gabe Weller will be fighting creepy baby necromorphs this time around.

Besides a different suit and a decidedly more English accent, the biggest difference between Dead Space 2′s protagonist Isaac Clarke and Severed’s hero is Mr. Weller’s occupation. Weller is a security guard, meaning his default weapon is a pulse rifle rather than an engineer’s plasma cutter. This is a change that makes the DLC feel a bit more like an action-focused third-person shooter. In fact, Visceral Games producer Scott Probst was perfectly upfront in letting us know that Severed has been designed to be a more action-heavy experience than Dead Space 2. Zero-gravity moments and slow, subdued treks through the unknown have been replaced with necromorphs, necromorphs, and more necromorphs.

The story in Severed is a simple tale of a man trying to find a lady. In this case, it’s Gabe Weller searching for Lexine Murdoch–another character you may recognize from Extraction. The only problem is that between those two are several hundred zombified aliens and a series of decrepit outer-space hellholes. The locales in this DLC pack offer a bit of the familiar and the new, with most of your trekking done in all-new locations but with the occasional crossover into areas that Isaac Clarke explored in the Dead Space 2 campaign.

At one point while we were playing, we managed to move from a dark, dreary Titan mining cave into a more wide-open industrial expanse with machinery and platforms. At first, it seemed like fortune was smiling upon us, going to an area with better visibility. But then, we began to think, “Oh, right. Weren’t there like 900 necromorphs in this area in the campaign? Oh God, what’s that noise?!” And you can probably guess what happened from there. So, maybe we were wrong. Maybe the environments aren’t so much new and familiar as they’re new and deja vu, mixed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Gabe's default weapons and armor are a bit different from Isaac's.

Gabe’s default weapons and armor are a bit different from Isaac’s.

Altogether, the small chunk of Severed that we played did manage to feel like a more action-oriented affair than Dead Space 2. The enemies seemed to be more frequent, and there wasn’t quite as much understated tension as certain parts of the Dead Space 2 campaign offered. But, ultimately, it still felt very much like Dead Space 2 because we were throwing enemies into stasis left and right while making sure their arms and legs came to an unfortunate end as soon as possible. In other words, there was the same core gameplay but with some new window dressings on top. The biggest sell has to do with just how interesting the story and characters are when determining whether this DLC is worth your $7. You can find that out for yourself when the DLC pack arrives on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network on March 1. Unfortunately, no word yet on a PC version.

By Shaun McInnis, Editor