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Ark: Survival Evolved Review (PC)

So Ark is out of Early Access and is now officially released. A dinosaur based sandbox survival game, Ark sees you and your friends (or enemies) gathering, crafting, building, and taming on a tropical island (or a scorching desert in the controversial paid DLC). You go through an underpowered weakling struggling to survive on scraps of cooked meat and berries to a powerful clan with numerous complexes all over the map, mech-style gear for you and your dinosaurs and a mostly automated system of gathering so you never run out of crafting materials. But is it any fun?

My feelings towards Ark can be summed up in two brutally short stories. One evening, on an official server on the Xbox One, Naimgear and me spent five hours taming a pair of sarcosaurs (giant crocodiles) in the always-dangerous swamp. Taming involved knocking them out with a huge amount of crafted tranquiliser arrows and bolts, and then sitting by the unconcious beast while you feed it narcotics and meat for hours on end, praying that nothing from the swamp comes out to kill you. We eventually got both of them, made the dangerous swim back to our base using our very expensive saddles, and put both of them in a giant pen we had been creating for this very purpose. We logged off, satisfied that they were safe.

The next day we logged on and everything had been destroyed. The giant warehouse we kept our flyers in, the giant pen, both sarcos, everything was gone. This was because some other players had seen our base and wanted to destroy it, no other reason.

The second story was on an unofficial server on the PC with ‘TheArrow’ and Naimgear where gathering and taming was sped up to be twice as fast, making the tames and building not quite so painful. We had built up a huge metal base with turrets on top, vaults inside, and electricity to power all manner of top-tier crafting benches. We had a pet T-Rex, a Brontosaurus, a Quetzal (the largest bird in the game that is notoriously tricky to tame because it never lands) and more. While we were playing the other two had gone off to gather things from nearby mountains while I was doing some basic chores around the base, fertilising planets, filling up feeding troughs etc. Then it arrived. A gigantosaurus, the largest of the carnivores in Ark, spawned in the middle of our base. Instantly everything went crazy because it took a disliking to one dinosaur and bit it, causing every other dinosaur to attack. Suddenly the base was a flurry of tooth and claw, but the gigantosaurus was high level and was winning easily. They go berserk when they take too much damage, and this one was destroying absolutely everything with reckless abandon. The main metal base fell almost instantly, along with most of our supplies and defences. The collection of dinosaurs was decimated as many of the carnivores who might have been able to help were trapped behind the herbivores and the flyers were on passive to make sure no one could kite them out of our base. Eventually I hopped on the quetzal and led the lizard away into the sea, hoping to drown it. This involved flying close enough to make it think it could bite me, then flying up and away so it missed and chased for a while. Leaving the smouldering wreckage of our 100-hour base behind, I flew out to sea. Then it bit the bird and we lost that too.

Both of these events were immensely frustrating and the reason I quit playing on each console, but then both couldn’t have been that frustrating if it wasn’t for the tens of hours I spent building up to that moment. Ark is a game that draws you in and absorbs your time, and the thrill of exploration and expansion is very real. There’s nothing like building a huge fortress with your friends and there’s always a project to be getting on with. If you log in alone you can head off to gather some rarer materials or even just expand your buildings a little. When everyone is on together you can take on a challenging tame, or explore a cave (which are unbelievably tough challenges until you have end-game gear and levelled dinos) or raid another team’s base.

Of course there are horrible disasters that will befall you, but you can mitigate most of these through your choice of server and base location. PvP servers make the game much more exciting and makes success more rewarding, but you’re constantly faced with the threat of being wiped while you’re offline because people are cowards. PvE servers are safer, but a little more boring and you end up butting against the strange building restrictions that occur when you allow hundreds of new players to build little huts everywhere but then not letting you destroy them to make space. You can make your own servers and play offline single-player or with a small group but then you’re missing out on the social aspect of Ark altogether. The point is, you have a choice and that choice is very broad. You can play Ark how you want to play it and once you get into a server you like, there’s a huge amount of things to do and fun to be had.

Sadly, there’s also a lot of annoyances in the game that will cause you problems at some point and betray the game’s lack of polish. Dinosaurs will glitch through the map and clip into rocks, you’ll be attacked by things you can’t see (especially underwater), when you’re building things will get placed in the wrong position at the last second, wasting your materials. While Ark is an impressively broad sandbox, it’s not a very refined one, and the developers have focused on introducing new dinosaurs and tech into the game without ever really fixing some of the key problems.

Thankfully on PC you can use mods and private servers to alleviate much of this, and even add in new maps and features. It really is a very customisable game and will no doubt persist for a long while after the developers stop providing new things thanks to the excellent community that works hard to create new things for people to play with – but for a game that is now charging a high retail price (£50 at the time of writing) you’re going to be getting something of much lower quality than you would probably expect.

For all its issues, Ark is an incredible game. It’s easy to spend hundreds of hours in its worlds and each time you start afresh on a new server you’ll have all of that fun all over again, but despite it coming out of Early Access, do be aware that you’re very much paying £50 for something that feels like a work in progress.

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PLAYERUNKNOWN’s Battlegrounds Guide

I’ve played a lot of PUBG now, 129 hours to be exact. That’s two hours more than the amount of time it took someone to saw their arm off because they were stuck between two rocks, so you know I’ve had a lot of time to think about the game.

One of the things that can be frustrating is introducing someone new to the game. It’s a squad game, so of course it’s more fun when more of your friends play, but it’s also an Early Access game with no tutorial, no skill-based matchmaking, and a pretty horrendous learning curve for people that haven’t played this kind of game before (or people that are really used to the other games in the genre). With that in mind, this is my effort to help new players find their feet, and hopefully teach more experienced players a thing or two I’ve learnt along the way.

Part 1: The Lobby
Part 2: The Jump
Part 3: The Drop
Part 4: The Looting
Part 5: Early Combat
Part 6: Getting into the Zone
Part 7: The Final Twenty

Part 1: The Lobby

The lobby is absolute chaos, but it’s also the closest thing to a practice that you’re going to get. If you’re quick you can grab any of the guns off the table (or there are snipers in the towers and more guns in the bunker/buildings) and mess around with them for a minute or so. This time is invaluable as the guns all have their own strange quirks. Ever notice the SCAR is fine with single shots but jumps around all over the place if you move at all while shooting? Or that the M16 has burst fire but no auto, while the M4 has full auto? Or that the M24 doesn’t have any iron sights at all? All of these things are a bad thing to discover in a firefight so you can take your time to get a feel for the guns. Practise shooting people at different ranges, take pot shots at the people inevitably standing on the wing at the top of the crashed plane – you can’t hurt them but you’ll see if you hit them from the blood splatter. Until you get to grips with the game, practising in this area is going to be a huge help.

Part 2: The Jump

Once the plane loads in, you’ll have a rough idea of the options open to you. Broadly speaking you can get to anywhere within a quarter of the maps length/width away from the plane’s route. Of course there’s a lot of randomness to deal with, you never know where the other players will jump, but you can make some educated choices. If the plane flies directly over the military base, the tunnels, or a town, it will be busy. If the plane misses all of those, the next closest one out of them will be busy.

A busy landing spot isn’t necessarily a bad idea, sometimes if you’re in the mood for a quick game you can get a few kills if you’re lucky with loot, and occasionally you’ll luck out and end up with a huge looting area all to yourself. It’s important to communicate with your team in duo or squad (if you put markers down by opening the map with ‘m’ then right clicking, everyone can see them) and try to keep an eye out for other people when you’re on the way down. Knowing where another team is looting might be the difference between an early death and being able to set the perfect ambush.

Generally if you’re looking to win, you want to find somewhere with at least one large building for each member of your team, and a guaranteed car spawn. The west side of Yasnaya Polyana has four apartment buildings and a garage between them with a guaranteed car spawn. That’s usually a pretty good location to get looted up and then drive to wherever you want to go, and if you see too many players heading there, you can always head to another part of the city.

Part 3: The Drop

As I said, you can travel about a quarter of the map from the plane’s route on your drop. To do that, aim as high as you can (hold alt to still look down) until your parachute opens, once it does you can keep rocking backwards and forwards pressing ‘W’ to keep your forward momentum going. As soon as the parachute is open, check all around you by holding alt to see what company you’ve got. Information is important!

If you’re landing in a town, generally you should aim for rooftops with loot spawns. If you find a decent gun you can often shoot people who are landing around you, if you don’t you still have options of heading into the building or jumping off and going somewhere else. Fall damage in this game is surprisingly lenient, so you can jump off even the apartment buildings without taking enough damage to kill you.

Part 4: The Looting

As soon as you land, you need to find a gun to defend yourself. Generally this will mean grabbing a shotgun or SMG. All the shotguns and SMGs can be devastating at close range (where most of the fights will be in the first five minutes) and they’re fairly common all over the map.  Assault rifles are also useful (the AKM in particular does a lot of damage in auto) but sniper rifles and pistols are only worth it as a last resort.

The 1911 pistol isn’t too bad but suffers from a small clip and a lack of accuracy over any kind of distance. The p92 and revolver are a nightmare to use. The p92 is weak, inaccurate, and has a fairly small clips while the revolves just takes forever to reload. If someone is jumping around you’re going to have a hard time doing any kind of damage.

Once you have a gun (seriously don’t worry about anything until you have something to defend yourself with) you need to get the essentials. Your priority list should be something like Gun>Backpack>Armour>Health>Spare Ammo>Attachments>Frying Pan>throwables.

The backpack is self-explanatory, but the armour is extremely important as it gives you an extra chance in a firefight. The reason health and spare ammo are so far down is because it’s rare that you’ll actually get to use them if you don’t have the other things. Don’t worry about getting too many bandages, they heal only a tiny amount and take quite a while to apply. Instead you should be searching for Medkits (full health) First Aid Kits,  painkillers, and energy drinks.

Spare ammo is useful but all too often I’ve got a backpack with 200 bullets in that I’m never going to use because firefights are often so quick. Once you’ve got three or so magazine’s worth, you’ll be fine for the rest of the game. Remember if you kill people you’re often able to take their ammo anyway. In terms of attachments the big ones are the Ext. Quickdraw mags, scopes, and suppressors. Suppressors enable you to shoot long range without giving your position away, which is invaluable in the late game.

The Frying Pan is the only melee item worth picking up because you carry it on your back and its model is bulletproof. This means if someone tries to shoot you in the butt, you’ll be fine and it happens far more than you’d expect.

The throwables are less important because they’re currently extremely reliable. Of course in certain situations a well-placed grenade or effective smokescreen might save you, but it’s rare that you’ll ever find these hard to get. They’re all over the place and will just be picked up as you loot everything else.

Part 5: Early Combat

Whilst your looting, you’ll often hear someone else running around near you. In PUBG, combat is all about getting the drop on people. If you hear footsteps, try to make sure you’re in cover (avoid windows and open spaces) and then stay as still as possible while looking around. Sound is incredibly important in this game, and running around is going to give you away, even outside in fields. Work out where they are, then wait until you have a decent shot. Say someone walks past a window and have time for a single shot, if you take it you’re only going to (at best) damage them slightly, but you’ve now given away your position and let them know you’ve seen them, this gives them the advantage. If you see someone at a window, set up so you can look at the door and shoot them once they leave. If you see someone hiding behind a tree, make sure you line up a decent headshot before you take that shot.

Of course if you’re playing with a group, everything changes. Communication is key, and in a hectic firefight effective communication is rare, but essential. Call out directions using the compass (numbers are fine) and try to give information about distance straight away. Saying ‘there’s a guy over there’ doesn’t help anyone. Saying ’15, 100m away, two guys’ gives your team nearly everything they need.

If you’re separated from your group, remember the compass directions might not be the same for them, so try to use landmarks like ‘green roof’ ‘left rock’, etc. As you play with a group you’ll find your own names for things and get better and better at letting people know what’s happening. Remember to let people know if you’re going to shoot, or if you don’t want them to. Remember if someone calls for help, you should be dropping everything to get to them. A dead team member means you’re now outgunned in any fights against full teams, it’s always worth risking everything to save people. It also makes the game a lot more fun.

As you’re shooting, remember this game isn’t Call of Duty. You need to account for flight time, bullet drop, and their movement. If someone is running right to left 100m away you can line the crosshairs up with their head and aim a cm or so to their left to hit them. If they’re 400m away you might need to aim a few cm above and to their left, long shots are difficult.

If your opponents is in cover, consider your options. Can you get a throwable to them? Do you have a teammate who can flank them if you give them the information? Are they hiding behind a car? If they are just shoot the car with full auto, it’ll explode in no time and kill them outright.

As you drop enemies in group modes, remember if they get knocked down they still have a teammate up. Only when the last one dies immediately do you know that team is done for. Using a downed enemy as bait is particularly effective, so don’t always be too quick to try and claim your kills. Definitely don’t loot anyone until you’re complete sure everyone nearby is dead.

If you’re looking for a fight, remember all the doors in this game spawn closed. So you should be looking for building complexes where some doors are open but others aren’t (implying that people are still looting) or cars that have their brake lights on (cars always spawn with their lights off but you can only turn them off again by pushing forwards a little after you stop, which most people don’t bother doing). Always make sure you have the advantage before going into fight, especially if you’re with a team and a few extra seconds would give them time to set up and cover you.

Part 6: Getting into the Zone

As you play you’ll notice a white circle on the map and a countdown. Once that countdown reaches zero a blue circle will start encroaching from the edge of the map until it reaches the white circle. The first zone will take ages to come in and you can comfortably escape it driving in any vehicle. It will do very little damage if you are in the blue zone and you can last for a very long time, so don’t panic too much and run out into the open while you’re trying to get to safety.

Towards the end of the game, the zone gets more and more dangerous. By the fourth circle being in the zone at all will drop your health quickly, and once it reaches the white circle, the damage is doubled which can down someone from full health in a few seconds.

Always be aware of where the zone is and make sure you have a plan to get to it, staying on the edge of the zone is a good idea as it means no-one will be behind you, but be aware the zone is random and could spawn on the other side of the circle from you, forcing you to move just when you don’t want to.

While you’re moving, you always need to be thinking about how visible you are. Standing on top of a hill is a great way for people to see your silhouette against the sky, so never stand on top of things. If you think people might be looking at your area, try to move as little as possible, movement is a dead giveaway.

If you’re in a team, consider where they are too. Can you see their blind spots? Can you get to them if they need help? Don’t crowd into the same cover spot behind a tree or room in a building, it makes it much easier for enemies to spot you, and if they shoot at your friend and miss, they’re possibly going to hit you!

Part 7: The Final Twenty

So you’ve got this far, you’re looted, you’re in the final zones, and you’ve hopefully got a few kills under your belt. How do you actually win?

Concealment.

As the numbers tick down and everyone gets closer together, you’ve got to stay hidden. Hide behind trees if you want, but remember you’ll always be exposed to people behind you. Long grass is excellent to go prone in, but it means you’ll be unable to move quickly or shoot anyone easily. Buildings can help you to feel safe but once there’s only a few buildings in a zone, everyone will be watching the windows and doors.

Each zone is different but you need to make a decision about where you can be to still move as the zone constricts, without letting people know where you are.

The most important thing is not to give yourself away by shooting unnecessarily. If you have a suppressor, feel free to pick off the players you can see, but remember players within 20ft will be able to find you easily. If you have someone discover you, put them down quickly, but other than that you really need to avoid firing your gun because it lets every other player know exactly where you are. In an ideal world you want to wait until the other players kill each other and it’s down to you and one other. If they’ve been shooting, you now have the advantage in that you know where they are, but they can’t find you.

Now you need to get yourself into a good position, make sure your energy bar is full (down those painkillers and energy drinks), and strike as hard and fast as possible.

Hopefully you’ll be home in time for some chicken dinner.

If you have any more tips and tricks please let us know in the comments and we’ll add them to this guide!

 

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Conan: Exiles Cinematic Trailer

Conan: Exiles is only five days away now and we couldn’t be more excited. Funcom have just released their cinematic trailer and if anything it just made us want to build a pyramid. This might not show off much of the game but if you want to get hyped, this will do the trick. Come back on January 31st to see our livestreams of the game and all of our coverage of the launch.

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Why We’re Excited About Conan Exiles

It’s no secret that we’ve been playing a huge amount of Ark lately. There’s something addictive about building up a base with your friends and always having goals that you can log on to work towards. Of course there’s the (very real) risk that someone will come and destroy everything you’ve done, but the risk makes what you have all the more valuable.

In a couple of weeks Funcom are bringing out Conan Exiles, which is a very similar kind of game, but set in the Conan world. Of course that piques our interest, but why not just carry on playing Ark? Well here’s some reasons.

  1. Funcom

Funcom are a developer that gets very little attention despite having a pretty consistent record for excellent  and innovative games. The Secret World is probably our second favourite MMO running, tackling a huge range of different environments, with different gameplay styles, huge amounts of content and an interesting levelling system that doesn’t tie you down to a single class. Age of Conan (the MMO that this game is definitely using some ideas from) was also trying plenty of new things and had much more exciting melee combat than the usual fare. Even Hide and Shriek, a tiny multiplayer horror game where you’re both invisible, is a ton of fun. So when Funcom are ready to try their hand at a new genre, I’m always interested in seeing what they’ve come up with.

2. Conan

While I might not be a big fan of the Conan books, films, or comics, there’s definitely an appeal to the universe. It’s a throwback to the pulp stories of the past where overly dramatic adventures could take place, without the emotional turmoil that seems to be a necessary tick box for modern game stories. You’re a giant muscley man or woman who’s going to go out into a horrible environment and kill things. Sometimes that’s all you need. There are gods, monsters, slaves (but they’re just NPCs so it’s probably ok) and giant sandstorms. This is the sort of universe where you can build an 80ft statue of yourself and no-one thinks it’s weird.

3. Slaves

Not to sound like I’m obsessed with the slavery thing, but as a mechanic it could be genius. Much like Ark has its dinosaur taming, Exiles lets you knock out NPCs, tie them up, drag them across the desert, then break their will on a giant ‘wheel of pain’ before you set them to work for you. Normal ‘thralls’ might be set to guard a gate or wall, or to gather a simple material, more skilled ones might be useful to put at a crafting station to make the most of their skills. This will lead to you searching out for particular people who you want working for you, then mounting a giant kidnapping mission to get them back. Sounds like fun.

4. It’s new

While Rust and Ark and DayZ are all still in Early Access, they’ve been mastered. You can go on wiki sites and find out everything about the game instantly. It’s all been worked out, it’s all been solved. With a new game, there’s a sense of mystery. We don’t know how everything will work, or what the best layout will be, or what secrets are hidden on the map. By getting into the Early Access straight away you can get ahead on a server and be one of the pioneers. Thanks to internet wikis, most MMOs and exploration-based games have lost a lot of their wonder for the sake of efficiency, and while that might be inevitable, it’s exciting to be able to avoid it, even if it’s just for a little while.

So we’ll be streaming the Early Access build of Conan Exiles as soon as the doors open, and if you want to join our tribe just let us know through our Discord (look to the left) or leave a comment below. The more the merrier!

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Starting again in Ark: Survival Evolved

I’m back here again. Gathering stone for hours praying that the walls we build will keep the raiders at bay. Babysitting sleeping dinosaurs and quietly drugging them until they wake up and think we’re their masters. Being mortally terrified of the swamp.

Naimgear and me did all of this before on the Xbox One. We had a large base with a huge warehouse for flying dinosaurs and a giant pen for our Sarcosaurs (giant crocodiles). We had enough gear to comfortably travel anywhere south of the snow biomes without worry. We were friends with the huge tribe on our server that casually marched around the island on t-rexes and controlled the central valleys. Then we lost it all.

In Ark, when you log off your character simply falls asleep wherever they stand. We were playing on a PvP server so anything is fair game. In the middle of the night a group broke into our base using explosives. They killed all of our dinosaurs, destroyed most of our buildings and stole everything we owned. When we logged on there was nothing. All of those hours we’d spent amassing that dinosaur collection were gone. We stopped playing.

But now for some reason we’re back. Arrow, Naimgear, and me have all started a new tribe on a new PvP server on the PC. We’ve gone for an unofficial server this time with five times the gathering speed and ten times the taming speed. This means a dinosaur (like a Pteradon) that used to take an hour to tame now only takes six minutes, when you hit a rock you get 5 pieces of stone instead of one, everything is sped up.

We’ve got a nice new base on the edge of a cliff, we’ve tamed a few useful dinosaurs, we’ve started building a big new pen to keep it in. Of course the first night we logged off Arrow woke up to find us all in cages with all our stuff stolen, but he broke the cages and dragged us back inside so it’s probably fine.

There’s something undeniably addictive about Ark. There’s always something to do, some way to progress. Right now I’m looking for a giant armadillo so I can harvest stone quicker to build up our buildings. Naimgear wants to surround our base with spikes to keep would-be-thieves at bay (as long as they don’t fly), Arrow wants a frog. Whenever I log on, I’ll be able to do something. There’s always the chance we’ll lose everything again, but then there’s also the chance we won’t, that we’ll be able to defend, that we’ll survive long enough to explore the frozen north or the murky depths of the ocean. If we manage to do that, there’s a whole expansion available to take us into the desert.

Ark might be Early Access, and it might seem incredibly unfair, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun and definitely worth your money.

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Rimworld Review (PC)

Rimworld is a survival strategy game in a vaguely similar vein to Settlers or Dwarf Fortress. Thankfully it’s nowhere near as complex as DF – but it is much more complex than Settlers and is designed more around the idea of ‘how will your colony fail and die horribly this time’, rather than ‘how quickly can you win’.

There are plenty of different game setups, with a different origin point, a different dungeon-master style character who throws problems at you, and a wealth of different starting zones and colonists. You can even get more through Steam Workshop alongside plenty of quality of life mods, but we’ve just been playing with the basic vanilla game for now. The most basic setup is where you have three colonists who have crash landed on a planet. You can choose where they land and roughly what their skills are, then you’ve got to try and keep them alive on the planet’s surface until they can build a ship capable of taking them home.

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Of course that sounds much easier than it really is. When you start out you need to provide your colonists with shelter, food, weapons, clothes, entertainment, warmth, cooling, protection from raiders and wild animals, alongside caring for all their other needs. Much like Dwarf Fortress, the colonists’ mental states are very important. So while it might seem like a good idea during a famine to kill the colony’s pet Jack Russell to make an extra meal, whoever had bonded with that dog are likely to fall into a bit of a depression. That might make them a bit mopey or they might go on a killing spree and end everything. Juggling all of these needs is a constantly demanding tasks and the game is good at throwing curveballs at you like a toxic storm that means you can’t go outside, or a potato famine killing your crops, or a solar storm shutting down all your electricity.

Thankfully (and importantly for us in a game like this) a lot of what you’re doing just makes sense. Enclose a generator with a wooden wall and no space and it might catch fire. If it rains, the fire will go out. Colonists can survive some pretty grievous injuries such as having an arm torn off, but then they won’t be as good at doing things that require two arms. Old age can lead to dementia, alcohol can lead to diminished responsibility, beavers can eat all of the trees. Planning ahead is difficult, but unfortunately there does seem to be a ‘correct’ way to build that lets you deal with nearly everything. The fun comes from experimenting with different methods, but once you’ve worked out the right way, the game loses a lot of its appeal. Perhaps it could do with some more specialised scenarios like Rollercoaster Tycoon, or perhaps getting new colonists should be easier so risky strategies are more worthwhile. Whatever the answer, the fun in Rimworld does taper off quite quickly when you know what you’re doing.

Of course there are plenty of ways to make the game much more difficult for yourself, to the point where you can start with no technology in a freezing desert with three people whose only ability is to water plants, but the developers haven’t worked to make sure situations like that are even possible to succeed in. They’re more there so you can see how long you can last.

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There are plenty of annoyance in the way RImworld works. Often colonists won’t prioritise jobs that make sense, so when you desperately need some research completed, they’ll go and eat a raw potato, or they’ll start cleaning the floor outside. Combat is difficult to control, with keeping ranged soldiers out of the firing line of each other almost impossible. The biggest issue is simply how long everything takes as you move towards the late game. Unlike Dwarf Fortress where you seem to end up with an exponential number of dwarves, so big tasks become much easier, in Rimworld you tend to keep to quite a low number, the most we’ve had is six. By the late-game you’re fending off fairly huge disasters and raiding parties, so trying to keep on top of that while researching and gathering resource sto build a ship isn’t necessarily difficult, it’s just incredibly time-consuming. You can speed up the game clock (and you pretty much have to) but not by anywhere near enough when you’re spending half an hour watching a potato harvest.

We’ve had a great time with Rimworld. It’s smart, it’s addictive and it’s definitely one of the better examples of the genre. It’s a shame the later game turns into more a grind than an interesting puzzle, but if you’re happy to experiment and don’t mind laughing when it all goes wrong, you’ll find a lot to like in the earlier parts of this game.

Verdict 7

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Shadows of Kurgansk Preview

There’s been a wealth of survival horrors since the early days of DayZ (and I’m tempted to say Minecraft). Each tend to have their own little quirk of unique selling point, but they eventually come down to trying to manage stats to keep yourself alive while crafting, exploring, and fighting.

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Shadow of Kurgansk has two fairly unique features. Firstly there’s a campaign-esque tutorial with characters that lets you know what your options are. This obviously eliminates some of the wonder of exploration and experimentation that you find in things like DayZ, but it also gets you on your feet much quicker so you can take part in the real mode, the survival mode, without making too many stupid mistakes. The other unique thing is the art style. While it’s going for a slightly cel-shaded look, it ends up looking a lot more like the incredible and underrated XIII from two generations ago, rather than like Borderlands. The fact that this is an old game ins’t an insult to Kurgansk, XIII still holds up today with a comic-book style that hasn’t really been imitated successfully in FPS games.

Kurgansk is a little by the books in other respects, you are exploring a post apocalyptic temperate wasteland where there’s plenty to scavenge, rats to cook and eat, and monsters to kill. One of the biggest problems we have with the early access version so far is that the monsters simply aren’t scary at all. They look like the local hoodies you’re likely to recognise from outside your local McDonalds and they drop pretty quickly after a couple of blows to the head. Similarly the Stalker-esque anomalies that are meant to have horrific and terrifying effects just warp your screen a bit or make things a little dark. They’re not the lethal death traps we were used to seeing in Pripyat.

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Overall Kurgansk shows some promise with an interesting art style and a slightly different take on the genre, but at the moment everything it’s trying to do just isn’t working so well. The dialogue is awful, the combat is floaty and weightless, the crafting is dull, and the world just isn’t scary enough. Go play The Forest, Stalker, DayZ, or even H1z1 and soak up the atmosphere. In those games you’re always fighting to survive, always on the run, you rarely feel like the apex predator. In Kurgansk you generally feel like you’re the most powerful being around, and it doesn’t matter because there’s nothing interesting to do with that power.

We’ll keep you updated as new builds come out, but for now we’d probably hold off on this one.

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Ark: Survival Evolved Preview (Xbox One)

This morning I woke up and it was all gone. Our two-storey base made from wood and stone was nowhere to be found, the 50ft perimeter wall that had taken three days to build was mostly erased. The collection of rare blueprints, weapons and crafting materials had all been stolen. Worse still, Jeffery, our triceratops, hadn’t even been killed, he’d been re-tamed by people down the beach. I went to demand answers and all they could say was ‘you started us, you killed us earlier, we were scared you’d get more advanced and destroy us so we hit you first’. They had a point, we had killed them, we probably would have destroyed them eventually. So we rebuild.

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Ark has been around on the PC for a while now but in its foray into the Xbox Game Preview program console gamers can finally get a look in at this exciting world of multiplayer survival. If you die you lose everything, building anything takes hours, it doesn’t sound too appealing at first. Once you do establish yourself though, when you survive an attack, that’s when the game gets its hook into you. In Ark you start off with literally nothing, you can scrape together a mining pick and axe Minecraft-style by punching a tree with your fists. You’ll spend your first hour scrounging an existence off berries, running away from basically anything. Within five hours you’ll be hunting smaller dinosaurs, crafting thatch buildings and hoarding everything you can find. Eventually you get rocket launchers, can ride pterodactyls, and can build refrigerators. This is an unusual world, but a dramatic one.

Literally every time we’ve played Ark so far there’s been a story to tell. From being chased by giant ants through a forest to watching in awe as a glowing red raptor managed to destroy itself on our base’s spikes, there’s always something amazing happening. Admittedly the game is still in fairly early days and there are some features that are beyond janky. The server browser is entirely broken and as you store all your progress on a single server, the fact you can’t get back to it if it’s full (there’s no queue system) is more than a little annoying. Playing at peak times I’ve spent upwards of half an hour refreshing the browsing screen to get back into the same. Thankfully that should be fixed this coming week with a new patch. Within the game there’s lots of little oddities like physics not working how you’d expect but it’s definitely playable and often the glitches just add to the fun. The team behind Ark have a good track record of supporting the game on PC so hopefully Microsoft’s certification process won’t get in the way too much and the game will evolve over time alongside the PC version.

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Right now, Ark is a huge amount of fun if you can get over the waiting times for servers. Get a group together, it’s not fun alone, set up a tribe and go build something. Just please don’t steal Jeffery.

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Rust Alpha Review (PC)

Due to the nature of early access, the games we will be looking at are incomplete and much is being added to them. What we are reviewing is whether or not the early access program is worth the money right now. When – if ever – the games are officially released we will complete a new review and give it an actual rating.

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Rust appeared to be a DayZ clone. You spawn with very little, you’re at the mercy of other players with no limits on the PVP and death can mean losing nearly everything. There’s even zombies at the moment (although these are due to be removed) and a range of weapons from melee tools all the way to automatic weapons. In some ways Rust is definitely derivative. At the very least it wouldn’t have been possible without DayZ leading the way with this kind of multiplayer survival sim. The big differences come from the setting and the focus. DayZ is about surviving and then killing. Rust is about surviving and then building.

When you spawn on most servers you’ll have a rock in your hand, maybe some bandages and a flaming torch with a limited lifespan. If you’re on a low population server you’ll see mountains, forest and maybe a beach in front of you. There isn’t an incredible sense of scale, even the mountains are small – foothills really – but they take the appearance of mountains. The forest are collections of maybe thirty trees, but with a little bit of imagination you can appreciate it. The graphics are reasonably poor – obviously in an early state although there is a nice lighting system that ties into the day/night cycle and can create a few spectacular sunsets if you’re in the right place at the right time. Night-times are also suitably dark so it’s difficult to get about at night without some kind light, but obviously a light will give you away should any other players be out on the hunt.

Your first port of call is usually to try and get some wood together (gained by hitting trees with a rock) and some rocks (gained by hitting a bigger rock with your rock). You might be able to scrape together some meat if you hit an animal (pigs are your best bet as they can’t run quickly) with your rock, and better prizes are on offer should you be able to take down a zombie. Of course the zombies are likely to fight back and with your starting equipment they’re pretty likely to win.

If you spawned on a busy server you’ll be greeted by a shantytown of little wooden sheds and maybe some larger forts. All of these are built by players and the creation tools are surprisingly powerful. They work on a grid system but there’s a fair amount of freedom – even if the creations end up slightly blocky looking. Trying to enter any of those sheds will be met with disappointment as doors can only be used by the player who created them unless you’ve got something like explosives to take the doors off. If you’re in a busy area you’ll also notice there’s a lot of other players about. Despite similar player counts, Rust seems to have a smaller map than DayZ’s, so you tend to see more players in any given area. To compound this is one of Rust’s coolest features at the moment. Sometimes there’ll be an air supply drop where a very visible and noisy plane will fly over the map and drop supply crates with all kinds of good stuff in. Naturally lease lead to hotspots where going anywhere near these crates is likely to lead to your demise, so players begin to stake the area out, working in teams to secure it until they feel confident they can get to the box and back safely.

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If you die in the game (which you will) be it at the hands of a zombie, bear, another player or just sheer hunger – you’ll drop everything you’re carrying and can respawn wherever you have placed a sleeping bag. This is a little more lenient than most roguelikes, and often it’s entirely possible to reclaim your possessions if you were killed by an animal or zombie. You even get to keep any of the crafting blueprints you’ve learned, so there is a kind of persistent progression whatever you’re doing. That being said last time we died we’d amassed a huge amount of items and were around 100 metres away from our base. Upon respawning our bag was nowhere to be found, possibly hidden by the long grass, possibly destroyed by some kind of bug – the most annoying part was that it was impossible to tell which it was. Once lawnmowers are added to the game I’ll be heading back to that little glade with avengeance. (note: Lawnmowers are not planned for the game).

The atmosphere in Rust in unusual, there’s an element of Minecraft where you’re hiding at night but building in the day, there’s the constant fear of other players, there’s some kind of natural beauty to be found in the surroundings. There’s also a lot of bugs and jankiness due to the alpha nature of the game. All of this adds up to some kind of charm that’s half way between irritatingly broken and huge amounts of potential. There’s spectacular moments where you’re sitting out on the balcony of your colossal fort, warming around a fire (you get health back quicker if you’re safe and warm) and then suddenly a plane drops supplies right outside and you’re torn between getting your guns out to snipe scavengers, hiding inside your soon to be invaded home or simply going out to join in the fun – but then there’s also hours of frustration as you search for enough rocks to be able to build anything worthwhile. With a big group there’s definitely fun to be had with the early access – but if you’re a solo player with no support network it’d be better to wait it out until it’s a little less of a pain to play.

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Sir You Are Being Hunted Hands On Preview

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Sir, You Are Being Hunted is an upcoming survival-em-up from the writer and designer Jim Rossignol and the team at Big Robot. It lands you in a procedurally generated part of the British countryside with nothing but a mission to gather some exploded fragments of a teleporter in order to escape from the island. Since each island is created just for you, you’ll need to explore, and each piece is rather large so it’ll take you a while to find them all. As you wander around this island you’ll come across quaint little villages with random (but surprisingly charming and believable) names, with all of the buildings serving as treasure chests of loot that range from dead mice and mushrooms to flasks of tea and bottles of whisky. You’ll also find burnt out buildings and campfires, post boxes, forest and little bays. The whole thing sounds rather lovely if it wasn’t for the murderous robots hunting you.

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We’ve been granted access to an early alpha version of the game, and have been putting it through its paces while failing miserably at surviving. The title of the game is surprisingly matter of fact and incredibly accurate. This might be a gentleman’s game, but the bloodthirsty robots chasing you down betray their civilised appearance with a ruthlessness that would make Asimov weep. As you explore the island, tracking down the parts of the teleporter (that handily throw a plume of smoke into the air) you’ll spot, or most likely hear the robots. They’re skinny and stand tall, but their glowing eyes cast a red beam a foot or so in front of their face. This has two effects: one, you can tell which way they’re looking; two, you can tell they’re looking right into your soul which they’re planning to destroy in a hail of gunfire.

Taking on the robots is a fools errand, they have unlimited ammo, they hunt in packs and they’re deadly accurate from quite a distance. Instead you need to distract them by throwing bits of junk around to try and sneak up and grab things while they’re not looking. That might sound simple but once you get a little further into a playthrough you’ll be up against more and more of them, making it incredibly easy to make a stupid mistake leaving yourself completely exposed.

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This is how a usual playthrough for me goes:

I wake up on the island and instinctively grab everything around me: bandages, binoculars, a tin of food. Doesn’t matter if it’s pet food, I need whatever I can get. I suspiciously survey the environment and usually spot a cluster of buildings. Speedily moving through the meadows and fields I get to the town and check every door for whatever I can find. There’s a lot of trash but I’ll keep whatever I can eat, drink or throw. On the way out I’ll run past the village sign and giggle stupidly at the name and then dive into the nearest cover. Normally by now I’ve seen some smoke, and can start working my way up to a vantage point to get closer. This is where the terror begins. Usually where’s there’s smoke there’s classy robots, and once you hear that little beep or warble, you know where they are. Creeping over a ridge I’ll spot the hunting party, all facing in different directions, covering nearly every angle. If I’m lucky I’ll be in a blind spot already and can chuck a bottle off to the opposite direction, giving me just enough time to run in and grab the smoking object before scampering out again into the long grass where I can wait and hide. Then I notice a shadow, something blocking the rapidly setting Sun, a balloon. The balloon casts its spotlight over me and bathes me in harsh white light, then the alarms begin. With the alarms come the robots, and I’ve got seconds to find new cover. Out in the open they take pot shots at me, clipping my side and causing me to begin to bleed out. Frantically searching for refuge, I dive behind a house and open my inventory, finding whatever scraps I can to bandage up my wound and stem the bleeding. Barely alive, I take a long sip of tea, a moment to recollect my thoughts. I’ve got the fragment, I’ve got some health, I’ll be fine. Then I head round the corner to have a peek and there’s a robot, red glowing eyes enveloping my vision, the barrel of a gun pointing at my gut, and then it’s all over.

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Sadly this happens far too often so I’m not entirely sure what happens if you survive, I think there might even be dogs added to the mix if you survive for long enough. As the game stands it’s surprisingly fun even in this early state; there’s a huge amount of tension and Big Robot have got the feel of the English countryside exactly right. It feels like a place rather than a level, as if you’re the intruder rather than the whole environment being created just for you. The robots feel like the powerful ones, that could be off putting for some, but it’s a hell of a challenge. You’d need nerves of steel to get every piece, and I’m not there yet, but thankfully you can save after you return each fragment to the teleporter, so hopefully eventually I’ll eke out an escape, death by death.

Sir You Are Being Hunted is up for pre-order for $20 (or more if you’d like to support them further) from this website.

 

 

 

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