GameSpot's early access reviews evaluate unfinished games that are nonetheless available for purchase by the public. While the games in question are not considered finished by their creators, you may still devote money, time, and bandwidth for the privilege of playing them before they are complete. The review below critiques a work in progress, and represents a snapshot of the game at the time of the review's publication.
I admit I have very little idea of what's going on in Lichdom: Battlemage. The cutscenes recently added to this unfinished game are gorgeous and dramatic, and the new voice-overs are delivered with conviction, but I am not sure where I am and why I'm there. What matters is that I can summon ice and fire to my palms and fling them at scowling demonic warriors. Never has magic felt as powerful as it does in Lichdom, where it is free from the shackles of mana bars and long cooldowns. I march through ruins overgrown with ivy and rush down snowy paths dotted with evergreens, controlling the elements as if I were a demigod.
I enjoy Lichdom's magical combat so much, in fact, that I suspect it will spoil other games' spellcasting for me, so fluid does it feel. Corrupted magical flakes billow forth from my fingers and infect my attackers with bugs that spawn when their host perishes. I heave bursts of purple energy into skeletons, making them autonomous pets that assist me in battle. An autotargeting system may seem an odd thing to praise, but Lichdom's homing assists let me show off my impressive wizardry even when my opponents and I are constantly on the move. It's a fun and engaging system of dodges, blocks, and attacks that flow smoothly from one move to the next.
You start with only fire and ice at your disposal, though your options grow as you progress through the two sizable levels Lichdom currently offers. You equip three different schools of magic at a time, each of which has three basic types of actions: a targeted spell, an area-of-effect attack, and a shield that allows you to counter offensive moves as well as to mitigate damage. You can flip between these three schools at will, using the mind-control spells of the delirium sigil to gain helpful assists before wading into a mob and burning your opponents to a crisp. During battle, the air is awash with magic as you strafe about, avoiding oncoming spells and slinging icy projectiles.
So hot snow falls up?
The experience is gorgeous, though taxing to your PC, and it's hard not to appreciate the heavily detailed stone temples and splintered ice floes. The overwhelming CryEngine-powered beauty is not enough to stave off creeping repetition, however. Foes appear in a predictable fashion, and while the various spells provide some diversity to how you cut through the swarms, each encounter feels more or less like the last. The specifics change, but the pace rarely wavers, and the second map's rough level of difficulty, which makes for frequent deaths and respawns, emphasizes the tedium of Lichdom's linear path. The spellcasting feels amazing, but I longed for something a bit more--a set-piece show of destruction, a large-scale battle with a legion of mages at my side, or an environmental puzzle to solve. The bosses provide a bit of a tempo change, but my general tactics rarely wavered.
Nevertheless, Lichdom is poised for greatness, with its spell-creation utility helping to lead the charge. As foes fall, they leave behind various spell components that you can synthesize into more effective materials, and then combine to make new, more powerful spells. The types of spells--targeted, AOE, and shield--never change, but they gain new characteristics and statistics, with simple fireballs turning into flaming death balls with a chance to stagger targets and set them on fire for a period of time. Early on, I paid close attention to how I combined spells, choosing skills and components that seemed best suited to my play style from the two or three options the game typically offered during crafting. In time, however, the differences between similar spells were too minute for me to care, and I focused on synthesizing components at random until I had epic-level spells to equip. I love the freedom of the spellcrafting, but there comes a moment when the differences stop feeling meaningful.
Welcome to the Non-Ironic Punishment Division of Hell Labs.
There's no doubt, however, that Lichdom: Battlemage nails the basics. Never have I felt more like a commanding sorcerer than I do here, which makes me ache for more ways to show off my spellcasting skills. If developer Xaviant can give its game coherent narrative context and diversify the unwavering pace, Lichdom could ride its waves of elemental energy to glory.
Two large levels, five magical sigils, endless spell customization, and fluid spellcasting.
What's to Come?
A New-Game-Plus mode, bug fixes, performance optimization, more levels, balance tweaks, and more.
What Does it Cost?
$19.99, available via Steam.
When Will it Be Finished?
The current announced release date is August 26, 2014.
What's the Verdict?
In Lichdom: Battlemage, the full power of the elements courses through your veins. Unvaried pacing leads to repetition, but such a forceful foundation is difficult to ignore.
Report: Elder Scrolls parent company seeking compensation for Oculus Rift headset, Oculus calls claims "ridiculous"
Written by Munk
[UPDATE 2] John Carmack has commented on the story, saying on Twitter: "No work I have ever done has been patented. Zenimax owns the code that I wrote, but they don't own VR. Oculus uses zero lines of code that I wrote while under contract to Zenimax."
[UPDATE] Following the publication of this story, a ZeniMax representative provided a detailed statement on today's Wall Street Journal report. You can read their statement in full below.
"ZeniMax confirms it recently sent formal notice of its legal rights to Oculus concerning its ownership of key technology used by Oculus to develop and market the Oculus Rift. ZeniMax’s technology may not be licensed, transferred, or sold without ZeniMax Media’s approval. ZeniMax’s intellectual property rights arise by reason of extensive VR research and development works done over a number of years by John Carmack while a ZeniMax employee, and others. ZeniMax provided necessary VR technology and other valuable assistance to Palmer Luckey and other Oculus employees in 2012 and 2013 to make the Oculus Rift a viable VR product, superior to other VR market offerings."
The original story is below.
A new report today from The Wall Street Journaloutlines some controversy over Facebook's still-pending (but approved) purchase of Oculus VR, maker of the virtual reality headset Oculus Rift. According to documents obtained by the news publication, Fallout and Elder Scrolls parent company ZeniMax Media is claiming rights to the intellectual property that powers the Oculus Rift headset.
According to the report, ZeniMax lawyers have sent multiple letters to Oculus and Facebook, claiming former id Software (owned by ZeniMax) designer John Carmack, who joined Oculus last summer, "improperly took ZeniMax's intellectual property with him to Oculus." This technology, ZeniMax says, helped Oculus VR grow from a fledgling startup to a Silicon Valley darling in under two years.
"It's unfortunate, but when there's this type of transaction, people come out of the woodwork with ridiculous and absurd claims," an Oculus representative told The Wall Street Journal. "We intend to vigorously defend Oculus and its investors to the fullest extent."
The letters were sent following Facebook's surprise announcement last month that it would acquire Oculus VR in a massive deal worth $2 billion. Leslie Moonves, CEO of GameSpot parent company CBS Corp., is a member of the ZeniMax board of directors.
For its part, a ZeniMax representative said: "ZeniMax believes it is necessary to address these matters now and will take the necessary action to protect its interests." The company's letters to Oculus represented a "formal notice of its legal rights," according to the report. Sources close to ZeniMax said the company is seeking compensation.
The Wall Street Journal points out that it is unknown if Facebook knew before acquiring Oculus VR that ZeniMax was seeking compensation for the technology behind the Oculus Rift headset.
ZeniMax's dispute with Oculus dates back to early 2012, when Carmack reportedly contacted Oculus Rift creator Palmer Luckey. At this time, Luckey was experimenting with virtual reality headsets with a research group at the University of Southern California. Luckey, now 21, reportedly sent a prototype to Carmack.
Later that year at a "Los Angeles gaming convention," Carmack showed off a modified headset, the same headset that ZeniMax says was "the template for Oculus' Rift headset." The Wall Street Journal references an unspecified YouTube video where Carmack shows off this headset. Though it's not clear which video specifically they mean, Carmack demonstrated a virtual reality headset to numerous publications, including GameSpot sister site Giant Bomb, during E3 2012.
In this video, Carmack says he introduced new software to help the headset become a workable product. It appears it is this software that ZeniMax now claims ownership of. Luckey founded Oculus VR around the same time.
Finally, The Wall Street Journal says ZeniMax began seeking compensation for this intellectual property in August 2012, according to sources. Negotiations were reportedly held--on and off--for a period of about six months, and Oculus apparently even offered ZeniMax a "small equity stake." However, no deal was ever reached, sources said.
Carmack joined Oculus VR last summer, and five other ZeniMax employees followed, the report goes on. And just last week, ZeniMax penned a letter to Oculus VR's lawyers and Facebook's general counsel, saying: "It was only through the concerted efforts of Mr. Carmack, using technology developed over many years at, and owned by, ZeniMax, that Mr. Luckey was able to transform his garage-based pipe dream into a working reality," according to The Wall Street Journal.
Community manager fired after controversial tweets about embattled NBA owner Donald Sterling
Written by Munk
Turtle Rock, creator of the Left 4 Dead franchise and the upcoming Xbox One/PS4/PC game Evolve, has fired its community manager after he tweeted about embattled Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, calling him a "victim."
This afternoon, Turtle Rock apologized for Olin's tweets, saying they don't represent the company's values and calling Olin a "former" community manager for the studio.
"The comments made by our former community manager stand in stark contrast to our values as a game development studio," Turtle Rock said on Twitter. "We sincerely apologize for his remarks and in no way endorse or support those views."
For his part, Olin responded with a statement of his own.
"Anyone who follows me knows my tweets were not in support of Sterling's actions. Rather, they were promoting three core tenets I believe in: 1) The harm sensational media presents to society. 2) The importance and sanctity of your privacy within your own home. And 3) The right to be whatever you want to be as an American, as long as it isn't hurting anyone else. That last point not to be confused with condoning Sterling's actions, which I don't," Olin told Kotaku.
"That said, it's disappointing to see that a select few in Turtle Rock and 2K Games management bought into this hysteria without even having a conversation with me--or even thoroughly reviewing the context of the tweets themselves," he added. "Ironically, it serves as a great example of why I hold tenet #1 above so close to heart. That said, everyone should totally still buy Evolve. The guys and gals making that game know their ***, and are making it good."
Star Wars films reimagined as interactive storybooks, each with a game
Written by Munk
Each of the six Star Wars films is being reimagined as a digital storybook with its own movie-specific game, Lucasfilm announced today.
Known as Star Wars Journeys, the mobile apps will retell the stories of their respective movies, reports Variety. The first one, available beginning today on iOS, is based on The Phantom Menace and is split into three parts, one of which is a podracing game.
Another component of this first release is described as a story mode (estimated to take roughly an hour to complete) where players interact with the environment as they make their way through the film's plot and unlock podracer upgrades. Also included is a database with information on the characters, locations, vehicles, and more from the movies.
The first Journeys app is priced at $6.99 on the iOS App Store, with plans for it to also be released on Android in the future. Journeys covering the later movies will be released between now and the launch of the next film--the cast of which was announced this week--in December 2015. There is, as of yet, no word on exactly when the new Journeys will be released (nor whether a trash compactor will be featured in A New Hope's game).
If Journeys sounds or looks simplistic, that's because Lucasfilm is gearing this toward kids in the 6-12-year-old range. That target demographic is also part of the reason Journeys is being released on mobile platforms.
While Star Wars-themed games have been released on iOS and Android in the recent past, including Tiny Death Star and Star Wars: Assault Team, Variety notes this is the first Star Wars digital release that Lucasfilm and Disney Publishing have partnered up to develop internally since Disney's Lucasfilm acquisition in 2012.
New Avengers game first requires finding the right developer
Written by Munk
Given the commercial and critical success of 2012's Avengers movie, not to mention countless other superhero movies, an Avengers game seems like it should be an obligatory extension of the property. But before one can be made, Marvel must first find the right developer to handle the project, due to an expanded effort to ensure all of its games are high quality
"The Avengers game will come when we have the right partner, that has the right vision, that has the time to develop a strong, competitive triple-A title and wants to do it right," Marvel's games boss, TQ Jefferson, told IGN.
Jefferson acknowledged the shortcomings of the latter two and acknowledged that gamers are "not going to flock to something that's sub-par." He also said the lack of an Avengers tie-in game "is indicative of Marvel's new attitude and the approach to how we find partners and build games. I think in the heyday of the movie licensed game, these games were popping out all the time and most of them sucked."
It's a commendable approach if Marvel is able to stick with it. Its licenses have been attached to good games in the past, including LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and the Marvel vs. Capcom series, but, as noted above, there has been no shortage of bad Marvel games, either. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was recently released, and early reviews have not been positive.
No One Lives Forever trademarks point to possible re-releases
Written by Munk
Image courtesy of Play Old PC Games
Classic first-person shooter series No One Lives Forever could be gearing up for a re-release, if newly discovered trademark filings are any indication.
It was unclear as recently as last month who, exactly, held the rights to No One Lives Forever after Activision--which acquired the game's now-defunct publisher, Sierra, as part of the merger that formed Activision Blizzard--indicated it was no longer responsible for the series.
Siliconera now reports that trademark filings were registered in April for the titles of several NOLF games, including the original, The Operative: No One Lives Forever; sequel No One Lives Forever 2: A Spy in H.A.R.M.'s Way; and spin-off Contract J.A.C.K. Trademarks in and of themselves are not necessarily indicative of anything. However, considering the company who filed for them--Night Dive Studios--has been responsible for the re-releases of games like System Shock 2, it stands to reason that it intends to do the same with the NOLF games.
The company's CEO, Stephen Kick, wouldn't comment on its plans in a statement issued to Siliconera, only saying, "I would like to add that our team has a great fondness for these games and our hope is that they will one day be re-released."
The original NOLF was released in 2000 for PC and was later brought to the PlayStation 2. It received a warm critical reception upon its release, thanks in part to its mixture of shooting and stealth action, as well as its gadgets (lipstick explosives!) and spoofing of the spy genre. Both NOLF and its two follow-ups were developed by Monolith Productions, which would go on to create the FEAR and Condemned series, as well as Gotham City Impostors.
Massachusetts town ends 32-year ban on arcade games
Written by Munk
Marshfield, Mass. residents this week voted to overturn a 1982 bylaw that banned coin-operated arcade games from all businesses in the town. A majority vote was required to overturn the bylaw, and it was a close one. The final tally was 203-175.
Town resident Craig Rondeau brought forth the petition to end the ban, which he says never made sense to him. "I was sitting thinking, 'why is this illegal in my town, to have fun with my friends," he told The Patriot Ledger (via Joystiq). He maintains that video games can help children learn social skills and practice problem-solving.
Not everyone agrees with the end of the ban. Marshfield resident Sue Walker said arcade games can disturb family gatherings at public restaurants. "There is gaming all over the place, and there's nothing fun about it," she said.
Marshfield originally banned arcade games in 1982 on the grounds that these games were too addictive for children. The ban gathered national attention and local business owners even attempted to have the case heard by the United States Supreme Court, but that never happened.