Reviewed on: PC

Street Date: 5.6.14

In a world littered with tired SimCity clones–including the newest SimCity—city Sims have to be more than exercises in fund management. Worlds need personality, unique aesthetics, and most importantly, challenge. Set in Northern California during The Gold Rush, 1849 is an attempt to bring life to this well-worn genre, setting players on a journey to establish cash-cow cities, trading goods and gold up and down the California coast.

Offering 20 unique scenarios to master, the game’s story mode appears to offer gamers a wide, diverse set of challenges to master. Unfortunately, the sense of challenge is lost among the simple mechanics and bland graphics. The game’s systems are solid—there just aren’t a lot of them, turning games in campaign or sandbox mode into a repetitive slog of watching one’s cash flow rise and fall, absent of any other engaging or unique components to bring each play through to life or even make players really feel like they’re part of the gold-panning action.

With nothing drawing connections between players and their worlds, the game’s lack of meaningful historical context, tiny, lifeless maps, and antiquated feature set are flaws that are impossible to overlook. –Randy Dankievitch

Arena: Clash of Champions

Cliffhanger Productions

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 05.07

Aerena is a strategic battle unlike anything I’ve played yet. The steampunk aesthetics blend with chess-like precision to make an enthralling experience for those interested in unwinding to some strategy. This Freemium-built title has a few layers of depth that affect combat and gameplay.

The main focus is your character and ship collection. With multiple abilities and different strengths/weakness, the selection of team becomes paramount when battling other players. Different ships will also have varied abilities, and the shells you pack with them will change how you control the battle. Generally, games that have in-game purchases will lean towards a pay-to-win model. Cliffhanger has found a good balance between the two that doesn’t make those along for a free ride feel at a disadvantage.

While it will take more time to unlock additional without levels paying, the learning curve is set to a point that makes that growth enjoyable. If you’re looking for something to challenge your mind, and ensure dominion over your enemies, this free-to-play is for you. –Thomas Winkley

Anomaly Defenders

11 bit studios

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 05.29

When Anomaly was released, the idea of reverse tower defense seemed odd, but it worked in the best possible way. Of course, it makes sense that the team that brought us intensely fun, backwards idea would then let us play from the perspective of the “enemies” and do standard tower defense.

Anomaly Defenders puts you in the role of the previously invading alien race, to defend from the human attack. While early tower defense simply gave you “place-unit-here” style play with a few different unit types and varying waves, Anomaly Defenders blends multiple units with tech trees, special abilities, ground cover and more. This keeps you more than just dropping units and praying for success—it puts the success in your hands as you employ your strategy.

If that isn’t enough, it also has resource management tied in, as you can harvest your cash to continue building. This visually stunning “casual” style game is something made for hardcore and casual alike. If you need more of a challenge, simply ramp up the difficulty and go blazing into intense combat. Tower defense has truly never been this fun. –Thomas Winkley


Battle Princess of Arcadias

NIS America Inc./ Nippon Ichi Software Inc.

Reviewed on: PS3 (exclusive)

Street: 06.17

Battle Princess of Arcadias almost seems like a kid’s game at first. It’s full of bright colors, but the graphics aren’t all that great—the way the characters move looks odd. The story is mediocre and the characters mostly annoying—although the king being randomly a goose made me chuckle. The controls also start off simple in the Combat levels. Combat levels are the button-masher levels where you combine your weak attacks with your strong attacks and just beat down the baddies.

I kind of grumbled at this—that kind of game could get boring fast. Thankfully, there are Siege and Skirmish levels to mix things up. In addition to your team, you have an entire brigade with a few formations at your disposal. The Skirmish levels ended up being my favorite, due to their fun complexity. You get to do your enemy-smashing in the foreground, but you also have to watch your brigade in the background as they take on a competing brigade at the same time. The Siege levels are a little more on the side of combat, except you have the added responsibility of your brigade. It’s more fun than I expected it to be. –Ashley Lippert

Blue Estate

Hesaw/Focus Home Interactive

Reviewed on: PS4 (exclusive)

Street: 06.24

Rail shooters are a genre that didn’t translate to console in any easy manner. Blue Estate helps fix that issue by integrating the PS4 motion controls. Not only is this game fun to play (once you get the hang of the control system, that is) but it is also packed with gratuitous violence and stupid humor, as well as the type of perfectly curvy strippers that would hang around such wonderful examples of humanity.

This isn’t a game to restore your faith in the human race—oh no—this is a game to let you remove large parts of the population while laughing at the awkward D & D-loving-narrator-turned-private-eye, and the 1980’s mafia flunkies who would rather kill things as opposed to hold an intelligent conversation. This game is not for everyone, and I can’t emphasize enough that it isn’t going to drive home any kind of deep narrative.

It is, however, going to satiate your need for grind house style shootouts across the U.S. The characters in the game are ridiculous and, at times, blatantly stereotypical. Go into the game with minimal expectations and your previously numbed brain will love grinding through baddies. There is hope for rail shooters after all. –Thomas Winkley

Drakengard 3

Square Enix / Access Games

Reviewed on: PS3 (exclusive)

Street: 05.20

While I’ve always enjoyed the ineffable weirdness of Cavia’s Drakengard series, this third entry carries over a lot of the issues that have always marred its predecessors. Drakengard 3 follows the exploits of Zero, a goddess-like entity known as an “Intoner” who is out to kill her five sisters, who are also Intoners. In case you may misunderstand this plot point, she repeats her intention to murder her sisters virtually nonstop during the first half of the game, making her seem like the anime-girl answer to Conan the Barbarian.

Maybe I was expecting a bit too much after playing Nier, which managed to combine fast-paced combat with a compelling story about interesting characters, but Zero’s homicidal rage seems more flat than genuinely interesting. Similarly, this game is full of awkward sight gags and odd characters who are just creepy enough to be annoying but not enough to actually distinguish themselves from each other. Despite all that, this game’s visuals are pretty well-designed, and the combat is fast-paced and genuinely enjoyable.

I find it awesome that Zero gets covered in more and more blood as she butchers everything in her path. Sadly, this game’s framerate is all over the place—even the loading screen has stuttering lag. It’s impossible not to feel a little disappointed that, even after the relatively smooth-running Nier, the framerate couldn’t be ironed out on the PS3. The story is still weirdly apocalyptic and full of mind-bending insanity, but the sublime madness that characterizes this series feels a little phoned in. Even with all its flaws, the Drakengard series dares to be weird in a world of gaming monotony, and Access Games did their best to give this series one last, wacky ride. Just be careful not to take it too seriously. –Henry Glasheen


Divinity: Original Sin

Larian Studios

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 06.30

As soon as you enter the world of Divinity, it appears as if you’ve wandered into a long lost expansion to Baldur’s Gate. You can gather a party of adventurers, level them up and equip them with whatever goodies fall into your hands through combat or theft. As the game progresses, however, you soon realize that this sense of familiarity has tricked you into thinking that you know what the hell you’re doing. The reality is that Divinity brings a level of sophistication and innovation to the fantasy RPG genre.

The way you invest your experience points makes a huge difference in overall gameplay, requiring a level of forethought that challenges players to recognize each character class’ specific strengths and weaknesses. Combat is turn-based, and unlike other RPG’s, enemies don’t level up along with you. It’s fully possible to get yourself into no-win situations. Though these features in Divinity add a lot to the game’s challenge factor, it’s also a bit unforgiving for the casual player. The game presents a widely interactive and hostile world that can be freely explored, but along with that comes a whole lot of getting your ass handed to you. –Alex Springer

Endless Legend

Amplitude Studios

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 04.24

Amplitude Studios is quickly becoming one of my favorite indie developers. With their beta build of Endless Legend, they are on the way to building a solid 4X game in the vein of Sid Meier’s Civilization and Age of Wonders while maintaining the conceptual creativity that sets their development team apart from the rest. Endless Legend features seven factions with very unique strengths and weaknesses. Each faction comes with a surprisingly detailed backstory—from the insectoid Necrophages to the haunting Broken Lords, the factions’ unconventional designs made me curious to experiment with all seven.

Endless Legend also gives players the ability to manufacture more powerful weapons and armor which can then be equipped to individual armies to make them stronger. As this was something that I hadn’t really seen in other 4X games, I thought it added another level of complexity to the empire-building gameplay—it’s possible to invest resources into creating the best weaponry, which provides a considerable advantage if you’re the type of player who enjoys winning through combat and subjugation. Based on the levels of complexity and creativity that Amplitude has shown us so far, Endless Legend looks to be on the right track. –Alex Springer


4gency/Versus Evil

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 07.08

Though still in its alpha build, Habitat is an interesting concept. The idea is that Earth can no longer sustain life, so the remainder of the population has gathered onto a habitat ship that is orbiting the planet. In order to keep your ship up and running, it’s your job to gather up the floating pieces of space debris and jerry-rig them to the habitat ship. This is where the game lets your inner Lego nerd go nuts. Along with the habitat ship, all kinds of wonderfully oddball items are orbiting the planet.

After a few hours of gameplay, my habitat ship was at the center of a vast network of junk that included a Ferris wheel, a flame-spewing T-Rex head and a few lunar landers. Some of the space garbage is around for purely aesthetic purposes, but a lot of objects have a unique function that becomes available as soon as it’s been grafted onto the ship. Things like laser guns and rockets become increasingly valuable as you venture further away from Earth, as your habitat will occasionally fall under attack. Habitat is definitely original, and its focus on building a large, unwieldy ship provides some good replay value. –Alex Springer


The Incredible Adventures of Van Helsing 2

Neocore Games

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 05.22

Though Van Helsing carries some definite nods to the character that was created by Bram Stoker and later Hollywood-ized by Stephen Sommers, Neocore’s dungeon-crawler has an aesthetic all its own. The goth-steampunk world of Borgova is easy to get wrapped up in—especially with regards to the game’s bestiary. There are no conventional monsters to be found in the legions of enemies that descend upon the player.

Every time some new creature arrived and tried to rip my face off, I couldn’t help but pause the game so I could get a closer look. As far as the good guys go, there are three classes to choose from—the melee-based Hunter, the magic-using Thaumaturge and the ranged Arcane Mechanic. Despite some variations, each class will feel familiar to fans of the dungeon-crawler genre. The game also features a ghostly sidekick, named Lady Katarina, whose primary job is to fight alongside the character and make cheeky comments.

At the end of the day, Van Helsing manages to achieve a tricky balance between familiarity and originality—it lures you in with a few familiar tricks, only to show you a world you’ve never seen before. –Alex Springer

Mario Kart 8

Nintendo/Nintendo of America

Reviewed on: Wii U


Street: 05.30

Mario Kart is awesome—it’s one of Nintendo’s biggest properties, so they go all out. The single- and two-player races in Mario Kart 8 are in beautiful 60 frames per second—tech speak for, “Damn, that looks good!” The stunning graphics are the first thing that you’ll notice, but it’s not the only upgrade. They added anti-gravity to some of the tracks, new items and new characters.

The anti-gravity isn’t just for show: The way you bounce off other drivers is a little different from the regular track. You can get boosts from slamming into other drivers instead of simply being pushed around. The new items—sound horn, piranha plant, boomerang, crazy eight—are fantastic additions to the roster, especially the sound horn. First Place finally has a defense against the pesky blue shell. It repels opponent’s items and environmental obstacles.

The Koopalings are among the new characters you can choose, along with metallic versions of Peach and Mario. The coolest thing about this new installment is that you can edit your races and upload them to YouTube. You can slow down the footage, speed it up, focus on certain players and edit the length. It’s the system seller the Wii U desperately needs. –Ashley Lippert



Nowhere Studios

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 05.28

Monochroma starts out so, so, so cool. You play as a pair of brothers set in an alternate 1950s reality where a corporation sells robots to every home. It’s the Land of Tomorrow actually in the ’50s. No flying cars, but a robot in every home. Monochroma plays like a silent film, and you must carry your brother (who breaks his leg early in the game) through obstacles and puzzles. It’s a nice element to the puzzle aspect of the game, but winds up being tedious as you play on.

The game is a 2D side-slider that immediately catches the eye with shades of gray and tinges of red. As a problem solving game, it’s fun. At times, it becomes tedious and seemingly impossible. The story of corporate takeover reveals itself slowly and even gets a little supernatural. It’s absolutely worth a play if you are looking to stretch your brain muscles and engage in puzzles. Otherwise, pick up an actual puzzle and put on Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow or something. –Rebecca Frost



NinjaBee/ NinjaBee

Reviewed on: Xbox One

Also On: Windows 8

Street: 05.08

A feature of the Xbox One is that it shares a lot architecturally with Windows 8, so naturally there will be some app and game crossover. One of the early examples of this is the Pac-Man-esque adventure game Nutjitsu. The game puts you in control of an adorable ninja squirrel as he moves his way through several mazes collecting different colored acorns. This casual title, at $7, seems like it would be a no-brainer, right?

Wrong. It is frustratingly easy, and the only time I struggled with it is when I became impatient with how simple it was. On top of that, there is a complete lack of diversity … it’s really the same thing over and over and over and over again. Sneak around the maps and pick up acorns until you get bored, then wander over to whatever the final pickup is, rinse and repeat. “But Blake, what about the kids? Maybe it’s great for kids!” Truth is, they’ll probably hate it, too. –Blake Leszczynski


Scurvy Scallywags

Beep Games Inc./ Beep Games Inc

Reviewed on: Android

Also on: iOS

Street: 06.04

Seriously though, fuck Candy Crush. If you love these three-in-a-row mobile games, then you need to download Scurvy Scallywags immediately. It has the addictive gameplay in spades, but it also adds a pretty great RPG element. On top of all of that, it has a ton of character. The writing, the art style, the music, everything—it just makes me smile. The game follows a semi-customizable pirate on a journey to find a legendary sea shanty. The gameplay is definitely casual, but there is a lot more strategy involved than in most of these games. And like a lot of the “casual” games, it can be a real time drain. Overall, this is a must have for anyone who is a fan of the genre, or anyone looking to kill time during a board meeting or something. –Blake Leszczynski


Secret Ponchos

Switchblade Monkeys

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 06.25

Secret Ponchos perfectly recreates my vision of what life was like in the Wild West all those years ago. I knew, deep down, that outlaws hung out in perfect arena shaped towns battling to the death with perfectly balanced class-based weapons. The game, which is available on early access, is an intensely fun multi-player battle experience, that combines twitch shooting with precise strategy. Depending on character, you may want to rush your opponent with quick blasts, or hang back only striking when the time is right. The matchmaking system feels quite natural and the various outlaws available are as neat as they are hilarious.

This is the type of title you won’t be disappointed dropping a few bucks into to get that perfectly customized villain, with which to slay your opponents. The barrier to entry is also relatively low as the controls are quite simple. You are then able to gain experience by figuring out strategic points within different maps and also the strengths and weaknesses of your character. I highly recommend taking a whack at this if you’re looking for a way to shame your friends, and prove that your cowboy roots go deeper. –Thomas Winkley

Space Run

Passtech Games/Focus Home Interactive

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)

Street: 06.13

At this point in my gaming career, I’ve written off anything with the words “tower defense” in the description. That being said, I can’t help but feel a little grateful to the genre because Space Run has adopted the basic concept and made it into something completely original. Space Run puts the player in the shoes of an interstellar truck driver who transports cargo from one planet to another. The space truck consists of tiny hexagons that can be outfitted with weapons, shields and thrusters during the trip.

Since all of the enhancements are made on the fly, the player needs some quick reflexes and creative thinking in order to survive the space pirates and asteroid fields that inevitably crash the party. In addition to the wide variety of equipment at your disposal, each weapon has a series of upgrades that can be triggered during flight, often making the difference between success and getting blown to smithereens. In addition to the unique and frenetic gameplay, the cutscenes between each job are clever enough to make you care about your space truck driver—even though he’s chosen a complete buzzkill of an android copilot. –Alex Springer


Watch Dogs

Ubisoft Montreal/Ubisoft

Reviewed on: Xbox One

Also on: Microsoft Windows, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Wii U (Q4 2014)

Street: 05.27

It was E3 2012, and Ubisoft was deep into their conference showing some of the usual titles—Assassin’s Creed III (which turned out to be just okay), Rayman Legends (very good), Far Cry 3 (fucking amazing) and so on. And then, out of nowhere, Watch Dogs flashed across our screens with a powerhouse 10-minute gameplay trailer that looked to be the dawn of a new age in gaming. So what happened? Well, gamers, to a certain extent, we were let down.

Look, Watch Dogs is a very good game by any standard, and it is incredibly ambitious. I just think the ambition gets the better part of it. The futuristic story of a vengeful hacker has a ton of huge ideas that don’t quite execute, maybe because of the vast amount of things to do. The online gameplay is good, the mobile app game add-on is fantastic and the graphics and gameplay are crisp. With all of that said, I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed by the game. A good game, with a lot of unfulfilled hype. –Blake Leszczynski


Crytek GmbH

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Also on: Microsoft Windows

Street: 04.22

Oh, the modern shooter. So much machismo and testosterone crammed into one package. Even the names scream “I am a man who likes to shoot virtual motherfuckers.” Call of Duty, Battlefield, Killzone … you can’t help to think these games are being marketed to Mountain Dew guzzling teenagers (and man-boy 20 and 30-somethings) by cocaine snorting grade-schoolers. The tradition of ridiculous moniker continues with the free-to-play first person shooter, Warface.

This ridiculously titled game is set 2023, in which a multinational military force is running things. But, as with all games within this genre, story is a distant second to mass murder. On a budget that’s a fraction of the big boys, Warface does an admirable job. Even after six or seven hours in the game (more than enough to pound out a review) I found myself coming back to it. The graphics and gameplay feel a bit dated, but they are more than passable, and the community is better than average. And best of all, it’s a free, fully functional game that adequately scratches your shooter itch. –Blake Leszczynski

The Wolf Among Us: Episode Four – In Sheep’s Clothing

Telltale Games

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Also on: PC, PS3, Vita, iOS, OS X

Street: 05.27

Furthering the adventures in the Vertigo Comics series, the fourth installment of the choose-your-own-adventure prequel really starts getting into the dirtier side of Fabletown. You pick up the following morning after being shot a dozen times by Bloody Mary, losing Ichabod Crane and trying to piece together the remaining clues from those caught in the middle of The Crooked Man’s schemes. The adventure expands the universe again with characters either missing or underutilized from the Fables universe, such as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Tiny Tim, The Butcher (from The Baker & The Candlestick Maker) and The Jersey Devil.

While the storylines and various twists your character can take are still awesome, the story seems a lot shorter than previous chapters. The artwork and music are still well done, giving you a gritty noir setting within a comic book environment that makes you feel like you’re immersed within the pages and time period, but some of the voice acting is still off and feels forced at times, which can take you right out of the story on occasion. Overall it’s still a damn fine series to be playing, and it’ll be interesting to see how the final chapter ends. –Gavin Sheehan

Wolfenstein: New Order

Machine Games/Bethesda Softworks

Reviewed on: PS4

Also on: PC/Xbox 360/PS3/Xbox One

Street: 05.19

Wolfenstein very well may be one of the most controversial games of 2014. While it doesn’t deliver a deep or thought compelling message, it is dependent on your expectations as to whether you’ll enjoy it or not. If you are looking for a Call of Duty killer, or the next Battlefield mimic, then you’re in the wrong place. Wolf is an unapologetic violent rampage through 1960s dystopian Europe, to stop the Nazi regime that won WWII.

The kill count from B.J. Blazkowicz as he rampages through German strongholds is matched only by the the awkward one-liners he delivers while doing it. There are some moments in combat where a melee attack doesn’t feel quite as fluid as other shooters, but that is quickly rectified once you begin blasting enemies that are considered less stabbable. The transition between stealth and heated combat is also smooth enough to allow players to choose their style. The sound track lends itself to the mechanized European war front beautifully, and some of the surprises from earlier titles will leave a smile on the faces of Wolfenstein fans. Suspend your disbelief, grab some weapons, and as B.J. says, “shoot, stab, and kill some Nazis”. –Thomas WInkley

Zombie Driver Ultimate Edition

EXOR Studios

Reviewed on: Xbox One

Street: 07.01

I don’t have many fears in this world. One of the few I do have, however, are zombie video games. The zombies are usually unrelenting, the numbers never dwindle, and every game I play ends with me covered in zombies letting them take me home to that sweet pie in the sky. Luckily, Zombie Driver presents the zombie pandemic in a less terrifying way. Your objective? Run over and destroy as many as you can as you drive through a zombified city.

As you drive through the game with a birds-eye-view perspective, the zombies swarm you like fire ants. There are options to play the game in three modes: story mode (uses objectives, mostly get from here to there to accomplish a thing), slaughter (kill kill kill, look cool doing it) and blood race (such speed, such clumsiness if you’re me). As a driving game, it’s a cool throwback to old GTA games and makes it easier to accomplish goals. Zombie Driver is a great game to play if you have time to kill and let your brain turn into zombie slush as the undead turn into blood spatters on the road. –Rebecca Frost