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Mission: Europa in Review

I’ve recently upgraded to an iPhone 4 so naturally I’ve been making the rounds, checking out games that I couldn’t play on my 3G that I got back in the olden days when Zen Bound and Rolando were the hot titles. I’ve picked up some great ones- Infinity Blade, Dead Space, Hunters, and Sword and Sworcery- but my go-to game has turned out to be the incredibly weird, awkward and strangely compelling Mission: Europa. Developed by one Ryan Mitchell operating as BansheeSoft, it’s practically a garage project with a homemade first-person 3D graphics engine and a shocking amount of content. I tried the recently released light version and wound up springing for the $10 collector’s edition- the most I’ve ever paid for an iOS game.

The setup is, for the most part, incomprehensible and reads something like a 14 year old’s idea for an “awesome” science fiction movie. All you need to know is that you’re on Europa orbiting Jupiter and an AI quest dispenser sends you off into a 50 level dungeon to do stuff for it and apparently there’s over 150 tasks. The subterranean areas of the moon are full of these bloody, biomechanical robot skeletons things that try to kill you. Essentially, it’s a surprisingly successful mix of elements from Bethesda’s playbook and light RPG looters like Diablo or Borderlands. I also don’t think it would be inappropriate to cite System Shock or Ultima: Underworld as influences.

There’s plenty of stats, levels, and keyword effects but there are no classes or weapons specializations. Implements of robot murder range from standard shotguns and swords to something called a “Coolaid Gun” that is described as shooting projectiles from another dimension. I think there’s an armor slot for every part of the body, and I’m trying to determine whether or not I’m disturbed by wearing “dead scientist flesh” as protective gear or not. There’s also item crafting with several different kinds of materials and schematics to be discovered.

Control is decent, but like most first-person iOS games, it’s got room for improvement wide enough to drive a truck through. As expected, left on-screen stick controls walking, right finger anywhere on the screen controls view. It’s mostly responsive, although oddly sluggish in some areas. There’s a button for each hand to attack or defend with a shield. Additionally, there a skill slots ringing the frame where you can quick-cast spells (for lack of a better term, since this is a science fiction game), drink potions, and use skills. There are passive skills in addition to recharging, single-shot ones.

Quests are pretty standard- flip a switch, find an item, kill X number of minions, or bring back the head of a boss. Nothing particularly novel, except when you get back to the “town” area and the robot you just decapitated is there demanding his noggin back. I’ve only played for about three hours, but already this is a game that I can see going on for a long, long time. It’s definitely repetitive, but it’s got that sort of routine that makes light RPGs addictive. There’s also a multiplayer arena, but when I’ve checked there’s been no one playing.

The game is definitely reminiscent of a 1990s PC game but with some modern trappings like achievements with notices that pop up and obscure the whole screen, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s complicated, fairly detailed, and with that appealing risk/reward curve that good looting games have. I’ve been surprised at how often I’ve wanted to get back into the game, even eschewing console time to plow through more quests and find more junk. Mr. Mitchell has a surprisingly firm grasp of what makes games like this fun to play, and his commitment to producing a quality- if no-budget- product shines through.

And now, the caveats.

The production is, to be charitable, idiosyncratic. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that most folks don’t make it through ten minutes of the free trial version due to its cumbersome interface or its awkward graphics. This isn’t a super-polished Gameloft title, it’s a game that some guy made by himself with his own graphics programming and design idiom. Visually, it’s kind of like a cross between a Nintendo 64 game and a sheet of blotter acid. I’m not quite sure why there’s blood everywhere, but it contrasts nicely with all the neon green. Documentation is practically non-existent and although there are video tutorials on YouTube, there’s no help in-game for sorting out the menus, what stats do, or what keywords mean. It’s unpolished and amateur, but it’s also spirited and unlike any other hardcore game for the iDevices.

The lack of big-budget production values makes Mission: Europa quite singular. There are quirky, homespun idiosyncrasies that I think are quite endearing, like the garbled, staticky robot voices provided by a female with the Mitchell surname- probably a wife or sister. Astonishingly, I really like the garishly over-the-top 1999 Photoshop look that some of the collateral like the icon and typography has because it conveys a homespun, go-for-broke tone that only one guy with a barrel full of unchecked ambition can generate. The game is just a teeny, tiny bit of batshit crazy and that it all works so well makes it something very unique in the sea of clones and slickly produced casual fare that litter the App Store.

The Witcher 2 Combat Diary

It’s five minutes of The Witcher 2 with Geralt hacking limbs off and casting crazy spells all over the place with a voice over from the developer.

If you want to know what combat is all about and how you can develop Geralt’s combat/magic skills, this video is a good tool. Anticipation remains high and I’m still in the market for a new videocard…

Sony Playstation Network Outtage and Security Breach – 4/26 Update

No High Scores

Beyond this intro paragraph, I’m leaving commentary out of this one. Too easy to point fingers and too little understanding of the exact circumstances. I’m not a particular fan of Sony, but if you’re them, just how do you handle a massive international security breach that may have resulted in the personal data (including credit card information) for millions of users falling into the hands of god knows who? More speedy release of information to affected users ought to be in order, but the scale of it all is staggering enough I’m not rushing judgment. Their first step had to be assessing just how bad the damage is and the multinational legal ramifications thereof. I’m not even going to pretend to have a clue how all that works. To me, the real story will be what happens if and when this breach is actually used to hurt people. Somehow I don’t think a compensatory free game download off PSN will do the trick.

Anyway, via the PSN US blog, here’s Sr. Director, Corporate Communications & Social Media Patrick Seybold…

Thank you for your patience while we work to resolve the current outage of PlayStation Network & Qriocity services. We are currently working to send a similar message to the one below via email to all of our registered account holders regarding a compromise of personal information as a result of an illegal intrusion on our systems. These malicious actions have also had an impact on your ability to enjoy the services provided by PlayStation Network and Qriocity including online gaming and online access to music, movies, sports and TV shows. We have a clear path to have PlayStation Network and Qriocity systems back online, and expect to restore some services within a week.

We’re working day and night to ensure it is done as quickly as possible. We appreciate your patience and feedback.

Valued PlayStation Network/Qriocity Customer:
We have discovered that between April 17 and April 19, 2011, certain PlayStation Network and Qriocity service user account information was compromised in connection with an illegal and unauthorized intrusion into our network. In response to this intrusion, we have:

1. Temporarily turned off PlayStation Network and Qriocity services;
2. Engaged an outside, recognized security firm to conduct a full and complete investigation into what happened; and
3. Quickly taken steps to enhance security and strengthen our network infrastructure by re-building our system to provide you with greater protection of your personal information.

We greatly appreciate your patience, understanding and goodwill as we do whatever it takes to resolve these issues as quickly and efficiently as practicable.

Although we are still investigating the details of this incident, we believe that an unauthorized person has obtained the following information that you provided: name, address (city, state, zip), country, email address, birthdate, PlayStation Network/Qriocity password and login, and handle/PSN online ID. It is also possible that your profile data, including purchase history and billing address (city, state, zip), and your PlayStation Network/Qriocity password security answers may have been obtained. If you have authorized a sub-account for your dependent, the same data with respect to your dependent may have been obtained. While there is no evidence at this time that credit card data was taken, we cannot rule out the possibility. If you have provided your credit card data through PlayStation Network or Qriocity, out of an abundance of caution we are advising you that your credit card number (excluding security code) and expiration date may have been obtained.

For your security, we encourage you to be especially aware of email, telephone, and postal mail scams that ask for personal or sensitive information. Sony will not contact you in any way, including by email, asking for your credit card number, social security number or other personally identifiable information. If you are asked for this information, you can be confident Sony is not the entity asking. When the PlayStation Network and Qriocity services are fully restored, we strongly recommend that you log on and change your password. Additionally, if you use your PlayStation Network or Qriocity user name or password for other unrelated services or accounts, we strongly recommend that you change them, as well.

To protect against possible identity theft or other financial loss, we encourage you to remain vigilant, to review your account statements and to monitor your credit reports. We are providing the following information for those who wish to consider it:

U.S. residents are entitled under U.S. law to one free credit report annually from each of the three major credit bureaus. To order your free credit report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free (877) 322-8228.

We have also provided names and contact information for the three major U.S. credit bureaus below. At no charge, U.S. residents can have these credit bureaus place a “fraud alert” on your file that alerts creditors to take additional steps to verify your identity prior to granting credit in your name. This service can make it more difficult for someone to get credit in your name. Note, however, that because it tells creditors to follow certain procedures to protect you, it also may delay your ability to obtain credit while the agency verifies your identity. As soon as one credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the others are notified to place fraud alerts on your file. Should you wish to place a fraud alert, or should you have any questions regarding your credit report, please contact any one of the agencies listed below.

Experian: 888-397-3742; www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
Equifax: 800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
TransUnion: 800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

You may wish to visit the web site of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or reach the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 or 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580 for further information about how to protect yourself from identity theft. Your state Attorney General may also have advice on preventing identity theft, and you should report instances of known or suspected identity theft to law enforcement, your State Attorney General, and the FTC. For North Carolina residents, the Attorney General can be contacted at 9001 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-9001; telephone (877) 566-7226; or www.ncdoj.gov. For Maryland residents, the Attorney General can be contacted at 200 St. Paul Place, 16th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202; telephone: (888) 743-0023; or www.oag.state.md.us.

We thank you for your patience as we complete our investigation of this incident, and we regret any inconvenience. Our teams are working around the clock on this, and services will be restored as soon as possible. Sony takes information protection very seriously and will continue to work to ensure that additional measures are taken to protect personally identifiable information. Providing quality and secure entertainment services to our customers is our utmost priority. Please contact us at 1-800-345-7669 should you have any additional questions.

Sony Computer Entertainment and Sony Network Entertainment

Here’s the link to Euro version of this post. (Thanks, Labreya!)

Capsized Available April 29 on Steam

Alientrap Games has announced the release date for Capsized, its 2d action-platformer, to be April 29th on Steam for $9.99. Alientrap also sent along review codes (woo) and a link to a YouTube video with a developer interview, for those, like me, you had no idea what this was until today. So when you’re searching the Steam store on Friday and see Capsized you’re going to say , “Hey yeah I know that game.”

I think my work is done here.

THQ and Games Workshop: Group Hug

THQ and Games Workshop have announced a “multi-year” extension to their licensing agreement.

From the PR:

(This deal extends) THQ’s current exclusive rights to publish video games based on the popular Warhammer 40,000 universe through titles across all relevant platforms including core, social and mobile rights.

“Our envisioning of the Warhammer 40,000 universe will continue to grow with top quality games across all platforms, including the upcoming launches of Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine and Warhammer 40,000: Dark Millennium Online,” said Brian Farrell, THQ President and CEO.

“The impressive translation of the Warhammer 40,000 universe from the tabletop to the video game space by THQ certainly highlights the potential of our most successful intellectual property in the right hands,” said Mark Wells, Games Workshop CEO. “We know that the depth of the storylines, characters and imagery of the Warhammer 40,000 universe positions the IP to excel across many media platforms – and extending our agreement with THQ will help ensure that Warhammer 40,000 maintains a strong and growing presence in the video game space.”


Bill Abner, crazed Warhammer fan of 20 years added, “Please, please, please let Space Marine be good.”

Portal 2 Video Guide

If you need a helping hand or just want to sit back and watch Portal 2 play out via a web player, we’ve posted a single player walkthrough for Portal 2 over at The Mothership.

GameShark’s Brian Rowe put this together. Good on you, Brian.

The Basics of Brink

While I’m pretty sure you’ll be seeing this as the in-game tutorial once Brink drops on May 10th, here’s a handy video of the basics of Splash Damage’s upcoming class based MP shooter. I would not advise trying to hack a mine with a blowtorch in real life or you may find yourself waiting quite some time to respawn.

Excitebike 3D Both Exciting and Free

No High Scores

When the 3DS’ much anticipated eStore, or whatever the hell they’re calling it, drops, Nintendo doesn’t want you to ignore the firmware that brings it. I honestly have no idea who wouldn’t want the ability to buy games digitally, or the free web browser that will also come with the update, but Nintendo is so worried you’ll throw your 3DS down in disgust and smash it with a hammer lest it be infected by more ones and zeroes that they’re going to give you a free 3D version of Excitebike to go with your firmware update. Right now, this offer has only been confirmed for Japan, so it’s possible those of us not in Japan will get a big bowl of nothing along with our free eShop and free web browser, but hopefully Nintendo will remember that there are people on this side of the ocean that want to play 20 year old games in stomach churning 3D.

3D Excitebike is the first in a line of 3D Classics Nintendo will be releasing, all of which are classic Nintendo games 3D-afied, in case the title isn’t clear enough. I’m all for nostalgia, but come on. 3D Ocarina, 3D Excitebike, 3D Nintendogs, 3D StarFox. The only new 3D game Nintendo has put out is Steel Diver and it sucked. I don’t want old, good games made in 3D, I want new, good games made in 3D. Here’s hoping Kid Icarus brings the new 3D thunder.

Red Faction: Armageddon Demo Next Week

No High Scores

I’ve said before that I have no idea what to expect from Red Faction: Armageddon. One thing I can expect is that I won’t be playing it on my gamertag. Two difficulty based achievements? Thanks but, no thanks Volition. Luckily, if you’re in the dark about the game like I am, we can have the light of truth blasted into our faces next week thanks to a demo of the game. The demo will hit both the 360 and the PS3 on May 3rd, provided Sony can get it’s PSN stuff together by then. No word on a PC demo despite the PC version releasing the same day as the other platforms, something that is both silly and strange. By that I mean that the lack of a PC demo is both silly and strange, not that releasing on the same day is silly and strange. I’ll be quiet now.

Team Assault: Baptism of Fire Announced

Time for a little turn based tactical gameplay, even if it is, yet again, World War II. I swear those Germans are one tough nut to crack. This looks right up my alley and is set for a summer 2011 release.

PR Ahead:

Matrix Games (www.matrixgames.com), Slitherine (www.slitherine.com), and Zeal (www.teamassault-game.com) are thrilled to announce Team Assault: Baptism of Fire – a beautifully crafted 3D turn-based tactical game set during World War II.

Team Assault: Baptism of Fire is a 3D turn-based tactical game where players take command of infantry squads to engage the enemy in intense close combat. Using an objective-control system, players must use wits and the geography around them to secure tactically important points and dominate the enemy. Although the combat system is turn-based, the game play can be as fast paced and dynamic as you’d like. Dynamic turns, counter actions and continual feedback keep you constantly engaged while still giving you enough time to make important decisions to change the course of battle.

Team Assault boasts an in-depth (a) combat system that both favors realism and exciting gameplay. Weapon accuracy and penetration, cover versus weapon penetration, recoil, encumbrance and wounded soldiers are only some of the included features. Also included are near limitless customization options. The included map editor and force creator will allow you to design finely tuned squads that perfectly suit your needs and command styles. A map editor is also included so constructing all new tactical puzzles and environments is possible as well!

Get more information on Team Assault: Baptism of Fire from its official product page here: http://slitherine.com/games/TA_BoF