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Alec-Ross

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Alec-Ross is a regular feature writer and game critic for Thirteen1. He enjoys playing survival horror games, listening to videogame music, and taking part in a good co-op multi-player.

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With Ken Levine pursuing other ventures, Irrational Games is no more, and the next episode in the Burial at Sea DLC serves as the studio’s swansong.

This latest add-on serves as a tribute to the BioShock series and tries its hardest to tie up the plot in a neat little package; so come to this game with your thinking cap on.

In my review for episode one, I referred to the theme of “constants and variables”. This has become some sort of pretentious mantra for those who love the lore of the series, but it’s basically a get out of jail free card for Irrational Games to deliver similar experiences explained with pseudo-science mumbo-jumbo. In traditional BioShock fashion the game opens up in a stylish manner. Through the eyes of Elizabeth you explore a sickly sweet Paris, complete with croissants, street artists, and the Eiffel Tower. It’s like something out of a Disney film with sinister undertones because of course, in true BioShock style, things turn ugly. In a way, this Paris sequence is the DLC’s greatest set piece, it’s just a shame that Irrational decided to play this ace in the hole so soon.

When we return back to Rapture, we carry on where Episode One left off, now fully in control of Elizabeth. Despite her being this self-righteous, tear inducing heroine in the previous instalments, the game manages to strip her of all that with one quick scene on a rowing boat with two quick witted physicists. So in order to combat the splicing lunatics of Rapture, she has to resort to new plasmids, guns and more importantly the shadows, because stealth and distraction are the greatest weapons of all.

Nobody plays BioShock for the combat because it’s so bloody frustrating; however, the new stealth gameplay manages to breathe new life into it, though it does get pretty tiresome after a while. The level layout and enemy AI are not meant for your typical stealth gameplay, the splicers patrol in erratic patterns, and there’s always inadequate cover. This makes the game a challenge to play, but it is possible for those willing to give it a go thanks to the new mechanics on offer.

The new Peeping Tom plasmid offers Dishonored like abilities (invisibility and X-Ray vision), the silent takedown requires little prerequisites, and the new over-powered crossbow is silent and efficient. Things can get tense as the splicers hunt for you, but they are fairly easy to deceive with noise-makers. If you want to pull a Batman, you can use the Skyhook to hide up high, but be warned, the attachments break after a short amount of time.

Unfortunately, when things do go awry, you’ll be out-matched very quickly. In previous BioShock games, death meant a visit to a Vita-chamber or a quick revival from your companion and you could jump straight back into the fight. This time death means death, and once you’re out for the count you’ll find yourself back to an invisible checkpoint with all your foes respawned.

It’s difficult to judge what BioShock thinks of its audience, because when it’s not insulting your intelligence by pointing out the obvious, it expects you to fully understand the science behind the fiction and the political machinations of both Rapture and Columbia. Well I’m sorry, but BioShock came out almost seven years ago! At least the Previously offers some insight.

While Elizabeth’s entertaining internal dialogue provides much needed clarifications it makes the once exulted audio-diaries now feel contrived and useless, existing as a collectible instead of an indispensable piece of backstory.

After six hours of tiresome attempts to explain the overall plot for the series and one cringe worthy torture scene, Burial at Sea comes to a very unsatisfying end, making Irrational Games’ swansong fall flat. It can be great to cover old ground and revisit favourite characters, but if you manage to undermine the original game by doing so, then what’s the point? Burial at Sea just goes to show that the series has gotten far too big for its boots. In some ways, the whole Infinite saga is a worse experience than BioShock 2 (an underrated game that’s not even been considered part of the “constants and variables” theme).

The BioShock games will always have a strong place in my heart, the art style is still masterful and some of the political themes provide numerous moments of wonder and awe. However, its clunky combat system and pretentious science-fiction makes this a necessary break up. Sorry BioShock, it’s not me, it’s you. For game that loves its literature, here’s a well-known T.S Elliot quote to conclude with:
“This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but a whimper.”

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We’ve updated our first ever countdown, originally published in the October 2009 issue of T1 Monthly (Flash only). Do you think Outlast deserves its new place in the Scariest Game Moments list?

We’ve all experienced them. The instances when we jumped back from the screen. The moments in the darkness when it was too quiet, where we spooked ourselves with our own footsteps. The music reaching an eerie crescendo, as we slowly moved around the corner. What was that shadow? Who made that noise? All those times in video games where we let fear control us. All those scenes that have deeply disturbed and unnerved us. In the spirit of Halloween, we want to honour those spooky times with our very own list of the Top 13 Scariest Moments.

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“Constants and Variables,” a phrase uttered several times during Bioshock Infinite’s conclusion, an ambiguous ending that remains open for all to interpret. While several people – myself included – still scratch their heads in regard to the game’s finale, it’s this notion of constants and variables that I’m reminded of after playing the new DLC, Burial at Sea Episode 1.

Anyone who is a fan of the Bioshock series knows the history of Rapture, what it was and what it would eventually become. However, as players we’ve never had the opportunity to see this underwater utopia in its heyday. I’ll be frank, I wasn’t keen to see this part of Rapture’s history, I was content with the perspective I had conjured up after hearing all the numerous audio diaries in the first game. That being said, I did want more from Booker and Elizabeth, hoping that more context would help me understand the subtext. Nonetheless, two hours later and episode one complete and I remain just as confused with more questions needing answers. However, certain aspects of the DLC demonstrate that the series is a constant repetitive experience with varying elements.

The story begins with a sultry and hardened Elizabeth sauntering into Booker DeWitt’s office with her hips a-swinging. The tired eye private detective hired by the mysterious woman: a film noir trope we’re all familiar with. Elizabeth hires DeWitt to investigate the disappearance of a little girl called Sally, and our protagonist reluctantly takes the gig. In order to find Sally, the duo must venture into Rapture’s underbelly and face off against numerous splicers that want the girl for themselves. The story plays out fairly quickly, with plenty of fan service and a few appearances from some of Rapture’s favourite denizens, and like every game in the series thus far, you’ll never predict the big plot twist. It does feel somewhat contrived in places, certain plot aspects thrown in purely for referential shake, but I’m sure die-hard fans will easily overlook them.

Immediately players will notice a difference to our duo this time around, their relationship frosty, with Elizabeth now cold and stand-offish as opposed to the doe-eyed and hopeful character we met before. Throughout the DLC she remains the helpful AI that points out lock picks and lobs the odd health pack, but she does it somewhat reluctantly. The look on her face when she’s tasked with reviving Booker during combat is one of disgust and contempt.

As we all know, Rapture returns and serves as the playground for this adventure, the city’s shameful 1950s grandeur juxtaposed by the ominous abyss that can be viewed through its colossal windows. Bioshock Infinite’s introduction of Columbia felt like a Disney ride, with NPCs waiting for you to approach before they begin their conversations or actions, and we are reintroduced to Rapture in a similar fashion. A waiter waits for you to enter the bar before he showcases his ability to transport using the Houdini plasmid; as you approach a group of Little Sisters, they eerily glare at you; and citizens comment on a Big Daddy as he begins to fix the external pipe work outside a window you happen to be walking past. Rapture is a stage show and we are the audience, breaking any immersion almost instantly.

After this display of a Rapture long-forgotten, we return to the nitty-gritty that is Bioshock’s combat system. All vigors are available from the off, although you begin equipped with Devil’s Kiss and Possession, with the others available from the multiple vending machines. Old Man Winter is a new freezing vigour, which is very similar to its relative from the first BioShock, and there is also a new weapon called the Radar Range, a microwave gun originally designed to cook food that now cooks splicers, splendid. There are also several collectibles to find in Rapture, audio diaries once again provide us with insight and it gives the game opportunity to cameo characters from previous games. The gear system feels as out of place as it did in Columbia, and the skyhook returns to keep gameplay varied when possible.

In some ways Bioshock Infinite’s potentially lovely world felt constrained by certain mechanics, as if Ken Levine had to omit and emit elements in favour of the mainstream audience, but with Burial at Sea the constraints seem lifted. Sure, certain aspects still null the experience, but the story is true to its roots, giving nothing away and expecting players to know their Bioshock lore. Constants and variables is no longer a theory, but a proven practice in regard to the Bioshock universe, or should that be multiverse?

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SPICE INVADERS – Developer: On5 – Publisher: Chillingo – Format: iOS – Price: Free

Tower defence games are one of the most popular genres on the iOS platforms. The reason behind their overwhelming dominance of the App Store charts is due to their accessibility and addictive gameplay. So how does a new tower defence game on the scene attract new players? The innovative chaps at Chillingo and On5 believe that space pirates and their unhealthy obsession with spice is the way to capture your attention, and it works. The wacky concept, design, world map, music, all of it is of an impeccably high standard, which grabs you initially, but is Spice Invaders’ attraction superficial? Or does this free game have the makings to be a great pastime? Read on.

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The Phoenix Wright games are popular for a number of reasons. They combine the tense atmosphere of a court drama with the gameplay of a point-and-click adventure game, and the anime art style is popular with many western gamers who call themselves Otakus. These aspects alone have caused many people to fall in love the Ace Attorney series, but for this writer it was the music composed by Masakazu Sugimori and arranged by Akemi Kimura that pointed itself out.

The music is produced in the old video game style of chip tune, however, with the power of hindsight on their side, Sugimori and Kimura have written a soundtrack that screams originality and that doesn’t fall into similar traps as other chip tune music from the 8-bit and 16-bit era.

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A few months ago, Thirteen1 had the golden opportunity to interview composer Jason Graves and discuss his work on Dead Space, the soundtrack that made him a household name for most gamers. It was a fantastic experience to hear the insight into one of the industry’s most terrifying scores, but we’ve come to realise that we never gave the soundtrack our own critique. So for the past month we’ve been listening to the original score in the darkness, heightening our senses and hoping to get the most out of it – it has been traumatising.

The soundtrack to Dead Space is an intense listen. You have to be prepared for what Graves is going to throw at you. You won’t find any moments where he lets you come up for air; you’re either on the edge of your seat in suspense, or cowering in horror as crescendos attack.

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The level of excitement in the Thirteen1 office surrounding the release of Gears or War 3 later this year is, frankly, unbelievable. Epic’s sci-fi shooter franchise has been an all-time favourite of ours since it’s initiation back in 2006. So with that in mind, imagine how stir-crazy we fan-boys went when we were offered a free pass to access the multiplayer beta of the highly-anticipated title. Also, imagine how tense things got in the office when we realised we only had one access code. To cut a long story short, I was granted access, and I like to think it was because of my awesome hair, but I don’t think that’s the case. Editor Dan is a huge Gears fan, and it was his final decision to give me the Beta key, which I’m very honoured to have received – though I think he’s taken a fall now so he can have first dibs on the final package when it’s up for grabs later this year, sneaky bastard.

On the other hand, at least I’ll have more experience on my side when the time comes to face each other. But I digress, and it’s time to report my impressions of the multiplayer beta.

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There’s probably some people reading this review who are new to Torchlight, which is fine, sometimes we miss games because we’re far too busy playing other games as well.

However, for most of our readers, Torchlight won’t be anything new, because if you’ve heard of it you probably loved it – we did. XBLA has been receiving a large number of ports recently, and Runic Game’s 2009 classic has joined the ranks. Now, presented in the wonder that is HD, Torchlight burns brightly in the crowd, seeking to quench your thirst for adventure.

Torchlight is an action RPG devised by some of the best minds in the fantasy-genre; the development team consisted of Fate designer Travis Baldree and his team that originally created Thirteen1 favourite Mythos, and Max and Erich Schaefer of Diablo fame – the first two.
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    Legendary gaming composer, Jack Wall, has left the musical helm of BioWare’s epic RPG series, Mass Effect, leaving English composer Clint Mansell some big sweaty space boots to fill.

    The first two soundtracks, which Wall wrote with Sam Hulick, Richard Jaques, and David Kates, were widely praised by fans and critics, all of which were hoping for this team of musical mastery to return for a third and final time.

    However in a brief interview with Thirteen1, Wall explained his reasons for departing from BioWare, a developer that he has enjoyed working with over the past decade.

    “I have had a long and wonderful relationship with the folks at BioWare,” states Wall reminiscently. “Like anything, sometimes a fresh approach is the best. I’m working with new clients now and it feels very different than I think it would have to be working on a third game.”

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      The ninth annual G.A.N.G awards took place in San Francisco last week (March 3) and were as I hoped, with the Music of the Year award going to Red Dead Redemption – Yeehaw!

      The musical aces of the soundtrack, Bill Elm and Woody Jackson, were also recognised, winning the Rookie(s) of the Year category – something that I considered to be well deserved.

      However, Red Dead Redemption didn’t stop there, the relentless game also scooped up three more awards: Audio of the Year, Best Interactive Score, and Best Dialogue.

      By no means was it an easy judge either. The Rockstar game was up against some brilliantly strong competition including Heavy Rain, which unfortunately won nothing, Halo: Reach, again nothing, and Battlefield: Bad Company 2, the other prominent winner that day (Best Sound Design, and Best Use of Multi-Channel Surround in a Game).

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