Diablo 3 Trial is for Real, Level 13 Cap, Play Act 1 for Free

Diablo 3

The idea of this seems kind of absurd to me. I mean, didn't we all already decide a decade ago that we'd be snapping up Diablo 3 as soon as it dropped, or was that just me? I suppose for every gamer currently stocking up on instant noodles and energy drinks for the depths-of-the-dungeons fortnight ahead, there's a skeptic wondering just what the big deal is with this Diablo thing. Blizzard's seen fit to address this very serious problem by issuing an announcement of a free, limited-content "Starter Edition".

Players on the Starter Edition of Diablo 3 will be able to play the entirety of Act 1, and they have a level cap of 13. For obvious reasons, they won't be allowed access to the Real Money Auction House, because you've gotta spend money to make money, y'know.

If you're unconverted but curious, you'll only need a Battle.net account to download your Starter Edition, and can choose to upgrade to the full version later once you've seen the light -- and don't worry, upgrading won't affect your progress in game. On the other hand, if you're a staunch fan concerned by a stubborn friend's thorough lack of excitement, then the Guest Pass you'll find in your boxed copy strips them of their excuses to not try out the game. Yeah, it's a Diablo party all up here in my, um, basement. If I turn off the light and squint into the dark, I can kind of imagine that I'm already dungeoning. Oh, crap, I forgot to load up on Twinkies. If only I had used my Guest Pass on a friend to ensure I don't die here alone...


Review: Sniper Elite V2

There are moments where Sniper Elite V2 nails what (I assume) it feels like to be a badass sniper behind enemy lines in World War II. Like sitting in a church tower, picking off enemy soldiers one at a time, and masking rifle shots to coincide with bombs dropping in the distance, or landing a well-placed shot on an enemy tank's fuel tank, sending it up in flames. But all of these moments take place in a fairly confined and linear battlefield as Sniper shuffles you from one spot to another throughout its single-player campaign. Thankfully there are just enough worthwhile multiplayer features that help to break up this tedium. They help to put Sniper among the "popcorn flicks" of sumertime games this year: it's mindless fun for a short time.

Going Commando

There are a couple of standout scenarios in the six-hour single-player campaign, like setting an explosive trap for a convoy, and stopping the launch of a V2 rocket while fighting off waves of enemies. These well-produced, well-scripted moments are fun, but they're spread out between a lot of firefights that made me feel more like a commando than a sniper who relies on stealth. I was just as capable of completing most of my objectives by taking a very aggressive approach, and in fact in many cases I felt encouraged to fight my way in or out of enemy-controlled facilities.

Gas tanks and bullets are a lethal combination.

Playing in online co-op only exacerbates that, because now there are two players who aren't spending a lot of time trying to be sneaky, but rather treating this as a typical third-person shooter. To a degree it's nice that Sniper affords this level of flexibility in play styles, but it's not what I was hoping for when I sat down to play a sniping game.


The AI has some moments of brilliance when it's not showing a complete lack of awareness of its surroundings; there were a half-dozen times where I saw them funnel through a doorway allowing me to pick them off one by one. But this investigative behavior actually allowed for some cool moments -- I get a kick out of throwing a rock near a landmine and watching as they walk over to investigate it.

Yes, it's possible to kill them both with a single bullet.

Because I killed them before I reached the checkpoint inside an adjacent building, new enemy soldiers continued to spawn and man the turrets once again.
I resorted to tricks like this because most of the enemy placements throughout Sniper constantly respawn -- they'd only appear (or stop appearing) once I'd reached a specific checkpoint in the level. In one such situation, I managed to eliminate a group of turret gunners long before I was within range of their bullets. But because I killed them before I reached the checkpoint inside an adjacent building, new enemy soldiers continued to spawn and man the turrets once again. That makes no sense in a game that's supposed to beabout picking enemies off from long range.

The checkpoint-save system also proved problematic. In a couple of situations I hit a checkpoint while I was under enemy fire. I died, and each time I reloaded, there I was again, dying -- I had to restart the whole level. That's a classic annoying design flub.

Shadows and lightning are top notch.

There's also a fairly limited amount of area to explore through these levels. What look like possible alternate paths are frustratingly boarded up or blocked off by the charred remains of vehicles. It would have been great to have more opportunities to move between the buildings and find my own vantage points, instead being inexorably corralled into one scripted event after another.

In My Sights

There's a noticeable echo to some of the sound effects.
At times Sniper looks pretty great, like when sneaking through hallways while sunbeams creep through boarded-up windows. It's no Battlefield 3 or Crysis 2, but the visuals are more than serviceable -- especially when I'm watching a bullet tear through my target's skull with the gory X-ray kill cam (reminiscent of the recent Mortal Kombat games). That initially rewarding effect grew old fairly fast, though, so I'm glad there's an option to dial it back a bit. Oddly, there's a noticeable echo to some of the sound effects, specifically voices and footsteps, that doesn't seem like it's supposed to be there. I'm not the only one running into this issue -- hopefully it's something that gets addressed in a patch.

Boom, headshot.

Beyond the campaign co-op, there's deathmatch, team deathmatch, and a horde-like mode among others. But I especially liked the Bombing Run co-op mode -- my teammate and I had to sneak around a level to collect five parts for our getaway car before an allied bombing run was scheduled to decimate the area. It's a good mix of stealth and action that the single-player portion of Sniper could have benefited from as well. I never had an issue finding a multiplayer game or a co-op partner.

Considering the multiplayer aspects are the brightest spots of Sniper, it's asking price of $50 feels about $10 too high, but it's something I'd definitely consider come sale season.


New Max Payne 3 Mutiplayer Trailer

Here's something that bothers me about Max Payne 3's multiplayer: Rockstar keeps calling it "noir." It's got a ton of interesting ideas, and I'm super excited to get my hands on it, but come on. Gritty voice-overs and guns do not a noir make. Thankfully, the new multiplayer trailer doesn't dwell on it for long, so neither will I. Let's focus on what the multiplayer modes look to do well.

Perhaps the coolest mode Rockstar is showing off with their new multiplayer trailer is the Gang Wars mode. Two teams fight there way through five chapters, each with different objectives. These conflicts drive a "dynamically shifting" story that is influenced by who comes out on top. Victories lead to advantages in the next round. Nice.

I also like the idea of Crews. Working like Squads in Battlefield games, players get extra experience for sticking together from match to match. Very briefly, the trailer mentions bonuses for sticking with your Crew across different games, but no other information is given. Damn you, voice over guy! I want to hear more about that. Wait, where are you going? Oh, you were just a voice on my computer. Okay, well. Bye.