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.
Between Titanfall, MechWarrior Online, and other recent offerings on the giant-battling-robot front, mech combat enthusiasts have an ever-growing range of options. Hawken's stunning sci-fi battlescapes and impressively detailed robot designs are an attractive wrapper for the more fast-and-furious flavor of online free-to-play mech shooter action found underneath its hood. Piloting these slick metal death machines into the fray hits a sweet spot that you won't find in similar games. The raw speed and energetic momentum infused into Hawken's online matches almost contradict the nature of the game's hulking combatants, yet this different breed of multiplayer mech battler brings a new level of excitement to the genre in a way that feels oh-so-right.
Lots of mech games do a decent enough job of making you feel like you're strapped into a huge hunk of walking metal, but Hawken really nails it with flair. Hopping into the cockpit and taking your first heavy steps into this atmospheric sci-fi realm is a wild ride. Everything, from the way the control panel rocks as you thunder along to the visual damage and bleating alarms that grow progressively intense as you get thrashed by incoming fire, adds tremendous weight to the piloting experience. The powerful sights and sounds that accompany your every move help to draw you deeper into your role with effortless ease, inciting battle lust in the process.
It's easy to be wooed by this pleasant sensory overload, but pausing for too long to admire your well-armed ride and the meticulously detailed surroundings is a fatal mistake. Hawken's firefights move at a fast clip. Despite their girth and heft on the battlefield, mechs are surprisingly agile, thanks to fuel-powered jump jets that let you sidestep incoming fire, leap over obstacles, glide short distances, and hover in place. This mobility is great, because it doesn't detract from the impact of being a mech pilot, and it keeps matches flowing. Even in larger battles, you can quickly find yourself flanked and torn asunder, leading you to make a hasty retreat so you can find a safe spot from which to deploy a repair drone. That's not a surefire stopgap to avoid getting sent to the scrap heap, however.
Hawken encourages a "stick together, stay alive" mentality--both through many natural elements of its design and in overt voice-overs suggesting as much--that spurs strategic teamwork. Taking time to repair on the battlefield is a dicey affair, because it's a slow process that leaves you vulnerable. Without a pal to watch your back, you're easy prey. Careful spotting and thoughtful sensor array placement are equally important. With a quick tap of a key, you can call out enemies on sight or even send out a distress signal to encourage teammates to flock to your location to lend a hand. All of this helps build a strong team dynamic that boosts the excitement when your squad clicks.
The high energy flow of standard free-for-all and team deathmatches is fun in its own right and excellent for scoring experience and currency to beef up your mech fleet. That said, the epic scope of Hawken's other core modes holds a very different kind of thrill. Missile Assault puts a cool spin on point capture, since every missile station your team controls continually hurls rockets skyward. You can actually stand and watch each missile race off into the distance and collide with your foe's towering base structure, which collapses in spectacular explosions if you manage to wrest victory from your enemy's grasp.
Siege mode ramps up the spectacle to an even grander scale with longer matches that involve hauling energy around the map and capturing antiaircraft cannons as you fight away. Powering up your base launches your team's Star Destroyer-style battleship, which pushes across the sky and hammers away at the enemy base until it destroys it or is shot down. These modes are a blast, and they do a phenomenal job of making your skirmishes feel like they're a critical part of a bigger conflict.
Hawken sports some impressive battlefield designs. Maps are massive. They sprawl out in all directions and mix in high vantage points, loads of obstacles to use for cover, and subterranean regions to fight through. They're gorgeous too, and visually diverse enough to keep match cycles feeling fresh. You duke it out across murky swamps, dark forests, bright sci-fi cityscapes, dusty dune settlements, icy tundras, and more. This diversity extends to the wide assortment of mechs you pilot.
Taking time to repair on the battlefield is a dicey affair, because it's a slow process that leaves you vulnerable. Without a pal to watch your back, you're easy prey.
From light and zippy scout mechs to more-sluggish heavily armored brutes and everything in between, there's a ride for all tastes and fighting styles. Different handling, armor, weapon loadouts, and combat roles also leave lots of room for tactical variety. Picking off foes through the scope of a long-range sniper mech offers a different kind of satisfaction from hopping into an ordnance-heavy mech and deluging the enemy with clusters of rockets. Other specialties and special abilities are geared toward support, assault, assassination, and defense to round out your options. Despite their strengths and weaknesses, the mechs are balanced enough that none of them feel overpowered.
Unlocking them, unfortunately, can be a slow and tedious process if you don't want to shell out a bit of real cash for bonus experience boosts or instant-unlock access to speed things along. Experience you gain in battle goes toward your overall pilot level as well as the individual mechs you use in a given encounter, and leveling up grants you access to new mechs, weapons, and accessories to purchase. That's all fine, except that the more you switch up your mechs in battle, the slower you progress is with each individual mech.
Almost everything you can buy in the game, ranging from optional custom color schemes and decorations to mechs and weapon components, can be bought with accumulated in-game cash you accrue through playing matches. It's just faster to unlock these items with paid meteor credits. But even if you want a little nudge to ease the grind, temporary XP and money boosters are quite cheap. On the whole, nothing is outrageously expensive, so it all comes down to a matter of patience and playtime.
The sheer time it takes to make substantive progress across your mech fleet is a muddy point in an otherwise excellent game. Does it have a huge impact on the overall quality of the experience? Not really. Hawken is plenty of fun as a free ride, and it's worth sinking a bit of real money into it to ease the slower stretches and fully customize your favorite killer robo-suits. This mech shooter goes far above and beyond what you'd expect in a free-to-play offering, with an impressive visual design and intense, rewarding gameplay to match.
17 mechs to pilot and upgrade, lots of big battlegrounds, excellent and unique large-scale battle modes, and seemingly customization options.
What's to Come?
Hawken is in the late stages of development, and much of the development focus currently seems to be on fine-tuning match making, making sure any bugs are stomped, and adding additional detail. You can, however, expect to see some new mechs in future updates.
What Does it Cost?
Nothing, unless you feel inclined to spend money to speed up you mech fleet's progression and customization. Shelling out actual real-world cash lets you unlock mechs early, grab XP and coin earning boosts, and outfit your mechs faster.
When Will it Be Finished?
No specific word yet on a final release, but Hawken already looks and feels like a finished product.
What's the Verdict?
Hawken is more than just an excellent free-to-play multiplayer shooter: it's mech combat done right. The game gorgeous and a blast to play, but leveling-up requires patience and a bit of grinding.
The camera slowly pans over the rolling yellow and green hills of Catalonia, a Spanish community nestled between France and the Mediterranean Sea. In Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse, George Stobbart and Nico Collard leave London and Paris behind, traveling to this quiet landscape after deciphering clues hidden within a painting that stands at the center of a murderous conspiracy.
Mere hours before they stepped out onto the Spanish countryside, they were rescued from atop a burning building, set alight by one of the game's key antagonists: a man whose true identity and purpose remain unknown. As George and Nico are standing at the dilapidated entryway of the Castell del Sants, the tragic epicenter of the story, the pensive calm is shattered by gunfire aimed at them from inside the building--out of the frying pan and into the firing range.
The two protagonists leave the first chapter with the elusive painting La Malediccio in hand. The enigmatic Gnostic imagery that enshrouds the canvas has led George and Nico to the aging castell, where they hope to decipher the meaning behind its cryptic symbology. They are soon led to a gorgeous town in the scenic Spanish mountainside, and later, to the parched amber sands of modern-day Iraq. The game discards the urban sprawls and embraces nature, a move that bolsters the impact of the already impressive aesthetics. The hand-painted environments range in scope from imposing mountains, which are home to soaring eagles, to archaic monasteries and Gnostic shrines stained and cracked with age.
Since the first episode's release late last year, the developer has released a large update allowing you to make the game match your current resolution. If you run your computer at a 1080p resolution, you now have the option to make the game match your settings, which should improve many of the finer details within the environments. The visuals are not without some problems, such as the occasional dropped frames and animation oddities. Thankfully, graphical issues are rare. The second part doesn't come free of other glitches, however. There is a small chance the game will crash directly to the desktop. Worse than that, I once loaded my quick-save file to discover that George and Nico had completely disappeared from the scene. Though I could click on objects to hear George's internal monologue describing them, he had somehow vanished into the ether. Luckily, I had another save file to fall back on.
The game touches upon some heady subjects, mostly revolving around the conflict between Gnostic and Dominican Christians. The second part delves even more deeply than the first, covering the religious theme of two "opposing sides": the devout, who believe the world is ruled by order, and those who embrace freedom of human expression, and don't devote their lives to following traditional theisms. George, a skeptical man by nature, stands in between. He is presented with a challenge: follow one side over the other or, perhaps, find a balance between the two. Not unlike prior games in the series, Broken Sword 5 also delves into the metaphysical realm late in the game.
Broken Sword 5's second chapter puts more focus on puzzle solving over the investigations involving exploration and the conversations that established the first part. The move makes the chapter an even more linear adventure than before, discarding the map system that allowed you to warp between locations tracking down clues. Some of the puzzles are noticeably more difficult, demanding more chin rubbing than usual. They challenge you to decipher messages such as a telegram yellowed by age and an ancient artifact on which lies the directions to a lost biblical paradise.
Though the puzzles still deliver satisfaction when completed, most aren't especially engaging, nor are they anything that hasn't been experienced in adventure games before. Others, however, adhere to the series' penchant for including complex puzzles you solve by using an eclectic mix of items stored in your inventory--the Broken Sword series has long been known for its unusual puzzles and their intricate, sometimes-out-of-the-box solutions. During the second chapter, you control George as he hammers out a religious tune using cans of paint and an old oil drum. In another moment, he fixes a complicated piece of hardware using a biscuit-loving cockroach, named Trevor, which occupies an empty matchbox that George has carried around since early into the first half of the game.
With the map system discarded, the game funnels you onto a path broken up by brief moments of puzzle solving. It's a shame, because the linearity removes the need to explore the world and engage in conversations, which I found to be the most memorable part of the game's first half. I was enthralled by characters who populated the starting chapter of Broken Sword 5, and their departure causes the game to lose some depth and energy.
The second part isn't completely devoid of narration, however, and moments of interaction are fortified with strong writing and voice acting. The protagonists are briefly joined by a new ally, Eva Sanchez, and George is reunited with two old friends who graced the first two Broken Sword games, Duane and Pearl Henderson. Much to George's chagrin, the disgruntled goat that gave nightmares to those who played Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars makes a return early in the second half of The Serpent's Curse. But fear not: the goat that some publications dubbed one of the most difficult puzzles ever is graciously declawed, providing a simpler puzzle, and is mainly there for nostalgia--perhaps to evoke a little terror as well.
Broken Sword 5's second part is noticeably shorter, coming in at fewer than five hours when compared to the first part's six, and its linear nature diminishes the joy of exploration. Nevertheless, Broken Sword 5: The Serpent's Curse is a solid installment in the nearly 20-year-old franchise, delivering a captivating story with great characters and loads of good-natured humor. We'll have to see if the combination is enough to warrant another adventure, but until then, The Serpent's Curse achieves its goals, giving George and Nico one more shot at the limelight.
If you're looking purely at sales numbers for the last generation of consoles, Nintendo's Wii was far and away at the top of the pile, selling more units than the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Despite this, there are plenty of people who think that there were no "good" games released for Nintendo's groundbreaking console. We're here to bust that myth with our list of the must-have games for the Wii. Do you agree with our choices? Sound off in the comments below.
"Call of Duty: Black Ops on the Wii is almost every bit as excellent as its HD console counterparts. New modes and mechanics give a jolt of energy to the lively competitive multiplayer; the engrossing new campaign is one of the best in the series; Combat Training mode allows anyone to enjoy the thrills of arena combat; and Zombies mode provides a goofy, gory diversion." -- Read our review
"Donkey Kong Country Returns doesn't hide behind any gimmicks. This is a traditional take on 2D platformers, and it excels because the brilliant level design makes old obstacles seem new again. Every level hides a new surprise, and you'll replay them over and over again not only to nab every hidden collectible, but also because they're exquisitely entertaining." -- Read our review
"Kirby's Epic Yarn makes it clear from the get-go that it is an adorable game that will put a smile on your face through its outstanding visual design, but the delights go much deeper than the delectable aesthetics. Clever levels with varied objectives make it a blast to play, and though the main story is way too easy, there are at least challenging minigames to unlock for those who want to test their reflexes." -- Read our review
"The all-new stunt system, simplified drifting mechanics, natural motion controls, and expansive online integration all come together in a single package that, despite a few hiccups, is one of the best and most accessible experiences available on the Nintendo Wii." -- Read our review
"Rock Band 3 not only introduces new and exciting things to the world of rhythm games, but it does almost everything better than those that have come before it. When it comes to accessible, inventive, and immensely entertaining music video games, nobody does it better than Rock Band 3." -- Read our review
"If you expected Metroid Prime 3: Corruption to be a high-quality continuation of the series, you'd be right. And yes, the Wii controls are terrific and intuitive, so if you hoped that controlling bounty hunter Samus Aran would be a dream, that wish has been granted, too." -- Read our review
"This action/role-playing series finally reaches its potential with Tri, which renders its wild paradise in beautiful detail and lets you team up with friends or strangers online to tame it. A few of the game's facets are stubbornly mired in the past, such as a couple of awkward control issues and some online oddities. But this is, finally, what Monster Hunter had the potential to be all along: intense, involving, and most importantly, great fun." -- Read our review
"New Super Mario Bros. Wii has more than nostalgia to back it up. While it doesn't stray too far from what's come before it, New Super Mario Bros. Wii's tight gameplay, multitude of secrets, accessibility for newcomers thanks to the nifty Super Guide, and some fun multiplayer additions all add up to a great platformer that Mario fans and nonfans alike should enjoy." -- Read our review
"The fantastic combat is more than enough reason to revisit No More Heroes. This time, SUDA-51 has delivered a game that can match its absurd premise with equally stimulating gameplay, making for one of the most unique and satisfying action games in recent memory." -- Read our review
"There's much more to this game than you've probably come to expect from the typical action adventure experience, and the game is so well crafted from top to bottom that it's bound to impress just about anyone who gives it a chance." -- Read our review
"Although the Wii version of Punch-Out plays almost identically to the NES original, the formula is still as intense, addictive, and fun as it ever was. The roster is mostly composed of fighters from the earlier games, but they are as exhilarating to fight now as they were the first time and come with a number of new moves and techniques that will flummox even the more hardened Punch-Out veterans." -- Read our review
"The best games are worth playing through all over again. Not only does RE4 itself remain a heart-pounding thrill ride and a modern classic, but the Wii Remote and Nunchuk controls breathe new life into a game that is still a treat to play." -- Read our review
"Dead Space Extraction has been built from the ground up to offer a more strategic, story-oriented experience that acts as a second meaningful entry in the Dead Space universe. Extraction pulls no punches and delivers an uncompromised horror experience, complete with the series' famous strategic dismemberment, spooky atmosphere, and intense action." -- Read our review
"It's the expertly designed levels that will keep you coming back, even after you've seen everything this game has to offer, just to experience it one more time. This is an instant classic that belongs alongside the best games Nintendo has ever created." -- Read our review
"Super Paper Mario stands as an engaging and fun Wii game that's well worth your time. Super Paper Mario's humorous story, accessible gameplay, inventive design, cool visual style, and impressive amount of content give it an undeniable charm. Anyone with a Wii should check it out." -- Read our review
"Whether you're a diehard Smash Bros. fanatic or a neophyte brawler, you'll be pleased to know that Super Smash Bros. Brawl includes a plethora of impressive characters, features, and game modes, and is more accessible and fun than ever before." -- Read our review
"While fighting veterans will revel in Tatsunoko vs. Capcom's deeply satisfying combat, the game is without a doubt one of the easiest in the genre to jump into, thanks to control schemes that cater to everyone from brawling neophytes to air combo aficionados." -- Read our review
"It's a familiar tale, but The Last Story is far from a familiar game. It's a deep, fast-paced JRPG, that evolves the genre in ways that enhance its existing tropes, without stripping away at its soul." -- Read our review
"Twilight Princess is a great game that stays extremely true to the Zelda franchise's past. That's excellent news for fans of the series, who'll find in Twilight Princess a true-blue Zelda game with updated visuals, some new twists, plenty of challenging puzzles, and a faithful dedication to the series' roots." -- Read our review
"This game is totally built around the Wii Remote and maintains, if not surpasses, the level of absolute random insanity that has made the whole series so appealing. It's a terrific use of the Wii's unique control features, it looks amazing, and in short, it should be a part of your library." -- Read our review
"Wii Fit takes the whole concept of games as exercise to a new level with the inclusion of a balance board peripheral that can tell you on the fly exactly how well--or how poorly--you're doing with its various activities. As such, Nintendo is heavily marketing this innovative title as a mixture of fitness and fun, and for the most part it works." -- Read our review
"holiday. Wii Sports Resort shines as a fun, accessible, and varied multiplayer experience, and while not all of its minigames are top-notch, there's plenty here to make this a great party game for any Wii owner." -- Read our review
"It has everything that seasoned JRPG veterans are looking for, but it also manages to lift the barrier for entry for those new to the genre. It retains the traditions it wants to and modernises the aspects it needs to. It's not only one of the best JRPGs in years; it's also one of the best RPGs regardless of subgenre. Xenoblade Chronicles is a captivating, magical game which deserves to be hailed as the revolution it is." -- Read our review
"It might not win you over with its characters or story, but it will with its wonderfully crafted puzzles and sharp control mechanics. It's just the sort of game Wii owners have been pining for, the sort of game that blends accessibility and challenge into one seamless whole, and does it without devolving into yet another minigame collection." -- Read our review
"Overkill reinvents the aging shooter series for the better with an over-the-top grindhouse theme that resonates in its every aspect, from the hilarious story to the fantastic vintage soundtrack." -- Read our review
* GameSpot's Best Of Lists will updated periodically as new games worthy of inclusion are released on their respective platforms.