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Saturday, November 24, 2012


For a game built upon the concept of slipping by unnoticed, Hitman: Absolution is certainly doing the opposite. It’s standing conspicuously amongst today’s fad-driven modern shooters and me-too multiplayer hopefuls, middle fingers extended. A slow-paced, single-player focused sneak ’em up, Absolution looms in stark opposition to many of the most pervading trends in gaming today. It cares not for the overly delicate, their minds rendered dull and flabby after years of being prodded through corridors blasting anything that breathes. Absolution delights in letting players skulk through it expending few bullets at all. It’s a game that wants to let you think for yourself.

A game that wants to remind you that trial and error done right equals satisfaction, not frustration.
For those of you counting at home it’s been 2368 days since Hitman: Blood Money was released, give or take. That’s a long time between drinks. It’s nearly six-and-a-half years. In video game terms that’s somewhere in the Cretaceous Period. In actual fact the besuited Agent 47 and his barcoded dome have spent the vast bulk of this generation on the sideline. Hitman: Absolution has been a long time coming, a fact fans are acutely aware of.

The pressure to deliver, then, is high. Blood Money may be a dinosaur in some respects but it remains a cult favourite adored by its faithful fans. Six-and-a-half years on the team at Io Interactive must ship a successor to it worthy of the wait

The good news is, they have.Above everything, Absolution is a game that wants you to experiment with it. It refuses to be rushed through, rewarding brains over brawn. It wants you to spend time inside it, methodically picking your way around and discovering morbid new ways to snuff out your unfortunate marks. Like Blood Money before it, your targets here can be executed in a host of ever-so-slightly sickeningly different ways. Returning Hitman fans won’t settle for a simple bullet to the back of the head; they’ll immediately be on the lookout for the tell-tale signs of a classic Hitman kill opportunity. Some of them are more subtle than others but, like Blood Money, they’re all there, waiting to be discovered. A couple of the game’s kills are more tightly choreographed for dramatic effect, complete with a brief cutscene of your deserved victim sucking in their last breaths, but most of the game’s kills – two dozen of them at least – are traditional Hitman fare. How you take them out is in your hands. This is a slow-paced, measured experience. This is not Medal of Duty: Modern Warfighter Ops. Impatient action junkies need not apply.

The way Absolution itself plays is very much a refined version of what Io attempted with its previous effort, but gone are most of the quirks Hitman diehards were happy to overlook in Blood Money. 47 feels far more connected to the environment rather than skating about on it, and successfully sneaking up on a target from behind with your signature fibre wire is no longer quite as fickle an exercise. It’s all a lot more organic and a lot less stiff.

Furthermore Absolution adds a host of additional abilities for 47. 47’s limited use sedatives, for instance, are no longer necessary because of his close-quarters combat skills. Sneak up on an enemy or NPC unawares and you can grab them and either subdue or kill them with your bare hands. It’s just like Blood Money, where you could simply take people as a human shield and then knock them cold with the butt of your pistol when your syringes ran dry, only without all that rigmarole (although, of course, you can still do that too).
There’s a cover system that allows you to properly exchange fire with enemies when things go pear-shaped, rather than being stuck out in the open desperately strafing left and right. When you’re playing as you should, stealthily and patiently, the cover system is even more useful, allowing you to spring from behind it as enemies pass by to quietly choke them out, or snap their necks. You can also fake surrender too, disarming your would-be captor and taking him hostage.

There have been tweaks to the shooting system too. Point Shooting, which is a slo-mo power-up that functions not unlike a similar power-up in Splinter Cell Conviction, works fine but Hitman veterans will almost certainly never use it outside the couple of instances it’s required throughout the game. Rabid Hitman fans simply won’t be doing the levels of indiscriminate killing that would warrant the use of Point Shooting. You can’t get Silent Assassin ratings by mowing down scores of henchmen in slow-motion. Better is Precision Shot, which allows you to gently squeeze the trigger to steady your aim before actually firing. It feels very natural; it’s a hugely better solution than the normal “click-here-to-hold-your-breath” malarkey.
Then there’s Instinct Mode, which is basically 47’s intuition represented visually. Instinct Mode remains a true bone of contention for some but at its most fundamental level this replaces the previous, god-like minimap. 47 can sense nearby enemies and you can note where they are in relation to him. How you use it beyond that is really up to you. New Hitman players can use it as a crutch, noting enemy patrol paths or objects of interest. Veterans can simply refer to it sparingly or dial it down entirely. On the higher of the game’s five difficulty settings it’s automatically neutered anyway.

On the topic of difficulty settings, there are five – and they cover the whole spectrum. Easy is exceedingly so, and Purist is insane. The sweet spot for a first play through is probably Normal or Hard. Enemy reaction times are quite forgiving in Normal and the game will tolerate some sloppiness on your part at the expense of realism, but it’s a good setting to build up an understanding of the levels. Hard ramps things up. It’s interesting to note that enemy NPCs aren’t just sharper on higher difficulties; there are also more of them. Depending on your approach you may well find your undetected route through a level on Normal completely thwarted by an added patrol on Hard.

When things do go sour the adjustments to how enemies react to your presence is also welcome. If you’re spotted and you can contain the situation by subduing or killing all nearby witnesses before they inform others an alert won’t be raised. This is a refreshing change from Blood Money, where one foul up would dispatch every enemy on the map against you like heat-seeking missiles.
Absolution looks good. There’s arguably a bit too much lighting bloom, particularly when harsh light begins to glint off 47’s cue ball bonce, but it’s not going to be something that’ll have you dropkicking the disc down your driveway in disgust. It’s darker and grittier than Hitman titles past but the visuals shouldn’t raise many complaints. It looks its best at its busiest; when you’re threading your way through the game’s thick crowds. It’s these moments when you’re keenly aware you’re playing something a little different. The levels are nicely dressed and the cutscenes are well-produced; it’s a solid effort all around.

It sounds great too. The dynamic score which picks up as the action mounts is well implemented, and there are quite a few moments where the audio design really pops. Approaching and opening a closed door to a loud, bustling bar, for instance, sees the sound launch from a subtle hum of chatter and muffled music to a roar of raised voices and bass. It’s well crafted. Hitman games are all about atmosphere, and Absolution gets it right.

There are 20 levels but many are broken up into a series of stages. The key difference between this and Blood Money is the levels are segmented. Instead of one big level, say, like the Heaven and Hell Club, levels in Absolution are often completed in discrete chunks. For instance, there may be one or more areas that need to be stealthily navigated and passed through before you can reach the area where your target is. Some levels have several targets spread over multiple stages. The Attack of the Saints level, for instance, has you slowly taking out all seven leather-clad nun assassins over the course of three distinct areas. The controversial trailer released featuring 47 taking them out in a tightly-compressed flurry of moves cribbed from several viewings of The Bourne Identity really did this level a disservice. They're nothing alike.

Overall Absolution is a success, although not universally so. The change to the disguise system, for instance, is a good idea not fully-formed. It makes sense that NPCs wearing the same type of clothing are able to recognise you as an imposter; it means you can’t just don a disguise and stroll through the game's levels. It’d be too easy. The system should scale, however. It’s logical a small group of janitors would recognise a stranger in their midst; less so that every Chicago policeman knows the faces of every one of his thousands of fellow officers so well that he can always spot an intruder. Both the cover system and the Blend system, where 47 casually dips his head and obscures his face as he passes threats, are Io’s answers to these. 

On normal difficulty it does create a certain degree of absurdity when simply ducking down behind a parked car and breaking line of sight or surreptitiously covering your face with your hand can allay suspicion, but a balance does have to be struck between credibility and playability. If you’re finding things too easy I’d advise you to progress to the game’s incredibly unforgiving Expert and Purist modes, where enemies react far faster.

The nature of Absolution’s story-mode, which features 47 on the run and, for several very early levels, without even his signature Silverballers, is also quite different from Blood Money. It may leave some fans a little wanting considering you no longer select your preferred equipment before missions and such, but Contracts mode is there to fill that gap. Contracts mode is Absolution’s true sandbox, where you can create your own custom hits within the game’s levels with its clever play to create system, choosing whatever NPCs, weapons or disguises you want. Better still, you can challenge your friends to complete your contracts faster and more efficiently than you. Pausing a level in story mode will also present you with an opportunity to play a user-created Contract instead.

Contracts mode will be the lifeblood of Absolution once you’ve clocked the story mode, but that’s not to say Io hasn’t been experimenting with ways of hooking players in hard. Absolution may be steadfastly single-player focused, but Io has embraced the 2012 trend of connectivity. Upon completion of a level Absolution will award you with a score, and that score will be instantly compared to both your friends playing Absolution, the rest of your country, and the rest of the world. You can see how far above or below your score is tracking in relation to your friend average, your country average and the world average.

The score system takes some working out, but basically signature and accident kills for your designated target net you big bonuses. Being spotted and killing civilians and non-targets see significant penalties. You can subdue people for a small score penalty, but you can scrub that penalty by hiding their unconscious bodies. You’ll get an idea for different solutions for levels via the awards at their completion. They’ll give you hints of traps you perhaps didn’t spring, or items, weapons or disguises you didn’t find.

Like Dishonored before it, it’s actually a true pleasure to play a game that lets you tackle it from multiple angles. After several years of increasingly totalitarian games where you’re very much following a pre-determined path, it’s nice to have a game that doesn’t just encourage improvisation; it requires it.

Friday, November 23, 2012

18 Great Games You Might Not Have Played in 2012

It's finally getting to the time of year where all the big games are out and I can sit down and think for more than five minutes, so my thoughts are naturally turning from 2012's huge releases to the other stuff - the smaller, often more interesting games that have stuck in my mind as the months have gone by. For me it's often these games that give the year personality; where the schedule of big releases is pretty much the same every year (a few in January, a few in April/May, maybe one in summer, and an avalanche from September onwards), these games pop up unexpectedly, brightening a weekend or a lunch break or a cold February afternoon. The evolving nature of game narrative, particularly, has been a theme for me this year - games from The Walking Dead to Dear Esther have been ignoring the conventions of interactive storytelling, often with huge success.

If you’ve got hours to fill as the year putters out, these are 18 games well worth your attention that you might not have heard of before, ranging from 15-minute indie experiments to console games that perhaps came out at the wrong time or slipped by under the radar. Got any more suggestions? Leave them in the comments, and we might have enough for a follow-up.

Thirty Flights of Loving:
Thirty Flights of Loving is about 15 minutes long, as minimalist in its visuals as it is in its storytelling, and drops you straight into a linear, first-person narrative about love, betrayal and grand heists. It progresses at breakneck pace, bombarding you with imagery and incidental detail that might fly straight over your head the first time through. It tells a story almost entirely without words, written or spoken; this is the videogame equivalent of punchy, avant-garde short fiction. You can buy it for $5 on Steam, or direct from creator Brendan Chung. You won't regret it.

Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward:
This one came out right in the middle of big-game frenzy in the US and is out this week in Europe, and so almost nobody has played it yet - which is madness, as it's apparently very good indeed. It's a visual novel (an interactive story with puzzles, excellent voice work and lovely 3D animation) about a prisoner's dilemma: give up your accomplice and reduce your own time, or keep quiet and risk betrayal. It's a complex maze of intersecting timelines, actions and consequences. It's a hell of an interesting alternative to a holiday novel.

Dear Esther:
Yet another fascinating experiment in interactive storytelling, Dear Esther is a stunningly beautiful four-hour tale told through a combination of desolate, Scottish-island imagery and florid, ambiguous prose read out by an invisible narrator. It is exactly as pretentious as it sounds, but also really very good if you like this sort of thing, and even if you don't, you should give it a try. It's usually about $10/£7 on Steam, but it's in the sale until November 26th.

Slender properly messed up my mind (and my sleep pattern) for a good few weeks earlier this year. It's the most deeply frightening game I've ever played. You' are alone in a very creepy, dark forest full of mysterious, abandoned structures with just a torch for company, and as you walk around and find increasingly disturbed pages of scribbled notes lying around, you become aware of a menacing presence following you. Sometimes you'll see him out of the corner of your eye, sometimes you won't be able to shake the feeling that he's right behind you. It's perfect example of economy in game design. Winter's drawing in, so now it's dark enough outside to play it at its scariest. It's free, and you can download it from

Hotline Miami:
Hotline Miami is a stylish, subtly disturbing neon murderfest that assaults your eyes with extreme pixellated violence and your ears with mind-scrambling, fantastic 8-bit tunes. The premise: you turn up at a building and kill everything in it whilst wearing an animal mask. It's one of the most challenging twitch-games of recent times; you succeed or fail in an instant. But it's challenging in other ways, too - its story is dense and cynical, and as well as being an arrestingly excellent video game, it's also a brutal parody of the nature of games and what they express. It's pretty stunning. It's $10 from Steam or Good Old Games.

Okami HD:
The only game ever to out-Zelda the Zelda series - in my estimation, anyway - Okami is a gorgeous artefact steeped in rich, intricate Japanese mythology. It is one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful games ever made, and where the original PS2 game employed an the ink-on-papyrus filter that was both a visual signature and a way to compensate for the console's limitations, in HD the game's art is crisp and gorgeous. It's not a great time for the Japanese games industry, but this extraordinary game reminds us of what the country's best developers have achieved.

Tokyo Jungle:
Tokyo Jungle is superbly bonkers. You can, if you're good, kill a raptor with a Pomeranian. You can breed a litter of beagles and attack a lion with them. There are several different types of cat. The most surprising thing about this PSN game isn't how unexpectedly original it is, though, or how comfortingly, Japanese-ly mad it is, but how much depth it offers; unlocking all the animals and completing the story isn't the work of an afternoon.

Binary Domain:
It didn't exactly rocket up the charts, but listen to Binary Domain's proponents and they'll tell you it's one of the most interesting games of the year. It's a cover shooter, yeah, but one with unconventional enemies and characters who slowly develop from generic soldierdudes into actually quite interesting sorts. This isn't one I've played myself, but because so many people have told me there's more to it than first appears, it's in my holiday game pile.

Spelunky, released in HD this year on Xbox Live Arcade and available for free on PC, stole entire weekends of my life this year. Playing a brave little explorer, you descend through progressively deadlier caves to uncover their secrets below-ground. It's randomly generated, so no two games are the same, and it's also *incredibly* difficult. Many players won't even see more than the first few caves, never mind its more obscure secrets. You don't get many games like this any more, with this kind of figurative and literal depth and so many hidden secrets; you genuinely feel like an explorer. It's even better in co-op.

Frog Fractions:
I'm not giving you a video of Frog Fractions because I don't want to spoil it for you, but I will say this: you will do many things in Frog Fractions, but you will almost certainly not learn anything about fractions. It is hilarious, deranged and totally unexpected, takes about 30-45 minutes to play through, and will leave you a subtly changed person. It’s completely free and you can play it on creators Twinbeard Studios’ website. One tip to unlock its secrets: go down.

Spec Ops: The Line:
It's not necessarily an amazing shooter, but Spec Ops: The Line is a fantastic game nonetheless, because it does what no other military shooter with lofty ambitions has ever actually pulled off: it makes you think about war, and about how it's treated in games, and why we approach them the way we do. It's interesting enough for someone to have written a book-length close reading of the game and its themes called "Killing is Harmless". It's a game you can finish in one Sunday if you play straight through, but it remains in the mind for much longer. I very much hope it turns out to be an inspiration for the genre rather than a flash in the pan.

Sine Mora:
This is one I've missed, and it looks amazing. A "dieselpunk" old-school arcade shooter with shades of The Matrix's grim cybernetic future and the ability to control time? And animal pilots? Sign me up, I'm there.

Sleeping Dogs:
If you're really looking forward to GTA V, Sleeping Dogs is especially worth playing over the holidays. It's a very violent, very polished, very enjoyable open-world crime game whose central kung-fu crime movie story is, for once, as interesting as all the optional chaos you can take part in. It's quite directed for an open-world game, but it's also very slick and consistent, with very little superfluous fluff. And it's got lots of achingly cool costumes, which is always a plus.

Velocity is a combination of puzzler and vertical shooter, out on the PlayStation Store - it's a Mini, so it's only £4. It's a wonderful homage to retro score-attack shooters, but one that's bursting with original ideas as well. It appropriates the aesthetic and cheerful, futuristic chiptune of the past and grafts it onto sprawling, inventive levels that are more reminiscent of Metroid than Ikaruga. It's especially well-suited to Vita, but can be played on PSP and PS3 too.

Super Hexagon:
Terry Cavanagh's brain-melting twitch-puzzler is gaming at its most elemental. Rotating a tiny triangle around a central point as flashing, deadly patterns come rushing towards the centre of the screen, you become one with your primal gaming nature, responding with nano-second precision to incoming hazards. Awesome music pulls you further into the zone. Last more than five seconds on your first try and you're quite possibly a prodigy. It's $3 on the App Store. I'm still waiting on an Android version.

Project Zero 2/Fatal Frame 2:
Re-released on Wii this year, bizarrely, Project Zero 2 (or Fatal Frame in America) is "an enduring classic that every horror fan should have in their collection", according to our reviewer. Wii controls enhance rather than ruin the experience, and the lack of progress and innovation in the horror genre becomes disappointingly apparent as you play through and realise that nobody's really done anything as ambitious as this in the nine years since it came out on PS2.

Mark of the Ninja:
We've had two great stealth games this year: Dishonored, which is really only a stealth game if you're enormously restrained, and Mark of the Ninja, which is what Shinobi would be if it were 2D and made by the guys who did Shank. Its art and animation draw you in, but you stay for the hardcore stealth.

The Last Story:
I think we can safely say now that this was the Wii's last great game. It's not the JRPG revolution that Xenoblade Chronicles was, but it's a heartfelt story that moves along at a compelling pace, and the combat system is a great innovation. Great characterisation and localisation work together with Nobuo Uematsu's musical score to elevate the presentation, too.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Nintendo Land Review

Nintendo Land's varied attractions offer plenty of family-friendly fun and make great use of the Wii U's capabilities.

The Good:

Fun single-player attractions make good use of the Wii U tablet   Plenty of enjoyable ways to play with friends cooperatively and competitively   Mario Chase is a terrific twist on hide-and-seek   Nintendo themes give the attractions some charm.

The Bad:

A few attractions are too difficult or too shallow.
Nintendo knows a thing or two about crafting worlds that have memorable, immediately recognizable characteristics. Perhaps, for you, the five-note theme that often accompanies Samus' appearance in Metroid games always conjures memories of many happy hours spent exploring alien landscapes. Maybe a glimpse of the Triforce is enough to stir the heart of the legendary hero residing in you. In Nintendo Land, the storied developer leverages the fondness many players feel for some of its most enduring series, while also employing some properties you probably haven't thought about in decades, or you never even knew existed. But while the window dressing at this amusement park of Nintendo-based attractions lends the game a good deal of personality, the real attraction is the gameplay.

There are 12 attractions accessible from the plaza that serves as Nintendo Land's hub. Six of them are for one player, three allow for both solo players or groups, and three are multiplayer only. The most serene attraction is the single-player Yoshi's Fruit Cart. Here, your Mii is placed in a cart modeled on the titular lovable dinosaur. The screen on the tablet and the screen on the television both show a green environment from a top-down view. On the TV, however, you can see fruits to collect and sometimes hazards to avoid, while the screen on the tablet shows only your starting position, the exits, and any patterns or shadows that might be on the stage's surface. You must draw a line on the tablet that takes the cart from its starting point to the exit, eating all the available fruit and winding your way around hazards.

It's a pleasantly absorbing exercise, trying to draw a safe path on the tablet using the information on the TV, sometimes relying on the shadows of clouds or other environmental features for reference. Completing stages is quite easy at first, but the challenge ramps up steadily as fruit starts to move in circular patterns and pitfalls become more prevalent. On these harder stages, it's a bit nerve-racking to hit the Go! button after drawing your line, and then watch the cart follow your path and hope it safely navigates its way through the hazards surrounding it.

The solo attraction Octopus Dance picks up the pace a bit. (Who is Octopus, you ask? Why, he's the star of the Game and Watch game Octopus, of course!) In this attraction, your Mii becomes a deep-sea-diving dancer who tries to keep up with the moves demonstrated by an instructor. (Octopus is content to watch from the background, and occasionally squirt some ink that obscures your view on the tablet but leaves the TV unaffected.) The left and right thumbsticks on the tablet move your left and right arms; you can tilt the tablet to lean, and shake it to jump. That's all you need to do to perform all of the dance moves.

The moves come in sets of three and sometimes come at you very quickly, so just taking note of what you need to do and then doing it along with the rhythm gets tricky. Making matters trickier still is the fact that your Mii sometimes gets spun around by the dance instructor, which encourages you to shift your gaze between the tablet and the TV. It's easier to mimic dance moves when you're viewing your Mii from behind; if he or she is facing you, you have to flip everything around in your brain, which is difficult when things are moving quickly. Octopus Dance is rather simple, but it's nonetheless a fast-paced and fun test of skill that makes interesting use of the Wii U's capacity to show you different things on the tablet and the television.

In Donkey Kong's Crash Course, your Mii is creepily morphed into a roller (a vehicle with springy wheels and the face of your Mii) and placed into an obstacle course whose color scheme and chalk artwork recall the original Donkey Kong. The object is to get your roller safely to the end of each obstacle course by tilting the tablet to roll left or right. Navigating the courses is quite difficult and requires finesse. It's satisfying to guide the roller safely to the goal at the end of the course, but the extreme fragility of the roller, as well as the bothersome need to blow on the microphone occasionally to move platforms, makes Crash Course one of the lesser attractions at Nintendo Land.

Takamaru's Ninja Castle takes its name from a 1986 Famicom game that never saw release outside of Japan. In this first-person on-rails attraction, you infiltrate a ninja fortress to rescue a kidnapped princess. You hold the tablet with the screen pointed at the television lengthwise, and slide your finger along the screen to toss throwing stars at the cute cardboard ninjas who stand in your way. The action is fast, the star-throwing motion feels natural, and the environments have an endearing handcrafted look.

Captain Falcon's Twister Race tosses you into the futuristic purple racer of Captain Falcon. The television displays a traditional behind-the-vehicle view common to many racing games, which is great for any spectating friends. In the driver's seat, however, you're usually better served by the top-down perspective provided on the tablet, which gives you a much better view of upcoming turns, speed-boosting arrows, and obstacles. Your racer always heads straight up on the tablet; tilting the tablet to steer, you try to find the speediest route along the twisty track. The controls are terrifically responsive; if you go careening off the track or speed straight into a hazard, it's your fault, not the game's. The course starts out simple but gets progressively more treacherous, and it's fun to return to Twister Race to improve your best times and compete with those established by other players.

Balloon Trip Breeze is a side-scrolling attraction in which you watch the television while moving the stylus on the tablet, which creates breezes that carry your balloon-wearing Mii along. The indirect control method makes avoiding floating spikes and avian adversaries pleasantly tricky, and the presentation, in which curtains of various colors hang in the background to suggest different times of day, is charming.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Fight for Your Loot in Borderlands 2’s Torgue DLC

Borderlands 2’s second expansion -- Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage -- will launch on November 20th. Like Captain Scarlett and Her Pirate’s Booty before it, Campaign of Carnage offers new areas for players to explore, three new achievements, a new currency and plenty of new missions for players level 15 or higher, with enemies scaled to your level.

The basic story of Campaign of Carnage revolves around a new vault discovered in Pandora, buried in the center of a large crater that will only open “once the champion of Pandora feeds it the blood of the ultimate coward.” Your introduction to Mr. Torgue’s Campaign of Carnage comes via Mr. Torgue himself, screaming at you like a terrifying mix of Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage with a deep love for explosions.

As Mr. Torgue describes the new vault, “we at the Torgue Corporation sincerely believe this is f**king awesome -- so awesome that we're going to set up a tournament to find this number one badass.” That tournament takes place in an arena that will serve as the centerpiece of the expansion, built around the Badass Crater of Badassitude where the vault is buried. You’ll need a sponsor to participate, and one of the first new characters you’ll meet is Piston, a scarily-large brawler with engine pistons for hands.

Sitting down to play the Campaign of Carnage, it’s obvious that Gearbox intends this expansion to be played by its most hardcore players. Torgue’s campaign mixes Borderlands 2’s typical mission structure with the Circles of Slaughter seen in the main game, using horde mode-style battles to punctuate story missions throughout its running time, which is roughly the same as the previous expansion.

Like in Pirate’s Booty, enemies have been replaced by new versions related to the theme -- Marauders become bikers, Goliaths become Enforcers -- but Campaign of Carnage has plenty of new enemies to offer as well. The expansion includes multiple bosses, like Pyro Pete (a surprisingly lassez-faire flamethrowing psychopath), Motor Mama (a “rather buxom lady on a motorcycle with twin sidecars” according to concept designer Scott Kester), and Badassaurus Rex (a “big crazy Torgue-themed robotic dinosaur breathing fire”).

According to Kester, the expansion is built around “the culture of combat,” and it’s not shy about exploring it. Playing the first hour, it’s clear that you’ll be fighting. A lot. The only ones fighting more than you are your various enemies, who are just as likely to hurt each other as they are to attack you. Combat doesn’t become too repetitive, though. Aside from the story missions and arena bouts, you’ll come across an additional Circle of Slaughter in a bar brawl early on, and even when you do revisit the main arena you’ll encounter different combat scenarios each time.

As for that new currency, unique vending machines spread throughout the Campaign of Carnage’s new areas will only accept Torgue Tokens, which you’ll have to scavenge from killed enemies. Each machine features a selection of badass Torgue guns and always offers a legendary weapon in the Item of the Day slot. Campaign of Carnage will also feature some familiar faces, including Tannis, Moxxi and even Tiny Tina, who Kester says has “her own thoughts about sponsorship.” Tina will also offer a new subset of weapons, and based on her affinity for explosions it’s not hard to guess what they’ll do.

Looking ahead, Gearbox says it’s already thinking about the next downloadable content. Eventually, the developer has plans to raise Borderlands 2’s level cap, but not in the way you might expect. “We’re discussing trying to do it in a more interesting way,” Gearbox vice president of marketing Steve Gibson told IGN. “We think people are going to be really happy when we do get to it. It’s a little bit different way of doing it. Yes, the number will go up, but there are some other things associated with it that we’re trying to do an even better job of.”

Like Pirate’s Booty, Campaign of Carnage will be available for $9.99, or as part of the $29.99 Season Pass that includes access to four Borderlands 2 expansions through June 2013. Stay tuned to IGN for a full review of Campaign of Carnage in the coming week, but until then find everything you need to know about Pandora in our Borderlands 2 wiki.