Far Cry 5 is free to play this weekend Far Cry 5 villain with arms outstretched, looking at the sky

This week and throughout the coming weekend, you can play Far Cry 5 for free via the Epic Games Store or Ubisoft Connect. The free period starts tomorrow, August 5 and runs until August 9. Preloading is available now.

While all the early discussion about its hints at real-life politics turned out to be as boring as its cult, Far Cry 5 still has all the elements of a good Far Cry—there's plenty to do, it's beautiful to look at, and you have absolutely no time to appreciate any of the scenery because as soon as you stop for even a minute, an animal will appear to try and maul you, helicopters will start falling out of the sky, and a firefight will break out nearby. I had no idea rural Montana could be that stressful. Christopher had a good time with it for his review, which you should check if you're just getting into Far Cry or have skipped 5 due to (understandable) series fatigue.

By now, Far Cry 5 also has a lot of fun custom maps for you to explore, including a hyper-realistic Gregg's, which you definitely won't find in Far Cry 6 any time soon, since the game will come without a map editor.

On Ubisoft Connect, the free trial period starts on August 5, 6 am PDT / 2 pm BST, while on  Epic Games Store, things kick off slightly later at 10 am PDT / 6 pm BST. If you afterwards decide that the game is for you, you can get it at 80% off on both storefronts. 

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Grime, a Metroidvania that lets you absorb enemies, is out now Grime boss fight against a giant stone statue with multiple arms

Since we saw Grime at the Guerrilla Collective showcase during E3, it quietly launched and is now becoming a hit with players. Grime is a side-scrolling Metroidvania that also eagerly drank from Dark Souls' well. 

You control a humanoid statue with a black hole for a head (several characters called you 'chiseled one', which made me laugh), and that alone should tell you what style Grime is going for. It takes place in a surreal world, where a guy with a black hole for a head is one of the most normal characters you'll come across.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that by now, somber souls-like Metroidvanias are about a dime a dozen—if you're into the concept then I can already tell you that Grime is a safe bet. But its world is part of what makes Grime special. The lore is pretty vague and it takes time for things to make sense, if at all, but while it doesn't offer a plot, like so many Metroidvanias, you get to puzzle the story of its locations together ever so slowly. 

The world itself seems to mostly consist of different caves. Much like Hollow Knight, it's astounding how much visual variety and how many secrets you can stuff into a cave setting. It looks very, very good and it has a killer soundtrack, as well. And Grime does have its fair share of secret passages and… caves within caves. You jump between platforms, climb down ladders, jump down ravines you can see the bottom of—all in all pretty standard stuff.

But the Dark Souls comparison comes from Grime's systems more than its general vibe. You have an RPG-style system that allows you to spend points on skills, you can switch out your stony appendages and weapons, and the weapons can be upgraded, too. There is also a stamina bar—stamina is called breath here because even statues with black holes for heads need to breathe, apparently. The more you know.

Grime mini boss

(Image credit: Akupara Games)

But while all of this is nothing particularly new, Grime comes with an interesting absorption skill. Used at the correct time, absorption helps you catch enemy weapons and lets you fling them back, and once a foe has lost enough health you can absorb them in their entirety, which in turn rewards you with traits you can then use yourself. 

You absorb skills, (not attacks, however) probably as to not make collecting weapons in the game moot. The boss design is another important Metroidvania trait Grime gets right—big bosses look cool and are challenging to beat, and there are a lot of mini-bosses to find and take on besides.

All in all, this isn't a Metroidvania that reinvents the wheel, which would be difficult to do with the genre's current popularity, anyway, but it feels good to play and is simply good at what it does. Developers Clover Bite appears as genuine Metroidvania fans that have understood what makes the genre fun, and players are picking up on that.

You can get Grime right now, either on Steam, Epic Games Store, or GOG.

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Hades, Lumines Remastered and MS Solitaire join Xbox Game Pass in August Solitaire

The world started to go crazy around the time Microsoft put ads in Solitaire with the launch of Windows 10. There's a premium edition that removes the ads, but you've got to pay $1.50 a month for that privilege. Or, if you've got an Xbox Game Pass for PC subscription, you'll be able to play it ad-free there, come August 17. 

It's actually a pretty decent month for Xbox Game Pass on PC, considering the lack of any big first-party heavy hitters. On August 5, PC gets Curse of the Dead Gods, Dodgeball Academia, Lumines Remastered and Starmancer

Two of those games will launch onto the subscription service upon their release date. Starmancer is a space station sim with a sinister pixel art vibe, while Dodgeball Academia is a 3v3 sports affair with cartoon graphics and frantic real-time combat. Both look pretty cool.

The week after is even better: Art of Rally comes August 12, Hades on August 13, and the aforementioned Solitaire Premium Edition comes on August 17.

The Xbox Game Pass for PC game list continues to be impressive, but a handful of games will leave the service this month, too: Grand Theft Auto 5 makes its exit on August 8, while August 15 will see the removal of Ape Out, Crossing Souls, Darksiders Genesis, Don't Starve, Final Fantasy VII and Train Sim World 2020.

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Left 4 Dead 2 survivors come to Zombie Army 4 Coach hold up a Mauser

The heroes of Left 4 Dead 2—Coach, Ellis, Rochelle, and Nick—have traveled back to World War 2 to join the cast of a different four-player zombie shooter, Zombie Army 4. They're available in a free DLC called the Left 4 Dead Character Pack 2, which follows similar free DLC from a couple of months ago that added the original game's heroes, Left 4 Dead Character Pack 1.

They don't come with character voices unfortunately, so you won't be able to hear Ellis ramble his good-old-boy stories as you blast Nazi zombies, but it's a fun freebie nonetheless. Zombie Army 4 also has some paid DLC out this month, like Return to Hell, the conclusion of a story that's played out across previous episodic DLC. As the name suggests, it sends you to Hell, where you'll face enemies including some real creepy mannequins.

There's also some new packs adding Van Helsing Weapon Skins, a Flare Gun Weapon Bundle, the Horror Charm Pack 2, and Horror Headgear if you really want to wear a sack or dollface mask while shooting zombies in Hell. All of the above is also bundled together in Season Pass Three.

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Second Life is banning gacha style transactions next month Second Life

It may be approaching its 20th birthday, but Second Life is still enormously popular: It still attracts daily player counts of over 50,000, and its self-contained economy was worth $500 million back in 2018. A big part of that economy is the trade in cosmetics, which vendors create themselves using software like 3D Studio Max. Inevitably, gacha mechanics are rife, with players able to pay, for example, $9 for a chance to purchase cosmetics worth considerably more than that

But that's about to change. Due to a “changing regulatory climate” Second Life studio Linden Lab has announced that starting August 31, chance-based content purchases—gacha, in other words—will be banned entirely. Vendors selling gacha content will need to “re-tool their products” or else face enforcement starting September 1. This re-tooling will presumably involve eliminating any randomisation and just selling owned items the old fashioned way: with a plain old transparent price attached.

“We did not make this decision lightly and we understand that it will impact creators as well as event organizers and certainly the shoppers,” Linden Lab's announcement reads. “We look forward to fun creative ways of engagement that will come instead.”

This is a big deal: some Second Life institutions like The Arcade rest entirely on income derived from gacha mechanics, and as one user points out in the Second Life forum thread dedicated to the matter, 30 days is not a lot of time to completely revamp a business model. According to The Arcade website, there are events planned for September, December and March. These are complicated affairs, with the most recent Arcade event having a handful of in-world sponsors (these sponsors, including Chez Moi, are Second Life businesses specialising in different kinds of cosmetic).

Linden Lab's move is dramatic, but it comes amid growing unease with gacha mechanics and loot boxes, and the debate over whether they constitute gambling. The most notable recent case is FIFA Ultimate Team, which EA Sports president Peter Moore reckons isn't gambling, but more like “collecting cigarette cards in the 1920s and '30s”. Battlefront 2's loot boxes helped bring the mechanics' exploitative potential into the spotlight.

Relatedly, Second Life gacha vendors were subject to widespread hacking back in 2017, as Steven reported back then

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A class-action law firm is looking to make money off its own Activision Blizzard lawsuit Activision Blizzard's Santa Monica studio

Activision Blizzard is facing another legal action arising out of the lawsuit filed against it in July by California's Department of Fair Employment and Housing, which alleges widespread discrimination, sexual harassment, and a “frat boy” culture throughout the company. Somewhat confusingly, this new action, available via Ars Technica, is not being filed on behalf of employees, but shareholders who have allegedly suffered losses because Activision Blizzard failed to disclose that it was under investigation.

The suit, which names Activision Blizzard as a company as well as CEO Bobby Kotick, CFO Dennis Durkin, and previous CFO Spencer Neumann as individual defendants, alleges that the company made “false and misleading statements” between August 4, 2016, and July 27, 2021, in SEC filings that failed to disclose the company was actually a hostile workplace for women and minorities, that numerous complaints had been made to its HR department over the years, and that DFEH had launched an investigation as a result.

“As a result, Defendant's statements about Activision Blizzard's business, operations, and prospects were materially false and misleading and/or lacked a reasonable basis at all relevant times,” the suit says.

The lawsuit also notes that since the DFEH action was filed, more than 2,000 current and former employees have signed a letter condemning the company's initial response to the suit, and that plans for a walkout were announced on July 27. As a result, Activision Blizzard shares fell by more than 6% on that same date, causing a loss for investors, who purchased shares in the company at “artificially inflated” prices because of misleading executive and company statements.

“Had Plaintiff and the other members of the Class been aware that the market price of Activision Blizzard securities had been artificially and falsely inflated by Defendants’ misleading statements and by the material adverse information which Defendants did not disclose, they would not have purchased Activision Blizzard securities at the artificially inflated prices that they did, or at all,” the suit states. “As a result of the wrongful conduct alleged herein, Plaintiff and other members of the Class have suffered damages in an amount to be established at trial.”

The lawsuit has not actually been certified as a class action at this point, and the Rosen Law Firm warned that until it is, nobody applying to be a part of the class actually has legal representation in the matter unless they hire their own lawyers independently. There is, however, currently no obligation to take part: Potential litigants “may also remain an absent class member and do nothing at this point,” the law firm said. It also notes in the retention agreement that it can apply to claim up to 33.3% of any amount recovered in the case, “plus disbursements,” (including travel expenses, paralegal fees, and more) which will be claimed first.

Interestingly, while Activision Blizzard employees were largely unsatisfied by the statements made in today's second quarter financial report and investors call, the market seems more impressed. The company's share price bounced back to almost $85 in after-hours trading, a 6.29% increase.

Activision Blizzard share price August 3, 2021

(Image credit: Google)

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Blizzard’s head of HR gone, too Blizzard's Big Orc Statue

Blizzard president J. Allen Brack isn't the only executive departing the company today. First reported by Bloomberg, an Activision Blizzard spokesperson confirmed to PC Gamer that Jesse Meschuk, formerly Blizzard's senior vice president of HR, is “no longer with the company.” Activision Blizzard did not provide a more detailed timeline for when Meschuk left.

Meschuk was the head of Blizzard's human resources department, which allegedly worked to cover up abuses and was deeply dysfunctional, according to a report by Axios. Speaking with dozens of current and former employees, the report details how Blizzard's HR department “actively shielded” abusers from punishment related to complaints made against them. In one instance, a former employee named Nicki Broderick says she reported her manager after they got into a heated argument and he refused to let her leave her desk or reach for her phone. According to Broderick, Blizzard's HR representative said the manager was not at fault and, for raising the issue, Broderick says she felt retaliated against. “I wasn't given any new projects. I wasn't considered for promotion three years after that incident,” she told Axios. Another employee reported a coworker for physically abusing her and said she was met with skepticism because she “wasn't more hysterical.”

Employees also say the department had confusing and obscure protocols for reporting issues, lacked proper procedures for documenting reported abuses, and even faced so much employee turnover that the department was stretched thin.

Meschuk's departure from Blizzard comes in the wake of Activision Blizzard president Bobby Kotick saying that the company was conducting internal investigations and that “anyone found to have impeded the integrity of [Activision Blizzard's] processes for evaluating claims and imposing appropriate consequences will be terminated.”

During an earnings call today, Kotick and other Activision Blizzard executives reiterated that sentiment almost a dozen times. “There is no place at our company where discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment of any kind will be tolerated,” Kotick said in his opening statement. “Our work environment—everywhere we operate—will not permit discrimination, harassment, or unequal treatment. We will be the company that sets the example for this in our industry.”

“People will be held accountable for their actions,” Kotick also said.

Activision Blizzard has been embroiled in controversy ever since July 21st, when the state of California announced it was suing the company over multiple claims of widespread sexual harassment and discrimination. Since then, thousands of employees have come forward to condemn Activision Blizzard's public response and call for change. To find out more about the lawsuit and ensuing controversy, read our full overview of what's happened so far. 

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Age of Empires 4 beta begins later this week Age of Empires 4 concept art

Age of Empires 4 is coming on October 28, but before that happens a closed beta test set to kick off on August 5 will give Age Insiders a chance to get their hands on the game and see what it's really like.

The beta will include the tutorial mission, which teaches building, economics, combat basics, and “other core skills,” and will also support multiplayer and versus AI matches for up to eight. Only a “sample” of maps will be available during the beta but each will offer user-selectable options for size and appearance, while four of the eight launch-day civilizations will be playable: Mongol, English, Delhi Sultanate, and Chinese.

The goal of the beta is to fine-tune systems, hunt down bugs and balance issues, and lay some early groundwork for post-launch support. To that end, the developers hope that players treat it as an actual beta test: “Relic and World’s Edge are depending on you to play as many matches as you’re able to while trying out the various matchmaking systems.”

If you'd like to get in on the action yourself, you need to sign up as an Age Insider by 4:59 pm PT/7:59 pm ET on August 3—that's today, so don't dick around about it—verify your email, and upload your DxDiag file to your profile. This is what you'll need to take part:

  • OS: Windows 10
  • Processor: 1.7-2.7GHz (turbo) 4 core: Intel Core i5-4460T (35w) / AMD FX-6300 or better
  • Memory: 8GB RAM
  • Graphics: Nvidia GTX 760 / AMD Radeon R7 260X or better with at least 2 GB of VRAM

Note that this is a “preview spec” for the beta, and not the recommended requirements for the released game.

The Age of Empires 4 beta will be offered on both Steam and the Microsoft Store, but if you want to play on Steam you'll also need to link your Steam account and sign up for “Steam betas” in your account preferences. Full details are up at ageofempires.com—the closed beta test is scheduled to run until August 16. 

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There’s a new Shorter Games With Worse Graphics Bundle on Itch.io, and it’s exactly what it says it is turn based battle in Kaiju Battel

In 2020, Fanbyte podcast producer Jordan Mallory posted a tweet that not only went viral, but also crystalized a feeling of dissatisfaction that many have about the state of the gaming industry.

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As with any good tweet, Mallory didn't elaborate, but anyone familiar with triple-A development knew what he meant. Mallory posted the tweet around the release of the highly acclaimed and certainly good-looking The Last of Us 2, which reportedly required developers to crunch heavily. Likewise there were reports of crunch for Red Dead Redemption 2, a game so beautiful and so realistic you can all but see your horse's balls draw up when it gets cold.

It captured a feeling that was the air: there are plenty of instances where you can't help but think less would have been more—specifically, more sleep for developers.

The Shorter Games With Worse Graphics Bundle aims to be the opposite of those games. There are a lot of true indie games out there made by solo developers or small teams with no publisher and no funding, and generally, Itch.io is the place to find them. Itch has also become a great platform for people who want to contribute to a cause and get some sweet games out of the deal, as seen with the Black Lives Matters Bundle and the bundle for Palestine.

DeveloperDamien on Twitter came up with the idea for the Shorter Games With Worse Graphics Bundle in late 2020, and has now created a second bundle with 28 games by 25 different developers.

There's a Twitter thread introducing each of the games—I'm particularly intrigued by 16-bit turn-based RPG Kaiju Big Battel: Fighto Fantasy, because it actually looks quite beautiful (so much for worse graphics!) and top-down shooter Gunbo.

“Seeing all the sentiments against triple-A and how now is a good time to support studios that refuse to be a part of that culture I think it's a great time to see people put their money where their mouth is,” the description reads. The money raised will be evenly split among all participating developers. DeveloperDamien also suggest checking out the games from the first bundle, even though it is no longer available, as well as “all the other stuff that [itch.io] is full of.”

The goal for the Shorter Games with Worse Graphics Bundle is once again $6,969.69, a cool number for cool people. The bundle runs until August 16.

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Final Fantasy 10’s Tidus almost became gaming’s second plumber Tidus

Japanese gaming website Famitsu is celebrating Final Fantasy 10's 20th anniversary with a special creator interview and it's led to some never-before-revealed info. This is the same interview that revealed chances for Final Fantasy X-3 aren't zero

It's a very long interview, but one of its most interesting revelations comes right at the beginning—Tidus was once designed as a plumber, with character designer Tetsuya Nomura even drawing him as one. When asked if Tidus' design retained anything about his former career, Nomura admitted that perhaps the overalls seem reminiscent of a plumber's outfit. No plumber needs that many belt buckles and chains, though.

Blitzball, FF10's underwater handball almost everyone hates, was created as a job that would get protagonist Tidus in the water equally as much as a plumber. The game has plenty of underwater sequences—including the famous swim with Yuna— and so Tidus had to have a natural affinity to water. Producer Yoshinori Kitase suggested for Tidus to be an athlete, as it would make him unique among Final Fantasy characters. He had to be a swimmer of some sort, as the theme of 'water' was decided early on during the development of FF10's world Spira, which was also designed as a world that would be inconvenient to travel, likely to emphasise the feeling of your group going on a difficult pilgrimage.

There are more interesting tidbits here: When compared to previous series entries such as Final Fantasy 8 and 9, FF10's world feels a lot less Western. That's because it took inspiration from Okinawa, Japan's fifth-largest island, known for its tropical climate. Furthermore, the team put a lot of effort into explaining the pilgrimage—because Final Fantasy X originally released at a time when you couldn't just watch gameplay and explainer videos on YouTube, they wanted to make extra sure everyone understood the story. As an example, this is why Auron, a character who originally wasn't supposed to speak at all, had to act as a sort of gruff advisor. Clearly, Nomura at least eventually gave up on explaining things altogether and just decided to go ham with Kingdom Hearts.

In Japan at least, Final Fantasy 10 is one of the most beloved games of the series, and while its creators would change a few things in hindsight, they're still happy with how it came out. I am, too—Tidus is good, actually.

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