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Digital Blend: Talking GTA with Leslie Benzies and preparing for the God of War beta

Digital Blend is back! Forgive the week-long hiatus. I flew off to Los Angeles last week so that I could bring you early looks at BioShock Infinite and Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, along with interview coverage for each of the two games. The best is yet to come too: stay tuned for a report from my extensive chat with Irrational Games’ Ken Levine on Monday.

For now though, I welcome you all back to Digital Blend, our weekly look at the world of under-$20 video gaming. The holiday release season is all but over at this point as the actual holidays loom large and new releases have slowed to a crawl. There’s still fresh fun to be had, as you’ll see below, but don’t forget that this is also a good time to look back and dig through your ever-growing backlog. Definitely give some of the games I’ve highlighted here another look. Especially FTL: Faster Than Light. Seriously. Play the crap out of that game. It’s kickass. Read your latest Digital Blend first though!

Making headlines…

* Look out, God of War fans. There’s a multiplayer beta a-coming. Sony will kick off the God of War: Ascension multiplayer beta on January 8, 2013 that will be open for all PlayStation Plus subscribers to participate in. There’s been some suggestion that other beta participation opportunities will be coming as well for non-Plus subscribers, but no specifics have been revealed at this time. It sounds like this will be a pretty full-featured beta too, with a lot of moving parts for players to try out. Stay tuned for more details when we have them. 

the secret world free to play* Funcom’s really solid fantasy-meets-conspiracy MMO The Secret World is no longer a subscription-required affair. While that’s still an option, with some new, time-saving bonuses offered to those who pay a monthly fee, the bulk of the game and its first four content updates — five, if you purchase a copy before the end of 2012 — is now cut loose from subscription requirements. The game itself retails for $30, but you can probably find it for less if you spend a little time poking around the Internet. Like right here, for example.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City hit mobile platforms this week, as you’ll see in the next section. It’s the 10th anniversary of Rockstar Games’ classic this year, and Digital Trends was afforded the rare opportunity to chat with Leslie Benzies, the head of Rockstar North, to celebrate the occasion. You should give the whole Q&A a read through, but I’ll tease you here with the headline-grabbing comment: Benzies said that the dream is to one day have a Grand Theft Auto game that includes all of Rockstar’s cities and the ability to fly between them. He and I have that in common. How kickass would that be?

Leisure Suit Larry ios* Did you like Journey? Specifically, did you like the music of Journey? You’re not alone. Replay Games liked it as well. That’s the Texas-based outfit that is currently pulling together the upcoming Leisure Suit Larry HD remake with creator Al Lowe and Israeli dev studio Adventure Mod. They liked it so much that they hired composer Austin Wintory to score — err, provide the music, that is — for the Larry remake. Which is all sorts of great news. For everyone.

* Electronic Arts is pushing hard to establish itself in the free-to-play realm and the digital distribution realm on PCs, via Play4Free and Origin, respectively. An important step toward a more unified company was taken earlier this week when the two separate entities were consolidated into Origin Free To Play. While this doesn’t fundamentally change how either sub-business operates, EA explains that the move offers more “convenience” to the end user. I buy that. Origin is already making big strides in stepping up as a major competitor to Steam, and roping all F2P content in — something that Valve already does — was a necessary next step. It’ll be interesting to see these two duking it out on the virtual free market battlefield in 2013.

Top buys for the past two weeks…

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Dragonborn :: Xbox 360 :: 1,600 MS Points

This is the most expensive DLC release yet for Skyrim, but it’s also the strongest. The fan-requested “dragon mounts” feature is largely underwhelming, but everything else about this significant expansion from Bethesda Softworks impresses. The quest content is great and well-written, the new monsters throw up a fearsome challenge, and the added environments carry the same sense of discovery that made Skyrim such a hit in 2011.

Crimson Shroud :: Nintendo 3DS :: $7.99

There are some great options in this latest Digital Blend, but my most vigorous pick of the week nod goes to Crimson Shroud. Broken out of the Japan-exclusive Guild01 compilation, this RPG from Level-5 and Yasumi Matsuno (Final Fantasy 12) is great. It’s a little on the short side (for this sort of game) and definitely something that’s most interesting to proper old-school RPG fans, but it’s well worth the time if you have fond memories of rolling D20s.

Dishonored: Dunwall City Trials :: PlayStation 3 / Xbox 360 / PC :: $4.99 / 400 MS Points

As Ryan said in his review, Dunwall City Trials distills the essence of Dishonored down to its most basic components. Sneak, run, kill. An assortment of challenges tasks players with doing just that, and it adds a lot of value to an already stellar game. If you liked Dishonored but you’ve seen everything that Arkane’s initial adventure had to offer, you’ll enjoy the crap out of this DLC.

Grand Theft Auto: Vice City 10th Anniversary :: Mobile platforms :: $4.99

Folks, I don’t know how to make this any clear. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City in the palm of your hand. The best overall GTA title, and you can carry it around in your pocket. Virtual analog controls are a pain, sure. But it’s Vice City. In your pocket. Why do you not own this yet?

The Walking Dead: Assault :: iOS :: $2.99

Who knew that 2012 would see not one but two superior Walking Dead games. This iOS exclusive doesn’t quite measure up to the level of Telltale’s magnificent, story-driven adventure, but it’s a solid, well-designed action/strategy game with vague hints of RPG progression thrown in. Bringing it all together is a visual aesthetic which mirrors that of the comic. It’s gorgeous and fun, and a great use of a spare three bucks.

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