2016 Games of the Year

10 – House of the Dying Sun

Some parts Battlestar Galactica mixed with some parts TIE Fighter makes a pretty good space dogfighter. Missions are short and to the point, and it’s got a real nihilistic feeling to it.

9 – Headlander

It’s a Metroidvania where you can’t jump. It’s pure 70’s sci-fi: weird, colorful, and full of lasers.

8 – Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

It expands the scope of the Call of Duty series in ways that I never expected. They could’ve called this a Halo prequel and they wouldn’t have been far off from how it feels. It also does a better job of building up actual characters than any other Call of Duty.

7 – Shadow Warrior 2

Sometimes repetitive, but I couldn’t stop enjoying it. It’s got tons of weapons and options for destroying endless hordes of demons.

6 – Rise of the Tomb Raider

This was a great followup to Tomb Raider. It expands upon that game in smart ways and it’s a fun action game.

5 – Firewatch

Calling this an outdoor Gone Home is terribly reductive, but it’s pretty close. The story kind of hand-waves away some of its problems, but it’s engrossing from beginning to end.

4 – Quadrilateral Cowboy

I love everything Blendo Games makes, and QuadCow is no exception. It’s got a great aesthetic and I love the retro command line puzzle solving.

3 – Salt and Sanctuary

I could never get into Dark Souls like I got into Salt and Sanctuary. That’s likely because S&S inherits as much from Castlevania as it does from Dark Souls. It’s a game that’s sometimes frustrating but I could never stay away for too long. There’s a huge number of enemies, and the memorable bosses will haunt your dreams until you finally vanquish them.


LIMBO was okay. INSIDE is amazing. It’s short, but impossible to stop playing. The less said about it, the better, but I will say that it’s one of those games that keeps doing incredible things until it explodes at the very end.

1 – DOOM

I like all of the Doom games, even Doom 3, and I was skeptical that DOOM would be good. It spent a lot of time in development hell. It was all worth it. This is an amazing game that retains the feeling of the original while giving it a 2016 makeover.

Honorable mentions: Oxenfree, Asemblance, Batman – The Telltale Series

Games I probably should have liked but didn’t really grab me, so I didn’t spend much time with them: Deus Ex: Mankind Divided, Dishonored 2

2016 Steam Awards Nominations

For the first time, Steam has introduced some player-chosen game awards called The Steam Awards. They’ve chosen a handful of unique categories, set no release date restrictions, and cut the internet loose on it! While I’m certain this internet popularity contest will be gamed to the degree that it will surely be a disaster, I tried to give it a somewhat measured approach. I tried to stay recent and relevant in my choices, but more importantly chose things I could easily defend. That said, here are my picks for the Steam Awards nominations.

The “Test of Time” Award – Doom II – This is the oldest game I nominated, but for good reason; it best deserves this award. Doom II is a timeless classic that I enjoy going back to at least once a year. It’s one of the best games of all time.

The “I’m Not Crying, There’s Something In My Eye” award – Wolfenstein: The New Order – It’s impossible for me to discuss why I chose this game without spoiling it, but it’s absolutely deserved. I’ve said it before but The New Order doesn’t take any shortcuts. You may not go into it expecting real, interesting characters, but the game is much more than murdering Nazis (although there is a lot of murdering Nazis).

The “Just 5 More Minutes” award – Endless Legend – Endless Legend is a fantastic 4X/Civ style game that improves the genre with wildly different factions and quests that give your simple playthrough a story to tell and explore.

The “Whoooooooaaaaa, dude!” award – SOMA – Here’s another one that can’t be discussed without spoilers, but SOMA is a game with a lot of brain meat to it. It’ll give you a lot to think about humanity and consciousness.

The “Villain Most In Need Of A Hug” award – Doom (2016) – This is a fairly silly award, so I gave it a silly nomination. I guess a hug could solve the problems the antagonist of Doom has. Whatever. Doom is great.

The “Game Within A Game” award – Jazzpunk – Jazzpunk doesn’t get anywhere near enough love or respect, but it’s one of the best comedy games of all time, and it’s got a ton of funny minigames in it. Some are more fleshed out than others, but they’re mostly great.

The “I Throught This Game Was Cool Before It Won An Award” award – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Okay, so The Witcher 3 was getting awards before it was even released, but I’ve been a big supporter of this series since The Witcher and I’m glad this one is enjoying some fairly mainstream success.

The “Best Use Of A Farm Animal” award – Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – I guess this one’s a stretch, but a horse is a farm animal, MGSV has D-Horse, and D-Horse is a pretty good horse. Easily more obedient than The Witcher 3’s Roach, and you can make D-Horse poop on command and use that poop as a distraction device.

Write-in award: The “Game That Deserves A Sequel” award – Half-Life 2: Episode Two – This is the only award where I’m doing what other people on the internet are doing. We’ve gone too long without a new Half-Life. I don’t even need multiple sequels or a franchise out of it. I just want a conclusion.

Steam Summer Sale 2016: Indie Greats

On the last day of the sale, I want to call out some indie games that I’ve enjoyed that are super cheap. I love supporting indie developers because they often take more chances with their games, and the developers have more to lose personally.  I want to see them succeed and expand their scope.

  • Bastion/Transistor -75%/$3.74/$4.99 – Supergiant Games might be one of the bigger indie developers on this list, but they’re still an independent studio. Bastion and Transistor are amazing games and I’ve written a lot about them. Get both for under $8, but I also recommend you get their soundtracks. They’re absolutely music worth listening to outside of the games. http://store.steampowered.com/app/107100/ http://store.steampowered.com/app/237930/
  • Axiom Verge -40%/$11.99 – It’s hard to imagine $12 as pricey, but this one is worth it. It’s a brilliant Metroidvania, made by one person! You don’t get much more indie than that. http://store.steampowered.com/app/332200/
  • Dust: An Elysian Tail -80%/$2.99 – Another single developer game that’s extremely impressive. It’s also a Metroidvania, with a greater focus on melee combat, combos, and clean art. http://store.steampowered.com/app/236090/
  • Volume -75%/$4.99 – The second game from Bithell Games is not a followup to Thomas Was Alone, but the Metal Gear inspired Volume. I’m not good at stealth, but everything about this game works well and gives it a puzzle game feeling. http://store.steampowered.com/app/365770/


Steam Summer Sale 2016: FPS Highlights

Since the 2015 winter sale, Steam’s changed the way sales work. Now, the price stays the same through out the entire sale. No daily deals, no flash sales, no community sales. It’s good for consumers because there’s not as much time pressure to jump on a good deal, and you’ve got the entire sale to make your purchases. I’m here to take a moment and point out some good deals on games I really liked. I guess I have a type, because these are all FPS games. But they’re brilliant.

  • Doom -40%/$35.99 – This is the new Doom, the one that came out a little more than a month ago. It is absolutely worth this price, especially so close to release. The game is fantastic if you’re a Doom fan, a FPS fan, or just really love good action games. It’s great. http://store.steampowered.com/app/379720/
  • Dishonored: Definitive Edition -40%/$11.99 – Dishonored 2 is coming soon. It looks amazing, but it’s got to live up to Dishonored, which is one of the best stealth action games ever. Definitive Edition bundles the base game, with all of the DLC. The important parts are The Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, which add almost another whole campaign to the game. http://store.steampowered.com/sub/31292/
  • Deus Ex Collection -75%/$8.24 – You get all of the Deus Ex games for less than $9. Deus Ex: The Fall is absolutely skippable (a mobile game port), and some people hate Deus Ex: Invisible War, but Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Human Revolution are crucial cyberpunk FPS games. http://store.steampowered.com/sub/49738/
  • Metro Redux Bundle -75%/$7.49 – Both Metro games in their enhanced Redux form. These are grim, post-apocalyptic FPSes that are essentially Half-Life mixed with STALKER. http://store.steampowered.com/sub/44169/
  • BioShock Triple Pack -85%/$10.51 – This one counts as a good deal, not great. All three games are amazing and absolutely worth the price. However, they don’t include the DLC for Bioshock 2 or Bioshock Infinite. Minerva’s Den for Bioshock 2 and Burial at Sea for Bioshock Infinite are how DLC gets done right, so I recommend getting those as well. http://store.steampowered.com/bundle/572/


Steam Summer Sale 2016

The Steam summer sale starts tomorrow, and it’s something I look forward to every year. Summer is a great time for a video game sale because there’s usually not a lot new coming out, and we’re months past the biggest releases (November-December timeframe stuff). It’s a great time to catch up. If you’re patient, big seasonal sales are also a good time to stock up on enough games to get you through until the next big sale. Here’s what I’m looking to pick up this year.

  • The Elder Scrolls Online and Elite: Dangerous – I’m lumping these together because they’re both (sort of) MMOs. They’ve both seen enough time since release to be refined and improved, so I’m ready to see what they’ve got.
  • Brigador, Shadwen, Salt and Sanctuary – Recent indie games that I’m really interested in. They’re not likely to have huge discounts, but I’m more excited about them than I am the other three, which means almost any discount will be enough.
  • The Magic Circle, Cradle, Soul Axiom – These are indie games that haven’t had a lot of hype but got some positive buzz. They’re not likely to be games that I’ll play for months, but good weekend diversions. The one I know the least about is Soul Axiom, but it’s from the people who made Master Reboot and I really enjoyed that.
  • Subnautica and Lego Worlds – Two Minecraft-y early access games. I loved the way Subnautica looked on a Giant Bomb quick look, and something about Lego Worlds seems right even if I’ve not read a lot of positive things about it.
  • Warhammer: Endtimes – Vermintide – I bought this before, during the winter sale. It suffers from a bad graphical glitch that makes it look the rats all have wizard beards. I gave it another run during its last free weekend, but it still has that damn wizard beard glitch. I’ve got a couple friends who are really into it, but I’m having a hard time jumping in. If it’s cheap, I’ll get it.
  • Hitman, The Witness, Steamworld Heist – These are basically brand new, not likely to have deep discounts, and I’m mildly interested in them. Steamworld Heist the one that seems most like something I’d actually finish, but the other two have gotten a lot of positive press.

Review: Hacknet [2015]

Way back when, there was this cool game called Uplink. It was a hacking simulator. You bounce your connection off of hacked machines, hide your steps, steal data. It was sort of close to how real hacking works, but it was just different enough and directionless to a point that it was kind of overwhelming. It was a hard game.

Hacknet is something of an Uplink-inspired indie game. It’s terms and tools are much closer to the real world. It’s also quite a bit more straightforward. It’s paced well enough, with a mixture of contract-type hacking jobs, and some narrative missions that lead to a story conclusion. The mission objectives are clear enough that I never failed for incompletion. However, I found some missions were either offered before I had the tools to complete them, or without ever having the tools and forcing me to abort the contract to continue.

To complete missions, you have to combine your tools with your knowledge. An early mission involves a counter-hack. Someone has stolen a file. You need to get on their server, find the file, and delete it. The tools will get you into the server, but you’re on your own for finding the file. Part of it is knowing where to look, and part is knowing what you’re looking for. If you think you’ve got it right, you send a reply to the customer, and get a “contract successful” email. If you didn’t, the game will stop you from replying with a “mission incomplete” screen.

On most servers, there’s no particular danger to browsing around and screwing up. However, some will start tracing your location. If you let the trace catch you, you’re thrown into a minigame in which you have to reset your own IP address by hacking your ISP. It’s on a short timer, so you move from the intense countdown of the trace, to an even more intense countdown before you’re disconnected. It’d make for some really cool moments, if it were a little better explained the first time it happens. I didn’t have a firm grasp on what to do, so I kind of just sat there until I lost. Not great.

But the highs of the game are rather high. It’s fun to try to solve the puzzles getting into servers, doing it under the timer of the trace, and getting out. Some parts are less developed than others, and the appeal might be limited to people who have an interest in computer security, but it’s a good game for a weekend. Or a day, it really only took me 5 something hours to complete.

The future sucks.

I don’t want to make this a whole thing, but I want to get it written down. My Xbox One sucks. It won’t play Blu-Ray movies. It won’t play rented streaming movies. Netflix has been broken on it for months. For types of media that aren’t Hulu or WWE Network, it’s a paperweight. It’ll play games, after a long download and install time, but that’s it.

Two of these problems, the Blu-Ray movies and rentals, can be blamed directly on copy protection. I have a (relatively) old TV and I guess it’s not up to the standards Microsoft wants before it will show me the movies I’ve bought. Mind you, my PS3 and Xbox 360 have no problems on this same TV. I didn’t find out until I tried to watch my Evil Dead Blu-Ray on Halloween, and after I’d rented Iron Man 3 today.

I’m not trying to rip anyone off. I’ve bought my Blu-Rays. I paid for that rental. I’m constantly presented with anti-piracy warnings and now I can’t even watch the things I buy through the Xbox One. My old TV is huge and works great, so I have no reason to replace it so I’m stuck. I can switch to my PS3 to watch movies, but copy protection is keeping me from watching the things I bought. If I had pirated them, I would not have these problems. Even better, I could stream them from my PC through the Plex app that Microsoft has made available on the Xbox One. Microsoft has made it more convenient to be a pirate than a customer.

I can’t even explain what’s going on with Netflix. Netflix works on literally every media streaming device I own (several Rokus, Xbox 360, PS3) except for the Xbox One. Ever since Microsoft pushed a big interface change (which was an improvement!), Netflix has been unusable. I contact Microsoft support and they think my network is too slow (it’s not). I contact Netflix support and they say Microsoft botched the release of their app and they’ll fix it with a new version. I’m certain it’s been updated at least once since then and Netflix is still unusable. It doesn’t affect everyone, so I guess I’m in a minority that just doesn’t get to use Netflix on Xbox One anymore.

This sucks. The copy protection on the Xbox One is beyond ridiculous. There’s nothing wrong with my TV. I’m doing nothing wrong or illegal. If the Xbox One told me on initial setup that my TV was not good enough to watch Blu-Ray movies or stream rentals, I would’ve boxed it up and sent it back immediately. I’ve contacted Amazon to see if they will grant me an exception on their return policy so I can send it back. The Netflix problem is also incomprehensible. I don’t know what they broke, but they broke something, and now the console is worse off than it was with no way of returning it to a prior working state.

I don’t know what to say. I’m pretty flabbergasted. This shit shouldn’t be so hard. This is the easy stuff; take data, output video and sound. The games work fine! I shouldn’t have to fucking struggle against the DRM to watch the things I buy. Microsoft shouldn’t be breaking their console with upgrades, and then doing nothing to fix them. I feel like I’ve been ripped off because I bought a game console and all it does is play games, but it should do more than that. And that periphery stuff should be the bits that work. What a fucking mess.

Steam Winter Sale 2015

The Steam winter sale is starting tomorrow. It’s kind of the best time to catch up on all of the games you might have missed in the previous year because it’ll probably be on sale. This year is the same in that regard, but there have been changes to how Steam runs annual sales.

Big annual Steam sales used to be pretty complex affairs! There were daily sales, flash sales, community sales, and sometimes more. Now, there will be just one sale price. Everything that is on sale will be at the same discount throughout the entire sale. In effect, everything that is on sale tomorrow will still be on sale up until the sale ends, and with no further discounts. You can run through your wishlist after the sale starts tomorrow and buy everything immediately with the knowledge that you’re not going to miss out on a cheaper price during this sale. You have a wishlist, right? They’re a great way to keep an eye on the price of games you might be interested in.

That said, I’ve pruned my wishlist and I’m ready. Obviously, I won’t be buying everything off of my wishlist, and not everything will be on sale tomorrow. I’m going to get stuff that I missed this year that really interests me, and stuff that I can keep around for rainy days. Here’s a short list of what I hope to pick up tomorrow.

  • Cradle – I love the look and I’m a sucker for a good first-person adventure game.
  • The Magic Circle – Many reviews I’ve read said that there is more to this game than what appears.
  • Axiom Verge – A metroidvania that’s obviously heavily influenced by the 16-bit era. SIGN ME UP
  • Assassin’s Creed: Rogue – I’ll be honest; I kind of hate this series, but I like to keep one on hand in case I need something to fill time until I find something I genuinely enjoy. It’s true, though, that I usually can’t stop playing them once I’ve started.
  • Her Story – I keep threatening to make my wife play an adventure game with me, and this one is getting a lot of kudos.
  • Volume – I loved Thomas was Alone and I like the idea of a lighter stealth game in small bits.
  • Nuclear Throne – Did you play Luftrausers? Because I did and it was fucking rad. I’ll be getting Nuclear Throne whether it’s on sale or not.
  • Mad Max – I’m not super interested in it, but it’s got enough going for it that I’ll probably like it if I start it.
  • Far Cry 4 – Same as Mad Max. If the price is right.
  • Civ: Beyond Earth – One of my fellow contributors at Nerds of a Feather, Flock Together loved it, and it’s close enough to Alpha Centauri.

Squishy post-script: The change in the way Steam conducts their sales is (to me) kind of a bummer. I love the annual sales as much for the daily game discussions and recommendations as I do the cheap games. The daily changes to the deals gave me a reason to check the store page every day, every 12 hours, every 8 hours, or however often they changed. It also lent to common topics of discussion as people could talk about what the new sales were. As the autumn sale demonstrated to me, most of the discussion will simply happen at the start of the sale and not really long afterward.

I’m not going to be the guy complaining about a sale. The actual content of the sale is really inconsequential to me. I’m lucky to get another chance to pick up these games at a discount. And the new way in which the sale is conducted is good for people who aren’t obsessive about them like I am. They can check on any day of the sale and get great games at great prices without feeling like they’re going to miss something important. People short on cash don’t need to choose between food and a new game because it’s only on sale for 8 hours and they don’t get paid until tomorrow (sincerely hope no one is doing this, but I know someone is). But I will miss the daily discussions and the excitement surrounding constantly changing sales.

Fallout 4 Impressions

I’m seven hours in, and I’ve owned it since day 1. Given I haven’t had a ton of free time, that’s still kind of telling. I think I put twice as much time into The Witcher 3 at this point. Honestly, I’d probably rather be playing Destiny. Really early game spoilers below.

Seriously, I’m going to talk about my first seven hours with this game.

The start, the world before the bomb, looked good, it was a nice change of pace, but it was totally unnecessary. Unless they’re going to use those assets again somewhere, it seemed like a lot of effort to do something that would’ve been just as well served with a cutscene.

Everything immediately following emerging from the vault moves entirely too fast, and makes the game feel really small. I mean, I was immediately thrown into defending a “good” group of people, handed a suit of power armor and a minigun, and I killed a deathclaw. Thinking back to how hard it was to get those kinds of things, much less kill a deathclaw, in previous games, it feels like Fallout 4 is either trying too hard to make a strong first impression, or showing that these things aren’t going to be as useful in this game as they were in previous games.

Even more pernicious, I’ve already been handed several laser weapons. It’s really hard to determine if I’ve just stumbled upon a quest that’s breaking the game, or these are going to be worthless soon. Again, these are things that were hard to come by in the older games. Also, I’ve already been invited to join the Brotherhood of Steel. Knowing how the Brotherhood has been portrayed in previous games, I couldn’t possibly jump right in without getting more context.

Here we go, I’m going to say it: the settlement stuff feels dumb. I don’t want to play Sim City. I don’t want to be a pack mule to find stuff to make my settlement less shitty. A lot of the tutorial stuff wasn’t particularly well explained either. It took me a while to figure out I could use existing structures. Then assigning workers and planting didn’t make a lot of sense. Doing everything from the first person perspective doesn’t feel good either.

Inventory management, as in most Bethesda games, sucks. When I pick up new stuff, I have to do a lot of comparisons to see if what I got is better than what I have. It’s complicated further by all the weapon mods. Is a glow-sighted hunting rifle better than compensated high-powered pipe rifle? Shit I don’t know. And if it isn’t, I can’t figure out how to remove mods and slap them on a different weapon. Scrapping weapons just gives me a bunch of steel, not the individual parts I’d need to rebuild the mods. It took me a bit to figure out that I’d be better off wearing separate pieces of armor that covered body parts than a whole suit, but the first thing I ran into was a whole suit that was better than what I was wearing. When I got a piece of armor, it wasn’t better than the whole suit so I tossed it. Then I noticed I couldn’t modify the whole suit, but I could mod the hell out of the piece of shoulder armor I had. That was my hint that I should be gathering pieces of armor instead of wearing whole suits.

But here’s the real enthusiasm-killer for me: Fallout 4 doesn’t look or feel particularly different, or even better, than previous games. Combined with other Bethesda RPGs, like Oblivion and Skyrim, it feels like I’ve played this game before, several times even. The stuff that’s new (weapon mods, armor mods, settlements) doesn’t feel good, and the rest feels way too familiar. It hasn’t done anything new yet that I like.

I bought Fallout 4 on a whim, really. I didn’t follow its development much. When the release day came up, I decided to buy it outright. It’s only the second full $60 brand new game I’ve bought this year, the other being The Witcher 3. Ever since Fallout 3 and Oblivion, I’ve held the opinion that I should wait on Bethesda RPGs to get cheaper, or all the DLC is released and there’s a complete edition of the game. I didn’t stick to it, like at all, but I didn’t buy Skyrim or New Vegas without waiting at least for a sale. I really enjoyed those games and I definitely got my money’s worth. I likewise loved the hell out of Fallout 3, and I bought the super special edition of that game.

So why would I hesitate to buy Fallout 4 on release day? Because it leads to this exact kind of post-purchase questioning. I was way into Destiny when Fallout 4 came out, and I still had a handful of games I wanted to play. A game like Fallout 4, where I’m not entirely sucked into it immediately, would do better for me when I’m bored, not when I’m swimming in fun games to play. I’m certain I’ll put more time into Fallout 4, and I’ll enjoy myself, but I’ll probably put it down a few times, and play other games instead. I could’ve waited on this one.

In which I explain why I bought an Xbox One over a PS4

Hi. Less than 2 hours ago, I ordered an Xbox One bundle off of Amazon. We’ve had a run of good things happen and my reward was a new console. Katie told me I could get whatever Black Friday slash holiday deal I wanted. After giving it some thought, I decided on the Xbox One. It wasn’t a hard decision and here’s why.

The Xbox One has the exclusive games I want to play on it. The ones that aren’t going to be on PS4, probably not on PC either. There’s one game for PS4 right now that qualifies as exclusive to the console and something I absolutely want to play, and that’s Until Dawn. Pretty much everything else it has is multiplatform, or not interesting to me. I’m a huge sucker for Halo; Xbone has Halo. I’m a huge sucker for Gears of War; Xbone has Gears of War. Rare Replay is on Xbone. It’s not necessarily a deal-maker, but it’s something I’m very interested in and can’t get on any other platform. If they come to PC, I’ll be surprised. Thrilled, but surprised.

I want the new Rock Band. My plastic instruments for Xbox 360 are all trash, so I’m looking at the whole band-in-a-box. All of my Rock Band songs are on Xbox. There’s no chance in hell I’m buying a PS4 and Rock Band and all of those songs all over again. I know Guitar Hero Live is probably a better game. It won’t fit what I want Rock Band to fill. I want all of those plastic instruments, not just guitar and vocals. I want my whole Rock Band song library. If I have friends over, I want them to have a choice of instrument. I want a choice of instrument. If I feel like getting Guitar Hero Live, I can do that and it’s not like I’m losing my whole Rock Band library. I can’t do both on PS4 without spending a shitload on Rock Band songs. Again.

I’m a Windows guy, and Xbone is a Windows platform. I’m going to know how it works. It’s going to work with my PCs. I’m not going to have to fiddle with any janky PS4 interface that kind of works or doesn’t. Streaming Xbone games to my PC sounds cool. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it, but I know I can’t do that with a PS4. I don’t own a Vita, so I’m not really glued to the Playstation platform. The Xbone will fit in better.

I know that when the new consoles were announced, I was pretty much ready to write off the Xbone entirely. It sounded like a pile of bad ideas. I even pre-ordered a PS4, which I canceled months before it came out because buying any console on day one is dumb. But this is why I wait at least a year before I buy any console. I couldn’t have made this decision on day one. I would’ve owned a PS4 and I would’ve found ways to enjoy it, but it wouldn’t have solved these problems. I’d still be looking at buying an Xbone for the exclusives and Rock Band. The PS4 is still a cool console, and I still want to own one some day, but it’s not what I want right now or for the foreseeable future.