Signal Simulator and the Subtle Art of Atmosfear

note: This game relies heavily on player discovery and I strongly recommend that you not look up anything further about it if you’re interested in playing. This “review” covers only the barest essentials of the core gameplay loop and everything else is simply a recollection of my experience playing. I’ve intentionally avoiding discussing anything that could be considered a spoiler.

Signal Simulator can be summed up very simply by the quotation that’s show as you load the game.

“Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” ― Arthur C. Clarke

At it’s core, Signal Simulator is a game about being alone while not being entirely sure that you are, truly, alone. You’re left to your own devices to run a SETI (Search for extraterrestrial intelligence) outpost in a nondescript American desert with nobody around for miles except the occasional nondescript helicopter delivering another round of supplies. Your primary task is to search the skies for anomalies in the form of rouge radio waves and attempt to make contact with whatever is (or isn’t) out there. Additionally, you’ll need to perform upkeep on the station, making sure the array of radars remain aligned and keeping the solar panel farm powering your whole operation clean so they can generate power at an optimal rate among other things.

All of this sounds fairly straightforward but Signal Simulator’s greatest strength is in its simplicity. You repeat these basic tasks day in and day out and pretty soon you get into a groove. You become comfortable and eventually this complacency breeds paranoia. (Why do the doors all have locks on them?) This is all helped by the fact that things take time to get done in the game. Even just running outside to clean off the solar panels can take two or three minutes. It’s mundane at times but the game itself is so engrossing that even simple tasks like this can feel rewarding. You’re the sole person in charge of this station and it quickly becomes your home. I definitely felt a sense of attachment to it as time went on and I wanted things to run at peak efficiency, even if that meant prolonged trips outside to recalibrate the radars. In all of this, you get caught up in your tasks the paranoia can start to set in as something as simple as a door or a light can set you off. Didn’t I close that door when I left? I thought I turned those lights off. Didn’t I park the car over there?

It’s at this point where you may start to wonder where this is all leading. What exactly is there to this game? How far can it go? Is this all building up to something? This is the true beauty of the game. It’s an unknown quantity. For all you know it could go on forever as a simple radio simulator game, occasionally giving you upgrades to make your life easier and stopping there. On the other hand, what if you do make contact? What if there really are aliens? What if you’re out on your regular rounds and run into one? Not knowing what the game may or may not have in store for you is simultaneously exciting and terrifying. I’m reminded of another quasi-horror game I love called Verde Station that plays with solitude in a similarly powerful way and I highly recommend checking it out.

Because of this uncertainty, you’re forced to rely on your eyes and ears and, as such, the game’s sound design plays a huge role in how you experience the game. It both creates and shatters the player’s sense of security in equal measure and it’s easily one of the most effective application of sound in a horror game I’ve ever see. Instead of a soundtrack you’re treated to the ambient sounds of the desert and the beeping and whirring of your old-school equipment. From top to bottom the sound design in the game is excellent.

From the small click of a light switch being turned on to the satisfying clunk of a knob on your equipment being rotated and even the distant sounds of a choir of radar dishes rotating in unison, each sound is clear and definitive. Early on, the sounds of your daily chores create a satisfying background noise but in time you become so used to it and anything out of the ordinary, no matter how simple, can set you off. The first time a thunderstorm blew through the outpost I nearly jumped out of my seat. The sound of thunder was so far removed from my expectations at that point that it took me utterly by surprise.

You’re eased into a sense of unease as your radars being to pick up transmissions from beyond the stars. The eerie, otherworldly signals pierce the low hum the machines and being to infect your mind. Like trying to see shapes in clouds, your mind begins to race as you read meaning and purpose into these seemingly random signals. Here again, the sense of complete and total mystery beings to shroud your mind and you can’t help but wonder what it all means. Is there really anyone out there?

This simple fear of the unknown, sprung forth entirely from the players own subconscious, sets the stage for Signal Simulator and does so effortlessly. Never once if my first few hours of the game did anything feel forced. There were no jump scares or spooky musical stings or outright attempts by the game to unsettle me in any way. I was simply left alone with my thoughts and the horror came from within in the most natural and beautiful way. Psychological fear bred from isolation and , never once suggested directly by the game itself.

For now, at least, the fear I’m experiencing is solely my own fault. Paranoia has gotten the better of me and I honestly love it. But who’s to say what will be responsible for my fear after a few more hours of playing? I cannot wait to find out.

Signal Simulator is available on Steam for $19.99 USD and I highly recommend you check it out.


Best Games I Played All Decade

The end of the year is here again, made slightly more important this time around because it’s also the end of the decade. I’ve gone through all the game releases I could find from the past ten years and picked out my five top games plus a few honorable mentions from each year.

Honorable Mentions fall into one of three categories: Favorite Online game, Favorite Indie game, and “Most Significant” game.

“Significant” is a bit nebulous and unfortunately I ran out of time in compiling this list so I’m not able to dig deep into why I feel each game on the list deserves the spot but in general think of it as being either a big cultural impact or something significant in regards to the industry. Cookie Clicker and Fortnite Battle Royale are both examples of games that defined new genres and are on the list for that reason.

2010 Top 5 Games

  1. Delve Deeper
  2. Super Meat Boy
  3. Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale
  4. Just Cause 2

Honorable Mentions

  • Favorite Indie Game – Enviro-Bear 2000
  • Most Significant Game – Amnesia: The Dark Descent

Continue reading


2018 Best Games I Played All Year

Hey! It’s August so I thought it was about time to finally post this monstrosity. It was about 95% finished on December 31st of 2017 but in the last few days of the year I was able to spend a ton of time playing new VR stuff and I decided to hold off posting until I was able to write up the VR games. I’ve since decided against a full write-up of those games, instead opting to list them and give a few quick thoughts.

On the whole this year’s GOTY stuff is more trimmed down. It’s basically been a complete re-write from the original list because I’ve decided I don’t like the long-form stuff. It’s just devolved into describing the game at a mechanical level in the past and I don’t feel like that’s a good use of my time. Without further ado… here we go! Continue reading


2017 Best Games I Played All Year

More than any other year in recent memory, 2017 had so many games that I was scrambling right up until the end of the year to chip a few more entries off my unplayed list. Ultimately I still have a huge stack of games that need more attention. There are already a ton of great games that I want to recognize, but before I get into those I just want to rattle off all the games that I wasn’t able to make time for this year.

NeiR:Automata Night in the Woods
Hollow Knight What Remains of Edith Finch
Pyre Gravity Rush 2
A Hat In Time Horizon Zero Dawn
Metroid: Samus Returns Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

In additions, as always, there will be some games that I play but am not able to fully feel out due to time constraints. Here are a few games I played, just not enough to really suss out my feelings on.

Dishonored 2 Heat Signature
Prey The Sexy Brutale
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle

Before digging into my favorite games of the year, there are several that deserve a nod for their greatness. While they didn’t make it into my top list, they still hold a special place in my heart.

Honorable Mentions

Jazzpunk: Director’s Cut + Flavor Nexus DLC (PC)
Jazzpunk will always be one of my top favorite games and having an excuse in 2017 to replay it was a godsend. While the Director’s Cut was released on PS4 last year, it finally graced PC alongside the release of the one-and-only piece of DLC: Flavor Nexus. The DLC is short and sweet and left me wanting more of the absurdity that was Jazzpunk, even while knowing that this was the end of a beautiful chapter in gaming history.

EAT! (Android)
I can’t really say much about EAT without giving anything away, so I won’t. EAT was a wonderful surprise release from Crows Crows Crows and is free, so you have no reason not to check it out. Just don’t feel like you have to complete it all in one sitting. Play a bit, go do something else, and check back in on it every once in a while.

Continue reading


2016 Best Games I Played All Year

​Another year has come and gone and it’s time for me to sit down and recap my 2016 year in video games.  As with my previous years I won’t be doing a ‘Top Ten’ list per se but I want to start of by mentioning four that stood out to me over all the others.


Hitman is a franchise that until March of this year I had no experience with. When it was announced that the game would be taking on a month-to-month episodic release I remember hearing murmurs among press outlets that the implications but I’m glad to say that the monthly content release for Hitman ended up being one of the biggest selling points for me. After watching an amazing playthrough of Hitman by Giant Bomb’s Brad Shoemaker and Dan Ryckert I was sold and rushed out to purchase the complete Season 1 pack.

Visit a fashion show in Paris in the first Episode of HITMAN
Paris and Sapienza were the only available maps when I started but I still felt somewhat overwhelmed. Jump to December and I’ve invested around 85 hours across all the maps, even digging down so far as to earn the coveted Silent Assassin and Suit Only achievements on a third of the missions. From the first time I flung a fire extinguisher at an unwitting chef in the tutorial to my most recent play session where I murdered actual Santa and stole his suit and beard to complete some holiday challenges Hitman has never stopped begin a blast.

Perhaps the most surprising to me was the Hitman ended up being much more than a glorious murder sandbox. While the thrill of the kill and the challenge of navigating crowded city streets was great and the level design and world building was great, the world of Hitman felt alive and it’s all thanks to the insane amount of detail put into it. No matter where you go in any of the six maps you’ll run into a pair of NPCs having a conversation about the goings on the the world and their lives. You’re introduced to them almost immediately when you start off in Paris and from the entrance can see a news reporter and camera man getting set up for a shot. If you stand back you can listen to the entire bit the reporter does and then creep on them all the way back to their news van. Alternatively you can bust up in between the cameraman and the reporter and get a totally different few lines of dialogue. So much care and thought was put into giving even the smallest characters in Hitman a voice and, as it happened so often to me, you would forget about it until it caught you completely off guard. Some of the funniest moments of Hitman for me were trying to blend and hide in after committing some super illegal shit, only to start overhearing a man taking having a phone conversation with a telemarketer and be taken completely out of the moment, forgetting to try and hide and forgetting even that I may be armed and shifting my focus entirely to this poor guy sitting on a park bench failing spectacularly to fight the telemarketer back.

Even as I approach 90 hours spent in the world of Hitman I’m surprised how many thing I discover every time I boot up the game.  Not taking new content into account it still feels like this game has so many tiny gems hidden away that I might not find them all in another 90 hours. And still the fun level along with the difficulty of the game have stayed firmly intact. I still feel accomplished after taking down a particularly nasty elusive target. I’ve only just scratched the surface of the Season 1 as far as challenges and escalations are concerned and I hope to find the time to make my way through all of it. Hitman was exactly what I never knew I wanted and I’m looking forward to seeing what IO can do with Season 2.

Pokemon Moon (and Sun, I guess)

I hadn’t planned on picking up the new Pokemon game until about a day or two before it came out and went in mostly blind. What I found was without a doubt the greatest Pokemon game that I’ve ever played, and I’ve just about played them all. I can’t speak much to the story of the games, having payed little attention to the cutscenes and dialogue, suffice to say that, apart from an intro sequence that ran on twice as long as was needed, the story was never a problem for me. I could care less about Lillie and Gladion and Lusamine at the end of the day but I’ll tell you who I do care about: Team Skull.

From the first sequence that Team Skull showed up the tone of the game changed entirely. If you’ve ever seen the Pokemon anime you probably remember that Jessie, James, and Meowth existed less as antagonists and more as comic relief. Team Skull is like that, except they commit to the bit so hard that their goofiness is magnified. They take themselves so seriously that, even though it’s obvious they’re just a bunch of goons, everything about them just makes the overall Team Skull character hilarious. The average Team Skull grunt’s idle animation is a baffling series of arm movements that’s supposed to convey how serious they are, while just making them look like fools. The skull bandana, the bling, and the big shorts combined with the copious use of slang complete the ensemble nicely.

Hands down one of my favorite video game moments in 2016 was an encounter with a pair of Team Skull grunts that had taken over a Pokemon Center in an abandoned town. They greeted me with a rap, telling me they could restore the health of my Pokemon, but for a cost. The two responses I had to choose from were “Sounds good, yo” and “No thanks, yo” and it absolutely killed me the first time I read it. From the very beginning the player can tell that Team Skull is a joke and it’s so great that the game not only acknowledges it, but embraces it and lays it on thick. Even to this day I get a little giggly thinking about Team Skull and I can’t express how happy I am that they are Pokemon’s newest team of “villains”.

All that aside, Sun and Moon make some pretty big changes to the basic layout of Pokemon games as they’ve been set up for the last 20 years. Gym battles as we all know them have been done away with, replaced with Island Challenges and a showdown versus the Kahuna of a given island. The challenges are more or less all the same but are presenting in interesting ways. One of the most memorable trials takes place in an old haunted and run down megamart and use your camera to reveal hidden ghost Pokemon in order to fight them. As a side note, this is easily the best use of the camera which I think is a poorly implemented mechanic and would be better off not in the game at all. HMs were also drastically changed, removing them entirely from the game and replacing them with Poke Rides. With the touch of a button on an Amazon Dash-looking remote, you can summon a Pokemon seemingly out of nowhere. The basic idea is that you can use the Poke Ride in lieu of forcing to teach one of your valuable Pokemon a sub par move or sticking an HM slave on your team that just takes up space.

Now with the push of a button, regardless of who you have on your team, you can Fly, Surf, push boulders with Strength, and a number of other things.  While this is a great change from previous games, I feel that it ride a little too hard on the idea. Over the course of the game you’re given eight different Poke Ride remotes but I think the game would still be relatively the same if  you only ever had four. The Stoutland is a Poke Ride replacement for the dowsing rod from previous games that let you find hidden items and the Mudsdale allows you to traverse rocky terrain and I think that both are wholly unnecessary. Switching between Poke Rides is slow and clunky and can be tedious at times when you’re having to make two or three ride changes to get across a zone. And please, for the love of God, let me skip the takeoff and landing cutscenes when I fly with Charizard.

Pokemon took a huge step in a new direction this generation and while most of the things it tried were great I’m looking forward to seeing the Sun and Moon formula be refined in the next generation. It’s been a very long time since a Pokemon game has pulled me in so hard and it’s truly great to be back.


Factorio is another game that caught me off guard and ended up robbing me of a few weekends. Normally I try to stay away from Early Access games but Factorio’s development history is similar to that of Dwarf Fortress. While it’s slated for a full 1.0 release sometime in 2017 I couldn’t help myself but to dive in. Essentially a puzzle in efficiency, Factorio throws you into an alien planet and tasks you with building a rocket to escape. You start with the survival game basics, mining ore and punching trees, but unlike in any other survival game you are soon able to start automating these processes (because physical labor is for chumps).

Things start off simple, building coal-powered drills but eventually you’re able to start researching new sciences. Before you know it you’re building conveyor belts to carry your machine-mined ore from the drill straight to the furnace. Passing the first major hurdle of automating the basic science research in Factorio is one of the most satisfying feelings I had playing a video game in 2016 and it continues to escalate from there.

Eventually I hit a wall where, due to the way my world was generated, I could no longer progress but instead of being bummed out I saw it as opportunity to start over again with all my knowledge from the previous 25 hour playthrough and put it to good use. The game still has a long way to go before it’s considered a finished product (it’s been in various stages of development since 2012) and I look forward to hopping back in every once in a while to see how things have developed.

Frog Fractions 2 (Eye Sigil ARG/Frog Fractions 2 ARG/Glittermitten Grove

I’ll be doing a separate post solely on my experience with Frog Fractions 2, starting with the Eye Sigil ARG and transitioning into the FF2 ARG, finding the game, and finally some remarks about the game itself. I’ll update this bit with a link once that’s written but it may be another few days.

Other Awesome Games

Pony Island

Pony Island was a strong start to 2016. I find it hard to speak to any of the particulars in this game without prefacing that this game is best played firsthand and not read about. As I’m sure countless people have pointed out, the parallels between Pony Island and Frog Fractions are undeniable. What is introduced as a cutesy kids game is quickly revealed to be a bait-and-switch wherein you exercise demons from a haunted old arcade cabinet.

All told the game is only about three hours long but it keeps you guessing all the way through and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to have an interesting afternoon.


Firewatch is an incredible experience that I can’t talk much about without spoiling. I can (and will) say that Firewatch is also one of the most beautiful games I played in 2016 and pulled me in unlike any other story-driven game has since maybe Her Story. The characters feel well fleshed out and their interactions are maybe the best part of the whole thing. The exploration of the park was a roller coaster of different emotions throughout the length of the game and while I ultimately felt like the ending fell flat, the journey ended up being so memorable that I have no regrets giving up 5 hours of my live to play through it.


Overwatch is nowhere near a perfect game but for me to expound upon my issues with it would take up time than I’m sure either of us have to spare on such a trifle. Getting angry about video games on the internet just isn’t worth it. All that aside Overwatch has been the source of some genuinely joyful moments over the last few months. I don’t have a large group of friends who play but it’s always nice to hop on over a weekend and jam out a few dozen matches with a group of able-minded individuals.

Stephen’s Sausage Roll

Stephen’s Sausage Roll is perhaps my favorite puzzle game of all time and a game that I came to after almost 30 hours of The Witness left me feeling empty. I think that The Witness deserves another attempt from me at some point but for whatever reason (I’m being intentionally vague here to avoid falling into a rant hole over it) it left me hungry (pun absolutely intended) for a good old-fashioned puzzle game and Stephen’s Sausage Roll delivered.

I think what I love most about Stephen’s Sausage Roll (apart from the deceptive simplicity) is how compartmentalized. Each of the islands that serve as the game’s levels have puzzle strew about. Stepping on a silhouette of the player teleports you to a stripped down version of the place you just were. The rest of the island turns to sea and the only ground around you is part of the puzzle. SSR does an incredible job of defining the probability space for a puzzle where games like The Witness and The Talos Principle left me scratching my head a points as I tried to understand the confines of a puzzle. SSR boils the puzzle solving down to the most pure form and presents it in spectacular bite-sized chunks that can be taken on at your leisure.

My only minor complaint, and the thing I think will ultimately prevent me from completing the game, is that each level requires 100% completion in order to proceed to the next area. SSR is wickedly difficult and I love it for being unapologetically nasty at times. I think I’m at around 90 sausages collected of the game’s 201 and while I’m eager to push on (I’m told that more mechanics are added later down the line) I don’t expect this to be something I’ll have finished by the end of next year, and that’s fine.


SUPERHOT is the most innovative shooter I’ve played in years, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve been brainwashed by a program disguised as a kick-ass video game. Not only did the gameplay end up being as amazing as all the Kickstarter and in-development footage that was released, but it ended up pairing the intense action with an equally intense and mind-bending story. If you’ve seen a trailer for SUPERHOT you probably understand what the game is about, but without playing it all the way through you’re missing out on something special. The gameplay by itself makes SUPERHOT an awesome video game, but when paired with the story that it tells it becomes something more than the sum of it’s parts and will blow your mind.

Quadrilateral Cowboy

Quadrilateral Cowboy is another game in the usual Blendo Games aesthetic and presented as a hacking/heisting break-and-enter simulator. The main draw of the game is the computer deck you use to control nearly everything as you hack the planet. From simple things like opening doors to and temporarily disabling cameras to navigating a tiny spy car, everything is handled from the computer deck and player is provided with a robust syntax that creates a space for incredible things to happen. Repetition is part of the fun in QuadCow, trying to optimize a route through the level and brew up the perfect one-line script to allow you to walk through the entire level without a hitch.

The freedom of possibility that the scripting in QuadCow makes the game not only fun the first time, but fun every single other time that you play through a level. On top of some amazing gameplay, the game from start to finish oozes with a retro-tech style that brought a huge grin to my face that would flare up again every once in a while as I made my way from hub to hub. It’s the perfect mix of general humor that stands by itself and specific computer humor that I always love finding in games.


Author’s note: This entire section will be me recounting my experiences trying and failing to play DOOM. If you don’t care, feel free to skip it. DOOM is fucking great and I think we all know that by now. I don’t feel inclined to gush over it nearly as much as some of the other smaller games I’ve played this year.

I’ve had a troubled relationship with DOOM this year that has ultimately ended with me failing to play through the game twice now (through no fault of the game itself). In trying to transfer the game install from an HDD to an SSD to improve some troublesome loading time my save of about 8 hours was lost to the aether. I was frustrated and ended up putting the game down for a few months, hoping to come back to it fresh.

A few months passed and I found myself with the itch again, having just heard that a center configuration for the gun models was patched in. I reinstalled Doom and in an afternoon made it roughly back to where I was before. Happy with my progress but a bit burned out I set the game down again for a few weeks, only to come back to a cruel ultimatum. The SSD I installed DOOM on was small (only 126GB, my old primary) and also had HITMAN installed on it (for similar loading time related reasons). Due to the constant addition of new content to HITMAN, the games together were now too large to fit on the same SSD and would not launch through Steam as they both required patching.

This town wasn’t big enough for two incredible AAA games and sadly DOOM lost the showdown at high noon. It was with a heavy heart that I uninstalled DOOM, but I hope one day to make my glorious return to Hell.

Shenzhen I/O

Another wonderful game from Zachtronics, Shenzhen I/O puts you in the shoes of a circuit programmer whose just taken up a new job at the Shenzhen Longteng Electronics Co., Ltd. If you’re familiar with another Zachtronics game TIS-1000 then you may recognize some of the moving parts here. For anyone who doesn’t code in assembly languages in their free time, TIS and Shenzhen I/O are both programming games that use their own custom ruleset and syntax.

Your boss gives you parameters for a circuit and you’re left to your own devices to read the manual and produce the desire circuit. This game is serious when it comes to the code and includes a 30+ page PDF with syntax documentation, examples, and technical diagrams for some of the later levels. You start out simple with a circuit that takes an input and increase it by a factor of 2 before moving it to the output. Subsequent levels quickly ramp up the difficulty requiring you to use multiple chips in harmony in order to produce the needed results.

Shenzhen I/O scratches and old programming itch that rears up in me every once in a while and I loved the time I spent with it. I didn’t make a ton of progress during my 7 hours in the game but the satisfaction of breaking through a puzzle I had been stuck on for a day was an amazing feeling and I feel like the further I made it through the game the more I was starting to learn and understand this bizarre language and I kind of loved it.

Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor

Diaries is perhaps my biggest regret of 2016. It’s a game I was incredible excited about when I first saw it and eagerly awaited it’s release. I was able to participate in a closed beta which I spent about  four hours in delving through the mysteries of the spaceport. Ultimately I encountered a bug in the beta build, lost my save, and decided to leave the game be until release. Once release rolled around I put another hour or two into the game but I never was able to sit myself down and do the deep dive that I always wanted to.

Overall the game is great but I feel like it’s missing a key element that would make it perfect. During the beta there was no map whatsoever and the in-game map you’re given now, while thematically fitting, is lacking in meaningful content. Putting myself in the shoes of the adorable janitor protagonist, I find myself wondering why I would only have a basic map. My dream is to sit down with this game and sketch out my own map alongside a ‘Spaceport Survival Guide’ notebook. Being able to find your way around in this game is so integral that I find myself shying away in fear that I’ll ruin any progress I’ve made thus far by meandering around.

Having a detailed map that lists lotto shrines and food stalls and vendors would be an immensely useful thing to have and it boggles my mind that the protagonist has not thought to do so in all the time she’s been stranded in this dead-end job. Maybe one day I’ll get to fulfill my wish and create something amazing but until that time I’m probably going to keep talking myself out of spending time playing Diaries instead of jumping in and just taking life as it comes.

Honorable Mentions

Slayer Shock

I love Minor Key Games and I wanted so badly to love Slayer Shock but I just never clicked with me. Maybe I just wasn’t in the right mindset when I was playing but, unlike in Eldritch or Neon Struct, I never found myself motivated to try a stealthy approach on a given mission. I’ve heard from several people that this game is very evocative of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and maybe having never seen it is cause for my not loving the game.

The problem is there’s very little content in the game and you end up cycling through the same five maps doing the same types of missions over and over again. The first hour of this game is easily the best and after that you start to see the same maps and missions repeat. I played 5 hours of Slayer Shock and made it through to the end of season 4, sticking it out in hopes that later seasons would shake things up a bit but there was never any significant variation. The game plays great and the combat is fun but not long into the game I found a powerful weapon and combat quickly became more of a job than anything strategic. The final fights with the main villains of each season are the nearest thing to an exciting encounter but after discovering that they could mostly be tanked through use of potions the fun wore off.

It’s hard to recommend this game at a $20 but maybe whishlist this on Steam and pick it up during the next big sale just to see what it’s all about. I wish the brothers Pittman the best of luck in whatever project they move on to from here and look forward to seeing what comes next. P.S. the music in this game is incredible and I’m sad there isn’t more of it.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I’ve not played a Metal Gear Solid game since MGS2 Substance on the original Xbox. I remember really liking the game and being drawn into the weirdness so much so that I’m surprised I haven’t touched the series since. I was hesitant to play another MGS game, especially knowing how story-heavy 5 was because I was never into the game for the story. I soldiered through the intro and finally made it out into the open world and I’m happy to say that I’ve really been enjoying myself in the 12 or so hours I’ve put in. I’m still having trouble following the story bits as they come up but I don’t feel like it’s detracting from the overall experience (yet, at least). It took a few hours to get to grips with the controls and how steal works and all the things that come with being an insane one man army but at some point it all finally clicked and I found myself storming compounds and sending all matter of things back to Mother Base. Also running around fields and trying to punch sheep. I think I’ve probably spent at least and hour doing that all told.

World of Warcraft: Legion

World of Warcraft is probably the best it’s ever been right now but I’ve still found myself with very little reason to log in every day and as of a few weeks ago I’ve returned to being unsubbed. Without question the base leveling experience has never been better, not only because of how scaling has been implemented in the Broken Isles (zones can be done in any order you feel like and enemies will match your level) but because the content itself has been top notch this expansion.

I think the thing that I really want is a version of World of Warcraft that either doesn’t have raids, or has raid-style content that can be played solo. I love the idea of truly challenging content in WoW but I hate having to relying on other people to be able to progress through content. Kingdom of Loathing is a great example of a game where I feel like I’m entirely reliant on myself to do better. I can talk with other players for hints or strategies but the execution is down to me and if I screw something up then it’s entirely on me. MMOs are inherently social games and I know that multiplayer content in WoW isn’t going anywhere, but I’d love to see more added in the way of solo content that is on-level with the current raiding tiers.

Some of the most fun I’ve had this expansion was in the first few weeks. Before raids and before mythic dungeons came out there was a very ‘every man for himself’ feeling. World quest could basically get you to the item level cap and it felt good to go out into the world and track down the quests that rewarded gear.

Legion hasn’t been without it’s faults and it’s unfortunate that some of the most egregious of them are still around. I worry that WoW is slowly turning into Diablo in the sense that random loot seems to be adopted by Blizzard as the ‘ideal method’ of players acquiring new gear. As with Diablo, the loot is statted completely at random so the likelyhood you finding a piece that is exactly right for your class and spec is unlikely to a point that the joy of getting loot in WoW has been almost entirely lost for me. The distribution of power across different legendary items within a spec is another mess that I’m amazed ever came into the game in the state that it did.

Blizzard has made promises of faster content but with Legion come issues that are far more worrying that a lack of content. I hope dearly that Blizzard will figure all of this out in a sensible way (and not doing something stupid like rebalance legendaries) and focus on making awesome content going forward.


I don’t think I’ll ever be able to remember exactly why I started playing Warframe in the first place, but I’m glad I did. Gameplay-wise Warframe struck me as cyberpunk ninja version of Dynasty Warrior which, while awesome in theory, ends up just being the same kind of grind that Dynasty Warrior devolves into. But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day I played Warframe as a way to kill time and turn my brain off, and it’s great for that. Combat was fun, if repetitive, but being a cyber ninja with laser guided throwing stars and a bow and arrow never stopped being neat.

From looking on the game’s wiki I got the impression that progression was something of an arduous task and was put off from further playing when, after about 20 hours, I felt like I had not made any measurable progress. Still, I don’t regret my time with Warframe and maybe one day I’ll find myself yearning for the mind numbing violence again.

World of Tanks

My love affair with World of Tanks was brief but intense and took me completely by surprise. Maybe a month after getting my Oculus Rift I stumbled upon the VR version of World of Tanks and, starving for some new VR content, I dove in entirely unsure of what to expect. What I found was a fun and engaging tank simulator that sucked me in for a few hours before I realized what was happening. War games in general aren’t even close to my wheelhouse but nonetheless I was able to enjoy myself. ‘Immersive’ is a word that gets thrown around (and even more so now with VR being on the market) but I’ll be damned if I didn’t feel like I was puttering around in a tank, climbing over hills and moving around to strategic attack points.

I didn’t play War Thunder for more than a weekend but it still sticks out in my mind even at the end of the year as being a delightful VR experience.


Let’s talk about SUPERHOT VR

Oculus Touch is finally available and with it come a slew of Oculus Studio funded games, perhaps the most hotly anticipated of which is SUPERHOT VR. Following on from its Kickstarter success in June of 2014 and commercial release in February of 2016, the VR version takes the intensity and action of the original game to a whole new level.

As excited as I am about a new SUPERHOT and as hype as I know many people on the internet are, I’d like to take a more critical look at SUPERHOT VR. I worry that the finer points will be overlooked in favor of people recounting their most harrowing experiences. Before diving into the details, I’d like to preface my critique by saying that I absolutely love SUPERHOT VR. Both as an experience and as a source of incredible stories SUPERHOT VR delivers on what made the original game great.  The feeling of ultimate power and generally just being a badass carries you through the early sections. The visual spectacle of destruction is breathtaking from start to finish, and as the difficulty increases each win feels hard-fought and satisfying.

It’s perhaps because of how difficult the encounters becomes near the end that the flaws being to stand out more to me. On the PC version objects like bottles and ash trays were bountiful but when thrown would only stop an enemy temporarily and maybe make them drop the gun they had. In VR all thrown objects are one-hit kills, assuming you can make contact. This would be great except the throwing feels awful. I never have a sense of how hard or how far I’m throwing something. Even trying to hit an enemy at close range I’ll end up throwing it wide more often than not.

I understand the desire to have realistic throwing with the Touch controls, but without any indication of trajectory I quickly learned to only throw objects as a last resort. On top of issues with the feel of throwing objects, the hitboxes on the geometry of the world is noticeably rough in places. Throwing around corners or between to objects will almost always result in the object shattering on an invisible plane jutting out from the wall. It’s a shame because when those thrown hit do occasionally land, it’s a great feeling to see an enemy being blasted into bits.

Stepping away from the mechanics to look at SUPERHOT VR as a whole, one more thing sticks out at me. Unlike the PC version, the VR version features no additional play modes outside of the story. Endless mode had several variations including an unlimited mode where enemies would assail you until you were defeated, and timed modes to see how enemies you could kill in a given time. Challenge mode allowed you to replay the story but with restrictions such as Katana Only, Throwing (can’t use guns, thrown weapons hits are lethal), Real Time (time doesn’t slow down at all), and Ghost (all punches are lethal, can’t use gun). These additional modes add to the replayability and continue to challenge the player far beyond the difficulty of the normal story mode and the VR version lacks all of this.

SUPERHOT VR stands out in my mind as more of an extended VR experience than a video game. Let me explain what I mean by that because I understand that describing something as an ‘experience’ may sound like an insult to some folks. For me SUPERHOT VR is a lot like Hotline Miami (another game that I love to death). I see both as being an execution puzzle; you’re presented with a problem (dudes want to kill you) and given the tools to resolve the problems and the difficulty is in finding an execution that’s efficient. In both SUPERHOT VR and Hotline Miami the puzzling is made difficult from a lack of information and the need to make decisions on the fly.

After playing through the story mode in SUPREHOT VR most of the mystery surrounding the levels and placement of enemies has vanished. Hotline Miami gives you a plethora of masks to choose from that vary the gameplay and SUPERHOT PC has challenge modes to mix up the core gameplay but SUPERHOT VR lacks any of this. As much as I’d love to dive back in, I don’t really feel anything drawing me back after completing the story. Maybe I’ll play it again in a year and I’ll probably have a blast with it then too but right now I’m sad that it ended so soon. There’s nothing inherently wrong with VR experiences (and maybe I should have tempered my expectations) but I was hoping SUPERHOT VR would be the first game that could hold my attention and truly be a video game rather than a one-time experience and I’m pretty bummed out. To the game’s credit, shooting feels great and the VR version excels at body awareness, making it easy (at least in theory) to dodge oncoming bullets.

At the end of the day I put SUPERHOT VR into the same category as games like Gone Home or Inside; A single play through is sufficient to experience what the game wants to convey. For what it is, SUPERHOT VR is an incredible, unforgettable experience but falls short because the core idea behind it has the potential for so much more. Maybe one day down the line, perhaps after the Oculus exclusivity period is up and this gets into the hands of Vive users, the folks behind SUPERHOT will patch in some additional content. Regardless of all my complaints, I would wholeheartedly recommend SUPERHOT VR to anyone who owns an Oculus with Touch controllers (given that they have a large enough area to play in).


I Played: Bazaar

Bazaar started off as a 2015 VR Game Jam entry and has since been released on Steam for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.


If you’ll excuse the play on words, the world of Bazaar is quite the bizarre one indeed. You set off through the canals of a maze-like city on your trusty magic carpet to seek out three pieces of the legendary Lamassu. From the very beginning of the game I was drawn in by the sights and sounds of the city. The music fits the scenery perfect, and my only problem is that there isn’t nearly enough of it. The music loops frequently and in my 78 minute playthrough its magic wore off fairly quickly.

As you guide your carpet through the world, you’ll encounter various impediments such as arrow traps and hungry crocodiles and you’ll find items to aid you in your survival. A crossbow can be used to pick off those nasty crocodiles, while a shield can be used to deflect arrows shot at you from traps placed around the canals. These items all have a durability and will break after a number of uses, leaving you vulnerable once again to the elements so the game becomes a cycles of seeking out these items, defending, and the seeking out again. Later into the game you have the opportunity to buy special golden versions of the shield, bow, and umbrella (to protect against water that washes away your map) and these become highly desirable as they somewhat remove the looming sense of dread that comes with knowing your crossbow only has one shot left in it before it crumbles to dust. These golden versions come at a high cost so they’re only obtainable if you’ve been diligent about combing every city street for the hidden coins.

Other quality of life improvement are available at the shop including a quiver to store arrows, a food basket to store food, and a large chest to store all your other goods. The main reason these are beneficial is because they (partly) remove the burden of playing inventory management, which is easily my biggest criticism of the game. You begin with nine inventory spaces and they’re quickly filled up by all manner of different items, and before too long you find yourself with no free space to pick up the key so you can proceed to the next level. In my first time playing through the game I’d wager about a quarter of it was spent staring at my inventory and trying to determine what the least important item among them was. Items like the food basket ensure that food will always have a dedicated inventory slot so you won’t have to worry about having no space to carry food, but you may not get that item until the second or third level and by then the stress of having to micro-manage your inventory while navigating a deadly maze has reached an uncomfortable high. Eventually, with the acquisition of these quality of life items, you no longer have to worry about managing your inventory and can enjoy the game.

Gameplay is intuitive, using glances for the majority of the controls which can be helpful in certain situations and a hindrance in others. Different items have a different length of time that you have to focus your gaze upon them before interacting and this takes some time to get used to, but by the middle of the second level I found myself more comfortable with the gaze controls. Besides the gaze controls, you’ll be using a controller to pan the camera left and right using the left and right bumpers. You can also use the X button to open your inventory and the B button to hold up your map. The camera controls play a critical role in the game, as your carpet is constantly moving forward and you’re only able to steer it left or right, or to make a u-turn.

Not having direct control over the motion of the carpet is an interesting design choice that I wholeheartedly disagree with. From the very beginning of the game you see coins littered around every square on the map. As is the innate response of any gamer, you’ll want to collect these coin. Upon collecting all the coins in a given map square, you’re rewarded with a random item. It becomes clear very early on that these bonus items from collecting coins are very important but it turns out that collecting them all isn’t nearly as easy as it should be. Because you’re constantly moving forward you only have a small window of time for each map square to collect coins and I found myself frequently having to make u-turns or circling the same block several times to collect everything.

Not collecting the coins means you have less leverage when shopping later on in the game, but it also means that you’re missing out on all the bonus items, most of which end up being food, and puts you at a distinct disadvantage. Food is the most important resource in the game and you’ll quickly perish if you find yourself with an empty stomach. Managing your food becomes the object of the game and led me to wander around trying to top off my food even after finding the exit of the level.

Finding your way to the end of the game rewards you with a special currency you can spend on upgrade to make subsequent playthroughs easier, but I think once was enough for me. On the whole Bazaar is a neat game with a beautiful aesthetic that I wish was more fully fleshed out. The limited controls and awkward inventory management make navigating this peculiar world a test in patience rather than the exciting carpet ride I was hoping for. Perhaps, if this game integrates Oculus Touch controls when they see a consumer release, some of my problems may be alleviated. All my issues aside, you can pick up Bazaar on Steam or the Oculus Home store for only $5, and for about 90 minutes of a crazy trip I’d say it’s definitely worth it. It’s far from perfect but Bazaar is an experience unlike anything else I’ve seen in VR and it gives me hope that more VR games and experiences explore impossible worlds instead of hyper-realistic ones.


RuneScape – My Quest for the Quest Point Cape

What started as a browser-based MMORPG 15 years ago has grown and evolved drastically over the years, most recently releasing a new client that shifts the game from its native language of Java into C++ and lays the foundation for future expansion of the game. Runescape was my first real experience with an MMO and was a huge part of my childhood when I started a little over 12 years ago. Since first setting foot in Gielinor I’ve clocked in just over 2,500 hours of playtime and recently achieved something I’ve been chasing after since my early days: the Quest Point Cape (the reward for players who have completed every quest in the game).

Proudly wearing my Quest Point Cape.

Proudly wearing my Quest Point Cape.

Quests in RuneScape are unlike quests in any other game I’ve ever played. Not all of them are masterful works of storytelling but more often than not they’re memorable. Whether it’s an individual quest or a storyline that spans multiple quests over several years, each of them has story to tell about all the interesting people that make up the world. Whether you’re becoming an honorary member a barbarian tribe, helping an old wizard rob a bank, uncovering a magic altar to a lost god, traveling to another dimension to revive the aforementioned lost god, going undercover in an offshore monkey colony, researching a mysterious plague that’s infected half the population of a major city, investigating the crime scene of a vicious murder, or just breaking the seal on an ancient tomb that brings about the sixth age of Gielinor and heralding the return of the gods to the mortal realm, nearly every quest leads you to new and exciting locations where you meet the people who inhabit the world of RuneScape.

Back in the days of ‘RuneScape Classic’ new players were tested on basic game mechanics via quests like Cook’s Assistant (gather the materials to bake a cake) and Sheep Shearer (craft 20 balls of wool) but with the move to the latest version of the game engine (sometimes called ‘RuneScape 3’) a quest called The Blood Pact was added to the game’s starting city Lumbridge. While it’s no more than a simple combat tutorial it’s hard to believe that quests like Cook’s Assistant exist in the same game anymore (in fact, Sheep Shearer was removed from the game in 2010). The Blood Pact creates unique characters and a new area for players to explore instead of using existing NPCs and locations and it serves as a proper introductory quest for those players fresh off of the boat from Tutorial Island.

The most recently release quest, titled River of Blood, highlights all the amazing things that make a quest in RuneScape a memorable experience. It’s the conclusion to an epic story arc that started back in 2005 and spanned across seven different quests. The quest line follows the liberation group named the Myreque as they seek to free the land of Morytania from the grasp of the evil vampyre overlords. Things start off simply enough, having the player seeking out the members in hiding and allying yourself with them, fleshing out a secret base, and arming the group with special silver weaponry to help push their invading foes back into the ruined city of Meiyerditch, the home of the vampyres (and those are just the first two quests).

With time, RuneScape grew and eventually players were able to explore the vampyre city of Meiyerditch and see first hand the horrors that Lord Drakan had wrought to the once prosperous city. Drakan has enslaved the human population and keeps them in a perpetual state of weakness with a forced blood tithe while the vampyres enjoy the life of the aristocracy. You eventually join forces with Drakan’s sister Vanescula who seeks to overthrow her brother. She aids the Myreque in order to harness the ancient power of the Blisterwood tree to bring Drakan down and subsequently betrays them, leaving them worse off than ever before. With Vanescula fully in control of the vampyre hoard living within Meiyerditch,  she seeks to do what her brother could not and break through the protective barrier containing her race within Morytania, invade Misthalin, and seek out a new breed of humans to become slaves. River of Blood is the culmination of 11 years of storytelling, charging you with fending off the impending invasion and fortifying the defenses at the Temple of Saradomin where the barrier is maintained.

Not every quest in the game is part of an epic tale that shapes the lore of the game but even the random one-off quests can be fun. In Broken Home the player must navigate a haunted mansion while being perused by an unspeakable evil. It’s not a world-shattering event and the outcome of the quest won’t impact the rest of the game at all, but the atmosphere of the haunted mansion is amazing and wandering the corridors trying to crack the mystery of it all is an absolute blast. The little one-off quests help to fill the time between the bigger lore-impacting quests and are almost always a simple and fun exploration of a new facet of the world of Gielinor and the sheer number of them all add up build a world that feels full of life. The NPCs that populate the cities in RuneScape almost always have a story behind them and you just have to be on the right quest to hear it.


2015 Roundup

I wanted to take some time to write about a few games I played this year that I have lots of feelings about. I’ve never liked having to arbitrarily assign numbers to these, so the games below aren’t presented in any particular order. Everything on the list below is based entirely on how much fun I had playing the games. Here goes…

Favorite Games (in no particular order)


The Talos Principle

So The Talos Principle came out on December 11th of 2014, and I didn’t get around to playing it until late into 2015, and I have no idea why. At a very basic level, The Talos Principle is a first-person puzzle game that incorporates the environments in the puzzles and solutions. As you get further into the game new puzzle elements are introduced, from the relatively simple fan that can launch you into the air or hold blocks in mid-air, to the mind bending playback tool, that allows you to record your actions and play them back, interacting with your recorded self in order to progress in a puzzle. While this game isn’t perfect, and certainly not as universally accessible as something like Super Mario Maker, solving some of the more devious puzzles in this game has been some of the most satisfying gameplay I’ve had all year long.

Sidenote: While the base game came out in December of 2014, there was some DLC released in the form of Road to Gehenna, which I have not yet played.


Infinifactory is a hell of a thing. Quite unlike any game that I’ve ever played before, it’s a first-person puzzle game where the object of each level is to construct a functioning assembly line. You’re given raw materials and an end goal, and you’ve got to build a factory that brings these pieces together at a designated location. On paper it sounds simple, but the game requires an element of spacial awareness that no other game in recent memory (apart from The Talos Principle) has explored. The game begins simply enough, stacking and welding pieces together, but each chapter unlocks new toys to play with and introduces a new element of madness into the works. Getting your setup just right, and finally being able to sit back and watch your factory churn out exactly what it needs after tinkering away for what feels like hours is satisfying and rewarding in a way that is inexpressible except by a scream of delight.

Her Story

And now for something completely different… I’ve always been partial to FMV as a medium for storytelling in video games and I’m delighted to see that there are still some making FMV games in 2015. On the surface the game doesn’t seem to be anything special. You have access to a police database of recorded interview with Hannah Smith, who is being questioned regarding the murder of her husband. While there isn’t any direct line of progression in the game, everyone will hit a certain point at which the real mystery behind the interviews comes into light. This point may take some people longer to get to than others, but once I realized that there’s something more going on, I was hooked and playing out the rest of the game was a wild ride. Acting in an FMV is so important, and Her Story nails it, and it goes a long way to making the story feel real.


Undertale is something special, and something that I think caught everyone off-guard this year. To me it’s an experience more than anything else, and something that can’t be conveyed except by playing it first-hand. The characters are incredible, the humor clicked perfectly with me, the “combat” keeps the game feeling new and exciting between the zones, the variety of enemy is astounding, and the story is a wild ride through the strangest places. The entire game is about the subversion of expectations, turning tropes on their heads, bashing through the fourth wall, and continuing on to reveal the grim darkness lurking underneath the innocent cutesy surface.

For all of the amazing things that Undertale does, it’s sad to see so many people put off because of a slow start. The game certainly doesn’t put it’s best foot forward, and I can understand the difficulty some would have pushing through the tutorial and into the exciting bits, and that really sucks. If somehow you’re reading this and still haven’t played Undertale, please do give it a chance!

Hand of Fate

Of all the games on this list, Hand of Fate is one that I’ve probably spent the least amount of time with, but I wanted to mention it simply because of how excited it made me. If I had to pick a single word to describe what I love about Hand of Fate, it’d be “atmosphere”. From the very beginning of the game, you’re introduced to the mysterious dealer, a dungeon master of sorts, who guides you through the game. While the dealer goes easy on you at first, you quickly find that he has no interest in being friends. The commentary by the dealer drew me into Hand of Fate more than I would have expected from a small indie title, and I found myself hooked after my first round.

The game plays like an old choose your own adventure book, brought to life by the dealer. Nearly everything in the game is represented by a card, be it an adventure, a piece of equipment, or monster, or any number of other things good or bad that may befall you. You move across a board of face-down adventure cards, flipping them over as you pass to reveal a story. You could encounter a band of travelling minstrels, come upon a den of monsters, or bump into a goblin in a pub. The dealer doesn’t read the text of the various adventure cards for you, but will comment on the situations and and the outcomes of your decisions, mocking you at times, or suggesting that he’s going easy on you. This makes you feel like you’re not just playing against the computer, but that you’re facing off against the stranger on the other side of the table, fighting against an enemy that would dearly love to see you fail.

Combat moves you from the board of cards into a Batman-style third person brawler, which seems like an odd transition to make, but it works. There ins’t a ton of depth to the combat, although there are some rare weapons and artifacts that grant you special abilities that make it more than a straightforward dodge and counterattack affair. While it isn’t anything impressive, it doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the game. The variety of enemies you encounter is nice and they all have combat abilities that you’d expect. The four basic enemy types are: Bandits, Skeletons, Ratmen, and Lizardmen, each represented in card form by a suit (Dust, Skulls, Plague, and Scales respectively).

Part of the beauty of the game is in now it tell stories. There are several of the adventure cards that are simply one-off events, but there are other adventure cards with tokens on them that indicate a new card can be unlocked upon a successful outcome. In one adventure, you meet a man serenading a woman in a window and learn that the woman’s father is forcing them apart. If you choose to help the two lovers escape the town, you earn the card’s token. This unlocks an adventure where you run into the woman’s father, a wealthy guild master, from whom you can attempt to steal. Successfully stealing from the guild master unlocks a third adventure, where you meet the man you helped escape town. You find him lonely and reeking of ale, having been ditched by the woman he escaped with. At the end of all of this, giving the man a few pieces of gold to play you a song wins you the card’s token, giving you a powerful shield to add to your deck.

I’d love to go on explaining the game more in-depth, but this section is already about four times as long as I was expecting it to be. There are so many things going on in this game that it’s difficult to be concise, but there’s just something about it that has to be experienced first-hand. Hand of Fate is something that fascinated me from the very beginning, and always seems to have new and interesting secrets for me to find every time I play.

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

This one is going to be hard. I loved the first Hotline Miami. Steam shows I have 28 hours played, with 100% of the achievements earned. I fucking love Hotline Miami. It’s always been hard for me to explain exactly why that is, though. It’s got an amazing soundtrack and a visual aesthetic that I really dig. I love the twitch action, the split-second decision making, and the precision required to deal with some of the trickier sections in the game. I love the ultra-violence. The controls are so solid that I feel totally in control of my character. The story in the first game wasn’t anything that I took much notice of, even as I replayed the game, collecting secrets to unlock the true ending. It never seemed like anything impactful on the game, more an excuse rather than a reason. Maybe if I took the time to understand it a bit more, I’d be able to appreciate the story, but here we are.

Going into Hotline Miami 2, I was pumped. All I wanted was to go on another bloodsoaked neon killing spree.  I knew that Hotline Miami 2 was focusing more on the story, trying to fill in some gaps and wrap things up nicely, but even from the beginning of the game I have to admit I took little notice of it. I played through story mode for the first time in two sittings, clocking in at around 10 hours, if I recall correctly. For the most part, the sequel stayed true to the original, and I wasn’t disappointed with some of the things it did differently. The levels where you played as a soldier, fighting through the jungles of Hawaii were the furthest departure from the game, and yet they still felt very rooted in the things that made the first game great.

Because this game is a sequel, it had a baseline of difficulty to work from. I’ve seen most people who review this game say that the difficulty of the sequel picks up roughly where the first one leaves off, and I tend to agree with that sentiment. Hotline Miami 2 pushes the difficulty up even further, using the new mask system to present challenges to you that weren’t possible in the first game. In the first game, you were usually able to get by in a level without thinking too critically about your actions, but playing some of the later levels in 2 force you to understand the AI and manipulate them in order to succeed. One of my favorite aspects of Hotline Miami has always been manipulation of the AI. Understanding how enemies would react to certain situations and being able to play that was integral to finishing a level with a high score.

All of the skills you pick up along the way are put to the ultimate test when you unlock Hard Mode after beating the normal story mode. This is the mode of Hotline Miami that I was craving all those years ago after I beat the original game. Maps are flipped horizontally, max ammo in each gun is reduced by half, and throwing a gun causes it to lose half of its ammo. Playing through the hard mode in Hotline Miami 2 is some of the most satisfying difficult I’ve experienced in a game, and it’s exactly what I wanted out of the sequel to one of my favorites games of all time.

Super Mario Maker

I’ve spent the majority of my time with Super Mario Maker in the level editor, and it’s where I’ve found the most enjoyment. Mario is such a universal language that the level editor just makes sense on a kind of primal level. You almost immediately understand the basics, and with a bit of tinkering you’re able to uncover the more advanced features. Even with something so simple as Mario, given pieces that you’ve played with for years and years, you’re able to interact with them in a way that you’ve never seen before. New combinations are being discovered every day and leading to gameplay never before see in a Mario game. While it might seems like the majority of user created levels are either garbage or some sort of auto-scroller, all the parts are there to make some incredible things, and as time goes on people will keep finding new ways to stretch the limits of the language of Mario. The continued support from Nintendo has been a huge help to the game as well, added much needed features like checkpoints in a recent patch. While some curation tools would be nice, the game still has a lot to offer if you’re willing to do a bit of digging to find those crazy levels.

Fallout 4

Fallout 4 is a tricky beast to tackle. As of writing this I’ve put 48 hours into the PC version of the game, with one storyline completed (The Institute), and progress made towards the Minutemen and Brotherhood of Steel endings. Without embarking upon a long and winding road assessing the state of the industry, I’ll simply say that Fallout 4, for better or worse, is more of the same. I enjoyed my time in the wasteland, exploring the ruins of post-apocalyptic Boston, and meeting the people who make up the Commonwealth but I found myself almost immediately disinterested in the story of the game, only continuing with the main storyline quests as a means of moving forward, not caring about the outcome of my actions. Fallout 4 wasn’t “great”, and I’d go as far as to say that it wasn’t even “pretty good”. It was OK. It did some cool things with the lineup of partners available to you, but for all of the new things it introduced to the series, there were glaring issues left unaddressed. I wish I could say that I was surprised by this, but at the end of the day I’m just not. The game is still a janky mess, which at this point is nothing less than what I’ve come to expect from Bethesda. Fallout 4 is more Fallout content to be consumed, but by no means does it advance the series in a meaningful way. I was able to enjoy myself because I set out to create my own fun, but I hope dearly that future iterations in the series take larger steps towards something more than just another sequel.

Kerbal Space Program

I wasn’t initially planning on saying anything about KSP, but I kinda feel like I have to. I’m not good at this game, and I don’t think that I ever will be, and that’s fine. I currently have 8 hours recorded on Steam with this game, and I doubt that in 2016 I’ll put many more in, and that’s fine too. I’m just happy that Kerbal Space Program is a game that exists, and is so good at what it does that it seems to me as impenetrable to me as Dwarf Fortress once was. Dwarf Fortress was something that immediately clicked with me, and I felt like I had to learn how to play it, but KSP never evoked that feeling from me. KSP just isn’t a game for me, but I’m still so happy that it’s out there because I know that there are people who love playing this game in the same crazy way that I love playing Dwarf Fortress, and that’s awesome.

For the games below, I’ve purchased and played them for at least a little while, but for whatever reason never continued far past the beginning. Here’s my list of games I’ll hopefully get back to in 2016

2016 To-Do List (ordered by title length)

  • Dropsy
  • Swindle
  • Downwell
  • Not a Hero
  • Sunless Sea
  • Neon Struct
  • Rocket League
  • Darkest Dungeon
  • Kerbal Space Program
  • Crypt of the Necrodancer
  • Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime

Things I haven’t gotten around to playing:

  • The Witcher 3
  • Just Cause 3
  • Assassins Creed: Whatever
  • SOMA
  • Ori and the Blind Forest
  • Metal Gear Solid V
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider

First Impressions – Trove


Trove by Tirion Worlds

Trove is an open-ended voxel adventure through countless realms filled with quests, chests, and enemies great and small. It’s a potent, cube-shaped brew of RPG features combined with the thrill of exploring procedurally-generated worlds – and the unlimited creative freedom to build your own!

Developed by Trion Worlds, the company behind other MMOs such as RIFT, Defiance, and ArchAge, Trove is a departure from the standard MMO. It’s most easily compared to Voxel-based open world RPG Cube World, although while Cube World is still in an early alpha state, and the fate of its development remains to be seen, Trove moved out of an open beta and launched on July 9th of 2015 as a Free to Play game.

At first glance, Trove may be compared to games like Minecraft or Cube World, and while the games do share some similarities, Trove is much more than just another clone of a popular block-based world building game. After several hours of playing, I’ve come to see Trove as a combination of dungeon crawling loot-based RPGs like Diablo, and crafting/building games with a well-defined, linear progression such as Terraria and Starbound.

Dungeons themed to the present biome dot the procedurally generated landscape. Biomes are all uniquely themed, from the basics like Medieval Highlands and Desert Frontier, to more interesting biomes like Neon City (a Tron-style city full of robotic enemies) and Candoria (with cotton candy grass, chocolate lakes, and gumdrop mountains).

While there aren’t a large number of dungeon layouts in each biome, there are a wide enough variety to keep things interesting. While smaller, single-boss dungeons are more common, there are also much larger three-boss dungeons spread through the world. Each of these larger dungeons contains two bosses of a similar difficulty to the single-boss dungeons, as well as a much harder end boss.

As you run around the world completing these dungeons, the loot will begin to pile up. Much like in Diablo, the majority of equipment that you come across will be of little use to you. You won’t be getting anything that isn’t for your current class (thank goodness) but most of it won’t be an upgrade either. Fortunately, the game is designed to have a purpose for all of that excess loot. All of your unwanted gear can be broken down into crafting materials via a Loot Collector installed at your home.

This is where the Minecraft elements come into play. You’re given a plot of land called a Cornerstone, which follows you around the world, and can be summoned from scattered locations in every world.

A Trove Cornerstone

The home building in Trove is one of my favorite aspects of the game. Games like Minecraft have certain elements that see at odds with themselves. Exploration is rewarded, but you’re also encouraged to build up structures for storing your crap and general self-preservation. Trove solves this issue very simply, by allowing your home to be access from almost anywhere. You’re not tied down to a single location and you can go and explore the world without having to worry about finding your way back, or rebuilding everything because you found a nicer hill to bulid your house on.

All of your progress in-game goes towards building more advanced structures back at your Cornerstone. In the beginning, you’ll be building different portals that take you to higher level worlds. Very similar to Diablo’s difficulty settings, the enemies and the loot scale to the difficulty of the world, ranging from Novice, Adept, Elite, and Master, all the way up to the Uber worlds which go from Uber 1 to Uber 6 (again, similar to Diablo’s Torment difficulty settings).

You’ll gather the resources from mining and deconstructing loot in order to build to portal to the next adventure zone, where you’ll fight stronger monsters and get better loot and progress towards making the next adventure portal. At the endgame, Trove offers some different adventure zones to mix things up but I’ve not yet reached a high enough level to go into this in any detail.

Adventure Portals

As much as I enjoyed my initial experience with Trove, it was marred by some serious server issues. There was an entire day where the game was down, and even after coming back up I’ve been experiencing a variety of different lag types, including block lag (where you’ll mine a resource, only to have it pop back into existence moments later) and issues with hit detection, resulting in un-killable enemies.

There are several things which I haven’t been able to fully explore yet, such as the Marketplace where you can trade items to other players (this unlocks after a certain Mastery level), and the microtransactions, of which there seem to be very many (although not nearly as in-your-face or pay-to-win as other F2P MMOs).

While I haven’t felt the need to pay any money to the game yet, I have noticed a few instances of UI elements being held behind microtransactions, which I’m never a fan of, although for almost every item or service in the game that is available for the premium currency, it is also available for an earnable currency, albeit for a higher price. Still, I don’t like the idea of having to pay to unlock additional slots so I can sell more than two items at once on the marketplace.

Network issues aside, I’ve very much enjoyed my first several hours with the game, and plan on spending several more hours with the game very soon.