Posted in Gaming

My Top Ten Games of 2016


To start the new year, I wanted to look back and remember my favorite gaming experiences of 2016.

10.  Firewatch – A good story with great characterization, this was the best I’ve ever felt about being lost in the woods.

9.  The Witness – I am one of the 99%…who had to look up the solutions to the puzzles in the jungle area.  Probably the best puzzle game I’ve ever played, the brains that built this see the world in ways I can’t begin to imagine.

8.  Dark Souls 3 – Is it strange that Dark Souls is starting to feel familiar and comforting?  Its still hard, and it drags your soul through the mud for daring to partake in it, but in some ways the surety that its going to challenge and frustrate have become comfort food for me.

7.  Stellaris – This one was something of a surprise.  I haven’t fallen in love with a 4X space empire builder since…I’m thinking Galactic Civilizations V?  Anyway, I got so into Stellaris for its narrative events and exploration that I even delved into modding it a little bit.  As a computer programmer by day, that was a mistake as it took some of the fun out of it for me, but the base game is still a worthy addition to this list.

6.  Titanfall 2 – There’s nothing in gaming quite like jumping into your titan in Titanfall.  Jumping and grappling across the battlefield, trying not to get picked off by a sniper or splattered by a rocket, then jumping into the safe grasp of your giant mech and wading into battle as after he stuffs you into your pilot seat.  I’m so glad this series made if to PS4.

5.  Overwatch – Blizzard must have some eldritch crystal ball to guide their development decisions.  Seriously, how do they keep landing these hits?  I don’t know if it can steal the team character shooter from Valve, but if any game has ever had a chance, I’d dare say its Overwatch.  Give it some time and I think they could have another number one in genre hit.

4.  Rise of the Tomb Raider – A game so nice I got it twice!  Seriously, I couldn’t wait to play this game, so I got it on PC at the beginning of the year, knowing I was going to buy it on PS4 when it eventually came around.  I was a huge fan of the first Tomb Raider reboot, and this one was even better.  Crossing my fingers they’re not done yet.

3.  Doom – Guilty pleasure of the year.  I feel like the design document for Doom must have just had the word ‘FUN’ written in huge font in the middle, and everything else kind of branches off from there.  If any game was a power fantasy this year, I’d say it was Doom for the sense of speed and lethality it imparts to the disembodied hands of the Doom Marine.

2.  Uncharted 4 – As a huge fan of the series, I thought Naughty Dog hit this one out of the park.  As the capstone to the series, the sense of closure I felt at the end of Uncharted 4 really made me pleased to see things wrap up.  They had me hooked from the first chapter all the way up to the climactic final battle, and I’m stoked to see what they do to fill the gap this leaves in their development lineup.

1.  Stardew Valley – No game this year has made me feel as happy as Stardew Valley.  I should caveat this by saying this was my first foray into the farming and community simulator genre, but while many of these games I played because they were fun or challenging, this one I played because I felt good while doing so.  I’m excited to play through again sometime soon, and if you haven’t had a chance, I recommend paying a visit to Stardew Valley (especially considering its now on consoles)!


Stuff that could be great but I’ve yet to play…

  • Dishonored 2
  • Salt and Sanctuary
  • Abzu
  • Hitman
  • Hyper Light Drifter

So long 2016!  Now, what have we got to look forward to in the coming year?

What was your favorite game of 2016?  Anything important I might have missed that I should check out down the line?  Leave it in a comment below, and as always, thanks for reading.

Posted in Gaming

Europa Universalis IV Review

EUIV is one of those games I’m not 100% in reviewing.  Not because it isn’t good (it’s great) and not because I haven’t played a lot of it (I have), but it such a massive game with so much content to see and play, I don’t think I’ll ever reach a point where I can say I ‘understand’ it.  Europa Universalis IV by Paradox Development Studio is one of the more extreme examples of the strategy genre, allowing you to pick any country or province to play as over an almost 400 year period in history.  Your objective from their is to conquer, trade, colonize, and negotiate your way to dominance in your corner of the globe.  You’ll have to contend with conflicts or religion and culture, curry favor amongst rivals and neighbors, and all the while keep your own populace in line and your claim on the throne secure.  There is so much going on at any given time, and for a newcomer like me, it can be downright daunting.

All that said, I really can’t stop playing EUIV.  Seriously, I’ve got 50 hours under my belt in just the past few weeks, and I still have only begun to scratch the surface.  I’ve yet to make it out of the 1500’s, I’ve only played as a handful of european and middle eastern countries, and I’m not even close to finishing out the tech tree.  There is so much to see and do, I imagine those that claim dominance in the game must spend years mastering the nuance and challenging their skills with unorthodox starting nations.

EUIV is played from a top down perspective of a world map, similar to many global strategy games.  You recruit regiments of units to march across land and build fleets of ships to conquer the seas.  The majority of the time, you will have a handful of neighbors that either love you or hate you, and its on you to decide which will make the best alliances and whose territory you wish to seize.  Beyond outright warfare, you can also spend time establishing royal marriages and courting provinces to join you as vassals, giving you another way to grow your empire by integrating them or seizing the throne from their illegitimate heir.  As you progress through the ages, you’ll gain access to more advanced forms of play, such as the ability to colonize uncharted lands or spread your trade range around the world.

The wealth of starting nations is one of the biggest selling points of the game in my opinion.  EUIV will recommend starting countries to you that have historical relevance to the scenario you choose, but you can also pick small provinces and backwaters if you seek a challenge.  Care to conquer Africa from 1875 via the Kongo?  Go right ahead.  Want to take over North America via the Aztec before Christopher Columbus gets a toehold?  You’re welcome to try.  Some scenarios, I suspect, are virtually unwinnable, but just the fact that they’re available is a really fascinating decision from a gameplay perspective.

I’m no expert, and I doubt I ever will be, but if you enjoy strategy games with a dose of history, check out Europa Universalis IV.  If it seems daunting, hop on over to YouTube and look for some ‘Let’s Plays’ to give you an idea of how it works.  I recommend Quill18 personally; his African Succession Synergy series is what finally won me over and got me into the game.  Give it a watch and drop him a like or subscribe; he works hard for them.

Got an opinion on EUIV or a story to share?  Leave it in the comments below, and as always, thanks for taking the time to stop by.

Posted in Gaming

Doom Review

Doom is kind of a guilty pleasure for me.  I’m typically not a fan of ultra-violent games or media, and I’m an advocate of content creators self moderating to avoid the need for censorship.  That said, I just couldn’t stop playing Doom!

In Doom you are a marine killing demons on Mars and in Hell.  I’m fairly certain this is a true statement regardless of which iteration of the game you play.  In Id Software’s latest creation however, the developers have gone out of their way to almost parody many of the classic tropes of the series.  You are literally referred to in conversations with NPC’s as “The Doom Marine,” and your violent tendencies are so over the top as to frighten the demons, who refer to your previous crusades against them with reverence and terror in audio logs.  The generically evil mining corporation you’re tearing through has propaganda holograms and documents everywhere for you to discover, warning employees to try not to fight back if they’re cornered by a demon, so that their bodies will not be so ravaged they can’t be recovered for research purposes.  The game is surprisingly clever and twisted, and I found myself enjoying the story a lot, something I never thought I’d say about a Doom game.

Beyond the design of the world, the game is just plain fun to play.  Movement is rapid, the weapons are a blast to shoot and upgrade, and the encounters are challenging and engaging.  The music deserves special mention, as it so perfectly fits the encounters.  The grungy, industrial-metal (or whatever you call this) tracks complement the oppressive atmosphere so well, and when it really kicks into gear as demons swarm the screen, you can literally feel your pulse start to race.

On rare occasions the lulls between battles can grow tedious as you explore for collectibles, but you’re never more than a few seconds away from a demon that needs murdering.  If you find one path growing too dull, turn around and go the other way.  Before you know it metal will start to pour out of your speakers and the screen will go red with fireballs and demon gore.

As I said though, this game is a guilty pleasure.  It’s not something I’d feel good playing in front of family, and I tried to limit my sessions to early mornings before my wife and daughter awoke.  If you tend to be squeamish about gore or violence, steer clear.  This one is definitely off the list for kids and the tender hearted.  However, if you’re a fan of first person shooters and don’t mind a little….lot….ton of blood, then Doom should definitely be on your radar.  It’s probably one of the funnest games I’ve played this year, and now that I’ve beaten it, I expect I’ll keep it installed and come back to platinum it later.

How about you?  Tried Doom yet?  Have any thoughts or opinions to share.  Leave a comment below, and as always, thanks for stopping by.

Posted in Gaming

The Gaming Season

So has anyone else looked at the video game release schedule and felt their eyes bug out?  Seriously, if you can’t find something to look forward to in the next few months you’ve either got no interest in video games or have really strict tastes.

Once upon a time I’d be jumping on as many titles as I could, but I live in a slightly more realistic world now.  I have a new house to fix up, a new baby desperate for entertainment (she’s just learning to laugh and its like angels singing!); my time and budget are tight so I’ve got to be discerning when it come sot indulging my old hobby.

That said, here’s what I’m looking forward to between now and Christmas on the gaming front.

Bioshock: The Collection – I’ve played the first and third, so there’s actually a new game in this bundle for me; hooray!  In all seriousness, these games are some of the great chimeras of the last generation.  Thought provoking while being mindlessly fun, at once beautiful and horrific in there settings.  I may have to wait for a sale, but this one should give me a reason to venture out on Black Friday.

Rise of the Tomb Raider – I played about 3/4 of this one on PC, then put it on hold when the PS4 release date was announced and it was revealed all the DLC would be on the disc.  So I’m buying it again…like a sucker…but I love this series!  I can’t feel too guilty about giving money to a developer that keeps knocking it out of the park.  I was shocked how much I fell in love with the first (i.e. the last) Tomb Raider game, and I remember the heart wrenching day Rising was announced as Xbox One exclusive.  Now though, Sony fans can get in on the action too, and from what I’ve played so far, its been well worth the wait.

Sid Meyer’s Civilization VI – I’ve put an unhealthy amount of time into Civilization V, but honestly, who hasn’t?  I’m excited about the changes they’re making to city building, and looking forward to seeing how the new AI feels to play against.  I expect this one will have a spot of honor on my desktop for the foreseeable future; I just hope the baby doesn’t mind napping on my chest while I conquer the world from the office chair.

Dishonored 2 – I honestly haven’t been following this title as much as I did the original.  That doesn’t mean I’m not excited, I suppose I’ve just blocked it out so it’ll be a surprise when it lands.  The idea of playing as either Corvo or his daughter this time around is pretty grand, but I’m curious to see how her powers feel compared to his.  Dishonored had such a distinct feel to the action, it’s hard to imagine shaking up too dramatically without creating a completely different game.

Of course, these are just the titles I’m trying to set personal money aside for in the coming months.  There’s literally dozens of titles releasing between now and Christmas.  What are you looking forward to playing most?  Leave a comment if you want to share, and thanks for stopping by.

Posted in Gaming

Starbound Review

I’m not  a big fan of the early access category on Steam.  Its not that I have a problem with developers selling their product in alpha or beta form, its more that I like to play a product to completion in one stretch.  The same applies to DLC; if I know I’m going to enjoy a game and it will have DLC, I want to hold off playing through it until the DLC is available so I can enjoy it all at the same time.

I picked up Starbound on early access a long time ago and fell off it relatively quickly.  I don’t remember why exactly, but it probably felt aimless at that stage of development and there were already so many other things to play.  Fast forward a few years, and I see that Starbound has now been officially released.  Well, I happen to have a copy of this ‘new’ game sitting in my library, so I install it and jump in, having little idea what to expect.

What follows is several weeks of intense play as I see Earth destroyed and begin my quest to find a set of mysterious artifacts while simultaneously attempting to craft a comfortable summer cottage on a garden world.  Starbound, after many years of development, is great.  That’s my opinion.  Now I’m going to delve a little more into why.

Starbound is a crafting game, by which I mean it is one of those games where you collect resources and build progressively more complicated recipes.  The hook is that there’s an entire universe procedurally generated for you to explore with temples, ruins, and alien bases to discover everywhere you happen to beam down.  NPC’s can give you short little fetch quests for money (pixels) while random loot can be found in dungeons and chests throughout the galaxy.

This may all sound tried and true or even trite depending on your stance on the genre, but I personally found Starbound’s sense of scale to be its best feature.  Things begin almost intimately, aboard a broken spaceship on a relatively peaceful planet.  As you dig deeper (literally) you come across underground biomes and secrets, as well as rare resources and tougher enemies.  Eventually, you can dig quite literally to the planet’s core and find yourself dangling over an endless sea of lethal lava.  Heading off-world, I was satisfied again and again by this sense of depth.  The first ocean planet I visited, I began by traversing the surface, a truly dull experience as there were only a small handful of dry, deserted islands.  As soon as I took my finger off the up key though and began to sink, the screen started to darken as I descended into the abyss, and I dropped into the middle of a flooded city on the ocean floor.  I then proceeded to dig down to the core of that world too!

Starbound also has a story.  You’re a survivor of a disaster on earth trying to track down artifacts bequeathed to the mortal races by an ancient power.  Each chapter involves scanning a number of objects specific to each race and then completing an instanced mission and boss fight to acquire the artifacts themselves.  The missions themselves tend to be fairly straightforward, but they provided a sense of progression and challenge that many crafting games lack.  The order in which you tackle each races’ favored world happens to coincide with the sliding difficulty of each biome, starting you off hunting for forest worlds and ending on treacherous volcanic terrain.  The boss fights were both challenging and entertaining, incentivizing my time spent gathering rare resources to craft better weapons and armor.

Overall, Starbound was a great experience, and even as the end credits rolled I could think of a laundry list of things I hadn’t gotten to try.  I still haven’t built a colony and encouraged tenants to move in and start paying rent.  I still haven’t upgraded my ship to cruiser level by recruiting crew members.  I still haven’t baked a cake because the idea of raising livestock to get milk is downright daunting when you have to pick a planet to start doing so on.  I heartily recommend Starbound if you’re a fan of crafting games, endless universes, or like the idea starving to death at the center of the planet because you just ate your last banana.