While I did not take the time to track every game released for console, PC and dedicated portable game systems in 2016, I am fairly confident that the total is over 1,600 and possibly as high as 2,000 (US.) According to research firm, SuperData, the total dollars spent on PC and Console gaming, worldwide, was close to $70 billion. These are some BIG numbers (not completely believable/verifiable… but BIG.) While every gaming website is now in the process of giving you their “Best Of” for the past year, I have always thought that these compilations were bogus. No matter how big the site, they simply can’t cover all of the games released, and those that they do cover are split up among a handful of editors/game reviewers.
So, while they may have fairly educated opinions, they are just that – opinions – based on those games that they did play and ignoring the ones which they did not. So, at the end of the day, what they are really giving you is their list of favorites – not the “Best.” My list is admittedly very personal, but I believe no less educated. While I estimate that I probably played 200 or so of the new games on offer for the various platforms in 2016, I have whittled that down to the 25 that I enjoyed the most in 2016. The list is chronological and not based on any empirical rating system. In addition, there are games, like Civilization VI, that are from genres that I simply do not play – if it has anything to do with “RTS,” “turn-based,” or “world-building,” I am out. So, no matter how great they might be to those that enjoy that particular genre, they are not going to make my list.
They’re what I like, because they’re what I like – no definitive recommendations made and no apologies offered. I am guessing, however, that a number of these can be found on your lists as well.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (PC)Publisher: Square-Enix Developer: Crystal Dynamics/Nixxes
Although released originally in 2015 for Xbox One and Xbox 360 (and my favorite game of 2015), I couldn’t wait to come back to Ms. Croft’s latest adventure when it was released on PC in January. Why? Well, first of all, it’s a great game that deserves to be played more than once. Secondly, Nixxes, the developer responsible for the PC port, was kind enough to patch the game for Stereoscopic 3D. SOLD! You haven’t lived as a gamer until you have experienced ROTTR in breathtaking 3D!
Firewatch (PC)Publisher: Campo Santo Developer: Campo Santo
February saw the release of this compelling Indie title and the story, sense of isolation and developing relationship between your character and the mysterious woman at the other end of your radio combine to make Firewatch one of my most memorable gaming experiences of 2016.
SUPERHOT (PC)Publisher: SUPERHOT Team Developer: SUPERHOT [...]
It was phenomenal when it was released on Xbox One nearly a year ago (my thoughts on the original can be found here), and it is still a truly fantastic adventure on PlayStation 4 as 2016 draws to a close. Even Naughty Dog’s release of “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” as a PS4 exclusive earlier this year can’t dull my enthusiasm for the latest adventures of Lara Croft. “Rise of the Tomb Raider – 20 Year Celebration Edition” gives us the original adventure, all of the game’s DLC, some pretty cool packaging, a new difficulty level and a new side adventure, “Blood Ties,” that takes place in Croft Manor, allowing Lara to both explore the mansion and her family’s history, and that includes support for PlayStation VR (more on that when I delve deeper into PSVR next week.) Bottom line; The game is still gorgeous, the adventure still epic and the new additions welcome. It will be interesting to see how the year’s delay to reach the world’s best-selling video game platform will impact sales (not to mention the large shadow cast by Uncharted 4), but I have a sneaking suspicion that ROTTR 20 is going to hold its own at re/etail over the next 60 days or so. After all, the game has sold roughly 1.5 million units, combined physical and digital on a platform (Xbox One) that has sold to roughly half of the global consumers as has PlayStation 4. If my math is correct, that theoretically would translate to 3 million units on PS4. If sales come close to that target, then we can effectively say that Xbox’s timed exclusivity was for naught, as was the prolonged wait for PlayStation consumers.
Rise of the Tomb Raider – 20 Year Celebration EditionPublisher: Square-Enix Developer: Crystal Dynamics Release Date: 10/11/16 Platforms: PlayStation 4 Price: $59.99 Initial Impressions: Same great game with all of the original expansions, Blood Ties is an excellent addition, still one of the best games of the past few years
Lara Finally Takes a Bow on the World’s Best-Selling Game Platform – One Year After ROTTR’s Original Release
Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, when Sony’s PlayStation division introduces a new piece of hardware, you can bet that there is going to be a promotional tie-in with Taco Bell. In my eight years at SCEA, I saw it over and over again – PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 4… every hardware introduction seemed to come with cheese and re-fried beans on the side. In truth, it was a little embarrassing. I ran the advertising business for PlayStation and did not have anything to do with promotions, but I always wondered what was going on in their world… I mean… it’s PlayStation for cryin’ out loud – can’t we find just ONE other promotional partner, or are we going to have to make another run for the border?
Or, in other words – Mi no quiero Taco Bell!
I suppose the school of thought adhered to by both parties is that the combination of a sedentary hobby and the consumption of high calorie, high fat food go together like an unemployed 20-something male and his mom and dad’s basement. So, this is a natural fit, right? Why worry about diabetes and heart disease when you can enjoy a Doritos Taco and a Mountain Dew while sitting on your ass for hours at a time playing insert game name here?
Now, we have the pending introduction of PlayStation VR and the two companies are at it again… “Buy a $5 Big Box and be entered to win a PSVR!” The difference is that this might finally be a cross promotion that the American Heart Association can get behind. At least with PSVR, there is the opportunity to stand up, move around, run in place and trip over the cable tethering the headset to the PlayStation 4 – that could burn off a few of those Big Box calories!
And, success with this promotion might open a few doors for other products from Sony Interactive Entertainment. The “PlayStation 4 Pro” was recently introduced and received a rather tepid reception. It could use a good promotional push and I think I have the perfect idea…
We’ve all seen the pictures of PS4 Pro – it’s a triple-decker, right? Say it with me… “two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun!” Somebody in SIE Promotions reach out to Mickey D’s and make it happen! (Ping me if you need a contact!)
Sigh… I Weep for Humanity!
“Obduction” is the classic adventure game, “Myst,” for a new generation. Gone are the static screens of yore – to be replaced by a gorgeous, creepy real-time world that is just begging for its secrets to be discovered. The world is called “Hunrath” – a far off alien landscape that inexplicably has buildings, objects, artifacts, etc. from Earth scattered across its landscape. When you begin the game, it is as if you are in the old west – America circa 1850-ish – but surrounded by glowing purple mountains/topography. Like Myst, and many other games that have come since, it is your job to discover why/what/when/where and who through a series of increasingly difficult brain teasers that allow you to alter the landscape and delve deeper into this strange alien environment. While I am enjoying the world and the concept, and quite challenged by the puzzles, I am also frustrated by the severe lag/frame-rate issues present in the game. A quick check of the Steam discussions has shown me that I am one of many suffering from the same technical issues. In addition, the game has been out for two weeks and there has been little feedback from the developer, Cyan Worlds, and no patch addressing the issue. Make no mistake – there is a great game here, it is just a shame that, like so many games in this day and age, it takes weeks after launch to sort them out.
ObductionPublisher: Cyan Worlds Developer: Cyan Worlds Release Date: 8/24/16 Platforms: PC/Steam Price: $29.99 Metacritic: 78 My Impressions: Beautiful, clever, obtuse at times, severe stuttering/lag/frame-rate issues that need to be addressed
Obduction – A Game that is Much, Much More than Myst for Millenials
Insomniac’s “Feral Rites,” the studio’s second foray into the brave new world of VR (the first being the excellent “Edge of Nowhere”), is an amalgamation of various influences. It is fairly obvious that its most direct inspiration is the “God of War” series (with its combat, fixed camera angles, gore and energy fences that only fade away after defeating the bad guys in the area.) But, the Gen 6 game influence doesn’t end there. I have also detected bits of “Shadow Man” (look it up) and “The Mark of Kri.” The bad news is that it inherits both the good and the bad from these older franchises. Most notably, the game looks old (in fact A LOT like Mark of Kri), it requires that you backtrack INTO the fixed camera (unless you want to pivot in your chair and risk getting all tangled up), the camera (and water) leads to many a cheap death, and it is a bit of a collect-a-thon. To the positive, the combat is fairly satisfying, with cool executions. It is fun playing as the various beasts (to this point, I have been able to change into a panther and this huge jaguar/thingie (technical term… don’t expect many people to be familiar with it.) And, it seems like it is set up to be a long-ish adventure. Still, a little over an hour in, I can sense my interest fading and don’t know if I’ll be around to see it through.
Feral RitesPublisher: Oculus Studios Developer: Insomniac Games Release Date: 9/13/16 Platforms: Oculus Rift Price: $49.99 Initial Impressions: Graphically sub-par, little reason for it to exist in VR, fixed camera ( a la God of War) is annoying, nowhere near the standard the studio set with “Edge of Nowhere,” and nowhere near as good as the game that served as its primary inspiration (God of War), Oh… and overpriced
The Launch Trailer – Yeah… It’s Not as Good as it Looks… and it’s Not Close to Being Worth 50 Bucks!
The gaming and cinematic influences on Comcept/Armature Studio’s “ReCore” are obvious from the get-go. Take “Metroid” gameplay (albeit from a third-person vantage point) and have it centered around a world that looks quite a bit like the planet of Jakku in “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens,” and you’ve got a recipe for success. Although the early reviews for ReCore have been average – most citing the game’s extended load times and the repetitive back-tracking as the main negatives – I am really enjoying the world, story and, in particular, the tight third-person shooting and platforming gameplay that is deep and rewarding. The basics of the plot are that you – playing as Joule Adams, a young woman who wakes from cryosleep 96 years later than intended – are stranded on the hostile desert planet of Far Eden with only your robotic dog, Mack, for companionship. You quickly discover that the rest of your crew, including your father, are nowhere to be found and that you need to reactivate a “Terraforming Pylon” (the technology that was created to try to make Far Eden a more habitable world.) Thus, the adventure begins…
ReCorePublisher: Microsoft Studios Developer: Comcept/Armature Studio Release Date: 9/13/16 Platforms: Xbox One, PC (Windows 10/Microsoft Store exclusive) Price: $39.99 Initial Impressions: Excellent control and gameplay, love the jumping/jetpack mechanic, load times long in spots. third-person Metroid
Will ReCore do for Xbox One What Quantum Break Couldn’t? (You Know… Have a Modicum of Sales Success!)
“Redout” is “Wipeout” or “F-Zero” – depending upon whether your console predilection goes to the Sony or Nintendo side of things – for VR. Although a more accurate comparison might be to the excellent “Radial-G: Racing Revolved,” which has been available for the Oculus Rift since before its consumer launch, as well as the htc Vive. After puttering around with it for an hour or so, I do like the variety in the courses and it is a quality product, but am not yet convinced that it is as good as Radial-G. I will spend some more time hovering over the track over the course of the next few days and we’ll see how my initial impression might be swayed.
RedoutPublisher: 34BigThings Developer: 34BigThings Release Date: 9/2/16 Platforms: PC/Steam, Oculus Rift, htc Vive Price: $31.49 Initial Impressions: Fast, good looking, quality product, not sure it’s better than Radial-G
The VR Descendant of F-Zero and Wipeout Makes its Virtual Reality Debut
Wow! This one really came out of nowhere. “Unbox,” from the moment you first hear the steel drums kick in the very tropical theme that plays in the game’s first open-world, evokes fond memories of classic Gen 5 and Gen 6 platform games – most notably “Mario Sunshine” on the Nintendo Gamecube. The game, a third-person, open-world platform adventure that draws on all of the best of the genre (including collect-a-thons like “Banjo-Kazooie”), is an interactive love letter to a style of game that is all but lost in 2016. It is beautiful, simple fun that, a few hours in, has left me with a smile on my face and wanting to play more. Oh… and you play as a cardboard box.
UnboxPublisher: Prospect Games Developer: Prospect Games Release Date: 9/5/16 Platforms: PC/Steam Price: $12.79 Initial Impressions: Fun, fond memories, incredible bang for the buck, Amazon Prime (if you play the game, you’ll get the “joke”)
Unbox is an Interactive Love Letter to the Great Platformers of Gens 5 and 6
“Seasons After Fall” is an interesting little side-scrolling platform game where you play as a spirit that has possessed a fox. This spirit fox has the ability to change the seasons to manipulate plant life and alter the landscape – allowing the spirit fox to progress further in the adventure. Looking a little like Capcom’s “Okami” and playing like your average “Metroidvania” game, Seasons After Fall features beautiful graphics and a calming, pastoral soundtrack. I am not quite sure that the gameplay grabs me, at least an hour into the game, but am willing to be proven wrong.
Seasons After FallPublisher: Focus Home Interactive Developer: Swing Swing Submarine Release Date: 9/2/16 Platforms: PC/Steam Price: $12.74 Initial Impressions: Pretty, good music, predictable gameplay, spirit guide’s voice too low in the mix
Is Seasons After Fall All Frosting and No Cake? Maybe… But it is Some Tasty Frosting…
Last week was a little light on new releases, so I had time to take deeper dives into the newer games that I have been playing and revisit an old classic in the Harry Potter canon that I had given short shrift when it was originally released over a decade ago. As the annual right of passage that is the holiday deluge is just around the corner, it is unlikely that I will have much time to stroll down memory lane like this in the coming weeks and months. Here are this week’s five that I’m keeping alive (although this first one might not be on my playlist much longer)…
Damaged CorePublisher: High Voltage Software Developer: High Voltage Software Version Playing: Oculus Rift Current Price: $29.99 Original Release Date: August 30, 2016 Strengths: Interesting concept and story, aiming mechanism Weaknesses: Only one difficulty level (and it is hard), switching from one NPC to the next annoying and too frequent, too much chair movement Metacritic: NA DaveTheCritic: 68
Damaged Core is a first-person shooter that really isn’t. The only way of moving through an environment is by aiming at one of the NPC’s on the play field and taking control of that character. You can jump from NPC to NPC, as you are an AI that can inhabit almost any host. Once you inhabit said host, you effectively become a 360 degree gun turret as all of these other characters suffer from the same feet frozen to the floor malady. The game is also very difficult, even early on in the game, with only the default difficulty level available with the need to spin 180 degrees in your chair adding to the problem. It can be fun in spots, but, overall, I came away disappointed – as I have with every attempt at the creation of a VR FPS to this point in time. Still… I am holding out hope that the VR update to “SUPERHOT” will be the first to crack the code.
When is an FPS not an FPS? When it is Damaged Core
The Turing TestPublisher: Square-Enix Developer: Bulkhead Interactive Version Playing: PC (also available on Xbox One) Current Price: $19.99 Original Release Date: August 30, 2016 Strengths: Great story, solid take on “Portal” gameplay, voice acting (Tom in particular) Weaknesses: Derivative – doesn’t do enough to separate itself from its primary source of inspiration Metacritic: 75 DaveTheCritic: 87
It takes a lot of courage to challenge the 800 pound gorilla in your genre of choice, and that’s exactly what Bulkhead Interactive has done with “The Turing Test.” It is a first-person puzzle game with a serious Portal fixation and, while it does not reach the lofty heights of the bar set by Valve’s two masterpieces, it is a fun and challenging entry in the category that benefits from strong voice acting and a very cool story that is slowly revealed in conversation between the computer AI [...]
A first-person puzzle game in the vein of “Portal,” “The Turing Test” possesses a very intriguing story to go with its power on/power off, power cube moving gameplay. Tom, the AI that you are working with to discover what has happened to the rest of your crew stationed on Jupiter’s Europa moon, is figuratively by your side to answer your questions as you move from one area/puzzle to the next – and to fill you in on just what has transpired on this outpost in deep space. Playing as Ava Turing of the ISA (International Space Agency), you must solve these increasingly complex puzzles in order to move deeper into the facility and ultimately discover the fate of those that called it home. I am two hours into the game at this point and, although the comparisons to Portal are inevitable, I am enjoying The Turing Test on its own merits.
The Turing TestPublisher: Square-Enix Developer: Bulkhead Interactive Release Date: 8/30/16 Platforms: PC/Steam, Xbox One Price: $19.99 Initial Impressions: Smart/interesting story, Voice of Tom is perfect, puzzles very Portal-esque
The Turing Test is an FPP (First-Person Puzzler) in the Tradition of Portal
In these early days of VR, we are seeing many different solutions for tackling the problem of movement through environments in a first-person point of view, while using your headset to control your view of the world. It is a very challenging problem because of the ever-present threat of motion sickness and the limitations posed to movement by the tether connecting said headset to your PC. Some have tried moving you in baby steps (“The Assembly”), while others break your POV into four quadrants that can be switched with the push of a button (“Fated: The Silent Oath.”) High Voltage Software’s new FPS, “Damaged Core,” takes an entirely different approach to the problem. The game avoids the use of the gamepad’s left and right sticks altogether and instead has you look at your host (you are an AI that can freely move between robot hosts on the battlefield) and push a button to take control of that host. Each host is stationary and you effectively use them as a gun turret (another early days solution – think “Eve: Gunjack”) until they take too much damage and you are given a few seconds to seek out a new host. In my first hour or so with the game, I have been spinning in my chair quite a bit – sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t – and had to stop to make sure that I had enough cable, as the 180 degree in-chair pivot is always a challenge. The game is pitched as a “10 hour adventure” – we shall see if it holds my attention that long.
Damaged CorePublisher: High Voltage Software Developer: High Voltage Software Release Date: 8/30/16 Platforms: Oculus Rift Price: $29.99 Initial Impressions: Intense, tough, interesting take on movement in VR
Damaged Core – Telekinesis (a la Gen 6’s “Psi-Ops”) Meets FPS
I’ve had life get in the way of gaming over the past few weeks, but am coming back strong this week! While most of my time is being spent with “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided,” I am still puttering around with a few games that I have a particular affinity towards, and a newcomer that has taken me by surprise in Blue Isle Studios’ “Valley.”
Deus Ex: Mankind DividedPublisher: Square-Enix Developer: Eidos Montreal (PC version developed/ported by Nixxes) Version Playing: PC/Steam Current Price: $59.99 Original Release Date: August 23, 2016 Strengths: Excellent story, Prague delivers great atmosphere, Adam (“No, I am Not Clint Eastwood’s Son”) Jensen’s stoicism, much to do and see Weaknesses: Inability to quick-toggle weapons back from their holstered state, subtitles missing from dialogue trees Metacritic: 82 DaveTheCritic: 94
There are certain games that are so good in their original incarnations that the inevitable sequels that will follow simply need to give us more of the same and/or an evolution/expansion to be considered must-buys/must-plays. My list contains names like “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune,” “Darksiders,” “Tomb Raider” (2013), “Trine,” “Mass Effect,” and a number of others. Eidos Montreal’s “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” is another game that occupies a place on my list. The futuristic adventure was one of my favorite games of 2013 and its sequel, “Deus Ex: Mankind Divided,” takes everything that was great about the original and gives us more of it – stealth, human augmentation, dialogue trees, FPS action, a plot full of conspiracies and double crosses, great voice acting and a city just begging to be explored.
Great Game – Special Thanks Goes to Nixxes for Including Stereoscopic 3D Native to the PC Version!
ValleyPublisher: Blue Isle Studios Developer: Blue Isle Studios Version Playing: PC/Steam Current Price: $19.99 Original Release Date: August 24, 2016 Strengths: Beautiful environment, cool backstory, excellent first-person platforming and movement Weaknesses: All alone – no one there to deride me… Metacritic: 70 DaveTheCritic: 85
I haven’t had this much fun playing a first-person platform game since the original “Jumping Flash” on PlayStation One. Of course, “Valley” is much more adult, much more modern and has much more to it, but I keep coming back to the core strength of the game – that the first-person running and jumping via the game’s exoskeleton (the L.E.A.F. suit) is just so well done. And, while the “Shooter” part of “FPS” is also represented in this game and is solid, if rarely used, it takes a backseat to the ol’ XX (Double Jump.) The [...]
“Valley” is an Indie game from Blue Isle Studios, the developer of “Slender: The Arrival.” Quite honestly, I had not been paying much attention to it and decided to download it on a whim… and I am glad that I did. The game is a first-person adventure involving a lot of running and jumping that is built around your character’s use of the L.E.A.F. (Leap Effortlessly through Air Functionality) – an exoskeleton that you stumble upon in the Rocky Mountains and that was apparently created for soldiers in World War II. This suit allows you to run very fast, jump very far, and to actually give and take away life to all carbon-based (flora and fauna) lifeforms that you discover on your adventure – functionality that allows for more traditional FPS elements as you discover the mysteries held throughout the game’s beautiful environments. I have just started my adventure but am already deeply absorbed in Valley’s world.
ValleyPublisher: Blue Isle Studios Developer: Blue Isle Studios Release Date: 8/24/16 Platforms: PC/Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One Price: $19.99 Initial Impressions: Beautiful, great vibe from the “Twin Peaks”/Enya-ish soundtrack, compelling plot link to WWII research
Valley is Gorgeous, Technically Rock-Solid, and Features a Great Soundtrack
“Deus Ex: Mankind Divided” is the sequel to the excellent “Deus Ex: Human Revolution” – which was released for PC and on Gen 7 consoles in 2013. Like the first title in the IP’s reboot, it is a hybrid first-person/third-person experience that is equal parts FPS, cover shooter, open world RPG and stealth game – kind of a cyberpunk version of Bioware’s “Mass Effect” franchise. The main character, Adam Jensen, is a genetically enhanced human that is at the center of a bloody global struggle between “Augs” (augmented humans) and those of the human 1.0 variety (“Norms.”) There is much intrigue in the game’s plot as it is not clear who is trying to benefit from pitting the two groups against each other, and this path to discovery (like the first game) is half the fun. The PC port (the version of the game that I am playing) was handled by Nixxes – a developer known for doing quality translations (and for supporting Stereoscopic 3D, including “Thief,” “Tomb Raider” (2013), and “Rise of the Tomb Raider”), and their work here is no exception.
Deus Ex: Mankind DividedPublisher: Square-Enix Developer: Eidos Montreal/Nixxes (PC Port) Release Date: 8/23/16 Platforms: PC/Steam, PlayStation 4, Xbox One Price: $59.99 Initial Impressions: Jensen and story still cool, Prague looks great, tremendous amount to do and see, sense of deja vu
Mankind May be Divided, but Critics are United in Their Praise of the Latest Deus Ex
There are a number of quality games on my radar this week, led by the truly spectacular ABZU, a Gen 7 flight of fancy in Capcom’s “Dark Void,” and two Batman games – one very new, and one very underappreciated.
Batman: The Telltale Series – Episode 1: Realm of ShadowsPublisher: Telltale Games Developer: Telltale Games Version Playing: PC/Steam Current Price: $24.99 Original Release Date: August 2, 2016 Strengths: script, voice acting, cell-shaded Gotham, new twists on well-known characters Weaknesses: By the numbers gameplay too easy, technical issues at launch (since fixed), scene transitions Metacritic: 75 DaveTheCritic: 85
A good start for Telltale’s five episode series that was made less so by technical issues in the PC version of the game (which seem to have been resolved, at least for me, with a day 2 patch.) The first episode is less than two hours long, but it is very well-conceived and executed. I particularly enjoyed the interaction between Batman/Bruce Wayne and Catwoman/Selina Kyle. The action sequences are a combination of basic detective work and context-sensitive combat and are OK for what they are, but Batman fans are going to want to play this more for the story, the fresh take on well-known characters and the developer’s take on the dark, violent world that is life in Gotham City.
The Prologue from Realm of Shadows (Most of it… Limited Spoilers Contained Within)
ABZUPublisher: 505 Games Developer: Giant Squid Version Playing: PC/Steam (also available on PlayStation 4) Current Price: $15.99 Original Release Date: August 2, 2016 Strengths: Gorgeous underwater world, emotional experience, sense of wonder/discovery, magnificent orchestral soundtrack Weaknesses: Short – around 90 minutes Metacritic: 79 DaveTheCritic: 90
ABZU is an absolutely phenomenal experience that has only one flaw – it is short (around 90 minutes.) Time in a video game is always a difficult characteristic to judge, as people play games in different ways. Myself, I like to explore, savor and try to check out every nook and cranny – so when I say 90 minutes, you can bet that there is not much more to be had in ABZU. But, don’t let its brevity discourage you from purchasing/playing this wonderful game. I would score this third-person underwater exploration adventure at 95 or higher had there been more to it, but isn’t that always the way with great games? No matter how long they are, you want them to be longer.
ABZU Might Not Last That Long, but the Impact it Makes is Long-Lasting!
Batman: Arkham OriginsPublisher: WBI Developer: WB Games Montreal/Splash Damage Version Playing: PC/Steam Current Price: $19.99 Original Release Date: October 23, 2013 Strengths: Cool take on the Batman origin story, Gotham on Xmas Eve, excellent and [...]
In all honesty, there really is only one game releasing next week that is demanding of our attention. “No Man’s Sky” has been the subject of more hype than any “Indie” game released to date. Of course, it really isn’t an Indie game any longer, is it? With a $60 price tag and the full backing of Sony Interactive Entertainment, Hello Games’ space opus has made the transformation to full-fledged AAA experience. With media and consumer expectations running very high on this one, it seems like it will be almost impossible to live up to those expectations, but we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?
No Man’s SkyPublisher: Hello Games Developer: Hello Games Release Date: 8/9/16 Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC/Steam Price: $59.99 Forecast: Huge expectations… will be difficult to deliver on the promise
If nothing else, the release of “No Man’s Sky” is going to be an interesting study in marketing, PR and how the industry and consumers define an “Indie” game. It is easy to forget that a few years back, Hello Games’ baby was the darling of E3, the gaming media and the independent development scene. Then, the hype machine kicked into high gear, Sony and PlayStation got behind it and started pushing the vision. Then, the legend grew, as did the game’s scope and media and consumer expectations. With that growing legend and expectations came a thoroughly unexpected, and un-Indie, price tag. $59.99 is what we pay for huge AAA Batman, Uncharted, Halo, etc. games, not “Indie” titles. Will the weight of the “Sky”-high expectations and the lofty price tag conspire against No Man’s Sky, or will it deliver the Star Wars/Star Trek endless universe fantasy that has been heavily pitched and that is now expected? As of this writing, only one person, who reportedly spent $1,300 for the privilege, has expressed a negative POV… but he really doesn’t know. Hopefully, those of us who cough up 60 bucks won’t feel the same…
This is the No Man’s Sky “Survive” Video – Hopefully, the Game “Survives” Consumer and Media Expectations!
The WestPublisher: IVO Developer: IVO Release Date: 8/12/16 Platforms: PC/Steam Early Access (Full release expected mid-2017) Price: NA Forecast: Too early to tell…
First-person survival games are a dime a dozen and very few hold any level of interest for me. That being said, “The West” is set in America’s western expansion period in the 1800’s and I have always been a sucker for the classic Western (usually starring “The Duke” – John Wayne… look it up) – so I am going to give this one a try. According to the developer, this release is in an Alpha state and they will be working on it for close to another year before it’s [...]
According to the developer, the word “ABZU” is an amalgamation of two words form “the oldest mythologies” – “AB” – meaning “water,” and “ZU” – meaning “to know.” After playing for about an hour, I can tell you that I haven’t a clue as to what the plot/ultimate goal of this third-person underwater adventure is all about. What I do know is that it is absolutely stunning, graphically, completely calming, sonic-ally, and an exploration adventure that shouldn’t be missed. More than anything else, my take is that the game, like “Journey” and a few others, is meant to evoke a sense of awe and wonder and to be enjoyed simply for the world that the developer has created. While I am not far enough along to know how the journey evolves or how it will end, it seems that I am on the path to discovering some ancient human civilization buried under the sea as I follow a lone shark and acquaint myself with a wide variety of ocean-dwelling species. As I move deeper and deeper into the ocean’s depths, all signs seem to be pointing toward some sort of lost world of “Atlantis.” In any event, no matter where this journey leads, I can tell you that I am already enjoying the ride immensely. Check out the video below to see some of what I have discovered in the 30 minutes or so of the game.
ABZUPublisher: 505 Games Developer: Giant Squid Release Date: 8/2/16 Platforms: PC/Steam, PlayStation 4 Price: $15.99 Initial Impressions: Beautiful, calming, unique, excellent control, sense of wonder, emotional
ABZU Presents a Unique Look, Feel and Sense of Place… Absolutely Stunning!
The bad news is that we have another Batman game with technical issues at launch (I am playing the PC/Steam version of the game – not sure if the same holds true on console.) The good news is that Episode 1 (“Realm of Shadows”) looks to be hitting all of the right beats and places an increased emphasis on the character of Bruce Wayne. In addition, Telltale, in spite of the technical issues, has drastically improved its graphic engine and this cell-shaded take on Gotham and its iconic locations pays welcome homage to the classic “Batman: The Animated Series.” As this is an adventure style game where a big part of the experience is how your choices move the story along, I have decided to only show the game’s prologue (and it is not complete at that), but you will get a sense of the game’s style, its context-sensitive action sequences and the narrative split between Batman and Bruce Wayne. I’ll have more on Realm of Shadows in next week’s “Now Playing.”
Batman – The Telltale Series: Episode One – Realm of ShadowsPublisher: Telltale Games Developer: Telltale Games Release Date: 8/2/16 Platforms: PC/Steam, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 Price: $24.99 (for complete five episode series) Initial Impressions: (Playing PC/Steam version) some performance/technical issues/lag, cool story developing, nice look, great voice acting, doesn’t recognize GTX 1060 out of the gate/defaults to integrated graphics chip
The Prologue in Batman – The Telltale Series: Episode One: Realm of Shadows
Some new stuff and a very high profile old stuff that was not up to snuff is on my playlist this week – highlighted by Double Fine Productions’ crazy “Headlander,” and one of my all-time favorite Indie titles – Compulsion Games’ “Contrast.” As far as the game that was “not up to snuff” is concerned, that would be the PC version of “Batman: Arkham Knight.” My old GTX 660 GPU, with its 2GB of dedicated RAM, could not cut it and the game itself was riddled with performance issues for the longest time. But, thanks to my new GTX 1060, and a bunch of patches over the course of the past year, the game is now ready for prime time… and a number of hours of my time.
Song of the DeepPublisher: GameTrust Developer: Insomniac Version Playing: PC/Steam Current Price: $14.99 Original Release Date: July 12, 2016 Strengths: Soothing soundtrack, beautiful aesthetic, interesting story, classic “Metroidvania” gameplay Weaknesses: Touchy combat, a little repetitive Metacritic: 69 DaveTheCritic: 80
GameTrust’s initial foray into game publishing, courtesy of well-respected developer Insomniac, is a solid side-scrolling underwater adventure that is easy to get into and fun to play – with a surprisingly effective narrative.
Insomniac Goes “Indie” in Song of the Deep
ContrastPublisher: Focus Home Interactive Developer: Compulsion Games Version Playing: PC/Steam Current Price: $9.99 Original Release Date: November 15, 2013 Strengths: Noir setting, use of shadow in gameplay, emotional story, phenomenal music and sense of place Weaknesses: Some minor technical issues, the end comes too soon (about four hours) Metacritic: 62 DaveTheCritic: 85
I decided to revisit Contrast because of the Early Access release of Compulsion Games’ latest – “We Happy Few.” I loved this game when it was first released in 2013 (Gen 7 and Gen 8 consoles and PC) and I find it just as compelling three years later. The noir style, Paris in the 1920’s, great jazz/torch singing and use of shadow in gameplay all stand out in this Indie title. Contrast has also been one of my go-to games when I am showing a friend/family member how Stereo 3D can transform a game.
Contrast’s Sense of Style Makes it a Unique Indie Title – As Cool Today as it Was in 2013!
Marlow Briggs and the Mask of DeathPublisher: 505 Games Developer: Zootfly Version Playing: PC/Steam Current Price: $4.99 Original Release Date: September 20, 2013 Strengths: Non-stop action, huge set pieces, great sense of humor, mindless fun Weaknesses: Not a whole lot of depth, some technical issues Metacritic: 65 DaveTheCritic: 85
Part “God of War,” part “Maximo,” part “Shadow Man” (look [...]