Captain Orion’s bestest video games picks of 2020!

BESTEST

VIDEO GAMES

OF 2020!

2020 was a great year, for video games releases!

A lot of great games were released for this year. Many of them, I wish I got around to or had the consoles including Ghosts of Tsushima, Microsoft Flight Simulator, Doom: Eternal, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, and more. We deserved fresh entertainment for this ongoing global pandemic crisis with the quarantines and social distancing shadowing much of 2020. Meanwhile, the interactive industry thrived with consistent sales, new consoles selling out, and plenty of new content for every player of all types.

Many of these fresh screen games set out to be enjoyed alone and/or socially online. We have more advanced gaming technology and means for online downloading, connecting, streaming, social discussing, cheering, and complaining. They all provide great distractions from the current time stresses as we may build upon new and renewed friendships with our shared love of gaming. Or, just pass the time and our best modern remedy for boredom with some single player escapism!

But for me, I’m a little bit of both types. I enjoy gaming alone, and with friends. Such depends on my mood and state of mind. Though, I steered more toward budgeting with big sales in games and freebies. There was plenty out there for those with the thinnest of wallets. I meanwhile, stayed mostly on my PC and Xbox One, no new consoles for me yet. I do want a Nintendo Switch, with time to play the many past games I missed for it.

Anyway, here are the games I personally present as the most important game awards to for 2020!

BEST NEW GAME OF 2020

HADES

Developer and published by Supergiant Games
System: PC, Nintendo Switch

This is the BEST game of 2020, for many reasons that go back decades in what I ask for in a a best-tier video game. Make it challenging, story-deep, visually awesome, sensible controls, gratifying, constant surprises, great music, unique style, and heart. Hades has all of this and more, with aspects reminiscent of other personal favorites – Disgaea, Diablo, Dark Souls, Smash TV. But with Hades, the more you die, the more the game is revealed with more story and gameplay elements. There is so much more I would like to say, but just go play it if you’re into something that feels both old-school but also super modern in its approach and complexity.

BEST COOPERATIVE?! GAME OF 2020

AMONG US

Developed and published by Innersloth
System: PC, Mobile, Nintendo Switch

A surprise that was released in 2018, but earned a huge boost in popularity thanks to its fans, developers, its very affordable price, online streams, and all around fun this game holds; all perfect for this time of mass quarantines and social distancing. Among Us is that connects us, as each game has its own story creating tension on just who Among Us is sus.

BEST KICKASS GAME OF 2020

STREETS OF RAGE 4

Developer: Dotemu, Guard Crush, Lizardcube  Published by Dotemu
System: All the current consoles and PC

HELL YES!!!! I freakin love the old Streets of Rage games for the Sega Genesis (and later mods, fan-made remakes). Streets of Rage 4 is THE damn great, official successor to all of that, including all that made the game great – action, complexity and variance to the button mashing, awesome musical tracks that your fists can dance to. The graphics are perfect with expressive visual style, vibrant colors, detailed backgrounds, and hella fun for co-op action too.

BEST PLAY AND CHILL GAME OF 2020

TOWNSCAPER

Developed and published by Oskar Stålberg
System: PC

It’s not really a game, but it should be someday. It’s hard to explain. Just watch the trailer, and from there, explore the crazy insane possibilities and let your imagination figure out the direction. The more you tinker and discover new aspects of the game, the more more awesome your wierd little world. I love the animation, sound effects, every little detail no matter how small; making Townscaper worth checking out.

BEST VISUAL NOVEL GAME OF 2020

QUANTUM SUICIDE

Developer and published by Cotton Candy Cyanide
System: PC

This particular Japanese anime style visual novel sets itself off apart with a very unique story, and choosy situations that center around mechanics that are very science fictiony, flirty. with deadly sub-games that take a bit more thinking than I would expect. I much enjoyed this all as I watched and chimed in for some very entertaining Twitch streams from a gamer friend that you should follow (twitch.tv/aechonex).

BEST PUZZLING PUZZLE GAME OF 2020

HELLTAKER

Developer and published by vanripper
System: PC

A fun puzzle-adventure with dating and cooking themes game? Helltaker is that and so much more. It’s very unique, with catchy beats, and a whole lot of fun. It’s also free!

BEST FINALLY GOT AROUND TO IT GAME OF 2020

FINAL FANTASY XV

Developed and published by Square Enix
System: All the current consoles and PC

Final Fantasy XV came out a little over 4 years ago and has been in constant development all the way until 2019 with tis final DLC. This open-world game is freakin massive, giving its players much homework into other media for a wider complete experience. I found the 19.99 price for the Royal Edition (main game plus mostly all the DLC) the best I can get for my single-player RPG Final Fantasy loving needs. I enjoyed this far more than expected, delve deep into worldbuilding, and will forever treasure what it brought in this tough pandemic time.

BEST DEMO GAME OF 2020

THE LIFE AND SUFFERING OF SIR BRANTE

Developer by Sever published by 101XP
System: PC for the demo

A surprise treat among I discovered among the PAX Online demos. It’s a visual novel that reads like a lifetime biography, but with choices that do indeed tell a story of about the life and suffering of (you can choose his name). It’s a series of very unfortunate events, where you do your best to make the best out of it, and find deeper meanings though it all. It’s different and worth checking out for visual novel fans, and something to watch out for when it’s fully released.

BEST GAME OF 2021, MAYBE..

CYBERPUNK 2077

Developer: Playstation, Xbox, and PC

The game I was most excited for its delayed release. And, I still am. But after seeing (and laughing) the glitches, problems, frustrations that seem to be a trend for these big, crazy games where play-testing continues with the player after its release…not playing or judging this until the final product is done with enough updates, patches, DLC, whatever it takes to experience as intended. Maybe it will be awesome as its hype. I will remain excited, and wait till the finished product.

That’s all the game awards for 2020 I got. If there was something else I should have played, please share in the comments below!

PAX West 2017 Part 2, Outside the Expo Hall

Last week, I attended the PAX West 2017, an awesome event of video and tabletop games. I wrote some words about it in a recent Part 1 post, where I shared my pics and observations on the main Expo Hall.

Now, I share the rest, which I found much more exciting and expansive. Below are more pictures and notes of select moments of this fun show. Take a look!

I spent much time on the sixth floor checking out the PAX 10, a select group of indie games hosted by their creators. Among them, West of Loathing caught my eye for its interesting, fun choice of style.

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Also among the PAX 10, I enjoyed Tiny Bubbles, a puzzle game that feels therapeutic and comforting. I like to see bubbles pop.

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An interesting side thing happening among the indie games out there – cartridge games developed by gaming fans for old console systems. Retrotainment Games showed some interesting new game cartridges, playable for the NES.

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This PAX West, I also attended many panels. This panel, was about the Youtube gameplay streaming scene, hosted by the Gaming Grandma, Shirley Curry.

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Another panel, this on overlooked job opportunities among game company developers. This chart gives a good look at what’s out there for those interested…

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The Nintendo Metroid Panel focused on Samu’s return to the 2-D platform for the 3DS. Much was shown, but the highlight for me is this fan-art by James Franzen (@goshadale)…

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In light of Metroid, here is some amazing Samus cosplay…

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Another panel on game writing. Lots so helpful advice on creating fiction in the world of gaming.

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A personal favorite of PAX in the past years; the Late Night Dub Fight..where a group of comedics improv and dub various (and some very familiar) cartoons and live-action video clips.

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Also around PAX West, many board games. Sometimes, just seeing one with a lot of setup is a beautiful thing to photograph. I didn’t get the name of this, but I really want to play it

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In the basement area kind of hidden, was the Indie Megabooth for tabletop gaming. Some very fresh, and just getting the word out on their games. Here is Sarah’s Singularity, a game of time travel and alternate timelines.

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Also much enjoyed in the same room, Cult Following. A game involving cults, with a lot of goofy aspects to it.

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Someone Had Died, a game that caught my interest most so. It’s a game of winning an inheritance, by building upon a story following someone’s sudden demise.

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Another new game of interest: Now Everyone get the F%$# Out,  a game of drunken party antics. The game creator (I didn’t get his name, argh) gave me a spirited introduction.

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Back to the main floor, and more cosplay. Here is some lovely Final Fantasy XIV presentation.

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League of Legends cosplay!

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Squids from Space Cosplay

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Not sure on this group. I like the costumes.

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Fire Emblem cosplay.

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The final morning of the grand PAX West adventure, greeted by some of the ever-awesome PAX Enforcers (paid volunteers of the show).

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One thing I loved about this convention vs. other shows, is the line entertainment brought on by some of the PAX Enforcers. Some had goofy games to share, others played music. Overall, a great dedication from the managment to try and make more minutes of the show count.

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One of the big PAX West live events, a role-playing session with Jim Darkmagic (Mike Krahulik), Omin Dran (Jerry Holkins), Viari (Patrick Rothfuss), and special guest star, Strix (Holly Conrad)

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One of the many music concerts, tributing game music and culture. Here jamed the Bit Brigade, remixing the old NES Batman while it played on in the background.

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The last event attended for me, was the Omegathon: Final Round. This being a competition of a surprise game chosen (Nidhogg 2) for the 2 final players. The match was quite exciting (but was interupted with some technical difficulties).

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That’s all for now. I very much enjoyed this PAX West, with so much done and new friends made, games discovered, and many cheers put out. I look forward to the next year!

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PAX West 2017 Part 1, Within the Expo Hall

PAX West for this 2017, was a joy to many. Though which kind of joy was left to the time spent in attending.

PAX West (formally known as the original Penny Arcade Expo, then PAX Prime) remains the largest event of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, catering to the video game and tabletop participant mindset. Still in downtown Seattle after many years, the event is host to hundreds of companies big and small, and its many ticket holders (at least 70,000). The feelings shared among us involved excitement, cheer, and anticipation of gaming.

For me, the event was about exploration into the ever-changing industry of interactive games and its culture. More competitive co-op games are the rage, showing off on the main Expo floor. All and everywhere are the clear money-making trends in the industry; and not just with the games, but the streaming and e-sports culture as well.

Below, are pictures with notes of the main PAX West Expo floor, a dark place lit by many screens and LEDs.

The entrance into the realm of digital wonders, guarded by a large dragon promoting Clash of Kings. It could have done without annoying social media marketing sign.

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One of many booths boosting the e-sports aspect of the current game culture. Live competitive gameplay isn’t my jam, but I like the vibrant lights.

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The Ultron Sigma statue at the Capcom booth didn’t get much love promoting the fourth installment of the Capcom vs. Marvel fighting game. I wanted to leave a big bowl of nachos on its lap.

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The statue is not as big as it looks. Yet, it stands mighty for Adris PC gaming equipment…yay!

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Service animals are welcome on the PAX floor. This one was comfortable with Nintendo’s famous plumber.

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At a booth promoting some new Warframe game. Pose with the cool looking flying mech-thing above, and get a bandana. Then save it, maybe wear it, then pass it on to someone’s grandchildren.

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The Dauntless game booth, to promote its game where monsters are hunted. Here you get a rare pin, by standing in line for over an hour, then grouped in a battle where all must defeat some “behemoth” that take forever to kill. A lot of sad faces walked away pinless.

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The Monster Hunter World booth, where a mighty dragon scoffs at PAXers brave (or not)  a three-hour line to play its demo and get another rare pin.

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Just the Nintendo booth, promoting stuff I didn’t get a big chance to see because it was too small and crowded. Sigh..

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Some cosplay pushed to promote products, I believe. This one promoted the Shadowverse game at the Twitch booth.

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Speaking of Shadowverse, here is a scary carrot monster promoting the game. Someone nearby handed me an awesome Shadowverse carrot card when I asked about it.

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Some cosplay, of something not sure. League of Legends?

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More cosplay, of something not sure. League of Legends?

More cosplay between the booths. Go team Halo!!!

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Those are some of the highlights of the Expo floor. I was drawn to far much more around here, and also outside, around the PAX West. I will share some of those highlighted moments with more pics and noted, in my next show write-up.

New STRANGER BRIGADE game trailer reveals perilous pulp action

Rebellion, creators of Sniper Elite 4 and Zombie Army Trilogy, recently unveiled its trailer for Strange Brigade, an exotic safari into danger in a third-person 1930s adventure full of peril, mystery and derring-do…

NEW REVEAL TRAILER:

The Strange Brigade will be 1-4 players, and coming soon to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

The story and pitch:

“There are remote corners of the British Empire where the supernatural lurks and the shadows linger, where few dare go and fewer return. In STRANGE BRIGADE™ you’ll encounter fantastic and forgotten civilizations shrouded in mystery, uncover treacherous tombs and test your wits against unfathomable foes. You’ll explore the ancient world as one of four dashing explorers, each blessed with their own weapons, tactics, and special superhuman powers… You’ll fight back-to-back against a terrifying army of mythological menaces, unleashed by no less than a resurrected Egyptian witch queen! With such ungodly evil afoot, the STRANGE BRIGADE™ needs YOU!”

Some gameplay and more details, coming soon at the upcoming 2017 E3 Expo, in Los Angeles. In meantime, here are some gorgeous screenshots:

 

Tech-noir tactics ALL WALLS MUST FALL indie game Kickstarter succeeds and exceeds

Independent developer, inbetweengames, recently announced its tech-noir tactics game All Walls Must Fall successfully completed its Kickstarter funding campaign (€36,576, $39,193) at over double its initial goal (€15,000, $16,073).

For those not familiar, All Walls Must Fall is an isometric tactics game where the action happens to the pulsing beat of the music. You control time-traveling secret agents as they jump and loop through a single night in the city of Berlin. Using a pausable real-time system, carefully plan your decisions and use powerful time manipulation abilities to your advantage, as you carry out your mission in the shadows or in plain sight. Levels are procedurally recombined using a bespoke system developed by inbetweengames, giving All Walls Must Fall a highly replayable campaign structure, while still offering individually crafted components and set-pieces.

The story: The Cold War never ended. For 150 years, both sides have used time manipulation technology to observe and counter each other’s every move. Now this fragile state of affairs is approaching breaking point, as a rogue nuclear strike has been ordered that will send the world into turmoil. Both sides have scrambled to send agents back in time to find the person behind the order in the hope they might prevent it. If they fail, the whole world will turn to ash, forever.

The trailer:

 

Many stretch goals have been met, including:

“Vandalism”  – Increased environment destructibility and a deepening of the game’s cover system.
“Drone Warfare” – Hackable enemy drones added as well as new mission and room types.
“Bad Language” – New dialogue options added as well as the ‘disinformation’ mission type.
“Discrimination” – New gameplay centered around the nightmare of clubbing door policy to life while also diversifying the club’s range of NPCs.

Also, two new music tracks with a further track announced during the campaign. Jukio Kallio (Nuclear Throne, LUFTRAUSERS) has contributed a pulsating acid techno workout while Ben Prunty (FTL, Gravity Ghost) has added a 8-bit electro crawler. Esteemed electronic producer Kuedo (Severant, Slow Knife) is providing a dark and minimal techno track, rife with the future anxieties the game depicts.

“We’re totally overwhelmed by the support of our generous backers,” said Jan David Hassel, Designer at inbetweengames. “The Kickstarter went way over what any of us could have reasonably expected or hoped for. Now the real fun, not to mention hard work, begins as we deliver on the turning the Kickstarter into a reality. We’re totally committed to giving players the dopest, future soviet club experience possible.”

All Walls Must Fall is planned for initial release via Early Access on Steam. For more info on its Kickstarter campaign, further funding, and release info, visit the Kickstarter page.

Battle Princess Madelyn Kickstarter ends successfully, with 354% funded

Independent gaming Canadian company Causal Bit Games just announced their Kickstarter funding target for its new game, Battle Princess Madelyn, has successfully closed at 354% of its prime goal.

For those yet familiar, here is the trailer:

Battle Princess Madelyn attracted 3,402 backers who pledged CA$212,665 (about $159.00 US), surpassing it’s original CA$60,000 goal.  Nearly all of its stretch goals were filled as a result, adding much extra content to the game. Further funding will continue through the company Paypal store, seeking to fill in the remaining stretch goals.

“The campaign for Battle Princess Madelyn was an incredible and humbling experience. We honestly didn’t anticipate such a strong response for our game and it’s absolutely overwhelming hearing how people can relate to Maddi’s story. With this level of funding we will deliver our vision and make the game the very best it can be,” said Christopher Obritsch, Creative Director at Causal Bit Games. “For those of you who wanted to support our game, but were unable to pledge on the Kickstarter, we’re happy to say that we now have a PayPal Store open that mirrors the campaign’s tiers!”

Battle Princess Madelyn seeks to release on Nintendo Switch, Wii U, PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. For more info on its Kickstarter campaign, further funding, and release info, check out www.battleprincessmadelyn.com.

In the meantime, here are some extra screencaps of the upcoming game (thanks to Casual Bit Games).

 

TETHERED strategy VR game now playable without VR

Indie games studio Secret Sorcery recently revealed a non-VR, 2D mode (to PC players via Steam) for its acclaimed game, Tethered.

Through a new update, Tethered can be experienced in gameplay for all intrigued by its unique visual aesthetic with strategy-driven gameplay. The developers behind titles like LittleBigPlanet, Driveclub and MotorStorm added other features to its new mode. Such includes two new control methods, a dusk and dawn checkpoint-style save system and adds divine slow-motion and fast-forward features, allowing players to set their own pace. Players can also skip the tutorial and jump straight into the game. Also added, is 4k resolution with 60Hz support, for systems that can handle such.

More on the game itself, from the developers: “Become a Spirit Guardian in Tethered, caring for the adorable and industrious Peeps. Their beautiful island paradise has descended into chaos, ransacked nightly by a plague of wicked creatures. By gathering an ancient and mystical life force known as Spirit Energy and helping the Peeps build up their settlement and resources in preparation for nightfall, you can restore balance and banish the wicked blight once and for all! Tethered features 13 exquisitely crafted levels, a competitive leaderboard (which contrasts your godly prowess with that of your friends) and a superb G.A.N.G. award nominated interactive score.”

“It didn’t feel right that players who weren’t ready to leap into the realms of VR couldn’t experience the magical worlds of Tethered, so we rebuilt the game to support a more traditional style of PC play”, said Scott Kirkland, Managing Director of Secret Sorcery. “By removing the requirement for a VR headset, we’re fulfilling the promise that we made to ourselves and fans in terms of opening up Tethered to more players. Now all PC gamers can enjoy this wonderful sky-borne island world that we’ve so lovingly created”

Trailer to the WithoutVR version:

Tethered is now available for PC, Oculus Rift and HTC Vive via Steam. For more info on Tethered and its developers, visit www.secretsorcery.com.

Overwatch – First Impressions

Overwatch (Closed Beta)

These are interesting times we live in.

For nearly the last 20 years, Blizzard Entertainment has relied on the Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo trinity to entertain fans and generate revenueand who could blame them? From Warcraft spawned the perennial best seller World of Warcraft, and lore infused Warcraft trading card game Hearthstone. Their latest fully released game Heroes of the Storm also draws from that trinity, clashing heroes from all three game worlds against each other in a multiplayer online battle arena.

While Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm branched out from their core list of games genre-wise, their legitimacy was safely backed with successful content from Blizzard’s big three titles. Now that Blizzard is breaking away from the holy grail and developing an entirely new game world in an entirely new genre (First Person Shooter), it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that everyone is watching.

First Impressions: Feels good, man.

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-09-12-000For a company who is new to the genre, Overwatch feels like the efforts of an experienced FPS team who know exactly what they are doing. The aiming and shooting are both tight and responsive, and the game just feels solid. If you’re wondering what engine Overwatch runs on, it is actually powered by Blizzard’s own proprietary engine, and it feels fantastic.

zenyatta-screenshot-001.3n2TNIt’s in this “feeling” that Overwatch begins to come into its own. Each character feels dynamically different, not only with their individualized skill sets and weapons, but most particularly in the way they move about the map. Reinhardt the tank plods along with big heavy footsteps, while Zenyatta, well, he doesn’t even touch the ground at all and silently floats around in his zen-like trance.

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-55-28-000Most characters also have some sort of secondary movement mechanic that allow them to quickly traverse obstacles around the map. From grappling hooks and wall running, to flying in the air with jet packs and short distance time traveling, characters can appear from just about anywhere if you aren’t vigilant enough.

The action is always moving at a frenetic pace, but it is a beautifully controlled chaos.

Who put the MOBA in my FPS?

ScreenShot_15-11-06_11-10-41-000As far as comparisons go, the general consensus is that the game is similar to Team Fortress 2 because of the ability to choose from different classes, but that comparison is superficial at best. A more telling description of Overwatch would be that it feels like a FPS injected with every fun element from a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA) game.

Each character has a signature weapon, as well as additional battle abilities that have their own separate cool-downs, and an ultimate ability. Like MOBA games, team compositions and hero synergies are definitely a thing, and using your ultimate at a timely juncture in a team-fight can be the difference between winning and losing a match.

Overwatch 1Another MOBA-esque feature of Overwatch is the inclusion of “tank” type characters in the game. These are characters that have big health pools and low damage output, but can protect other allies and draw enemy attention disrupting their formations. While they aren’t traditionally seen in FPS games, this type of character thrives in Overwatch and adds an extra layer of complexity in a straight shootout.

Unlike MOBAs however, is the fact that Overwatch does not require the same type of time investment per game, though it’s not to say you’ll spend any less time playing. The 10 minute match time is just the right bite sized treat to keep players coming back for more, making “This is my last game” a phrase that will lose all meaning after saying it for the umpteenth time.

A quality challenge

ScreenShot_15-11-08_14-34-41-000It may take new players some time to feel comfortable and confident in Overwatch, especially if they are new to the FPS genre.

Each character moves differently, shoots differently, and may have up to three different abilities not counting their ultimate. This depth makes learning any character a very rewarding experience, but learning only one character is not the meta of this game.

Instead, this a game where team compositions matter and character fluidity is a necessary skill to win matches. Attacking and defending as a team are completely different scenarios, and require different tools to get the job done. There is no one character that can do it all, so players must be able to play at least a few characters per class to have the right answer for any given situation.

Closing Comments

dva-screenshot-001.4TARvIn a relatively short time, Overwatch has made a big splash.

Blizzard has combined the genres of FPS and MOBA in a seamless way, with characters that are both diverse and memorable. I am personally not a heavy FPS player, but even I was drawn in to this incredibly unique experience. With each character playstyle being so different from the standard FPS archetype, I guarantee there is something in Overwatch for everyone.

As of December 10th, the closed beta will be on a break until mid-late January. If you aren’t in the Beta already, make sure to sign up and give yourself a chance to get in once the action resumes! Overwatch is a must play for fans of Blizzard, FPS, and gaming enthusiasts period.

– Brian F
Contributing Editor

Game Playing Review: Animal Gods

Animal Gods (Steam version)

Synopsis:

Animal Gods

The Animal Gods have fallen. Once sacred, they are now husks—haunted beasts lost to toxic fumes from a great bronze industry. Play as Thistle, a small & agile warrior hellbent on destroying the curse that plagues these creatures. Wield a 17th century BC Bronze Sword… and set the Gods free..

Personal Recommendation:
(Based on Steam Version on Windows. 2.8 unfortunate hours of gameplay via Steam review code)

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This was the most agonizing three hours of gameplay in recent memory.

Not every game is born equal, and as such my expectations of any one game are generally quite open and reasonable. But when your opening line and description on Kickstarter is that:

“Animal Gods is a stylized top-down action / adventure game set in Bronze Age Europe, 15th century BC. The game pairs the tight and polished action of The Legend of Zelda: A Link between Worlds  with a cast of characters and touching story moments that might remind you of classic 90’s JRPGS

I am almost offended! This game is neither action/adventure or RPG in the slightest, and those are some pretty big shoes to fill.

A more accurate description of Animal Gods is that it is a Little Red Riding Hood simulator where you wander through a ghost town, using your incredibly underwhelming (and situational) powers for the sole purpose of reading a teenage girl’s diary entries. As ridiculous as this sounds, I hope you never actually play to find out that I am 100% right.

In quantifiable gaming terms, Animal Gods is more like a platformer/puzzle type game than anything else. As the main character Thistle, you must navigate three different dungeons using the themed power of that dungeon to liberate the trapped god inside, conveniently finding bits of scattered lore throughout the in-game world.

While the game does have its moments of fun, one of the main flaws of Animal Gods is that it doesn’t give its audience any reason to feel emotionally attached.

Give me a reason to feel!

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The cast of memorable characters and touching moments talked about in the Kickstarter description are rather curious, because they don’t exist. It is a stretch to claim that there is a cast of characters when the three other characters are only mentioned in the diary entries, never once appearing in the game (save one dead one if you want to get technical). Interacting with the gods is also a shallow experience, lasting at the most 30 seconds with no real questions answered.

I would imagine that the main purpose of Animal Gods is for Thistle to restore the gods and find out the tragic backstory of this civilization–but who exactly are we doing this for? There is not a single living person in the game aside from Thistle, and we know nothing about her. Where is she from, and why does she care about any of this? There are no answers to any of these questions.

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Also, there is no conflict. Whoever caused this abomination to happen is nowhere to be found. Restoring these ‘haunted beasts’ to their former god status is as easy as completing a few puzzles (the boss fights literally ARE puzzles instead of fights), and nobody is trying to stop you. An argument can be made for the one solitary cube enemy type that serve to provide some sort of resistance as they MUST be killed to progress, but they have such little personality that they may as well not be there. Instead of tension which is good in an action game, there is only annoyance.

In short, someone flipped on all the lights in an abandoned house, and it is your job to simply flip them off.

Not very compelling, is it.

An exploration in frustrating game mechanics

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Although connecting emotionally with this game was impossible, I was at least hoping it would be fun to play.

Unfortunately, I knew right away once I had control of my character that this was going to be a bad experience. Due to Thistle’s crippling walking speed, the ‘over the top’ camera view and size of my character in comparison to the relative environment was a curious choice that quickly wore out its welcome. If you think her ‘agile’ movement is laughable now, wait until you see the leg cramps she gets when stairs are present.

In the above picture, it took my character nearly 15 seconds to walk from one end of that gigantic uninspired stage backdrop to the other. There are multiple instances of this happening, with the most frustrating walk lasting 30 mind-numbing seconds until I reached my deserved reward, which was, you guessed it, reading yet another poorly written diary entry–which brings me to my next point.

Animal Gods 23The second clue I had that this game would be substandard was when I didn’t have control over the text speed within the dialogue box. It was far too slow. If you pair that with the slow walking speed, and the fact that most of the exploration in Animal Gods leads the player to find more of these diary entries…it truly feels like the game is holding you hostage.

These seem like nitpicky details to judge a game from right off the bat, but these simple quality of life considerations should be absolute no-brainers when putting a game together. If these pedestrian details were overlooked, you can only imagine the lack of polish on some of the more important mechanics.

Animal Gods 22One such mechanic was adequately defining map boundaries. As pictured above, the left side of the picture gives an example of an edge your character would die upon crossing, but the right side of the picture shows a similar edge you had to cross to continue progress of that map.

If you’re going to introduce a game mechanic, it has to remain consistent through the entire game (unless directly addressed with a logical reason as to why it changed). Otherwise it looks like a sloppy oversight, and can be especially frustrating for a puzzle type game.

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However, the most frustrating mechanic of all, by far, is the fact that your character is ability gated throughout the game for no reason at all. Thistle has the ability to dash, use a sword, and shoot an arrow, but she is only able to do so in specified areas of the game. This only serves to cripple an already limiting game even further. If the dash ability was unlocked for the entire game, I am sure I could have finished the game in under 2 hours instead of the 3 that it took.

To be completely fair, some of the puzzle sections in Animal Gods were enjoyable. Thistle’s movement is much more fluid during the puzzle sequences, and the dashing mechanic was fun to some extent even if it was at times a bit unwieldy. Despite these positives, there are simply too many things holding this game back for them to make a difference.

Kickstarter curiosities

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The information on Kickstarter regarding Animal Gods is a little misleading.

Currently, the Steam client says that Animal Gods was released October 12, 2015, and has a price of $9.99, yet the Kickstarter campaign says the game is slated for a fourth quarter 2016 release.

However, if you look at their campaign updates (and scroll down a little), in May they announced the game coming out ahead of schedule. While this is well and good, the screenshots in their campaign almost look like they are from a completely different game. The graphics are updated, a world map exists, there are more enemies, weapons have new abilities, and damage points are now displayed whenever a weapon connects with a monster.

I understand that games often look different and have different features added/removed during development, but the final product of Animal Gods looks like a stripped down car resting on cinder blocks. What gives?

There is absolutely zero reason for a paid version of Animal Gods to exist as a final product in the Steam store when it is very clearly unfinished. If the developers ran out of money or encountered issues, they should have delayed release of the game, priced it accordingly, or at least offered some sort of goodwill on the Steam page that they would continue adding features to the game post-release. At the end of the day, people are still spending their hard earned dollars on this game.

Closing Thoughts

TriangleIt pains me to say that this picture of a triangle is more like any Zelda game than Animal Gods will ever be.

The fact that the game is so wildly different than advertised leads me to objectively say that I do not recommend this game, even if went on sale.

Animal Gods may look like an action/adventure game, but blow in its general direction and that cardboard illusion falls flat on its back. It is a shame considering the game is visually intriguing at times, but it is merely a husk of what it aspired to be–if it aspired at all.

– Brian F
Contributing Editor

Game Playing Review: Undertale

Undertale (Steam version)

    • Genre: RPG
    • Release Date: Sep 15 2015, Price: $9.99
    • Development: tobyfox
    • Platform: Windows PC, Mac OS, Steam, Wii U (November)
    • Official Site: http://undertale.com/

Synopsis:

“In this RPG, you don’t have to kill anyone. Each enemy can be “defeated” nonviolently. Dance with a slime. Pet a dog. Whisper your favorite secret to a knight. Or, ignore this choice and rain destruction upon your foes.”

Personal Recommendation:
(Based on Steam Version on Windows. 11 hours of gameplay)

Undertale 1I have completed many RPGs during my time as a video game reviewer, but I can’t say I’ve felt such a vast mixture of emotions and attachment to any one game in such a short period of time.

The best way to describe Undertale (and stay with me here) would be that it is a cheeseburger at first sight, something that many people are quite familiar with. But once you taste it, it also surprises you with an ice cream flavor you were craving, a kombucha tea flavor that you would have never tried but are now glad you did, and the unexpected kick of a bratty little kid that surprised you but didn’t hurt too much.

If you like surprising cheeseburgers (and RPGs), you will love Undertale and everything it offers.

(Editor’s note: The following review will not contain direct spoilers, because the game is much more impactful the less you know about it)

Action in pacifism

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Initially, this game has the classic fantasy RPG framework. There is an age old war between humans and monsters, and you as the main character somehow wind up right in the middle of monster territory. You will navigate towns and dungeons, find cool items, and engage in random battles while making your way back home– but right away the game encourages the player to “strike up a friendly conversation” instead of fighting when facing conflict. You might be thinking, “OK, so instead of mindlessly pushing X to attack, I push X to talk and win battles”, but it isn’t quite so simple.

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This is not one-hug-fits-all, and you can’t just ‘nice’ someone to death. Each monster has a unique personality, with likes and dislikes that may not be obvious at first glance. In addition, some monster’s behaviors change completely when paired up with other monsters, resulting in old dialogue choices no longer pacifying the monsters in these new situations.

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Even if you come in peace, monsters will still attack you because, well, they’re monsters! This will result in an interactive ‘bullet-hell‘ type phase where the player (represented by a heart) will have to dodge the monster’s attacks. Each monster has a unique set of attacks which can range from legitimately dangerous to downright bizarre. Once you have proven yourself peaceful to the monster, you will be able to end the battle and continue forward. For a game which promotes pacifism, the player is always actively involved.

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This is the timed attack system where the player must push the action button right as the vertical line passes through the center of the screen (indicated by the neon green area).

What kind of person are you when nobody is looking?

While the choice to attack or remain a pacifist is completely up to the player, the consequences to these choices are very real. The world at large is directly impacted, and can quickly turn into a very scary place if you decide to kill everyone. Generally, video games are a judgement free zone allowing players to do whatever they’d like, but make no mistake about it–Undertale is judging you. This game keeps track of the monsters you’ve killed, the times you’ve died, and even the times you have reloaded the game!

Did you accidentally kill an important character, and reload your save file to let them live instead? Not only does the game know, but it will even confront you about it. This apparent sentience is quite unsettling, and leads into creating one of the most terrifying final boss encounters I have ever faced in any game.

Undertale may look cute and simple in appearance, but the fact that you never really know what it’s judging or thinking leaves you with a slightly creepy feeling at times.

It’s all about the details

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The game has witty design, but not in the way that you might think. In fact, I would say some of the game design is rather rudimentary. The map layout isn’t the most innovative, and reaching previously cleared areas could be a little more convenient. The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult or groundbreaking, and it’s no secret that the graphics are dated. Even the attack system is fairly old-hat, minus the details of the ‘bullet-hell’ scenarios.

So why is this game good?

In the modern gaming world where superior looks and flashy gameplay allow a game to have unimaginative stories and uninspiring character motivations, Undertale places all of it’s efforts into creating highly relatable moments that are funny, but dark and real at the same time. The main goal of Undertale is connecting the player with the world, providing breaks from this emotional connection with action sequences, rather than vice versa.

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This results in interacting with a world that has every detail completely thought out, and boy does this world have charm. The jokes may be as small as funny area descriptions ‘You can’t go through the fire exit, because you’re not made of fire’, to completely defying traditional RPG mechanics such as a vendor rejecting buying your ‘old branches and used bandages’ for fear of going out of business. The game always tries to keep you on your toes, and the effect is two-fold for any RPG veteran (or pun enthusiast).

The world also has very personable characters, my favorite being the robot TV-personality who is programmed to have an obsession with killing you. He may be a maniac, but his aspirations of killing you are almost as strong as entertaining the monsters of Undertale, making sure he only attempts to kill you while on national television. Since the monsters of Undertale mostly have a bleak future, he takes it upon himself to make sure that future has some distraction and entertainment, which is oddly admirable.

Closing Thoughts

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Undertale is a must play for RPG lovers, as well as people who are looking for an experience outside of the usual. Even though this game only came out last month, I can already tell it will have a cult following. There are currently many forums dedicated to figuring out all of the possible endings of the game, as well as deciphering every obscure clue which may lead to the next possible secret being unveiled.

While Undertale doesn’t even operate on half the bits that most modern games do, I would say the feelings it evoked were twice as powerful. I don’t want to speak in absolutes and say that current games on the market don’t make me feel things, because they do! However, the feelings are generally short-lived and relevant to only that particular gaming session. Undertale on the otherhand, almost insidiously latches itself onto your heart, making you genuinely care for both the inhabitants of this imaginary world, and feeling completely responsible for the choices you have made well past the ending credits.

Knowing that more people will discover and talk about this game…it fills me with determination.

(Come on, I had to use the phrase at least once).

– Brian F
Contributing Editor